Thomas Cochrane

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Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald (December 14, 1775October 31, 1860), styled Lord Cochrane between 1778 and 1831, 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"). His life and exploits served as inspiration for the naval fiction of 20th century novelists C. S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian.

Early life and career

Thomas Cochrane was born at Annsfield, near Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, Scotland, the son of Archibald Cochrane, 9th Earl of Dundonald and nephew of Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane. As a child he was fictitiously listed on the ship's books of the Royal Navy ship commanded by his uncle but officially joined in 1793 at the age of seventeen, upon the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars. He first served aboard HMS Hind and in 1795 was appointed acting lieutenant on HMS Thetis. The following year he was confirmed in the rank. In 1798 he transferred to HMS Barfleur. During his service on this ship he was court-martialled for being disrespectful to Lieutenant Philip Beaver.

In 1800 Cochrane was appointed to command the sloop HMS Speedy in which he achieved his most famous exploit, the capture of the Spanish xebec El Gamo, 32 guns and 319 men compared to Speedy's 14 guns and 54 men, on May 6, 1801. On August 8, 1801 he was promoted to the rank of Post-Captain. He served with distinction in the frigates HMS Pallas and HMS Imperieuse. On April 11, 1809 he was responsible for the destruction of much of the French fleet in the Battle of the Basque Roads at Rochefort using fire ships.

Political career

Cochrane pursued a very active political career, serving as Member of Parliament for Honiton in England from 1806 to 1807 and for Westminster , London, from 1807 to 1815, and campaigning for parliamentary reform in Britain, being 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 as to require a court-martial of Gambier) made him enemies in the Admiralty.

Cochrane was tried and convicted as a conspirator in a London Stock Exchange fraud in 1814 although he maintained his innocence throughout his life. Most historians agree however that although Ellenborough's summing up was biased, the weight of circumstantial evidence against Cochrane indicated that at the least he had been the pawn of his uncle, a conspirator. 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 administration backed down: the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, announced that Cochrane and others had received a Royal Pardon. The sentence of pillorying has not been used in the United Kingdom since.

Service in foreign navies

He left Britain in official disgrace, but went on to command the Chilean (18171822), Brazilian (18231825) and Greek (18261828) navies in those countries' wars of independence. In 1828 he returned to Britain to appeal for a pardon and a return to the Royal Navy. In 1832 he was successful and was appointed a rear admiral. He later became vice admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the North American station and in 1851 rose to the rank of admiral. He died on October 31, 1860 in Kensington.


  • Dundonald, Thomas Cochrane, Earl of, 1775-1860. The Autobiography of a Seaman. Introduction by Richard Woodman. New York: Lyons Press, 2000.
  • Grimble, Ian. The Sea Wolf: The Life of Admiral Cochrane. Rev. ed. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2000. Original edition 1978, London: Blond & Briggs.
  • Harvey, Robert. Cochrane: The Life and Exploits of a Fighting Captain. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2000.
  • Thomas, Donald. Cochrane: Britannia's Sea Wolf. 2nd Edition 2001, Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, 383pp, ISBN 030435659X.
  • Vale, Brian. The Audacious Admiral Cochrane: The True Life of A Naval Legend

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