1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dundonald, Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 8
Dundonald, Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of
See also Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald on Wikipedia; and our 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica disclaimer.

DUNDONALD, THOMAS COCHRANE, 10th Earl of (1775-1860), British admiral, was born at Annsfield in Lanarkshire on the 14th of December 1775. He came of an old Scottish family, the first earl having been Sir William Cochrane (d. 1686), a soldier who was created Baron Cochrane in 1647 and earl of Dundonald in 1669. He was the son of Archibald Cochrane, 9th Earl (1749-1831), who is remembered as a most ingenious, but also most unfortunate, scientific speculator and inventor, who was before his time in suggesting and attempting new processes of alkali manufacture, and various other uses of applied science. The family was greatly impoverished owing to his losses over these schemes, but still possessed a good deal of interest. By the help of friends Thomas was provided with a commission in an infantry regiment, and at the same time put on the books of a man-of-war by his uncle, Captain A. F. I. Cochrane (1758-1832), while still a boy. He finally chose the navy, and went to sea in his uncle’s ship, the “Hind,” in 1793. He could already count nearly five years’ nominal service, an example of those naval abuses which he was to denounce (and to profit by) during a large part of his career. His promotion was rapid. He became a lieutenant in 1796. While in that rank he was led by his self-assertive temper into a quarrel with his superior, Lieutenant Philip Beaver (1766-1813), for which he was sent before a court-martial. A warning to avoid flippancy in future was, however, the worst that happened to him.

In 1800 he was appointed to the command of the “Speedy” brig, a small vessel in which he gained a great and deserved reputation as a daring and skilful officer. His capture of the Spanish frigate “El Gamo” (32) on the 6th of May 1801 was indeed a feat of unparalleled audacity. His promotion to post rank followed on the 8th of August. Though he was apt to represent himself as disliked and neglected by the admiralty, and was frequently insolent towards his superiors, he was, as a matter of fact, pretty constantly employed, and he more than justified his appointments by his activity and success as captain of the “Pallas” (32) and “Impérieuse” (38) on the ocean and in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately for himself he secured his return to parliament as member for Honiton in 1806 and for Westminster in 1807. In the House of Commons he soon made his mark as a radical, and as a denouncer of naval abuses. But his views did not prevent him from profiting to the utmost by one very bad abuse, for he did his utmost to secure the retention of his frigate in port, in order that he might be able to attend parliament. In spite of his radical opinions he made a furious attack on the admiralty for the new prize money regulations which diminished the shares of the captains to the advantage of the men. In April 1809 he was engaged in the attack on the French squadron in the Basque Roads, which was very ill conducted by Lord Gambier. The conduct of Lord Cochrane, as he was called till the death of his father, was brilliant and was rewarded by the order of the Bath, but his aggressive temper led him into making attacks on the admiral which necessitated a court-martial on Gambier. The admiral was acquitted, and Cochrane naturally fell into disfavour with the admiralty. He was not employed again till 1813, when he was named to the command of the “Tonnant,” which was ordered for service as flagship on the coast of America. In the interval he was restlessly active in parliament in denouncing naval abuses, and was also, most disastrously for himself, led into speculations on the Stock Exchange, by which he was brought at the beginning of 1814 into pressing danger of total ruin.

At this moment a notorious fraud was perpetrated on the Stock Exchange by an uncle of his and by other persons with whom he habitually acted in his speculations. Lord Cochrane was brought to trial with the others before Lord Ellenborough on the 8th of June 1814 and all were condemned. He was sentenced to an hour in the pillory, which was remitted, and to fine and imprisonment, which were enforced. He continued to assert his innocence, and to protest that he had been unjustly condemned, but he was expelled from parliament and the order of the Bath. He was, however, almost immediately re-elected member for Westminster, but he had to serve his term (one year) of imprisonment, and, after escaping and being recaptured, he regained his liberty in 1815 on payment of the fine of £1000 to which he had been sentenced.

In 1817 he accepted the invitation of the Chileans, who were then in revolt against Spain, to take command of their naval forces, and remaining in their service until 1822 contributed largely to their success. His capture of the Spanish frigate “Esmeralda” (40) in the harbour of Callao, on the 5th of November 1820, was an achievement of signal daring. In 1823 he transferred his services to Brazil, where he helped the emperor Dom Pedro I. to shake off the yoke of Portugal; but by the end of 1825 he had fallen out with the Brazilians, and he returned to Europe. His activity was next devoted to the aid of the Greeks, then at the end of their struggle with the Turks, but he found no opportunity for distinguishing himself, and in 1828 he returned home. His efforts were now steadily directed to securing his restoration to the navy, and in this he succeeded in 1832; but though he was granted a “free pardon” he failed to obtain the new trial for which he was anxious, or to secure the arrears of pay he claimed.[1] He was restored to his place in the order of the Bath in 1847. In 1848 he was appointed to the command of the North American and West India station, which he retained till 1851. At various periods of his life he occupied himself with scientific invention. He took out patents for lamps to burn oil of tar, for the propulsion of ships at sea, for facilitating excavation, mining and sinking, for rotary steam-engines and for other purposes; and so early as 1843 he was an advocate of the employment of steam and the screw propeller in war-ships. During the Crimean War he revived his “secret war plan” for the total destruction of an enemy’s fleet, and offered to conduct in person an attack on Sevastopol and destroy it in a few hours without loss to the attacking force. This plan, the details of which have never been divulged, he had proposed so far back as 1811, and the committee which was then appointed to consider it reported on it as effective but inhuman. Lord Dundonald died in London on the 30th of October 1860, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. No one ever excelled him in daring and resource as a naval officer, but he suffered from serious defects of character, and even those who think him guiltless of the charge on which he was convicted in 1814 must feel that he had his own imprudence and want of self-command to thank for many of his misfortunes.

He was succeeded in the title by his son Thomas as 11th earl (d. 1885), and the latter by his son Douglas (b. 1852) as 12th earl, a distinguished cavalry officer who became a lieutenant-general in 1907.

The 10th earl’s Autobiography of a Seaman (2 vols., 1860-1861), the main source for his Life (1869, by his son and heir), is written with spirit, but it was composed at the end of his career when his memory was failing, and was chiefly executed by others. He also wrote Notes on the Mineralogy, Government and Condition of the British West India Islands (1851), and a Narrative of Services in the Liberation of Chili, Peru and Brazil (1858). The whole story of his trial and of the Stock Exchange fraud for which he was condemned has been examined by Mr J. B. Atlay in The Trial of Lord Cochrane before Lord Ellenborough (1897).


  1. In 1878, as the result of the report of a select committee of the House of Commons appointed in 1877, a grant of £5000 was made to the then Lord Cochrane “in respect of the distinguished services of his grandfather, the late earl of Dundonald.”