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Significant Scots
Sir Alexander Cochrane


COCHRANE, SIR ALEXANDER FORRESTER INGLIS, G.C.B.—This admiral belonged to a family of which the naval service is justly proud, being the ninth son of Thomas, eighth Earl of Dundonald, and consequently uncle to the present earl, better known by the name of Lord Cochrane. Alexander Cochrane was born on the 23rd of April, 1758. Being destined for the sea service, he embarked at an early age; and, after the usual intermediate steps, was appointed lieutenant in 1778. In this capacity he acted as signal-officer to Lord Rodney, in the action with de Guichen and the French fleet on the 17th April, 1780, off Martinique; and it is evident, from the complicated manoeuvres which the British commander was obliged to adopt in bringing the enemy to action, that Lieutenant Cochrane’s office on this occasion was one of great trust. After the action his name was returned among the list of the wounded. His next stop of promotion was the command of the St. Lucia, sloop of war, and afterwards of the Pachahunter, which last command he subsequently changed with Sir Isaac Coffin for that of the Avenger, an armed sloop employed in the North River in America. At the end of 1782 he was appointed, with the rank of post-captain, to the command of the Kangaroo, and afterwards to the Caroline, of 24 guns, employed on the American station.

After peace was established with our North American colonies, by which the latter were confirmed as an independent government, Captain Cochrane’s occupation for the time was ended; and he spent several years in retirement, until he was called again to service in 1790, in the prospect of a rupture with Spain. On this occasion he was appointed to the command of a small frigate, the Hind, when, on the renewal of hostilities with France, he was removed to the Thetis, of 42 guns and 261 men. With such means at his disposal he soon showed himself an active, bold, and successful cruiser, so that, during the spring and summer of 1793, he captured eight French privateers, mounting in all above eighty guns. In 1795 he also signalized himself by a bold attack upon five French sail off Chesapeake, being aided by the Hussar, a British frigate of 34 guns, and succeeded in capturing one of the largest vessels, the rest having made their escape after they had struck. Several years of service on the coast of America succeeded, in which Captain Cochrane made important captures of not a few French privateers, and established his character as an able naval commander; so that, in February, 1799, he was appointed to the Ajax, of 80 guns, and sent in the following year upon the expedition against Quiberon, Belleisle, and Ferrol. This expedition, as is well known, was all but useless, as the French royalists, whom it was sent to aid, were too helpless to co-operate with the invaders. The Ajax, having subsequently joined the fleet on the Mediterranean station, under the command of Lord Keith, proceeded to Egypt as part of the convoy of Abercromby’s expedition for the expulsion of the French from that country; and on this occasion the professional talents of Captain Cochrane were brought into full play. He was commissioned by Lord Keith to superintend the landing of the British troops; and this disembarkation, performed so successfully in the face of so many difficulties, will ever constitute a more important episode in history than a victory won in a pitched field. With such admirable skill were the naval and military details of this process conducted, and so harmoniously did the two services combine on the occasion, that a landing, which on ordinary occasions might have been attended with utter defeat, or the loss of half an army, was effected with only 20 sailors and 102 soldiers killed. At the capture of Alexandria, by which the war in Egypt was successfully terminated, Captain Cochrane, with a detachment of armed vessels, was stationed on the lake Moerotis, to protect the advance of the British troops upon the city, a duty which he performed with his wonted ability. So valuable, indeed, had his services been during the six months of the Egyptian campaign, that at the end of it they were most honourably mentioned in the despatches of Lord Keith, as well as those of General Hutchinson, by whom Abercromby was succeeded.

The peace of Amiens occasioned the return of the Ajax to England in February, 1802, and Cochrane, with the true restlessness of a landed sailor, as well as the true patriotism of a good British subject, still wished to do something for his country. He accordingly turned his attention to Parliament, and became a candidate for the representation of the united boroughs of Stirling, Dunfermline, &c., at the genera1 election that had now occurred. As the votes for Sir John Henderson, his antagonist, and himself were equal, a contest ensued that was followed by petition, and the result was that in 1804, after a long investigation, Cochrane’s election was confirmed. Two years after the wind completely changed, for at the election of 1806 Henderson was elected. The quarter-deck, and not the hustings, was the proper arena for Cochrane. Fortunately for him that arena he continued to occupy even during this period of political altercation; for the peace, or rather hollow truce of Amiens was at an end while the ink was scarcely dry upon the paper, and in 1803 he was appointed to the command of the Northumberland, 74; and in the following year he was sent out, with the rank of rear-admiral, to watch the port of Ferrol, in anticipation of a war with Spain. In 1805 he was commissioned to pursue a French squadron that had stolen out of the blockaded port of Rochefort. Its destination was unknown, but the most serious consequences were apprehended, as it consisted of five ships-of-the-line, three frigates, two brigs, and a schooner, and had 4000 troops on board. Cochrane went off with six ships-of-the-line in pursuit of these dangerous fugitives, and after a long cruise, in which the coasts of France and Spain, and the West India Islands, were successively visited and explored, he found it impossible to come in sight of his nimble fear-stricken adversaries: all that he could learn of their whereabouts was in the instances of a few paltry captures they had made of British merchantmen, and their throwing a supply of troops into the town of St. Domingo. The timidity of this flying squadron was rewarded by a safe return to Rochefort, which they effected in spite of the British cruisers that were sent in all directions to intercept them. Admiral Cochrane then assumed the command of the Leeward Islands station, and joined Lord Nelson in his active pursuit after the combined fleets of France and Spain. In the following year (1806) he formed a junction with Vice-Admiral Sir John G. Duckworth, for the pursuit of a French squadron that had sailed from Brest to relieve the town of St. Domingo. On this occasion the French were overtaken, and in the action that followed, and which lasted nearly two hours, they were so utterly defeated, that of their five ships-of-the-line two were burnt, and the other three captured: nothing escaped but two frigates and a corvette. On this occasion Cochrane’s ship, the Northumberland, which had been in the hottest of the fire, had by far the greatest number of killed and wounded, while himself had a narrow escape, his hat being knocked off his head by a grape-shot. So important were his services on this occasion, that he received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament, and of the corporation of London; while the latter, not confining itself to verbal acknowledgments, presented him with the honour of the city, and a sword of the value of a hundred guineas. This was not all; for the underwriters at Barbadoes presented him with a piece of plate valued at £500; and the committee of the Patriotic Fund at Lloyd’s with a vase worth £300. The honour of knighthood crowned these rewards of his highly-valued achievements, and on the 29th of March, 1806, he was created Knight of the Bath. Nothing could more highly attest the estimation in which his exploit at St. Domingo was held, than that so many acknowledgments should have rewarded it, at a season, too, when gallant actions at sea were events of every-day occurrence.

Soon after, war was declared against Denmark; and on hearing of this, Sir A. Cochrane concerted measures with General Bowyer for the reduction of St, Thomas, St. John’s, and St. Croix, islands belonging to the Danish crown. In a few months the whole were captured, along with a valuable fleet of Danish merchantmen. His next service ws in the reduction of Martinique, where he co-operated with General Beckwith; and for this acquisition, he and his gallant land partner received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament. The reduction of Guadaloupe followed, in which both commanders joined, and were equally successful; and in 1810 Cochrane, in reward of his services, was appointed governor and commander-in-chief of Guadaloupe and its dependencies. In this situation he continued till 1813, when a war with the United States called him once more into action. He was appointed to the command of the fleet on coast of North America, and on assuming office, he shut up and watched the ports of the United States with a most vigilant and effectual blockade. Soon after this the universal peace ensued, which has only of late been terminated, and in 1815 Sir Alexander Cochrane returned to England. He was raised to the rank of full admiral in 1819, and held the office of commander-in-chief at Plymouth from 1821 to 1824.

The brave old admiral, like the rest of his contemporaries of the land and sea service, was now obliged to change a life of action for one of repose, and find enjoyment in the tranquillity of home, and the pleasures of social intercourse. In this manner he passed the rest of his days, honoured and beloved by all who knew him. His death, which occurred at Paris, was fearfully sudden. Accompanied by his brother he went, on the morning of the 26th of January, 1832, to visit his daughter, Lady Trowbridge, for the purpose of inviting his young grand-children to an evening entertainment; but while he was affectionately caressing them he suddenly started, placed his hand on his left side, and exclaiming to Mr. Cochrane, "O brother, what a dreadful pain!" he fell back into his arms, and instantly expired.


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