A Naval Biographical Dictionary/Dundonald, Thomas

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DUNDONALD, G.C.B., Earl of, formerly Lord Cochrane. (Vice-Admiral of the White, 1841.)

The Right Honourable Thomas Earl of Dundonald, born 14 Dec. 1775, is eldest son of Archibald, ninth Earl of Dundonald, by Anne, second daughter of Capt. Jas. Gilchrist, R.N. He is brother of Lieut-Col. Hon. Basil Cochrane, of the 36th Foot, who died in May, 1816 – of Hon. Wm. Erskine Cochrane, who served in the Peninsular war as Major of the 15th Hussars – and of Capt. Hon. Archibald Cochrane, R.N. (1806), who assisted at the capture of El Gamo and died 6 Aug. 1829. His first-cousin, Sir Thos. John Cochrane, was lately Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies. His Lordship succeeded his father in the Earldom of Dundonald 1 July, 1831.

This officer was entered, 6 Dec. 1780, as Captain’s Servant, on the books of the Vesuvius bomb, commanded by his uncle, Capt. Hon. Alex. Inglis Cochrane, by whom his name was successively placed on those of the Carolina and Sophie. He did not, however, go to sea until 27 June, 1793, when he embarked as a Boy with Capt. Cochrane in the Hind 28; previously to which, although he had not joined his regiment, he had been gazetted to a Captaincy in the 79th Foot. Removing with his relative, in the course of the same year, to the Thetis of 42 guns and 261 men, Lord Cochrane sailed for the coast of North America; where, as Acting-Lieutenant of that frigate, we find him, on 17 May 1795, contributing to the defeat, in company with the Hussar 28, of a French squadron of five sail, two of which, La Prévoyante of 24, and La Raison of 18 guns, were captured, after a close conflict of more than an hour’s duration, and a loss to the Thetis of 8 men killed and 9 wounded. His Lordship, whose confirmation to the Thetis took place 24 May, 1796, subsequently joined the Africa 64, Capt. Roddam Home, Resolution 74, bearing the flag of Admiral Vandeput, Thetis again, Capt. Cochrane, and Foudroyant, Barfleur, and Queen Charlotte, flag-ships in the Mediterranean of Lord Keith. On 21 Dec. 1799, having taken command, with Lieut. Wm. Bainbridge, of the boats of the Queen Charlotte and Emerald frigate, he was despatched from Gibraltar Bay for the purpose of affording assistance to the Lady Nelson cutter, then surrounded off Cabritta Point by several of the enemy’s privateers and gun-boats, some of the latter of which he pursued and boarded with the utmost gallantry. On the capture, 18 Feb. 1800, of the French 74-gun ship Le Généreux, Lord Cochrane was appointed her Acting-Captain, and he appears to have conveyed her from Malta to Minorca under circumstances of great difficulty. Being promoted to the command, 28 March following, of the Speedy sloop, of 14 guns and 54 men, he commenced a series of operations against the enemy, unparalleled for activity and success, becoming the personal captor, within the short space of 14 months, of 33 vessels, carrying altogether 128 guns and 533 men, besides assisting at the capture of many others. To particularize every dashing exploit performed by Lord Cochrane during his continuance in the Speedy would lead us far beyond our limits, but there is one feat, from its transcendent heroism, that we cannot pass over in silence. On 6 May, 1801, being off Barcelona, the Speedy fell in with the Spanish frigate El Gamo, of 32 heavy guns and 319 men, one of several vessels that had been sent to effect his capture. Undaunted by a force so comparatively enormous, her gallant commander instantly commenced a close action, and, after a cannonade of 45 minutes, ran alongside his lofty antagonist, whom, at the head of only 40 men, he impetuously boarded and carried. The British vessel, whose force, as we have seen, consisted originally of not more than 54 men, sustained a loss on the occasion of 3 killed and 8 wounded, and the Gamo (which, although immediately afterwards attacked by a division of gun-boats, was ultimately conducted in safety to Minorca) of 15 killed and 41 wounded. On 3 July following, however, the Speedy was herself captured by a French squadron under M. Linois, but not until she had exhausted every means of escape, and had behaved in a manner so conspicuous, that, on Lord Cochrane’s presenting his sword to the Captain of the 74-gun ship 'Dessaix', it was returned to him with the complimentary reqest that he would continue to wear what he had so nobly used. On 6 of the same month it was his fortune to be present on board the French squadron when attacked by Sir Jas. Saumarez in the Bay of Algeciras, but, being soon afterwards exchanged, he returned to England, and on his arrival was presented, as a reward for his wonderful gallantry in the affair of the Gamo, with a Post-comission dated 8 Aug. 1801. From that period Lord Cochrane remained on half-pay until appointed, 5 Oct. 1303, to the Arab 22, from which ship, after intermediately serving with great risk at the blockade of Boulogne, he removed, 3 Dec. 1804, to the Pallas 32. In the following March, being sent to cruize off the coast of Spain, he succeeded in capturing a galleon, Il Fortuna, laden with specie to the amount of 150,000l., and with merchandize of nearly equal value, but he generously returned 10,000 crowns of the spoil to the unfortunate sufferers, and restored them to liberty. On 6 April, 1806, while her boats with all but 40 of the crew were absent on an expedition up the Garonne, the Pallas gave chase to, and drove on shore, two corvettes and a large armed frigate-built store-ship, mounting in the whole 64 guns. In May, 1806, Lord Cochrane distinguished himself by the destruction of the semaphores along the French coast, where he landed with the marines and boats’ crews, and, notwithstanding the defence of the militia, demolished the posts at Pointe de la Roche, Caliola, and L’Ance de Repos, burnt down the buildings, and bore off the signal-flags. He also carried by storm the battery at Pointe d’Equilon, destroyed its stores, and blew up the barrack and magazine. Four days after the latter event the Pallas, under a heavy fire from the batteries on He d’Aix, singly attacked the French 40-gun frigate La Minerve, in company with three 18-gun brigs, but, while preparing to board, she unfortunately ran foul of the former, and by the tremendous shock was reduced to a complete wreck. Assuming command, 23 Aug. 1806, of the Impérieuse, of 44 guns. Lord Cochrane, in the short period of one month, took and destroyed 15 vessels, chiefly laden with wine and provisions. He was afterwards sent to co-operate with the patriots on the coast of Catalonia, and he there, on 31 July, 1808, compelled the castle of Mongat to surrender, by which the road to Gerona, then besieged by the French, had been completely commanded. In Sept. 1803 his Lordship renewed his operations against the semaphores on the coast of France, where he completely destroyed those which had since been erected at Bourdique, La Pinde, St. Maguire, Frontignan, Canet, and Foy, with the houses attached to them, 14 barracks belonging to the gens-d’armes, a battery, and a strong tower on Lake Frontignan. Indeed, he kept the whole of the enemy’s coast in a constant state of alarm, suspended their trade, and, by the diversion he thus created, prevented those troops which had been intended for Figueras from advancing into the Peninsula. Returning to the coast of Spain, Lord Cochrane volunteered the defence of Trinidad Castle, attached to the fortress of Rosas, then besieged by the French, a thousand of whose picked men,, at the head of 80 of his oin people and about an equal number of Spaniards, he repelled, 30 Nov. 1808, in an assault made by them on the castle. He protracted the siege for 12 days, and then, finding further opposition useless, in consequence of the citadel having capitulated, he blew up the magazines of Trinidad Castle, and returned to his ship. The Captain of the Impérieuse subsequently rendered the Commander-in-Chief the important service of presenting him with the key of the enemy’s telegraph signals on the heights of Toulon, which enabled him to derive information twice a-day, not only of the movements of the enemy, but of his own cruizers, from the south promontory of Italy to Cape Rosas in Spain. In April, 1809, Lord Cochrane was selected by the First Lord of the Admiralty, in preference to many senior officers, to command a fleet of fire and explosion ships intended for the destruction of the French shipping as they lay at anchor in the road of He d’Aix. The glowing success which attended his Lordship’s personal efforts will ever remain prominent in the page of history. On the night of the 11th he went on board one of the explosion vessels, containing 1500 barrels of gunpowder, which, being conducted close to windward of the boom that had been placed for the protection of the French ships, shattered that means of defence. Favoured by wind and current, the fire-vessels, having a passage thus opened for them, rushed onward in blazing piles, carrying with them so much consternation, that by the next morning it was found that seven line-of-battle ships had cut their cables and run on shore. Of these La Ville de Varsovie 80, and Tonnant and Aquillon 74’s, were afterwards destroyed, as were also the Indienne of 44, and Calcutta of 56 guns – the latter after having been captured by Lord Cochrane, who, unsupported, approached in the Impérieuse, and commenced an action which lasted until she struck her colours. On 26 of the same month. His Majesty, to testify the sense entertained by himself and by the country at large of the hero’s conduct, conferred on him the dignity of a K.B. – the only instance but one (and that in the case of Sir John Jervis) in which so high an honour had been bestowed on an officer holding the rank of Captain. Lord Cochrane continued in the Impérieuse until Aug. 1809, but, in consequence of feelings of hostility engendered against him by the opposition he had offered in parliament to a vote of thanks proposed to Lord Gambier as Commander-in-Chief of the British fleet stationed in Basque Roads during the operations we have just recorded, and but for whose ineffectual support, it was asserted, the whole of the French shipping might have been destroyed, he was suffered to continue unemployed until 9 Feb. 1814. He then at length obtained command of the Tonnant 80, as Flag-Captain of his uncle, Sir Alex. Cochrane, at that time Commander-in-Chief in North America, but he resigned the appointment April following; and, on 5 July in the same year, from a combination of fortuitous circumstances, of which he appears to have been thoroughly the victim, he was doomed to lose his rank in the Navy, also the K.B. and his seat in parliament, in which he had officiated, since 1807, as Member for Westminster. Being no longer in the British service, his Lordship, in 1818, accepted the chief command of the Navy belonging to the new state of Chili, whose final independence the splendour of his subsequent achievements mainly contributed to effect. He afterwards assumed control of the Brazilian fleet, and gave such satisfaction that Don Pedro, in 1823, created him Marquess of Maranham. On the establishment of peace between Portugal and Brazil, his Lordship returned to England, whence he next proceeded to Greece, in whose service he appears to have been employed for a period of 12 months in 1827-8.[1] On the occasion of William the Fourth’s accession to the throne he was at length reinstated in his place in the British Navy; and on 22 May, 1847, although it had until then been most inconsistently withholden, the order of the Bath was restored to him, an act which of course reestablishes his Lordship’s character, but not more fully proves his innocence than it clearly indicates the debt of reparation- due to him for having been so long suffered to bear the stigma of unmerited disgrace. He became a Vice-Admiral 23 Nov. 1841.[2]

The noble Earl, who enjoys a high reputation for his scientific acquirements, married, 12 Aug. 1812, Katherine Frances Corbet, daughter of Thos. Barnes, Esq., of Essex, and has issue, with one daughter, four sons, of whom the eldest. Lord Cochrane, is a Captain in the 18th Regiment, and the third, Arthur Auckland Cochrane, a Mate R.N.

  1. The Earl of Dundonald possesses three Chilian dccolations for capturing the city of Valdivia and the frigate Emeralda, and for clearing the Pacific of all hostile vessels of war; also the Grand Cross of the Order of the Cruzero, for driving the Portuguese from the Northern provinces of Brazil; and the Order of the Redeemer of Greece. His Lordship’s services to his own country have been gazetted nine times.
  2. His Lordship has lately afforded the public some very sterling suggestions, the fruits of his vast experience, in the shape of a pamphlet, entitled ‘Observations on Naval Affairs, and on some collateral subjects, &c.’ In this volume he has published a summary of his Naval services, and has exhibited acts of injustice, as experienced by himself, which should render its perusal imperative on all who feel in any way interested in the honour of their country, and especially on those whose duty, as well as in whose power, it is to make atonement for the past, and by future acts to cancel its recollection.