Maritime Art

Thomas Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald (1775-1860)

By Charles Turner (1774 - 1857) after Peter Eduard Stroehling (1768 - 1826)

This mezzotint by the engraver Charles Turner (1774-1857) is based on a famous portrait of Cochrane by the artists Peter Edward Stroehling (1768-1826).

Cochrane is one of the most important figures in the early nineteenth century navy. He joined as a midshipman in 1793 and was promoted to acting lieutenant just two years later. His subsequent career was crowned with military success but was shadowed with a curious and equally potent inability to get on with those around him – superiors and subordinates in the navy and professional colleagues in parliament. Nonetheless his naval reputation was such that he even reached the ears of Napoleon who nicknamed him Le Loup Des Mers (The Wolf of the Seas) and his career inspired the fictional characters Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey. When commander of HMS Speedy in 1800-1, Cochrane captured or destroyed 53 French ships in just thirteen months.

A man of such significance, Cochrane has attracted a great deal of scholarship and the Society has published a number of important articles.

Lord Cochrane’s Secret Plans explores how, in 1812, after his heroic if controversial actions in the Basque Roads (1809), Lord Cochrane, worried about the resurgence of French naval power and the difficulty of forcing the French Navy to action, proposed radical plans to destroy it in situ and “dig the rats out of their holes”. These plans were considered by the Admiralty to be too extreme even to be divulged, far less acted on, and they remained secret until the early 20th century. Essentially, they were to use ships filled with explosives as floating bombs to penetrate harbours (Toulon in particular) and cause destruction and terror, coupled with burning sulphur to asphyxiate the defenders. Separate amphibious operations would also capture semaphore stations and offshore islands and otherwise disrupt coastal trade. It was felt at the time, and later in 1846 and in the Crimean War when the plans were considered again, that Cochrane had over-rated the infallibility of his scheme, and ignored the risk of similar measures being used against the British.

Lord Cochrane in Brazil Part I The Naval War of Independence 1823 explores how, under Lord Cochrane’s audacious leadership the new Brazilian Navy swept superior Portuguese forces from the seas, forced them to abandon their stronghold of Salvador de Bahia and then, in a series of audacious bluffs, secured the evacuation of their garrisons from the northern cities of Maranhão and Belem.  By the end of the year, Brazil was free of foreign occupation and de facto independent.  Cochrane and his men returned to Rio de Janeiro accompanied by a huge bag of prizes to be loaded with honours and thanks.

Lord Cochrane in Brazil Part II Prize Money, Politics and Rebellion, 1824-25 explores how Lord Cochrane’s stunning victories in Brazil were quickly followed by bitter disputes over money and ever-deepening suspicions of the motivation of his employers.  Unable for political reasons to condemn all Cochrane’s Portuguese prizes, alternative attempts to satisfy his financial claims floundered on the Admiral’s refusal to believe in the Brazilian Government’s good faith.  Brooding on his wrongs, Cochrane’s judgment became flawed.  His performance in suppressing a dangerous rebellion in Pernambuco was poor.  He then held Maranhão to ransom until his prize money was paid.  Finally he sailed to Portsmouth in a Brazilian frigate, never to return.

Lord Cochrane’s Greek Steam Fleet explores how, as the Greeks struggled to gain independence from the Ottoman Empire, suggestions were made for building a Greek Fleet including steamships. Captain Hastings recommended that Lord Cochrane be appointed as commander of this navy with the intention of attacking the Turkish fleet in Constantinople. Details are given of the problems encountered in obtaining the steamships including sabotage by the builder and deficiencies of the engines. Cochrane’s activities and the service careers of the Perseverance and the Karteria are described.

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