Thomas Cochrane

Thomas Cochrane books and biography


Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald

The Earl of Dundonald
Born 14 December 1775
Annsfield, near Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland
Died 31 October 1860
Kensington, London, England
Occupation Royal Navy Officer
Spouse Katherine Barnes

Thomas Alexander Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, GCB (14 December 1775 – 31 October 1860), styled Lord Cochrane between 1778 and 1831[1] , was a politician and naval adventurer. He was one of the most daring and successful captains of the Napoleonic Wars, leading the French to nickname him "le loup des mers" ("the sea wolf"). Later he led the navies of Chile, Brazil and Greece in independence struggles. His life and exploits served as inspiration for the naval fiction of 20th century novelists C. S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian.


Early life

Thomas Cochrane was born at Annsfield, near Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland, the son of Archibald Cochrane, 9th Earl of Dundonald and nephew of Alexander Cochrane, later Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane, a son of the 8th Earl of Dundonald. The family fortune had been spent, and in 1793 the family estate was sold to cover debts.

Through the influence of his uncle, he was listed as a member of the crew on the books of four Royal Navy ships although he probably never went aboard them. This common though unlawful practice was a tactic to have on record some of the length of service necessary before he could be made an officer, if and when he joined the navy. After a brief enlistment in the British army, which ended in fiasco, he did join the Royal Navy in 1793 upon the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars.

Service in the Royal Navy

He first served in the Baltic aboard HMS Hind, commanded by his uncle, and in 1795 was appointed acting lieutenant on HMS Thetis. The following year he was confirmed in the rank after passing the lieutenant's exam. In 1798 he transferred to HMS Barfleur.

During his service on this ship he was tried by a court martial for apparently challenging Philip Beaver, the ship's first Lieutenant, to a duel. Though found innocent of the serious charge he was reprimanded for impoliteness. This began a pattern of Cochrane being unable to get along with many of his superiors, subordinates, employers and colleagues in several navies and the parliament; even those with whom he had much in common, and who should have been natural allies. It led to a long enmity with John Jervis, 1st Earl of St Vincent.

Thomas Cochrane
Thomas Cochrane

In 1799 Cochrane briefly commanded the captured French battleship Genereux. The ship was almost lost in a storm, with Cochrane and his brother personally going aloft in place of a crew that were mostly ill.

In 1800 Cochrane was appointed to command the sloop HMS Speedy. Later that year he was almost captured by a Spanish warship concealed as a merchant ship. He escaped by flying a Danish flag and dissuading an attempt to investigate by claiming his ship was plague-ridden. Chased by an enemy frigate, and knowing it would follow him in the night by the glimmer of light from the Speedy, he placed a candle on a barrel and let it float away. The enemy frigate followed the barrel and Speedy escaped.

One of his most famous exploits was the capture of the Spanish xebec El Gamo, on 6 May 1801. El Gamo carried 32 guns and 319 men, compared with the 14 guns and 54 men on Speedy. Cochrane flew an American flag to get close, finally approaching so closely to Gamo that its guns could not depress to fire on the Speedy's hull. This left only the option of boarding, but whenever the Spanish were about to board Cochrane would pull away briefly, and fire on the concentrated boarding parties with his ship's guns. Cochrane then boarded the Gamo, despite still being outnumbered about five to one, and captured her. St Vincent, not wishing to enrich an officer recently reprimanded, refused to purchase the Gamo for the royal navy: as a result Cochrane and the crew of the Speedy received no prize money.

On 8 August 1801 he was promoted to the rank of Post-Captain.

In Malta he got into an argument at a fancy dress ball (Cochrane came dressed as a common sailor, and was mistaken for one) which led to a pistol duel.

On a subsequent cruise he was trapped by three French battleships he was captured, but soon exchanged for a French captain. On Cochrane's return, and the resumption of war in 1802, St Vincent assigned him to command of a converted collier, HMS Arab. This ship was only suited to the most routine missions and afforded Cochrane no opportunities.

In 1804 the new government of William Pitt the Younger removed St Vincent and Cochrane was appointed to command of the 32-gun frigate HMS Pallas. Once more he found himself cornered by three battleships and he again used the barrel trick to escape.

In 1807 he was given command of the frigate Imperieuse. On this ship, one of his midshipmen was Frederick Marryat. Cochrane used this ship to raid the Mediterranean coast of France. In 1808 Cochrane and a Spanish guerilla force captured the fortress of Mongat, which sat astride the road between Gerona and Barcelona. As a result, a French army under General Duhesme was delayed for a month. Another raid copied code books from a signal station, leaving behind the originals so the French would believe them uncompromised. When Imperieuse ran short of water she sailed up the estuary of the Rhone to replenish. When a French army marched into Catalonia and besieged Rosas, Cochrane took part in the defence of the town by occupying and defending Fort Trinidad (Castell de la Trinitat) for a number of weeks.

In 1809 he was chosen to command a fire ship attack on Rochefort, as part of the Battle of the Basque Roads. Some damage was done, but Cochrane felt that a great opportunity was lost, for which he blamed the fleet commander Admiral Gambier. As a result of the public expression of this opinion he spent some time without a naval command.

Political career

In 1805 Cochrane ran for the British House of Commons on a ticket of parliamentary reform (a movement which would bring about the reform acts) for the rotten borough of Honiton. This was exactly the kind of borough Cochrane wished to abolish; there was no secret voting and votes were mostly sold to the highest bidder. The going rate for votes at that time was five guineas. Cochrane offered nothing, lost the election, and afterwards made a gift of ten guineas to each person who had voted for him. In 1806 he again ran for Parliament in Honiton. He was elected, probably because the electors expected a repeat of his previous generosity. Cochrane paid nothing. In 1807 there was obviously no hope of being elected again in Honiton. Cochrane was elected by Westminster, London. He would hold this seat until 1815.

Cochrane campaigned for parliamentary reform, allied with such Radicals as William Cobbett and Henry Hunt. His outspoken criticism of the conduct of the war and the corruption in the Navy made him powerful enemies in the government, and his criticism of Admiral Gambier's conduct in the Basque Roads operation (so severe that Gambier demanded a court-martial to clear his name) made him enemies in the Admiralty.

In 1810 Sir Francis Burdett, a Member of Parliament and political ally, had barricaded himself into his home at Piccadilly, London, resisting arrest by the House of Commons. Cochrane went to assist Burdett's defence of the house. His approach to this, however, was essentially similar to the approach he had taken in defending forts against enemy attack and would have led to numerous deaths amongst the arresting officers and at least partial destruction of Burdett's house, along with much of Piccadilly. On realising what Cochrane planned, Burdett and his allies took steps to end the siege.

Cochrane was popular but unable to get along with his colleagues in the House of Commons, let alone the government. He rarely achieved a great deal for his causes. An exception was his 1812 confrontation of the admiralty's prize court.

Cochrane made his last speech in parliament (in favour of parliamentary reform) in 1818. In 1830 he was invited to stand for parliament by the reform-minded government of Lord Brougham. After initially expressing interest Cochrane declined, partly because Lord Brougham's brother decided to run for the seat, and partly because he thought it would look bad to be publicly supporting a government from which he sought pardon of a fraud conviction.

In 1831 his father died and Cochrane became the 10th Earl Dundonald. As such he was eligible to sit in the House of Lords, but not, any longer, to run for the House of Commons.


In 1812 Cochrane married Katherine "Kitty" Barnes, a beautiful half-Spanish, half-English girl more than twenty years his junior. This was an elopement and a civil ceremony, due to the opposition of his wealthy uncle Basil Cochrane, who disinherited his nephew as a result.

Cochrane and Kitty would remarry in the Anglican Church in 1818, and in the Church of Scotland in 1825. The confusion of multiple ceremonies led to suspicions that Cochrane's Thomas Barnes Cochrane, 11th Earl of Dundonald was illegitimate, and delayed his accession to the Earldom of Dundonald on his father's death.

Kitty often accompanied her husband on his campaigns in South America.

The Great Stock Exchange Fraud

Cochrane was tried and convicted as a conspirator in the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814, although he maintained his innocence throughout his life. The summing up of the presiding judge Lord Ellenborough was biased against Cochrane. Most historians agree that the weight of circumstantial evidence against Cochrane indicated that at the least he had been the pawn of his uncle Andrew Cochrane-Johnstone, a conspirator. In 1830, Charles Grenville wrote how much he admired Cochrane, despite his guilt. By Victorian times, however, he was widely believed to have been innocent.

He was sentenced to the pillory (a more severe form of the stocks) and a year's imprisonment. He was also expelled from Parliament and the Navy. As an additional humiliation he was stripped of his knighthood and a Degradation Ceremony performed. He was, however, immediately re-elected for Westminster. There was considerable public anger at his trial and sentence, especially the degrading pillory. The fine of one thousand pounds that was also imposed on him was paid by popular subscription. His time in the pillory was more of a triumph than a humiliation.

For the rest of his life, Cochrane would campaign to have his conviction reversed and his honours restored. He would receive a royal pardon in 1832, and be restored to the navy list and gazetted rear admiral. Not until 1847, however, would his knighthood be restored, by the personal intervention of Queen Victoria. And only in 1860 would his banner return to Westminster Abbey, just in time for his funeral.

Service for other Navy’s

Service in Chilean Navy

He left the UK in official disgrace to command the Chilean navy in its war of independence against Spain.

Cochrane planned to release Napoleon from his exile in Saint Helena, so that Napoleon could become ruler of a unified South American state. But events delayed implementation of this plan until Napoleon's death in 1821.

Cochrane took command of the frigate O'Higgins and raided the coasts of Chile and Peru as he had France and Spain. He captured Valdivia, Spain's most important bases in Chile. He also cut out and captured the Esmeralda, the most powerful ship in the Spanish fleet. He failed in his attempt to incoporate the Chiloé Island for Chile.

The Chileans named the County Class Destroyer HMS Antrim (D18) in his honour when she was bought from the Royal Navy in 1984.

Service in Brazilian Navy

Brazil was fighting its own war of independence against Portugal. the southern provinces were under rebel control, but Portugal still controlled the north, in which Maranhão was the most important city.

Cochrane took command of the Brazilian navy and its flagship the Pedro Primeiro. By bluff he convinced the Portuguese army in Bahia to evacuate to Maranhão, captured much of the escaping convoy, then sailed ahead of the convoy to Maranham and bluffed Maranhão into surrendering as well. Finally, he sent a subordinate Captain Grenfell to Pará, who used the same bluff to extract Para's surrender.

As a result of rebellions and attempted palace coups, Cochrane found himself governor of the province of Maranhão. Dissatisfied with his situation, Cochrane boarded a frigate and sailed it to England.

During his government, the emperor Pedro I of Brazil created him Marquess of Maranhão (Marquês do Maranhão).

Service in Greek Navy

An Egyptian army had been suppressing the Greek rebellion. Cochrane's efforts were generally of limited success, due to the poor level of discipline of the Greek army and seamen. One of his subordinates, Captain Hastings, attacked the Gulf of Lepanto. This indirectly led to intervention by Britain, France and Russia, the destruction of the Turko-Egyptian fleet at Navarino and the end of the war under great power mediation. This was probably the only campaign in Cochrane's naval career in which the results of his efforts were disappointingly slight.

Return to Royal Navy

Despite his restoration to the navy list, Cochrane's return to Royal Navy service was delayed by his refusal to take a command until his knighthood had been restored. Cochrane served as commander in chief of the East Indian station, and as commander in chief of the North American and West Indies station from 1847 to 1851. During the Crimean War he was considered for a command in the Baltic, but it was decided that there was too much risk he would lose his fleet in a risky attack. In 1854 he was appointed to the honorary rank of Rear-Admiral of the United Kingdom.

In his final years he wrote his autobiography in collaboration with G.B. Earp. Cochrane died on October 31, 1860, in Kensington. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. His grave is in the central part of the nave.

Innovation in military technology

Convoys were guided by ships following the lamps of those ahead. In 1805 Cochrane entered a royal navy competition for a superior convoy lamp. Believing that the judges were likely to be biased against him, he asked a friend to enter for him. When Cochrane won he revealed his identity. However, the royal navy never purchased any of the lamps.

In 1806 Cochrane had a galley made to his specifications, which he carried on board Pallas and used to attack the French coast.

In 1812 Cochrane proposed attacking the French coast using a combination of mortars, explosion ships and "stink vessels" (gas warfare). He put the plans forward again before and during the Crimean War. The authorities decided not to pursue his plans, partly because they would cause terrible destruction and might later be used against Britain. The plans would be kept secret until 1895.

Cochrane was an early advocate of steamships. He attempted to bring a steamship from England to Chile, but its construction took too long and it arrived as the war was ending. The same thing happened to steamships he had hoped to bring to the Greek war of independence. In the 1830s he experimented with steam power, developing a rotary engine and a propeller. In 1851 Cochrane received a patent on powering steamships with bitumen.

Fictional references

Influence on naval fiction

His career inspired a number of writers of nautical fiction. The first was Captain Marryat who had served under him as a midshipman. In the 20th century, the fictional careers of Horatio Hornblower in the novels by C. S. Forester and of Jack Aubrey in the Aubrey–Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian were in part modelled on his exploits.

Appearance in fiction

In the alternate history series The Domination by S.M. Stirling,[2] Lord Cochrane leads the occupation of Cape Colony.

The novel Sharpe's Devil[3] by Bernard Cornwell features an episode from Cochrane's time in Chile.


  1. ^ The eldest son of an Earl bears the courtesy title of Viscount or Lord. (see Earl for details)
  2. ^ The Domination (Omnibus edition of first 3 works) ISBN 0671577948
  3. ^ Sharpe's Devil: Chile 1820 (Sharpe's Adventures) ISBN 0060932295


  • Dundonald, Thomas Cochrane, Earl of, 1775-1860. The Autobiography of a Seaman. Introduction by Richard Woodman.
    New York: Lyons Press, 2000. ISBN 1861761562
  • Grimble, Ian. The Sea Wolf: The Life of Admiral Cochrane. Rev. ed. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2000. Original edition 1978,
    London: Blond & Briggs. ISBN 184158035X
  • Harvey, Robert. Cochrane: The Life and Exploits of a Fighting Captain. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2000. ISBN 0786709235
  • Thomas, Donald. Cochrane: Britannia's Sea Wolf. 2nd Edition 2001, Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, 383pp, ISBN 0-304-35659-X.
  • Vale, Brian. The Audacious Admiral Cochrane: The True Life of A Naval Legend.
    London: Conway Maritime Press, 2004, ISBN 0-85177-986-7.

See also

  • John Dundas Cochrane, his brother
  • Cochrane
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by:
Archibald Cochrane
Earl of Dundonald
Succeeded by:
Thomas Barnes Cochrane

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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The Life Of Thomas, Lord Cochrane

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