Thomas Cochrane

Thomas Cochrane

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Thomas Cochrane, the son of the ninth Earl of Dundonald, was born in Annsfield, Lanarkshire in 1775. He was educated at home and after a brief spell at the Chauvet Military Academy in London, he joined the Royal Navy. Cochrane became captain of H.M.S. Speedy in 1800 and he soon established a reputation for his daring and brilliant seamanship against the French Navy. Cochrane came into conflict with the authorities when they refused to support his campaign against corruption in the navy.

In 1805 he was a candidate for the parliamentary seat in Honiton. He recorded in his autobiography: "To the intense disgust of the majority of the electors, I refused to bribe at all, announcing my determination to 'stand on patriotic principles' which, in the electioneering parlance of those days, meant 'no bribery'. To my astonishment, however, a considerable number of the respectable inhabitants voted in my favour. Having had decisive proof as to the nature of Honiton politics, I made up my mind that the next time there was a vacancy in the borough, the seat should be mine without bribery. Accordingly, immediately after my defeat, I sent the bellman round the town, having first primed him with an appropriate speech, intimating that 'all who had voted for me, might repair to my agent and receive ten pounds ten.' The novelty of a defeated candidate paying double the current price expended by the successful one made a great sensation. The impression produced was simply this - that if I gave ten guineas for being beaten, my opponent had not paid half enough for being elected."

In 1806 Thomas Cochrane met the radical journalist William Cobbett, who had also been involved in attempting to expose corruption in the armed forces. The two men became close friends and Cobbett encouraged Cochrane to win election to the House of Commons where he would have an opportunity to expose those members of the armed forces who were misusing their power.

Cochrane was elected to represent Honiton in 1806. However, Cochrane's ideas were too progressive for the electors of Honiton and in 1807 he decided to accept the invitation to stand with Sir Francis Burdett as one of the two Radical candidates for the Westminster constituency.

After his election to the House of Commons Captain Cochrane spent much of his time at sea in the war against the French. When in Parliament, Cochrane made several speeches attacking corruption in the Royal Navy. The naval authorities were furious with Cochrane and he demoted. Aware that he had lost the opportunity of advancing his naval career, Cochrane concentrated his efforts on campaigning for parliamentary reform.

In 1814 Cochrane was accused with his uncle and his stockbroker of fraud on the stock market. Cochrane claimed he had been framed but he was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to a year's imprisonment, a fine of £1,000 and two hours in the pillory. When Sir Francis Burdett threatened to stand next to Cochrane in the pillory, this part of the sentence was withdrawn to avoid a riot taking place.

After his release from prison Cochrane gave support to Major John Cartwright and the formation of the Hampden Clubs. He also argued in favour of universal suffrage and spoke against the Gagging Acts.

In 1818 Cochrane resigned from the House of Commons and took up an appointment as commander of the Chilean Navy. After periods working for the governments of Peru and Brazil, Cochrane took command of the naval force that had been formed to assist the liberation of Greece.

In 1831 Thomas Cochrane became the tenth Earl of Dundonald. The following year, King William IV awarded him a free pardon for his alleged role in the 1814 stock market fraud. He was also reinstated as a Rear Admiral in the Royal Navy.

Thomas Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald, died on 31st October 1860.

To the intense disgust of the majority of the electors, I refused to bribe at all, announcing my determination to "stand on patriotic principles' which, in the electioneering parlance of those days, meant 'no bribery'. To my astonishment, however, a considerable number of the respectable inhabitants voted in my favour.

Having had decisive proof as to the nature of Honiton politics, I made up my mind that the next time there was a vacancy in the borough, the seat should be mine without bribery. Accordingly, immediately after my defeat, I sent the bellman round the town, having first primed him with an appropriate speech, intimating that "all who had voted for me, might repair to my agent and receive ten pounds ten." The novelty of a defeated candidate paying double the current price expended by the successful one made a great sensation. The impression produced was simply this - that if I gave ten guineas for being beaten, my opponent had not paid half enough for being elected.

Napoleonic Wars: Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane

Thomas Cochrane was born December 14, 1775, at Annsfield, Scotland. The son of Archibald Cochrane, 9th Earl of Dundonald and Anna Gilchrist, he spent the majority of his early years at the family's estate in Culross. Under the practice of the day his uncle, Alexander Cochrane, an officer in the Royal Navy, had his name entered on the books of naval vessels at age five. Though technically illegal, this practice reduced the amount of time Cochrane would need to serve before becoming an officer if he elected to pursue a naval career. As another option, his father also secured him a commission in the British Army.

Accomplished Much with Little

Young Cochrane soon established a reputation for success and daring in his blossoming naval career. He earned recognition when, in 1800, he was given the command of a ship called the Speedy. This relatively small 158-ton-vessel was crammed with 90 officers and other personnel. With this vessel, Cochrane captured the Spanish ship El Gamo, in 1801. The conquest of El Gamo was unusual in that the odds were stacked against the Speedy. The Spanish ship weighed almost six times more than Cochrane's vessel and carried at least three times as many men. The difficulties in transporting the large number of Spanish prisoners on the Speedy " made this conquest even more unusual in naval history. After a long delay, Cochrane was rewarded and allowed to post rank. Apparently naval authorities were unsure whether the small number of casualties in the operation warranted recognition. Cochrane found the line of reasoning to be ironic. He noted that another peer had been made an earl in a naval incident that involved even fewer casualties. Such remarks did little to earn Cochrane favor with the Admiralty.

In 15 months, Cochrane had collected more than 50 prizes from conquests with the Speedy. While captaining this ship, Cochrane managed to capture a Spanish frigate with fairly low casualties—3 killed and 18 injured. He was later captured by the French but was exchanged, receiving his freedom and becoming promoted to post-captain.

During a short period of peace in 1802, Cochrane pursued studies at the University of Edinburgh. In 1803, the navy ordered him to Plymouth. There he was to captain the ship Arab, which was being refitted for war. Cochrane found the vessel to be useless for this role and wrote a letter to the Admiralty, expressing his displeasure. He was soon sent to protect the coastal fisheries near Orkney, an assignment that lasted 15 months. Cochrane suspected that the Admiralty was giving him a show of their displeasure, since there were no fisheries to protect in the area. He was not allowed to return to England until the current admiral had stepped down and been replaced by a successor.

In a conciliatory attempt to recognize Cochrane for his service, he was given the command of the Pallas and the Imperieuse along the Spanish coast between 1803 and 1806. His capture of goods while he captained these frigates garnered him a large amount of prize money—roughly 75,000 English pounds. He spent the next few years (until 1808) at sea, protecting coastal areas from enemies and defending the Fort Trinidad at Rosas for 12 days with an unusually small force under his command.

In 1806, Cochrane was elected to Parliament, representing the district of Honiton. In 1807, he was elected to represent Westminster. Cochrane's appearance in politics was marked by a radical feistiness. He regularly attacked aspects of government with the same spirit he had shown during naval service. He continued serving in the navy as well.


Lord Cochrane came to Greece with the best of intentions but he was no idealist. He took the prudent course to secure his payment but he was tactless about it according to Howe. He took also the right step to press the divided Greeks for political unity although W. St Clair believes that general Church was the creator of this unity 37 . If he had the planned fleet he could have liberated Greece 38 but his poor project management along with Greek and foreign corruption robbed him of these resources.

He tried to introduce novelties like a corps of marines but they were inadequately trained and equipped for the task and became the ridicule of the Greek army 39 . He meddled too much in planning land operations in Athens. One is to wonder if he thought that he planned to use this possible success to get re-instated in the Royal Navy. Who would dare to say ”no” to the “Saviour of Acropolis”? But by squandering funds and resources in this effort he later had difficulty equipping ships for future operations. This money would have allowed him to rectify the idleness and piracy that he was complaining about in his reports. His habit of living in his comfortable yacht and speaking though an interpreter further alienated him form his crews. He failed to understand these men who had not lost a naval fight against the Turks before he stepped in – not a good thing for a commander His image was further tarnished by the unruly contact of his British and American mercenaries who indulged in drunken orgies in Poros and murdered prisoners in a worse manner than his undisciplined Greek sailors 40 . At the Alexandria raid he sent his men in a poorly planned suicide mission for he neglected to devise an escape plan 41 . He overplayed his influence in Britain and his claim that his actions brought about the battle of Navarino is an exaggeration. The British captains preferred to talk to his government and not him 42 . The sharp contrast with his subordinate Hastings who spoke the language, led by example and could command the unruly Greek merchant mariners overrules the argument that it was cultural differences that brought about Lord Cochrane’s failure.

COCHRANE, Thomas, Lord Cochrane (1775-1860), of Holly Hill, Titchfield, Hants.

b. 14 Dec. 1775, 1st s. of Archibald, 9th Earl of Dundonald [S], by 1st w. Anne, da. of Capt. James Gilchrist, RN. educ. privately, Chavet’s mil. acad., Kensington, Mdx. Edinburgh Univ. 1802-3. m. secretly at Annan, 8 Aug. 1812, and publicly 22 June 1818, Katherine Frances Corbett, da. of Thomas Barnes of Romford Essex, 4s. 1da. KB 24 Apr. 1809, expelled 15 July 1814, reinstated as GCB 22 May 1847 suc. fa. as 10th Earl of Dundonald [S] 1 July 1831.

Offices Held

Ensign Balder’s ind. co. ft. 1793 lt. 78 Ft. and Wood’s ind. co. ft. 1793 capt. 106 Ft. 1794.

Entered RN 1793, lt. 1796, cdr. 1800, capt. 1801, struck off navy list 1814 restored as r.-adm. 1832, v.-adm. 1841 c.-in-c. W.I. and N. America 1848-51 adm. 1851 r.-adm. of UK 1854-d.

Elder bro. Trinity House 1854-d.


The Dundonald family fortunes were already at a low ebb when Cochrane’s eccentric father succeeded to the title in 1778. His attempts to revive them through the promotion of industrial chemistry, in which the results of his undoubted talents were blighted by poor judgment and bad luck, only made matters worse, driving him to sell the family estates at Culross in 1793 and, several years later, to eke out his days in debtor’s exile abroad. With no material inheritance to anticipate, but possessed of a large share of his father’s original, if erratic inventiveness of mind, Cochrane, whose brief army career was purely nominal, entered the navy in 1793 under the aegis of his uncle Alexander Cochrane*. For seven years he served in the North Sea, American waters and the Mediterranean without notable incident, though he quickly earned a reputation for truculence, resentment of authority and inability to know when to remain silent. It was clear that he, like his father and uncles, would never settle for a quiet life.

On receiving command of the brig Speedy in 1800, he gave full rein to his brilliant seamanship, foolhardy courage and talent for piracy. His list of prizes steadily mounted and on 6 May 1801 he engaged and captured a Spanish frigate four times the size of his own vessel. Two months later he was taken in action by the French, but he was released after a fortnight and acquitted by the obligatory court martial on the loss of the Speedy. He regarded his tardy promotion to captain, 8 Aug. 1801, on the day news of his exoneration was received in London, as a slight, maintaining that it should have been dated from 6 May. He blamed the delay on deliberate and politically motivated obstruction on the part of the authorities and in particular of St. Vincent, first lord of the Admiralty, who does appear to have been immensely irritated by the importunities of Cochrane’s ill-regarded kinsmen on his behalf. He then damned himself forever with St. Vincent by personally insulting him when vainly pursuing promotion for his lieutenant on the Speedy.1

On the conclusion of peace Cochrane, whose early education by a succession of hired tutors had been sketchy, entered himself as a student at Edinburgh University, where he almost certainly attended Dugald Stewart’s lectures on political economy. When war was renewed in 1803 he sought employment, but St. Vincent was at first obstructive and eventually palmed him off with a decrepit ex-collier, in which, after a period in the Channel, he was sent to protect non-existent fishing fleets beyond the Orkneys. He had little prospect of advancement under St. Vincent and Lord Keith, who reported him to the Admiralty as ‘wrongheaded, violent and proud’, but late in 1804 St. Vincent’s successor Lord Melville, who was related by marriage to his uncle Andrew Cochrane Johnstone*, appointed him to the frigate Pallas. A three-month cruise off the Azores before going on American convoy duty brought many rich pickings, and his daring exploits off the French coast in the first half of 1806 added to his stature as a war hero.2

Just after his return to Plymouth in May 1806 a by-election occurred at the notoriously venal borough of Honiton, where Augustus Cavendish Bradshaw was seeking re-election after appointment to an Irish place. The radical journalist William Cobbett † , whose friend Richard Bateman Robson, an opponent of corruption, had been returned for the other seat two months earlier, had announced his intention of standing on ‘purity’ principles but when Cochrane, accompanied by Cochrane Johnstone, arrived at Honiton and pledged himself never to accept a place or pension, Cobbett made way for him. Although Cochrane was beaten on this occasion, he was returned with Cavendish Bradshaw, apparently without opposition, at the general election four months later. When calling for parliamentary reform in the House, 29 Jan. and 5 Feb. 1817, he confessed that he had bribed his way to success, but in his autobiography, written some 50 years later, he claimed that after his defeat at the by-election he had paid each of his 124 voters ten guineas as a ‘reward’ for withstanding bribery, thus creating expectations of a repeat performance at the general election, which, once safely returned, he refused to fulfill. Whatever the truth—and, arguably, the two accounts are not mutually incompatible—he certainly defaulted on bills for treats to the voters after his election.3

Cochrane, who was reckoned ‘adverse’ to abolition of the slave trade by the ‘Talents’, doubtless on account of his uncle Andrew’s West Indian interests, was at sea in the Imperieuse from November 1806 until February 1807 and became aware of further aspects of the corruption and inefficiency in naval administration against which, for both selfish and public-spirited reasons, he was determined to fight in Parliament. He took a month’s sick leave, 14 Apr. 1807.4 He dared not show his face at Honiton at the general election when, at Cobbett’s prompting, he stood for Westminster. He ‘unequivocally’ avowed his ‘intention to stand unconnected’ with any of the four other candidates but, according to Francis Place, he applied unsuccessfully for a coalition with the radical (Sir) Francis Burdett* part way through the campaign, during which he accused St. Vincent of bartering naval commissions for borough influence, attacked abuses in naval administration and called for the exclusion of placemen and pensioners from the House. Although Cobbett laid more stress on the importance of returning Burdett, he advised the latter’s supporters to give their second votes to Cochrane, noting that ‘his principles are new to his rank, and he will keep his word if elected’. Almost two-fifths of his votes, which gave him a comfortable second place, were shared with Burdett, but over a third were split with the official government candidate. Cochrane was known to be hostile to Catholic relief and had not voted for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge on the subject, 9 Apr. 1807. He took no part in the popular celebrations of Burdett’s victory.5

Cochrane quickly drew attention to himself in the House as a ‘no party’ man, but his early experiences there were unhappy. On the address, 26 June, he condemned its prejudgment of the Egyptian expedition, but defended the dismissal of the ‘Talents’ and the sudden dissolution:

He hoped some third party would arise, which would keep aloof from selfish interest, and sinecure places and pensions. Unless they acted upon different principles he could not honestly support either of the present parties.

On 7 July he moved for inquiry into places, pensions and sinecures held by or in trust for Members and their relatives. Perceval, seeking to bury this information, proposed instead investigation into all places and pensions. Cochrane stood by his original motion, which was defeated by 90 votes to 61 and when Perceval moved to refer the broader inquiry to the finance committee Cochrane’s amendment to speed it up and restrict it to Members’ spoils went down by 101-60. His call for papers intended to expose naval abuses, 10 July, when he specified poor food, the extreme length of cruises, keeping ships at sea in an unfit condition, inadequate medical facilities and corruption in the distribution of prize money, aroused considerable outrage on both sides and was negatived without a division. He generally approved the militia transfer bill, 28 July 1807.

Ordered back to sea soon afterwards, he later claimed, unconvincingly, that his constituents had given him ‘unlimited leave of absence’. For the next 17 months he added to his popular reputation with a series of brilliant and disruptive operations on the coasts of Spain and France, and in November 1808 he conducted the land defence of Rosas, where he was wounded in the face. He returned to England early in 1809 hoping to promote his ideas for a flexible, naval-based war strategy, using the ill-defended coastal islands of France and Spain as launching points for lightning raids on enemy fortifications and supply lines, but was pressed into taking charge of the attack by fire-ships and explosion vessels on the French fleet in Aix Roads, under the overall command of Admiral Gambier. The assault, which Cochrane led in person, 11 Apr. 1809, was only a partial success in terms of destruction, but the morning revealed all but two of the enemy ships helplessly aground. To Cochrane’s amazement Gambier, judging the risks too great, declined to send in the main fleet to finish them off and it was only when Cochrane took the Imperieuse in alone that the Admiral felt obliged to send support. Cochrane arrived home to a hero’s welcome, 21 Apr., and was made a Knight of the Bath, the King deciding that although it was not usual to confer that honour on a captain (St. Vincent’s being the only previous case), his ‘personal rank may give a colour to it’.6

He voted for Hamilton’s motion charging Castlereagh with electoral malpractice, 25 Apr. attended and addressed the Crown and Anchor reform dinner, 1 May and declared his support for parliamentary reform ‘upon old constitutional principles’ when speaking for Madocks’s censure of ministerial corruption, 11 May but, whether by accident or design is not clear, he was not one of the minority who voted for Burdett’s reform motion, 15 June 1809. Meanwhile, having taken umbrage at Gambier’s despatch on the Aix Roads affair, which did not give him due credit, he made a fatal blunder by informing the first lord that he was determined to oppose the proposed vote of thanks to Gambier, on the ground that he had failed to destroy the French fleet, and by resisting all attempts to dissuade him. He was easily outmanoeuvred, for Gambier demanded a court-martial which inevitably, if dubiously, acquitted him, 4 Aug. 1809. Cochrane’s proposals for an invasion of the Biscay islands were ignored and he was temporarily superseded in the command of his ship when it took part in the Walcheren expedition.7

Cochrane, who voted against government on the address, 23 Jan., and the Scheldt inquiry, 23 Feb., 5 and 30 Mar., and attended the Westminster reform meeting, 9 Feb., moved on 29 Jan. 1810 for the minutes of Gambier’s trial, but was defeated by 171-19. He objected to the vote of thanks later the same day and found 40 Members to join him in dividing against it. In moving for papers to expose abuses in the Admiralty courts, 19 Feb., he spoke, according to Perceval, ‘with great acrimony and severity’ and ministers conceded only such information as suited them. He obtained more papers and gave notice of a motion for inquiry, 9 Mar. He voted against the committal of Burdett for breach of privilege, 5 Apr., and was prepared to mine his Piccadilly house with gunpowder to obliterate intruders seeking to arrest him, but Place talked him out of this mad scheme. He was the only speaker in the debate of 10 Apr. who unequivocally condemned the execution of the Speaker’s warrant, and even he left the House, according to Perceval, ‘for the purpose of letting the vote pass unanimously’. He voted for the release of John Gale Jones, 16 Apr., presented the Westminster petition for the liberation of Burdett the following day, and on 21 May both deplored the precipitate enclosure of Bere forest as a waste of naval timber and voted for Brand’s parliamentary reform motion. In one of his few really effective parliamentary performances, 11 May, he denounced the injustices of the pensions system, exposing the discrepancies between payments to disabled seamen and those to administrators and political sinecurists: in these terms, he calculated, the Wellesleys were worth 426 pairs of lieutenants’ legs, Lord Arden’s sinecure was the equivalent of 1,022 captains’ arms, and Lord Buckingham’s would fund all the victualling offices and still leave £5,000 change. On 13 June he moved his resolutions condemning abuses in the administration and distribution of prize money, which were rejected by 76 votes to 6. He got nowhere with his attempts to impress his naval war plans on the Admiralty, whose response was to give him an ultimatum either to rejoin the Imperieuse on active service or surrender his command. He refused to be fobbed off or muffled, and accepted the end of his prospects of worthwhile professional employment.8

In 1811 Cochrane, who had recently bought a house in Hampshire, went to the Mediterranean, partly to experiment with mortars, but mainly to seek redress for a financial grievance against the Maltese prize court. He got no satisfaction, and purloined the table of fees, for which he was arrested and imprisoned. He soon escaped and returned to England, where he enjoyed a minor triumph in the House, 6 June 1811, when he revealed the flagrant abuses in the administration of the court and secured the production of most of the information which he demanded. His call for inquiry into the conduct of the court officials, 18 July was negatived. He supported investigation of arrears of pay due to seamen on foreign service, 12 June, condemned the treatment of French prisoners-of-war, 14 June, and used the debate on the gold coin bill, against which he voted, 19 July, to combine his demands for economy with advocacy of his plans for naval warfare and denunciation of the policy of propping up despotic regimes in the Peninsula and Sicily with land armies and subsidies.

He spoke in much the same terms when seconding Burdett’s reform address, 7 Jan., and in subsequent speeches, 22 Feb. and 16 Mar. 1812. Two weeks earlier he had submitted to the Regent detailed plans for a coup de main against France using saturation bombardment and poison gas. A secret committee was appointed to consider them, but they were discreetly shelved.9 He blamed the rise in London crime on the enormities of the spoils system, 18 Jan., publicized the Duke of Cambridge’s recent surrender of a sinecure, 23 Jan. refused to vote on the sinecure paymastership, 23 Feb., because its abolition would merely delude the public into believing that the whole system was being purged, proposed financing the Plymouth breakwater by a tax on sinecures, 17 Mar., and tried unsuccessfully to extend the scope of the sinecures bill, 15 June. He could not support Burdett’s call for the abolition of flogging in the armed forces, 13 Mar., arguing that the problem lay not with the power to flog, which was necessary to maintain discipline, but with the abuse of that power, which he traced to the pernicious effects of parliamentary influence, whereby the privileged were able to get their immature offspring into positions of authority. He had similarly defended the practice of gagging, 18 July 1811. On 24 Mar. he deplored the diminution of prize money by recent regulations and revealed the strong element of self-interest which had helped to inspire his crusade against the system: ‘He would never be a robber of his own country, but he saw no reason why we should not be permitted to plunder our enemies’. His motion for accounts of imports of French goods under licence was agreed to after amendment, 4 May, and he supported Martin’s unsuccessful bid to bring in a bill to regulate the office of registrar of the Admiralty court, 19 June 1812. Seven weeks later he made a runaway marriage, which proved to be entirely happy, with a 16-year-old orphan.

Cochrane was still distrusted by many of the leading Westminster radicals, who initially decided to support Walter Ramsden Fawkes* with Burdett at the 1812 general election, but his announcement of his determination to stand on his own bottom compelled them to reconsider. He was examined by Place and two members of the Westminster committee and required to give assurances as to his political views and conduct and to answer the objections to him. His replies, which satisfied his interrogators, were made public in a second address: he pledged himself to vote on all occasions for parliamentary reform and the abolition of sinecures admitted his past hostility to Catholic relief, but expressed a reluctant and very heavily qualified inclination to concede it answered the charge that as an officer in the pay of government he was unfit to represent Westminster by arguing that his professional expertise was an asset in the struggle against corruption, and stood by his recorded views on flogging. He was adopted at a subsequent meeting of the electors, with the proviso that he should pledge himself to resign if he was sent abroad on active service, and was returned unopposed with Burdett.10

Cochrane, who abstained from all divisions on Catholic relief in the new Parliament, acquiesced in the grant of £100,000 to Wellington but deplored the strategy of ‘internal warfare’, 7 Dec., and also acquiesced in the grant of £200,000 for the relief of Russia, 18 Dec. 1812, because it represented only ten days’ expenditure in the Peninsula. He seconded Burdett’s motion on the Regency, designed to protect the interests of Princess Charlotte, 23 Feb., but opposed his call for inquiry into the case of Capt. Phillimore, which involved allegations of the infliction of unduly brutal punishment on a seaman, 5 May. He failed to find a seconder for his motion for printing all papers concerning the revenues of Greenwich Hospital, 11 Mar., and his subsequent motion for the production of accounts was rejected. He presented the petition of Manchester reformers complaining of harassment, false imprisonment and malicious persecution, 2 June. His resolution condemning poor naval pay and excessive length of service, 5 July, was negatived without a division, and three days later he was the only Member to support Burdett’s motion for the biannual publication of unclaimed wages and prize money due to dead sailors. On both occasions he was involved in vituperative exchanges with his dedicated enemy John Wilson Croker, secretary of the Admiralty.

Early in 1814 Cochrane was preparing to take his uncle’s flagship to American waters, where Sir Alexander Cochrane had command of the reinforced North Atlantic fleet, but he was overtaken by disgrace and degradation. He was implicated, with his uncle Cochrane Johnstone and Richard Butt, in a fraud on the Stock Exchange perpetrated through the agency of Random de Berenger, a soldier of fortune. A false rumour of Buonaparte’s defeat and death in battle was circulated, causing stocks to rise rapidly, and shrewd speculators made considerable profits before the truth was discovered. Cochrane was indicted in April and tried in King’s bench before Lord Ellenborough. All the defendants were found guilty, 9 June, but Cochrane Johnstone fled the country before sentence could be passed. Cochrane’s appeal for a new trial was dismissed and he was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, a £1,000 fine and an hour in the pillory. Henry Crabb Robinson, who was present, recorded that ‘he stood without colour in his face, his eye staring and without expression and when he left the court it was with difficulty, as if he were stupefied’.11

The question of Cochrane’s innocence or guilt is probably beyond ultimate proof.12 He made money, though not a killing, out of the rise in stocks and some of the circumstantial evidence was damning but his defence seems to have been botched and Ellenborough’s handling of the case was far from impartial. He maintained to the end of his life that he was the innocent victim of a political witch-hunt. Over 30 years later Sir Thomas Byam Martin recalled how, after the trial, the Regent had expressed ‘in emphatic words’ before a gathering of senior naval officers his ‘determination to order his degradation’. He was struck off the navy list and ignominiously expelled from the order of the Bath. Summoned to attend in his place to defend himself, 5 July 1814, he protested his innocence and violently abused Ellenborough. A motion for his expulsion was carried, by 140 votes to 44. There were a number of pretenders to his seat, but the severity of his sentence and doubts of his guilt swung popular opinion in his favour. Burdett, who threatened to sit in the pillory with him, came out decisively for his re-election and he was returned again unopposed, 16 July. Ministers decided against challenging the legality of his election and, fearing public disorder, remitted his sentence to the pillory.13

Cochrane escaped from King’s Bench prison, where he had composed his lengthy and bitter Letter to Lord Ellenborough, on 6 Mar. 1815. Three days later he informed the Speaker that, once the corn bill agitation had subsided, he would attend to take his seat and demand inquiry into Ellenborough’s conduct of his trial. He turned up on 21 Mar., before the House had formally convened, and while awaiting the arrival of the certificate of his return from the crown office was arrested, forcibly removed from the chamber and returned to prison, where he was kept in close confinement for four weeks. The authorities conveniently decreed that his arrest did not constitute any breach of privilege. After a fortnight’s token refusal to pay his fine on the expiration of his sentence, he was released on 3 July. He took the oaths and his seat the same day and had the satisfaction of dividing against the Duke of Cumberland’s marriage establishment bill and seeing it defeated by one vote. Three days later he gave notice that next session he would move for inquiry into his trial and Ellenborough’s handling of it.14

Cochrane voted against government on the Spanish Liberals, 15 Feb., the army estimates, 28 Feb., when he attacked the military occupation of Malta and France and called for the abolition of slavery, and again, 8 and 11 Mar. 1816. He voted against the property tax, 18 Mar., opposed the increase in Admiralty salaries, 20 Mar., and divided against government on Bank restriction, 1 and 3 May, and for a reduction of the Irish vice-treasurer’s salary, 17 June. On 5 Mar. he had presented 13 charges against Ellenborough, which he moved to have referred to a committee of the whole House, 30 Apr. Burdett was his only backer against a majority of 89 and these proceedings were expunged from the records of the House. On 29 July 1816 Cochrane turned up at a meeting of the Association for Relief of the Poor, chaired by the Duke of York and attended by other royal dukes, the chancellor of the Exchequer and a cluster of bishops. He forced the promoters to dilute their motion attributing distress to the transition from war to peace by threatening an amendment which blamed the large national debt and profligate expenditure, and went on to reduce the meeting to chaos by denouncing the proposed subscription as a fraud on the public and by opposing the vote of thanks. John Whishaw told Lady Holland, 3 Aug., that ‘Cochrane is considered as having been very triumphant’.15 He was tried at Guildford for his escape from King’s Bench, 17 Aug., found guilty and fined £100. He refused to pay and was taken into custody, but was released when his constituents raised the money by subscription.

Cochrane was a founder member of the Hampden Club, whom he advised in June 1816 to concentrate on considering methods of promoting reform rather than indulge in constitutional disputes and, less shrewdly, to seek to destroy the revenue and the government by renouncing luxuries. When Burdett stood aloof from the radical reformers early in 1817 Cochrane, whose radicalism was intensified by personal bitterness, agreed to lead their campaign to bombard Parliament with reform petitions. Samuel Bamford, the provincial radical, who called on Cochrane with other Hampden Club delegates, found him ‘cordial and unaffected in his manner’ and contrasted the ‘simple and homely welcome’ which they received with their frosty and patronizing reception by Burdett. If Henry Hunt is to be believed, Cochrane had to have his arm twisted before agreeing to present the petitions, but once he did so he pursued the business with gusto, though with little skill or authority. On 29 Jan. 1817 he occupied two hours in the presentation of petitions, most of which were rejected as libellous and unparliamentary and which he was compelled to admit he had not read. He later voted for the Whig amendment to the address and then proposed one of his own, calling for parliamentary and economical reform and retrenchment, but failed to find a seconder. He delivered more petitions during February, endorsing their calls for annual Parliaments and universal suffrage. Sir Robert Heron, who judged him ‘a wretched speaker’, thought little of his performances, but reckoned he had got the better of the Whig Henry Brougham on 17 Feb. when, armed with materials by Place, he exposed Brougham’s explicit commitment, when angling for Cochrane’s seat in 1814, to radical reform, since repudiated. Cochrane took a leading part in the opposition to the suspension of habeas corpus and the seditious meetings bill in late February and March. Warned by the Speaker that his assertion that the people would be driven to use force or to withhold taxes amounted to an incitement to riot, 24 Feb., he insisted that he was merely advocating passive resistance and dissociated himself from the Spencean schemes of revolution and confiscation. He was encouraged by Whig resistance to the coercive measures and on 26 Feb. he gestured in the direction of cementing an alliance between them and the reformers:

he had experienced a sort of malicious satisfaction at seeing, for ten years past, that the hopes of the opposition were disappointed by their being kept out of power. He was now, however, decidedly of opinion, that their restoration to place and power was the only means of giving us a chance of escaping degradation and ruin.

He explained to a friend two days later:

You will perceive . that I have resolved to steer another political course, seeing that the only means of averting military despotism from the country is to unite the people and the Whigs, so far as they can be induced to co-operate.16

Cochrane objected to the instability of the paper currency, 5 Mar., and appealed for support to the landed gentry, 7 and 12 Mar., arguing that they were being plundered by excessive poor rates, high taxes, the interest on the funded debt and the currency fluctuations. He supported Brougham’s motion for inquiry into commercial dislocation, 13 Mar., but identified the cause as crippling taxes and advocated a gradual rather than precipitate return to cash payments. The same themes marked his two speeches of 28 Apr. 1817, when he demanded parliamentary reform as the essential prerequisite for restoration of the economy and denounced the issue of Exchequer bills as a ‘nugatory and contemptible’ evasion of the need for a ‘radical remedy’.

He got nowhere in his protracted legal battle to challenge the distribution of prize money for the Aix Roads affair and in May 1817 suffered another financial blow when his Honiton creditors obtained a court order for the seizure of his Hampshire house against the unpaid election bills of 1806. He resisted forcibly for a while, before paying up with a bad grace.17 In the House, 19 May, he gave notice of a motion for inquiry into this episode, but when speaking against bribery on the Haslemere election case, June, he explained that ‘urgent private business’ had compelled him to postpone it. He supported Burdett’s reform motion, 20 May, describing Members, in the present corrupt system, as ‘the maggots of the constitution’, opposed the renewed suspension of habeas corpus, 18, 23, 24 and 27 June, and damned the entire policy of repression, 11 July 1817.

Cochrane had already been approached by representatives of the Chilean government to take command of their navy in their struggle for independence from Spain. He accepted, sold his property in England and in August 1817 went to France, whence he wrote bitterly that ‘the cursed recollection of the injustice that has been done to me is never out of my mind, so that all my pleasures are blasted’. He was suspected by the authorities, not without reason, of involvement in a plot to effect Buonaparte’s escape from St. Helena and install him as the ruler of an independent South America and the following year he told John Cam Hobhouse † , who found him ‘a mild very gentlemanly agreeable man’, that ‘when he was at Paris, the servant at the hotel told him he was instructed to collect all the bits of paper he threw into the fireplace, and even those he used at the close stool’.18

He returned to England for the 1818 session, when he demanded the application of a portion of the droits of Admiralty to the relief of distressed seamen and deplored the absence of any reference to retrenchment in the address, 27 Jan. voted for Folkestone’s motion on the operation of the suspension of habeas corpus, 17 Feb. presented reform petitions, 3 Mar. voted against the ducal marriage grants, 13 and 15 Apr. presented but was forced to withdraw the exiled Cobbett’s petition against spies and censorship, 14 May, and voted for repeal of the Septennial Act, 19 May. At the annual celebration of Burdett’s Westminster victory four days later he ‘very foolishly’, as Place thought, announced that he was about to leave the country for 18 months, thereby precipitating an unseemly scramble for his seat among the rival radical factions. He confirmed his resignation a week later and on 2 June, when speaking for Burdett’s reform motion, announced that this would probably be the last time he addressed the House. He was ‘extremely affected, shedding tears’, but recovered himself to denounce corruption and pay tribute to his constituents, who had ‘rescued him from a desperate and wicked conspiracy, which had nearly involved him in total ruin’. He professed to forgive his persecutors, but this he never did. After the division, in which he was Burdett’s only supporter, he presented Cobbett’s petition for annual Parliaments and universal suffrage, but the House was counted out before it had been read.19

For the next ten years Cochrane fought in the service of Chile, Peru, Brazil and Greece, earning much acclaim but little money for his exploits. Thereafter he concentrated on his campaign for personal justice and restitution. He was granted a free pardon and restored to the navy list, largely through the personal intercession of William IV, in 1832, but another 15 years elapsed before he was reinstated in his civil honours. He enjoyed a belated chief naval command in his seventies and ended his days as rear-admiral of the United Kingdom, but he never realized his many outstanding financial claims, which were partially acknowledged by the payment of £5,000 to his grandson 16 years after his death.20

Cochrane, one of the most colourful and attractive characters to sit in the House in this period, made his presence felt there on occasion, but left no lasting impact. An unlikely Member for Westminster in the first instance, he maintained his position as Burdett’s colleague largely through the magnetic force of his personality and his gift for leadership. His radicalism had little intellectual content and was rooted in his hatred of corruption and the iniquities of the spoils system, nurtured and sustained by his successive professional disappointments and constant battles with authority, in which he was usually outmanoeuvred. Too prone to look for trouble, too quick to resent blows to his pride or purse, he was implacable in his hatreds and became progressively embittered by his unforgiving rancour towards his many enemies. Yet in private life he was always charming, mild-mannered and benevolent and Greville the diarist reflected on meeting him in 1830 that ‘it is a pity he ever got into a scrape he is such a fine fellow, and so shrewd and good-humoured’.21

He died 31 Oct. 1860 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


See Dundonald, Autobiog. of a Seaman (1860 ed.), a partisan and apologetic account of his career to 1814. The rest of it is covered in the Life by his son and H. R. Fox Bourne (1869) and by a sequel to the Autobiog. ed. by his grandson (1890). The most recent of the numerous biographies are W. Tute, Cochrane (1965) I. Grimble, Sea Wolf (1978) and D. Thomas, Cochrane (1978). See also the entry on Cochrane by A. Prochaska in Biog. Dictionary British Radicals ed. Baylen and Gossman, i. 90-93.

Thomas C. Cochran (historian)

Thomas C. Cochran was born on April 29, 1902 in Manhattan. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from New York University before obtaining his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

Cochran taught at N.Y.U. for almost twenty-five years before joining the University of Pennsylvania in 1950, where he became Benjamin Franklin Professor of History, a position from which he retired in 1972. He was also president of the American Historical Association in that year.

In the mid-20th century, Cochran was one of the most significant economic historians of the United States, producing The Age of Enterprise (1961), an important work on the history of American capitalism. Throughout his career, he attempted to examine the history of business not merely as a narrowly economic topic, but also as a cultural one. He opened up new methodological approaches and areas of research in the field of economic history. [2]

Cochran was married three times. He died on May 2, 1999 at the Quadrangle Retirement Center in Haverford, Pennsylvania.

Cochrane, Thomas (1866-1953)

Medical missionary in China and promoter of mission surveys. Cochrane was born and brought up in Greenock, Scotland. He left school at an early age to work to support his widowed mother and the younger children of the family. Listening to D. L. Moody in 1882 brought him to a strong evangelical faith, which determined the rest of his life. In the face of great difficulties, he trained as a doctor in Glasgow and offered himself for service with the London Missionary Society (LMS), requesting appointment “where the work was most abundant and the workers fewest.” In 1897 the LMS appointed him and his wife to Chaoyang, Liaoning Province, in northern China to take up the work James Gilmore had begun. Conditions there, including the desperate shortage of trained personnel, medical equipment, and supplies, made a deep impression. He survived the Boxer Rebellion, and in its aftermath the LMS appointed him to rebuild its hospital in Peking (Beijing). Out of his vision and through his diplomatic skills, the Peking Union Medical College was born, with support from other mission bodies and the empress dowager, and he became the college’s first principal. Its high standards were recognized throughout China and beyond, and in 1915 he negotiated the underwriting of its financial needs by the Rockefeller Foundation. From his China experience grew his lifelong concern for the best use of the available resources for mission and the need of cooperation to achieve this. In 1913 the Christian Literature Society of China published his Survey of the Missionary Occupation of China with an accompanying Atlas of China in Provinces Showing Missionary Occupation.

After his return to England in 1915, Cochrane served at the headquarters of the LMS and also with the National Laymen’s Missionary Movement. In 1918 a Survey Trust was formed with Cochrane, Roland Allen and Sidney J. W. Clark (a wealthy Congregationalist businessman with a lifelong commitment to world mission) as its three trustees. In 1920, in conjunction with Roland Allen, Cochrane published Missionary Survey as an Aid to Intelligent Co-operation in Foreign Mission, and in 1924 the Survey Application Trust was formed. Although “Survey” featured prominently in both the name and activities of the trust, the deed specifically charged the trustees to promote and apply, anywhere in the world, the principles asserted by Clark in his pamphlets and Allen in his two principal books, Mission Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? and The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. The World Dominion Press was the publishing branch of the trust, and a list of its publications indicates how it sought to fulfill this dual function of survey and the promotion of indigenous principles.

In all of this survey work, Cochrane’s managerial skills and ability to reconcile those of different traditions were at work. The compiling of the first edition of the World Christian Handbook, issued in 1949, edited by E. J. Bingle and K. G. Grubb, fulfilled one of Cochrane’s long-standing ambitions. In another direction, he purchased the Mildmay Centre in London in 1931 as a base for the Movement for World Evangelization, with the task of mission on its doorstep, which exemplified his combination of vision and broad evangelical concern. He died in Pinner, Middlesex.

George A. Hood, “Cochrane, Thomas,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 141.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998. Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.



Allen, Roland and Thomas Cochrane. Missionary Survey as an Aid to Intelligent Co-operation in Foreign Mission. London: Green and Company, 1920.

Cochrane, Thomas. The Quest of Cathay: The South China Mission of the London Missionary Society. London: London Missionary Society, 1918.

——–. “China and Medical Education,” International Review of Mission 7 (January 1918): 84-97.

——–. Survey of the Missionary Occupation of China. Shanghai: Christian Literature Society for China, 1913.

——–. Atlas of China in Provinces: a Companion Work to a Survey of the Missionary Occupation of China. Shanghai: Christian Literature Society for China, 1913.


French, Francesca. Thomas Cochrane: Pioneer and Missionary Statesman. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1956.

Paton, David M, ed. Reform of the Ministry: A Study in the Work of Roland Allen. London: Lutterworth Publishing, 1968.

Thomas Cochrane: Craziest Sea Captain in History

Great Britain has a long and fantastic naval heritage. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, they were masters of the open sea. They were conquering new lands and the most powerful fleet of ships was at their command.

One of the most underrated naval heroes is Thomas Cochrane. He has gone down in history as the craziest and single most daring British commander ever. A titled aristocrat and politician, Cochrane was the tenth Earl of Dundonald. He championed freedom, the oppressed and many other causes. But of course, what makes him stand out is his brilliant record as a sea captain.

He amassed a long list of naval achievements, winning sea campaigns during the Napoleonic wars of 1803 to 1815. Cochrane was described as full of "uncompromising idealism, stubbornness, and with a complete lack of discretion." Hard-headed, he opposed authority and often called out superiors. Many in the admiralty hated him, making him lose promotions and bigger ship commissions.

As a military sea captain, he also did nothing by the book. His tactics were unconventional, reckless, and fearless, yet he was very successful in marine warfare. He employed the right mix of meticulously planned campaigns with a "think-on-your-feet" attitude. This approached seemed to work enemies were shocked into inaction or mistakes.

He liked to trick the enemy by flying a different flag on his ship. They would only discover this disguise when it was too late. Even being given a small ship did not stop him from taking down over 50 enemy vessels, many of them much bigger and powerful. Thomas also liked to bluff, pretending his ship had the plague, so they were left alone by fearful enemies. He once cut down masts to make it look like he had more men on board.

Attacking enemy ships at night was another favorite move. He came up with pairing fire ships with small kamikaze canoe bombs, which threw the French off. Charismatic and respected by both his men and enemies, he was nicknamed "The Sea Wolf" by the French and "El Diablo" by the Spaniards.

Foreign nations also invited Cochrane to lead their fleets into battle. In 1818, he commanded the Chilean navy to gain independence from Spain. He immediately helped free Peru from Spain as well. By 1824, Brazil and its fight for freedom from Portugal were next. Cochrane famously pursued the Portuguese fleet across the Atlantic with just three small ships, managing to capture seven enemy ships. A year later, he was brought on to liberate the Greeks from the Ottoman Empire, though without much success.

His belief in true freedom made him resent the freedom fighters he helped because they had installed themselves as the new dictators. Worst, they did not pay him or his men. So in true Cochrane fashion, he looted Chilean, Peruvian and Brazilian ships for the money he was owed - no more, no less.

In his later years, he became an advocate for steam-powered engines and died living a full life at 85 years old. Thomas Cochrane was a true "badass." His fascinating exploits and extreme courage continue to inspire people today.

Sir Thomas Cochrane: The British Naval Officer Who Proposed Saturation Bombing & Chemical Warfare During the Napoleonic Wars

In March 1812, Britain’s prince regent, the future George IV, received from an officer in the Royal Navy a secret proposal aimed at undermining the power of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s military might in a manner guaranteed to revolutionize the rigid customs of warfare. At that time, General Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, was struggling through Spain. The strength of the Royal Navy was being sapped by the need to maintain a tedious blockade of the key French ports where Bonaparte’s warships waited for an opportunity to escape into the Atlantic. The naval officer’s proposal, which the prince turned over to his advisers, offered a radical scheme by which a beachhead on the coast of France could be gained quickly and decisively.

The author of the plan was Captain Sir Thomas, Lord Cochrane, a man whose exploits exceeded in fact what most of his progeny in naval fiction have been able to accomplish. His career began quite inconspicuously at age 17 in June 1793, when he joined his uncle, Captain Alexander Cochrane, aboard the 28-gun frigate Hind as a midshipman. His father, Archibald, the ninth Earl of Dundonald, was an unsuccessful inventor with disastrous pecuniary habits who provided his 6-foot-2-inch, redheaded heir with little beyond the necessities of life. Nevertheless, the young man was destined to set the naval world on its ear.

Within three years of his enlistment, Thomas Cochrane gained a lieutenancy, and in 1800 he was given command of His Majesty’s Ship Speedy, a brig-sloop armed with 14 puny 4-pounder cannons, with which he nevertheless managed to capture the Spanish frigate Gamo in May 1801. Such an impressive feat, combined with a string of other captures, should have won Cochrane an immediate and splendid advancement to one of the sleekest greyhounds in the British fleet.

Cochrane, however, was by nature a supreme idealist who did not hesitate for a moment to point out problems to his superiors and to argue tenaciously for justice as he perceived it. As a result, it was not until 1804, when a change in governmental administration brought Henry Dundas, first Viscount Melville and a fellow Scot, to Whitehall, that Cochrane finally was given the freshly built frigate Pallas ( 32 guns) and carte blanche to patrol the North Atlantic convoy route near the Azores.

Within two months, Cochrane had seized such a vast amount of enemy shipping and cargo that he alone earned 75,000 pounds sterling in prize money and returned to Portsmouth with 5-foot-tall candlesticks made of solid gold strapped to the mastheads. Cochrane’s later raids on the Biscay Coast caused Napoleon to label him ‘ le loup des mers ‘ (the sea wolf), and raised his reputation among the British public to an exalted height.

Cochrane’s star was fated to crash to earth, however. Following the mishandling of a British squadron under Admiral James Gambier in an action against a French squadron at Aix Roads in April 1809, Cochrane, who had attained partial success early in the operation, became embroiled in Gambier’s resultant court-martial. The admiral was acquitted, but Cochrane lacked the skills in public debate that he demonstrated in combat, and he suffered personal humiliation as a result of the inquiry. That experience, combined with his election to Parliament as an independent but reform-minded member for the village of Honiton, helped to earn him numerous political enemies and to delay his reassignment to another command afloat. Cochrane did not sit around and stew, however. It was during that period of unemployment that Cochrane proposed to Prince George his unique approach for freeing the Royal Navy squadrons from their arduous blockades and for reducing the fortifications that protected the critical French ports.

Cochrane detailed for the prince regent the use of two innovative weapons systems, the ‘temporary mortar,’ or ‘explosion ship,’ and the’sulphur ship,’ or’stink vessel.’ An early version of the former device already had been used with only partial success during the opening phase of the Aix Roads action in 1809. Cochrane had been ordered by the Admiralty to employ fire ships against the 11 ships of the line and sundry frigates under Vice Adm. Comte Allemand, since Gambier had refused to employ such vile means to dislodge the enemy. Along with the conventional fire ships, Cochrane also had sent against the French three vessels crammed with 1,500 barrels of gunpowder topped with shells and grenades. The floating powder kegs, set off by fuses, were designed to vent their wrath against the enemy in colossal detonations, but a protective boom set up by the French to stop the fire ships also frustrated Cochrane’s explosion ships.

In his thorough presentation to the prince regent in 1812, Cochrane modified the design of the original explosion ship. For each temporary mortar, a hulk, rather than a rigged vessel, was to be used. The decks would be removed, and an inner shell would be constructed of heavy timbers and braced strongly to the hull. In the bottom of the shell would be laid a layer of clay, into which obsolete ordnance and metal scrap were embedded. The ‘charge,’ in the form of a thick layer of powder, would next be placed, and above that would be laid rows and rows of shells and animal carcasses.

The explosion ship would then be towed into place at an appropriate distance from anchored enemy ships, heeled to a correct angle by means of an adjustment in the ballast loaded in the spaces running along each side of the hulk between the inner and outer hulls, and anchored securely. When detonated, the immense mortar would blast its lethal load in a lofty arc, causing it to spread out over a wide area and to fall on the enemy in a deadly torrent. Experiments conducted with models in the Mediterranean, during his layoff, convinced Cochrane that three explosion ships, properly handled, could saturate a half-mile-square area with 6,000 missiles–enough destructive force to cripple any French squadron even if it lay within an enclosed anchorage.

The follow-up to the explosion ship, or temporary mortar, would be an attack on land fortifications once again using hulks. As before, clay would be used to line the old hull, but the upper deck would remain intact so that it could be covered first with a layer of charcoal, then with an amount of sulphur equaling about one-fifth the volume of the fuel. It was intended to float such a potential stink vessel up against a shore battery or fortification when the wind blew landward, and then ignite the charcoal.

The resultant clouds of ‘noxious effluvia,’ as Cochrane termed them, were expected to be pungent enough to reduce all opposition as the defenders ran away to escape the choking gas. A quick landing by British marines could then secure an otherwise unattainable position and clear the way for the establishment of a beachhead. Cochrane had also experimented with that technique, drawing on the propensity he had inherited from his father for dabbling in chemistry, in particular with the properties of coal and its byproducts, coke and coal tar.

The prince regent turned Cochrane’s ideas over to a panel of experts that included Sir William Congreve and his son the king’s second son, Frederick Augustus (the Duke of York) and two admirals, George, Lord Keith and Lord Exmouth (the former Sir Edward Pellew). At length, that expert panel decided that there was merit in Cochrane’s unusual scheme, but fear of the implications that such radical devices would have on conventional warfare stifled their enthusiasm. What would happen, they mused, if the enemy gained knowledge of this frightful new technology and turned it against Britain’s defenses? The proposal was rejected, and Cochrane pledged never to make the details known to the public.

During the next two decades, numerous opportunities presented Cochrane with reasons to forsake his promise of silence. His cries in Parliament for naval reforms raised the ire of his political enemies, who worked to defame him. When the London Stock Exchange scandal erupted in 1814, Cochrane unwittingly found himself among the men charged with illegal financial manipulations. The outcome of the case brought Cochrane imprisonment, dismissal from the Royal Navy and the removal of his knighthood.

In 1818, Cochrane left England and spent the next 10 years serving as a fabulously successful mercenary admiral for Chile, Peru, Brazil and Greece. Returning home in 1829, he campaigned for British officials to take another look at his past crimes, which he accomplished three years later when, having inherited the title of Earl of Dundonald, he was pardoned by King William IV and readmitted to the navy list with the rank of rear admiral of the fleet.

As a proponent of steam vessels and reform in the navy, Cochrane stayed active, but he spent only three years (1849­1851) on full pay, as commander in chief of the West Indies station. In 1853, as the possibility of war in the Crimea increased, Cochrane proposed to the Admiralty the use of explosion ships and stink vessels at Sevastopol on the Black Sea, or in the Baltic at Kronstadt, as a means of destroying Russian entrenchments. The idea was quickly dismissed by First Lord of the Admiralty Sir James Graham.

The next year brought the certainty of war, and Cochrane–then 79 years old–was considered for placement as commander in chief of the Baltic fleet. The fact that he was passed over was not due to his advanced age, however. Graham explained in a letter to Queen Victoria that Prime Minister George Aberdeen and his cabinet feared that Cochrane’s ‘adventurous spirit’ would lead him to perform’some desperate enterprise,’ which might complicate the difficult international situation. In July 1854, Cochrane again urged Graham to employ his patent stink vessels to route the Russian troops away from the fortifications of the harbor at Kronstadt, so that a British landing could be made and the enemy’s guns manned and turned on the Russian ships anchored beneath the batteries. He even offered his services as a consultant to accompany Sir Charles Napier, who had been given charge of the British fleet. Once more, however, the scheme was rejected, and Napier sailed to the Baltic, where he eventually failed to subdue Kronstadt.

Cochrane supported Napier’s efforts publicly, but informed a newspaper correspondent that he had provided the government with a plan that could solve the problem. No journalistic investigation appears to have been undertaken to determine the nature of that plan, even though Cochrane sought command of the fleet in 1855 when the new prime minister, Henry John Temple, Lord Palmerston, came to power.

Once again, Cochrane suggested to the press that utilization of his unnamed innovative devices would mean that a little more than a week of fair weather in the Crimea would be enough to settle the conflict. Cochrane took his appeal to Parliament, where he sought support for forcing the government to employ his new weapons against the enemy. Public support increased for using the weapon, and it was even suggested that private funds be used to equip the admiral with the resources he needed to get the job done independently.

Throughout the debate, the details of the scheme remained secret. In the board room at the Admiralty, the plan showed the stink vessels with layers of coke and sulphur ready to emit their choking fog. Added to the scheme, however, was the intention to create a smoke screen by burning barrels of tar or pouring naphtha onto the surface of the harbor and igniting it with potassium. Cochrane figured that a few hours would accomplish what months of debilitating conventional warfare had failed to achieve. Palmerston’s government appeared to be close to sanctioning the strategy when Sevastopol was taken in September 1855, followed soon by the war’s end. All discussion of the revolutionary weapons was dropped, and the plans were sealed away on the shelves reserved for confidential materials at Whitehall.

Sir Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, died on October 31, 1860. His secret war plans remained secure until 1908, when Lord Palmerston’s correspondence was published. Less than a decade later, the sulphuric yellow clouds of mustard gas ravaged thousands in the trenches of France.

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Thomas Cochrane, 10th earl of Dundonald

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Thomas Cochrane, 10th earl of Dundonald, (born December 14, 1775, Annesfield, Lanarkshire, Scotland—died October 31, 1860, London, England), iconoclastic British politician and admiral, who ranks among the greatest of British seamen.

He was the eldest son of the 9th earl, whose scientific experiments on his Scottish estates impoverished his family. In 1793 Thomas joined the ship commanded by his uncle, Alexander Cochrane, and thereafter served on other ships during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1806 and again in 1807 he was elected a member of Parliament.

In April 1809 Cochrane led a hazardous fireship attack on the French fleet in the Aix Roads in the Bay of Biscay, but the fruits of his courage were squandered when the commander in chief of the Channel Fleet, Adm. James Gambier, chose not to act upon the advantage that Cochrane had gained. Cochrane’s determined opposition to a proposed Parliamentary vote of thanks for Gambier for his actions at Aix Roads prompted Gambier to apply for a court-martial. In the event, Gambier was acquitted by a friendly court, largely as a result of Cochrane’s decision to allow the record—log books and fleet signal logs—to speak for itself rather than present charges against Gambier. The acquittal, in effect, left Cochrane culpable of having libeled Gambier. That situation, together with Cochrane’s unpopularity in government circles because of his demands for parliamentary and naval reform, resulted in his not being employed again at sea.

In February 1814 Cochrane was implicated in a plot involving one of his uncles to make money on the stock exchange by spreading false rumours about the death of Napoleon I. In the trial that followed, he was sentenced to a period of imprisonment, expelled from Parliament, and deprived of the Order of the Bath, which he had been awarded for his exploit in 1809. Within days of Cochrane’s expulsion from Parliament in July, however, his Westminster constituency, convinced of his innocence in the affair, returned him to the seat in the House of Commons that he would hold until 1818.

At that lowest point of his fortunes, Cochrane accepted (May 1817) the invitation of Chile to command its fleet in the war of independence against Spain. His capture of the Spanish flagship Esmeralda in Callao harbour in November 1820 and subsequent actions by him contributed largely to the independence of not only Chile but also Peru. From 1823 to 1825 he transferred his services to Brazil in its war against Portugal. Soon after his return to Europe he was employed by the Greeks in their war of independence, but he resigned in 1828 at least partly because of factional disputes and delays in the delivery of steamships, which he proposed to use in warfare for the first time.

Having returned to Britain, Cochrane continued to vigorously proclaim his innocence in the 1814 stock market matter, and in 1832, though he did not receive the annulment of his conviction that he pursued, he was granted a free pardon. Moreover, he was reinstated in the navy with the rank of rear admiral. A year earlier, 1831, he had succeeded his father as earl of Dundonald. In 1847 his Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) was also restored to him, From 1848 to 1851 he commanded the West Indies station. He died in 1860 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Cochrane was the author of Autobiography of a Seaman, 2 vol. (1860–61) and Narrative of Services in the Liberation of Chili, Peru and Brazil, 2 vol. (1959).

This article was most recently revised and updated by Jeff Wallenfeldt, Manager, Geography and History.