Exhibition: Admiral Cochrane - the Real Master and Commander, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, until February 19 2012.
© National Museums Scotland
He inspired Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey and C.S. Forester’s Hornblower, and even appeared as a character in one of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels, but you may never have heard of Admiral Thomas Cochrane.
The nineteenth century naval hero who was well known to Napoleon, praised by Sir Walter Scott, and envied by Lord Byron has been largely forgotten by history. However, a new exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland aims to give him the recognition he deserves.
Cochrane was born in 1775 and grew up in Culross, Fife, before joining the Royal Navy aged 17. One of his most famous early exploits was taking the Spanish ship El Gamo, a far larger vessel than his own HMS Speedy armed with more than five times as many men.
He was known to the French as Le Loup des Mers (the sea wolf) and he earned a knighthood for leading the attack on Napoleon’s French fleet at the Battle of the Basque Roads.
© National Museums Scotland
Ever a controversial figure, Cochrane became an MP in 1806 and campaigned for parliamentary reform until he was found guilty of stock exchange fraud in 1814. He lost his seat in Parliament, was thrown out of the Navy, stripped of his knighthood and imprisoned for a year.
Cochrane always protested his innocence, but he left Britain in disgrace in 1818 bound for Chile, where he became commander of the Chilean navy. He played a pivotal role in Chile’s war of independence against Spain and is still remembered as a national hero in Chile today.
This commission was followed by spells leading the Brazilian navy against Portugal and, less successfully, the Greek navy against the Ottomans.
After his return to Britain, Cochrane was eventually pardoned by William IV. He was re-instated to the Naval List with a promotion to Rear-Admiral and his knighthood was restored by Queen Victoria, but he was never cleared of the fraud conviction.
Cochrane was a keen inventor and innovator and was ahead of his time in his support for steamships and chemical warfare.
The exhibition brings together a range of documents from Cochrane’s life including log books, charts, plans for some of his inventions, his marriage certificate and his appointment to the Chilean navy.
Among the objects on display are a pocket watch that Cochrane’s father gave him when he joined the navy, a silver whistle that he kept as a souvenir of his days at sea, the Star of Bath, presented to Cochrane for his part in the victory at the Battle of the Basque Roads, and a sea chest presented by the people of Chile inscribed with the words ‘Soy de Cochrane’ (I belong to Cochrane).
- Open 10am-5pm daily. Admission free.