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Significant Scots
Archibald Cochrane


COCHRANE, ARCHIBALD, ninth earl of Dundonald, a nobleman distinguished by his useful scientific investigations, was the son of Thomas, the eighth earl, by Jane, daughter of Archibald Stewart of Torrence; and was born on the 1st of January, 1748. His lordship, before his father’s death, entered life as a cornet, in the 3d dragoons, which commission he afterwards abandoned, in order to become a midshipman under his countryman captain Stair Douglas. While stationed as acting lieutenant in a vessel off the coast of Guinea, he had occasion to observe the liability of vessels to be rotted by the sea, which in some cases was so very great, that a few months was sufficient to render them not seaworthy. He conceived the idea of laying them over with tar extracted from coal, a substance which was then little known, though now identified with the very idea of marine craft. The experiment was first tried in Holland, and found to answer all the purposes required. Being then tried upon a decked boat at the Nore, and found equally answerable, his lordship procured a patent of his invention for a short term, which was afterwards (1785) changed for an act of parliament, vesting it in him and his heirs for twenty years. Unfortunately, the general adoption of copper-sheathing rendered the speculation not only abortive, but ruinous to the inventor, who had burdened all his estates in order to raise the necessary works. His lordship had succeeded to the family honours in 1778. In 1785, he published two pamphlets—one entitled, "The Present State of the Manufacture of Salt explained," the other, "An Account of the Qualities and Uses of Coal Tar and Coal Varnish." In 1795, his lordship published a treatise showing the intimate connection between agriculture and chemistry, and in 1807 he obtained a patent for improvements in spinning machinery. It unfortunately happened that his lordship’s inventions, although all of them seemed to tend to the public good, proved unprofitable to himself. The latter half of his long life was, on this account, spent in embarrassments and privations, which may well excite our sympathy. His lordship was thrice married; first to Anne, daughter of captain Gilchrist of Annsfield, R. N.; secondly, to Isabella, daughter of Samuel Raymond, Esq. of Belchamp, in Essex; thirdly, to Anna Maria Plowden, daughter of the well-known historian of Ireland. By the first of these matches, he had six sons, the eldest of whom, under the designation of lord Cochrane, distinguished himself by his gallant naval achievements in the war of the French Revolution. The following remarks were made in allusion to this noble and unfortunate votary of science, in the annual address of the Registrars of the Literary Fund Society, in the year 1823:-

"A man born in the high class of the old British peerage has devoted his acute and investigating mind solely to the prosecution of science; and his powers have prevailed in the pursuit. The discoveries effected by his scientific research, with its direction altogether to utility, have been in many instances beneficial to the community, and in many have been the sources of wealth to individuals. To himself alone they have been unprofitable; for with a superior disdain, or (if you please) a culpable disregard of the goods of fortune, he has scattered around him the produce of his intellect with a lavish and wild hand. If we may use the consecrated words of an apostle, ‘though poor, he hath made many rich,’ and though in the immediate neighbourhood of wealth, he has been doomed to suffer, through a long series of laborious years, the severities of want. In his advanced age he found an estimable woman, in poverty, it is true, like himself, but of unspotted character, and of high, though untitled family, to participate the calamity of his fortunes; and with her virtues and prudence, assisted by a small pension which she obtained from the benevolence of the crown, she threw a gleam of light over the dark decline of his day. She was soon, however, torn from him by death, and, with an infant whom she bequeathed to him, he was abandoned to destitution and distress, (for the pension was extinguished with her life.) To this man, thus favoured by nature, and thus persecuted by fortune, we have been happy to offer some little alleviation of his sorrows; and to prevent him from breathing his last under the oppressive sense of the ingratitude of his species."

The earl of Dundonald died in poverty at Paris, on the 1st of July 1831, at the advanced age of eighty-three years.


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