The amazing Thomas Alexander Cochrane - the sailer who put fear into the French

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The amazing Thomas Alexander Cochrane - the sailer who put fear into the French

In a world where fact is stranger than fiction Thomas Cochrane has an incredible life. He was the model for many of the sea sagas.

This article below was translated from Peruvian to English by a friend and proofed by me, so is original. Sorry about the translating problems and the language but it is faithful to the original Peruvian it was written in, which is what the owner of the document wanted. Cochrane is the founder of Modern Peru fighting off the Spanish in an incredible exploit.

There is much more about this person that deserves recording, this is only a taste of his life, with the focus on the Peruvian exploits. However he was so feared by the French that entire coastal villages would flee inland upon hearing he was around.


Thomas Alexander Cochrane was born on December the 27th 1775. He was the son of Archibald Cochrane, Count of Dundonald, and nephew of Admiral Alexander, who was renowned in the American Civil war. He was a descendant of one of those old Scottish families, for whom courage was inherited, with the memories of the great things his ancestors had done.

Patrician from birth, his father following the general trend of the country (Scotland) resolved to commit him, from an early age, to the navy. He was taking advantage of the prestige Alexander Cochrane earned through his naval enterprises. The Count could see in little Thomas the seed of that indomitable will, and the quick and forceful decision making, which constitute military genius.

He was eleven years old when he went to live with his uncle, the reknowned Admiral, who combining theory and practice began to cultivate his courage in facing danger, his understanding of tactics, and his definite affinity for the art of war. Prepared in this way his vocation became more evident day by day, despite the lengthy first steps everyone has to take to be promoted; especially in counties like England where the great number of prospects make it even harder to get to the top, some will get there after many years of service.

Have reached his lieutenant rank young Cochrane went to serve under Lord Keith, a British Admiral in charge of patrolling the French and Spanish coasts (1797). The opportunity for Cochrane's ambition came when England began to fight for the supremacy of the ocean, which they saw as the key for sovereignty of the land.

The fleets embarked themselves in one to one encounters and in general combat, giving the opportunity for heroic achievements. After a while Cochrane started to show the qualities upon which his family and he himself had placed so much hope.

As a lieutenant he was in charge of the Queen Charlotte while the captain was absent, when they saw in Aljeciras bay several enemy ships were attacking a small English boat that looked near to being defeated. The enemy then tied up the boat ready to be towed away from the port. Admiral Keith aware of the dangers sent two ships, the Emerald and the Queen Charlotte, in pursuit of the enemy, who freed its prize to the Emerald.

Cochrane pursued the enemy without taking any consideration of the great disadvantage he was under. His daring action put the enemy off and they excaped with a favorable wind in the dark, as night was beginning to fall (1801).

Admiral Keith took great notice of young Cochran's actions and to reward him put Cochrane in charge of the Speedy a 14 cannon vessel. There was nothing more stimulating for Cochrane, who took advantage of this to give notoriety to his name, than going on dangerous expeditions. It was his disposition which was predestined for the maneuvers of war where the numerical superiority of the enemy was ignored, for boarding combats where men were very close and the weapons mixed, for making difficult plans which are initially rejected but once they had succeeded made people stand in awe.

He was on the lookout for combat wherever he went and combat was plentiful because the ships of both fleets were everywhere. It was his capture of the bergantin Caroline that encouraged him to take greater chances. He was around the Spanish coast when at 6 leagues from Barcelona he saw the beautiful frigate Gamo with 32 cannons and 319 men. These forces were far greater than his and would put any others except him off. He went after the Gamo with the conviction of the English sailor that the Albion Star will never be eclipsed on the seas of the world, that his instincts of genius seemed to guess the results, and of his great courage and the confidence that profound convictions give.

He knew how to inspire his crew with his abundant strength and courage. Cochrane understood very well that it was of paramount importance to frustrate the superiority of the enemy with strategy, so he went as fast as it was possible towards the Gamo and stayed very close to its side in such a way that the cannon fire missed the Speedy, while the Speedy could fire at the frigate which was too heavy to move away from the little English ship. After firing the artillery they fired their rifles and guns, and then the boarding stage with an uncertain result until the courage of the English crushed their enemies: the Gamo was taken by the Speedy, which towed it away (1801).

Inspired by his success he joined together with the Cangeroo, another British ship, and resolved to attack the enemy whenever they met. It very soon came to his knowledge that a Spanish convoy made up of three warships, a Jabeque, three gunboats and twelve merchant ships, were at Oropeso (Castilla La Vieja). The venture was very risky not only because the enemy had more ships than them, but because the artillery from the shore fortresses protected them.

The British had to resort to all their courage not to turn back because the impressive sight of the enemy force which was threatening to destroy the two little English ships under a deluge of bullets. The Speedy and Cangeroo went straight to the Spanish convoy without taking any notice of the fire, which came in all directions and set their boats to board the enemy. The battle was fierce, with the English little by little taking over the enemy ships while the Cangeroo backed up the Speedy at all times. After two hours of ferocious combat the English silenced the shore cannons, sunk the Jabeque and two gunboats, and sailing directly at the surviving merchant vessels, which fled before them they captured three ships. The battle lasted three hours of fierce fighting and Cochrane received a small wound.

These successful ventures encouraged even more his genius and his only thoughts were to tackle new ventures that no one else would have considered taking. Very soon Cochrane forged an accredited reputation for his daring endeavors in the Mediterranean Sea. It seemed he could multiply himself to be wherever there was an enemy to attack; his many exploits were reported with fear by his enemies along the coast, but with great appreciation by his country fellowmen, because in only 10 months he was in charge of that little fourteen gun ship, he captured 33 vessels with 533 men.

In 1802 something unexpected came up to slow down the great hopes of this brave officer. He was sailing in his little ship when he was surprised and captured by the French navy.
Commandeer Admiral Linois, appreciating the merit of this young lieutenant allowed him to keep his badges and gave him the treatment according to his courage. Besides this many French naval officers, knowing of his great deeds hurried to express their sincere admiration as an honorable rivalry. A few months later he was exchanged by the British government, who conferred upon him the grade of Captain in charge of the Arab: however Cochrane saw his plans postponed by the treaty of peace of Amines which interrupted the war.

As he could not stay inactive, he directed his energies to another field, that of politics. A liberal by conviction he joined the Honinton liberals. Although he was defeated in his first electoral campaign; he waited for the next elections when the Westminster constituency voted him in. Because the parliament was dissolved, not long after; he only had an opportunity to show his qualities as an orator.

The war between England and France resumed and Cochrane was commissioned to patrol the French coast. In doing so he dropped anchor at the mouth of the Garona, a short distance from the French troops (1806). Unable to venture an attack against the entire enemy navy he sent his ships after the ships that were on their own; not long after they returned tagging behind the Frapayeuse, a 12 cannon vessel, while a Corvette was following them.

The ships defended themselves vigorously, Cochrane meanwhile faced three enemy ships which he fought with such ferocity that they ran for their lives and ended when all three ran aground. Such was the fear that overwhelmed the enemy and the force of the English captain.

Only one month later he met the Minerva a 44 cannon famous vessel in that area. The two sides were very worthy to fight each other as the Minerva was reputed to be one of the enemy best vessels, and Cochrane as one of the most distinguished British naval officers. The battle as expected was ferocious and bloody, the kind of battle where the courage of one side could not back down to the ferocity of the other side. After a most terrible fight the French were defeated. Continuing his victorious trend Cochrane did not limit his expeditions to the shores but he attacked many castles terrorizing the population along the Riviera, attaching his famous name to an incredible audacity together with refined cunning.

Proclaiming freedom to the Iberian Peninsular in 1808 Cochrane with only 160 men against a 1000 defended the Trinidad fort in the Bay of Rosas. He also captured the French port Mongal. He returned to sea and kept on sailing along the French coast destroying telegraph stations to cut communication on the enemy side; he also looted the grain silos where the enemy stored provisions for the army.

Cochran's reputation grew day by day, making England very proud of him; meanwhile he was looking for any opportunity to show his country what he could do. This opportunity came very soon and it was as risky as it was ambitious, just what Cochrane would have liked.

The French navy was at Aix Roads an anchorage so secure that the most expert naval officers considered it unconquerable as sandbanks protected the entire navy. Lord Gambier, chief in charge of the English fleet after assessing the situation decided not to attack because an attack, he thought it was too risky. As he was preparing to leave that area Cochrane arrived. He was commissioned by the Admiralty to carry out a daring plan he had conceived and presented to the British cabinet.

Cochrane expressed his opinion that the attack was not impossible and went to meet Lord Gambier whom he told his plan, which the Admiral considered crazy. Eight fire ships filled with combustible material were given to the captain as well as a frigate to assist him and on a very dark night crossed sandbanks and hid himself among the ships of the French navy. He then ignited the fire ships and sent them into the French fleet, which were in a confined space close to each other.

The French were very surprised when they felt the explosions and the fires that destroyed their vessels. They started firing their guns as the confusion increased, the panic was growing because the impossibility of the French vessels to maneuver, and the commands of the officers could not be heard among the screams of the sailors. With 3 of their ships burning and the ships entangled with each other, the efforts of the captain to establish order were in vain, the entire crew were about to jump into the water, ignorant of what was happening.

The French were unable to restore discipline, as they could not defend themselves against an enemy they could not see. The damage to the French navy was terrible, four ships were burned and a very beautiful, 74 cannon ship was sunk, leaving the rest in a very bad condition. Cochrane was not very pleased however, accusing Gambier of negligence as he let some enemy ships excape. (1809).

A cry of admiration rose everywhere once news of this daring venture became known and all Europe was looking at this brave captain. England decorated him with the Order of Bath, and Emperor Napoleon, talking about Cochrane's latest achievement said: "If Lord Cochrane had received help from Admiral Gambier, none of the French ships would have survived". The English parliament wanting to add to the ovation, conferred thanks to the hero of Aix Roads. However when Cochrane saw that Gambier's name would go alongside his, obscuring his name, and taking credit for being in charge of the operation, he stated his opposition to Admiral Gambier being congratulated: as his conduct in action left much to be desired. The admiral profoundly resented such an insult giving way for a great enmity, which held disastrous consequences for Cochrane, as Gambier had great political power and the help of the government ministers.

The government knowing Cochrane's skills in command had wanted to send him to patrol the Mediterranean sea as Admiral, but he was apprehensive of his of his enemies actions if he left London, and did not accept such an honorific charge, preferring to stay in England. His welcome into the aristocratic circles owed in part to his well-deserved fame, and he had to expend large amounts of money to live accordingly, well above the level of his modest income.

The consequences did not take long to appear as his economic situation was getting very difficult. He accepted a proposition his Uncle Cochrane Johnstone made him to buy shares at the Stock exchange with the hopes that once the war ended they would rise in price. However the war went on and Emperor Napoleon at the head of his invincible legions was threatening to give the British economy a mortal blow, which will take on its downfall the stock exchange speculators. This incident would mean for Cochrane not only the end of his hopes but also worst of all the loss of his reputation. His enemies would not let the opportunity pass to bring dishonor on Cochran's fame.

Cochrane's downfall was imminent, and Johnston planned a way to get out of this predicament by spreading false information that Napoleon had been defeated making the shares rise to their highest level ever. Whether or not Cochrane had any involvement in this scheme he made satisfactory discharges of his conduct in an affidavit that none of his enemies dared to contradict. Despite his affidavit once the scheme was uncovered and the matter was taken to the tribunal Lord Cochrane and his Uncle were sentenced to one year in prison and a 2,500 pesos fine. This sentence was infamous and hurtful, especially when the brave captain was in the zenith of his popularity, however the London populous made a glorious sign of support, raising the money to pay the fine.

The cabinet was warned of the Cochrane liberal opinions and so the popular protest on behalf of Cochrane offended them. With the desire to humiliate the liberals by humiliating one of their leaders, Cochrane's name was taken off the Order of the Bath. Still not satisfied with this indignity they also threw him out of parliament. The members in the Westminster district were annoyed by the measures against Cochrane, so they decided to re-elect him as their representative in parliament. When Lord Cochrane learned of his election, he climbed the prison walls where he was incarcerated, and presented himself in parliament, to the great surprise of the people present and of his enemies who were confused by such original audacity. A deep whispering spread around the chamber and the whole assembly became quite agitated when a prison officer came to return him to prison (1814).

It's easy to imagine that Cochrane after this incident could not continue to live in what had been the theatre of his disgrace. As soon as it was possible he announced through the papers his desire to serve in one of the new South American estates and he asked some of his friends for money to go to America. Don Jose A. Alvarez Condarco, Chile's commissioner in London, hurried to talk with Lord Cochrane and gave the Chilean government the opportunity to have "the bravest naval officer of Great Britain"; the dictator O'Higgins accepted with delight the conditions of the celebrated Lord.

On November 28th, 1819, Lord Cochrane arrived on the shores of Chile. Cochrane was, for us, the symbol of the union between the experience, knowledge, and expertise, of the old continent (Europe) and the valor and enthusiasm of the Columbus world. With such a famous naval officer on our side the enemy was filled with fear of being defeated while the comrades were inspired with the confidence of impending victory. It was well noticed that the noble officer, born in the classic land of liberty, enrolled himself in our line because of his moral principles, which rendered his services for the cause of the oppressed countries.

Cochrane's arrival to our shores was warmly welcomed. However the government was at that time in an awkward position as a result of the latest naval events, which were taking all the media attention. The national fleet defeated the Spanish fleet in the Bay of Talcahuano, and the Chilean government was afraid of offending the commander in charge, Blanco, if they asked him to resign his position. But Blanco in a gallant demonstration renounced his position without being asked, nobly declaring that he would be happy to serve under the expertise of the English officer for the cause of independence.

Vice Admiral Cochrane with four ships; The O'Higgins, San Martin, Lautaro, and Chacabuco, made to sea following his usual tactics based on moving quickly (January 14th 1819). The Vice Admiral wanting to finish the campaign in one decisive campaign, went to the port of Callao where all the Spanish forces were situated, to surprise the enemy with an unexpected attack, a tactic he found effective in his past campaigns.

However contrary to his desire it was not possible to continue with this plan because the Spaniards occupied the castles hiding there in a cowardly manner refusing to venture out to fight. Never-the-less Cochrane's impatience led him to break through into the Spanish fleet with only one ship, remaining among the navy for two hours, defying the fire from land and from the entire Spanish fleet. This first campaign succeeded in making the Chilean navy aware of its strength and by training an inexperienced crew.

He returned to Valparaiso and the government gave Cochrane nine ships. His plan this time was not to attack the enemy as before but to burn the Spanish ships in the port of Callao using fire ships (brulotes) full of combustible material. Again Cochrane's efforts did not yield the expected result owing to the great advantage of the enemy's position protected by the natural geographical elements. To stay longer in that situation was proving ineffective as the Spanish navy was determined to maintain a defensive position, so the Vice Admiral returned to Valparaiso, very disappointed with the result of this campaign as he and everyone else had held such great hopes.

A quick significant victory became imperative for him, to compensate for the uncomfortable inaction in which he was being kept and to calm his restless spirit. The attack of the port of Valdivia was the fruit of his long hours of thinking. The project was commendable, worthy of the Admiral and if put in practice could represent major advantages for the independence cause.

"The port of Validivia is reputed to be one of the strongest and most inaccessible ports of the Pacific Ocean. Imagine the narrow mouth of a navagatable river with banks of very dense forest where the sun cannot penetrate. All along the five leagues from the mouth of the river to the city of Valdivia, are a chain of castles whose fire crosses in all directions, and protected and overlooked by the Spanish navy. These castles, starting south of the river, are the Ingles and San Carlos, situated on the seacoast, following are the Amargos and Niebla on opposing banks of the river mouth defending the main entrance. Close by is the Chorocamayo and the Piojo, the Corral, Mancera and Carbonero. The castles are each surrounded by a large wall and a ditch and protect the river completely with 118 cannons of 18 and 24. Such was the port Lord Cochrane was going to take by force with his 250 men and the crew of his 3 ships." (Garcia Reyes. Memoirs of the first national squadron)

On February 3rd 1820 our ships Intrepido and Montezuma displaying the Spanish flag dropped anchor near the Ingles fortress in sight of the enemy in an attempt to fool the Spanish. However the Spanish started to fire at them punishing the Chilean ships for the audacity of their chief. The Spaniards had in the Ingles fort 300 brave men and sent 75 men to prevent the landing of the patriots, who routed them, and many soldiers fled back to the fort. Cochrane's men favored by the dark of night began assaulting the fortress, climbing the walls and attacking furiously.

The Spanish were overwhelmed by such an unexpected attack and opened the fortress gates with some fleeing though the gates and others jumping over the walls, completely disoriented. A party of soldiers camped behind the fortress followed the example and also abandoned the place to our troops. The defeat was complete. In possession of the fort Ingles, the surrender of the other fortresses did not offer much difficulty and Cochrane who was eagerly following each step of our troops had the satisfaction of observing this daring adventure crowned by the ultimate success, the next day he took possession of the city in the name of the republic.

Once Valdivia, the Gibraltar of the Pacific, surrendered, Lord Cochrane did not want to return to Valparaiso until he finished with the rest of the Spanish army. With this purpose he focused on the island of Chiloe where there remained a strong enemy division under the command of General Quintanilla. This venture was even more difficult than the one before and the dangers grew in proportion to the fact that the Chilean troops under Cochrane were smaller in number because he had to leave a battalion in Valdivia, as well as the loss of two of their best ships. The Spanish though had over a thousand veterans of war and numerous well disciplined regiments all of them very well protected in the fortress of Agui, from where they could dominate a great expanse of the sea with their powerful batteries.

The Vice Admiral's efforts on the island of Chiloe, although very well backed by the Chilean chiefs, did not have the desired result as after several bloody encounters the troops had to retreat to the ships.

Having ejected the Spaniards almost completely from our territory the Chilean government resolved to assist Peru with our victorious troops, a project of vital importance for two reasons, one to strengthen the American fraternity, and the other to attack the enemy in its heart. General San Martin, chief in charge of the navy and the army traveled overland while Cochrane as head of the navy protected the coast attacking Spanish ships on route and laying siege to the port of Callao in Lima. Twice before this port had been fatal for Cochrane: twice the prudence of the Spaniards had rebuffed his cunning; so the illustrious Admiral once in sight of the bay had as a purpose to show the enemy that this time he was going to make them pay for the past failures. As a prelude of the campaign, he executed one of those acts that would remain in tradition almost as a fable.

"The Bay of Callao is protected by the island of San Lorenzo leaving two entrances to the bay. The one on the Northwest is wide, all the ships enter through it; the other called the Boqueron on the southwest is narrow and full of reefs. Only very small trading boats (no more than 100 tonnes) had ever passed through the Boqueron. Never-the-less Cochrane decided to cross the Boqueron with a fifty cannon frigate, and the enemy watching the O'Higgins pass were expecting a disaster at any time and readied gunboats to attack the moment the ship grounded, such was the danger of that endeavor.

To gain a better view of this event the people on shore and in the fortresses climbed on the walls, and the ship crews stopped what they were doing to enjoy the spectacle. To the surprise of all, the O'Higgins passed through the reefs leaving the spectators speechless. The crossing of the Boqueron by Cochrane had been engraved in the imagination of the people of Callao, and tradition still shows the route Admiral Cochrane took as he crossed the Boqueron." (Garcia Reyes)

The Spanish squadron of Calleo was situated in an extremely favorable position not only to avoid any attack but also to repel an enemy bigger than themselves. The battle lines were formed in a semicircle with the Frigate Esmeralda, a corvette, two brigantines, two war schooners, three large armed merchant ships, and twenty gunboats. Not happy with this the Spanish surrounded themselves with chains and floating blockades. Two hundred cannons in the fortresses also protected them

The frigate Esmeralda became a coveted prize for the Vice Admiral: so he penetrated the enemy lines by the route left for the trade ships. On November 5th at 10:30pm two hundred and forty men in fourteen boats silently went towards the Esmeralda. At midnight they arrived at the line where the enemy guns were located, a watchmen called "Who lives?" and Cochrane replied "Silence, or you are dead" and they kept on going until they were along side of the Esmeralda. On one side was Cochrane himself and on the other Captain Guisse.

They boarded the Esmeralda after killing the guards, with Guisse on the starboard side and Cochrane on the port side of the frigate. Both chiefs shook hands on board. The Spaniards tried desperately to overcome the Cochrane's force and the combat was fierce. After a short but fierce fight the frigate was taken. Eleven men were dead and thirty wounded the brave Vice Admiral Cochrane was lightly wounded while the enemy lost one hundred and seventy five men. The soldiers clamor and the guns noise and the light of the discharges put the bay on alert; the castles started firing their cannons in huge discharges and bullets rained down everywhere. The neutral ships in the port raised signal lamps to identify themselves to the Spanish to avoid being attacked, and Cochrane took advantage of this copying the signals used as he sailed out on the Esmeralda with a gunboat. The capture of the Esmeralda could easily be compared to the victory at Aix Roads and ended Spanish supremacy in our seas.

With the capture of the Esmeralda, the glorious campaign ended. This event changed the supremacy of the sea from the Spanish to the patriots. The operations that followed this event belong to history and this biographer is not going to relate them. The Vice Admiral went to live at his Quintero farm, from where he sent a communication to the government resigning his charge. He put himself at the service of the empire of Brazil that made Cochrane an enticing proposition knowing his attributes as an extraordinary strategist.

Once the offer from the regent of Brazil was accepted, Lord Cochrane in charge of sixty vessels blocked the port of Bahia where eighty vessels of the Portuguese navy were resting. The intrepid lord wanted to fight but the enemy decided to withdraw taking the advantage of the wind. Cochrane went after then and captured many ships and a great deal of armament they were carrying. He returned to land and the cities of Para and Maranhan surrendered into his hands. The regent, grateful for the Lords quick acquisitions, gave him the title of Marquis of Maranhan. The war ended and Cochrane, for whom inaction was like death, decided to return to his homeland, where the prestige of the role he played in liberating the South American continent was well known.

Once in England a new noble cause that was a worrying subject for Europe gained his interest. This time it was Greece fighting Mohammed's followers. Civilized Europe supported Greece against Pagan Europe and the most famous captains hurried to re-enroll in this crusade against the tyranny and the ignorance of the pagans. Cochrane with the title of Great Admiral this time did not need to put into practice his genius strategies because the English and Russian navies together destroyed the Ottoman navy. Never the less Greece also gave her applause to the hero who had fought for the independence of so many countries.

Since this last campaign Cochrane's life had been like the gladiator resting on his laurels of hundreds of combats, and once his goals are reached he retires from the arena which he has made illustrious with his name. Many who witnessed his deeds were full of admiration and tried to imitate them. England pardoned the hero's past error in favor of his long meritorious years and gave him back his honorific achievements, as well as diverse commissions, which he carried out with his usual success. The death of his father made him Count of Dundonald adding the distinction of his birth to his titles of valor.

Cochrane was spoiled by fortune. He has been like one of those invincible gladiators of ancient mythology, one of those champions of the knights era, of indefatigable activity: a soldier of liberty who fought wherever there was an oppressed country trying to break away from the oppressor. There is in his battles something that resembles medieval tournaments because of his noble sensibilities, for that fierceness that only Faith and love for liberty can induce. The campaigns between Araucans and the Spanish were similar because of the fierceness of the battles and the heroic deeds of the soldiers. Cochrane's victories were almost always with smaller forces, with his war machines, the courage of his troops, his own daring, his immutable prudence; and like the great Caesar and Napoleon, the quickness of the movement, the sudden attack. The irresistible force of the first encounter, was always his way to victory.

Cochrane was not a common fighter, to prove that history has conceded him wonderful pages amongst other great warriors like Nelson and Gravina. He was not some vulgar man who the fancy of fortune had brought from some obscure place where they were born to vegetate. But his extraordinary deeds in war had helped Freedom to conquer and strengthen the independence of four nations for which he was a champion. They bless him as their liberator.
By netchicken: posted on 3-1-2004

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