Reading for the Weekend – Cochrane

Portrait of Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald in 1807. Copy of a painting made in 1807 by Peter Edward Stroehling. (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Portrait of Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald in 1807. Copy of a painting made in 1807 by Peter Edward Stroehling. (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Cochrane, The life and exploits of a fighting captain, by Robert Harvey (ISBN 978-0-7867-0769-0).

Life of Cochrane was an extraordinary one. He was born 14 December 1775, in the dawn of a turbulent age that would see American colonies separate from British empire and French Revolution concluding to the fall of Napoleon. Cochrane was not a rising star from humble origins, but member of Scottish aristocracy with long military tradition. Unfortunately though, his family was quite impoverished by 1793 and some of his choices in later life were to restore the family fortunes.

His career was about to start in army but his ill suited character ended it quickly. After some difficulties his uncle secured position in British Navy at 1793 by the very means that he later protested. 1793 marked the start of the French Revolutionary wars, a 20 year period when enterprising young man could secure fame and modest fortune.

Cochrane, difficult character that he was to a point of insubordination had difficulties to rise in the career ladder of British Navy. Securing command at sea was constant struggle, but finally to keep Cochrane from harassing Admiralty, he was granted command of small brig, Speedy and he went out to harass Spanish coast instead. This was beginning of naval career that would be remembered.

The Action and Capture of the Spanish Xebeque Frigate El Gamo (source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Action and Capture of the Spanish Xebeque Frigate El Gamo (source: Wikimedia Commons)

After the Stock Exchange fraud, Cochrane found his career in British Navy untenable and he went about and lead rebel Navies of Chile, Brazil and Greece in 1820’s to see independence of each, gaining title or two in the process.

British Navy came to senses and established him as the Admiral of the Blue 2 May 1832. However, stubborn man as he was, he refused, and it took yet another 15 years before Cochrane had his knighthood restored and he assumed service. He died 31 October 1860 as celebrated hero.

Harvey describes in most lively detail actions Cochrane took part at sea, and his continuous fight against Admiralty corruption and political career. Life of Cochrane was quite bit more than just his adventures at sea, and Harvey consumes good part of the book in his personal affairs, political career and the Stock Exchange fraud that was to mark his downfall in Britain.

At times it does feel that Robert Harvey has put words to Cochrane’s mouth that may not be entirely true, but not as much to disturb the narrative. Book is very entertaining read for anyone who is interested in naval history or age of sail. By no doubt, life of Cochrane has inspired C.S. Forrester and Patrick O’Brian in their age of sail novels.

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