View Full Version : "Cochrane - Britannia's Sea Wolf"
The above book, by Donald Thomas, is the biography of Lord Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dondonald, and one of the most remarkable characters in British Naval History. The man was simply incredible.
His exploits as a young captain in the first half of the Napoleonic wars were the direct inspiration for the works of Forester and O'Brien. The capture of the Spanish frigate Gamo by Cochrane's sloop Speedy was lifted pretty much shot for shot into "Master and Commander", whilst his exploits in the frigate Imperieuse , harrying the French on the coast of Spain, were surely the inspiration for Hornblower's exploits in "A Ship of the Line".
He fought a long struggle against corruption in the Admiralty, making many enemies; he was a Member of Parliament (whilst still serving in the Navy -!); he was jailed (on pretty dubious grounds) for involvement in a stockmarket scam in 1814, then escaped by climbing over the roof and down the outer wall on a rope.
Cochrane then served with the Chilean, Brazilian, and Greek navies during their wars of independence. His remarkable exploits in Chile will be familiar to Bernard Cornwell fans, for they form the background to "Sharpe's Devil".
He then fought a long battle to clear his name, which ultimately saw him reinstated to the Navy in the 1840's, serving as the commander of the Atlantic fleet. By the time he died age 85, he had been pretty well exonerated, and was awarded a hero's burial in Westminster Abbey.
That's just skimmed the surface - the book is a good read, not as dry as some biographies.
Recommended to all fans of naval fiction.
Just finished Sharpes Devil this weekend so a timely post! I'm going to seek out a copy of this as it sounds like an interesting read. Ta!
His burial place in Westminister Abbey has the flags of Chile, Brazil and Greece on it and the only time (in the last 1000 years) that foreign soldiers carrying arms have been allowed into the Abbey was to pay tribute to Cochrane. The current Earl Dundonald is an honorary Chilean ambassador and they have a service every year. The Brazilian naval training school used to be named after him and his ejection of the Portugese Navy from Brazil is a magnificant read.
What is not often appreciated is how well he did the background to his actions and although impeteuous a lot was not left to chance.
Can bang on for ever - he was my great great great great uncle ( may have left a great out)
Have enjoyed the book the original poster recommends and thanks for the extra information Cutter - would be happy for you to "bang on".
There is also Vol 1 (to 1827) of the biography written by his son available free in ebook form from, among others, Project Gutenburg's internet site. I haven't come across Vol 2.
The episode where Cochrane had just one chance to bring a cliff down on a French army column with a broadside as he (IIRC) dropped anchor at speed and his ship swung to it, and succeeded, was I guess deemed by O'Brien just too fantastic to lift. I put off reading the latter for years, knowing if I started I would get hooked. Put my toe in the water last year, sure enough I had to read the lot on the train to work over 3 months. Completely addictive.
I was highly amused when, on one of his land expeditions, he greased a slanted ramp to a fort and the attacking cavalry went sliding over the edge. LOL.
He was considered for command of the Naval forces in the Crimean War, but passed over as he was considered "too reckless" - he was in his 80's at the time!
What impressed me most was
1. The very few men he lost in spite of his "recklessness". Either by action or illness.
2. When he espoused the idea of "rescuing" Napoleon from St Helena, Napoleon died - apparently due to poison. People knew if Cochrane said he would do something then he would succeed. Coincidence?
A man of whom it could be said "truth being better than fiction".
There are many theories on the arsenic discovered in his hair sample many many years later. Some presume deliberate poisoning. In a uni class many years ago, it was suggest that that a different outcome was that already weakened by stomach disease, cancer or ulcer, he succumbed to arsenic poisoning from the printing on his wallpaper, based on very recent research and discovery.
Quick google search shows this from that time
I had thought that the wall paper theory was well established. Bonaparte certainly seems to have had some form of stomach problem, perhaps an ulcer, which made things worse.
Perfidious Albion did not murder him - t'was "accidental death through unwise choice of wallpaper!"
If Cochrane has "sprung" him, the history of South America might have been radically different!
A few years ago I had to spend some serious hours trudging through hundreds of Ministry of Munitions WWI files at the National Archives at Kew.
When my brain started to shut down, I'd order a few ship's logs from the ADM fonds. I tried HMS Speedy's logs (Cochrane's ship when a Master and Commander) but only got one, I recall, from the previous commander. O'Brien clearly did better than I did.
Nevertheless, I'd recommend without hesitation everyone on this thread if you haven't done so already to spend a day at Kew and order up some Napoleonic era ship's logs. In the commander's own hand, around the world, in the most exciting of situations, one sits in the rather nasty 70s aluminium and glass reading room reading the slanted pen of a man weathering a gale with scurvy in the Southern oceans, enemies in the seas about him ...
My love and respect for our forebears who did the utterly impossible in those distant days lies in those thick pages, which every one of us can access and read. For free.
Perfidious Albion did not murder him
No, but the French might have. They'd had enough of him.
BTW I am well aware of the wallpaper plot.
Did you know that Napoleon's grannie was Scottish, allegedly. Made the papers in France a few years ago. LOL
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