« ForrigeFortsett »
BIRTH, HOME, AND BOYHOOD. Thomas Cochrane, born at Annsfield, in Lanarkshire, on the 14th December 1775, was descended from a very old Scottish family. He himself believed that the first Cochrane was a Scandinavian searover, who, in a remote age, settled on the shores of Renfrew and Ayr; and such a rover would certainly not have been an inapt ancestor for him. But be this as it may, there are records of the family so far back as the year 1262, as chieftains of the barony of Coveran, Cochran, or Cochrane. Robert Cochran, about four centuries ago, was a great favourite with James III. of Scotland, and by this favouritism won for himself the enmity of many Scottish nobles. A later representative of the family, William Cochrane, as a reward for mediating between Charles I. and his angry subjects in the north, was raised to the peerage in 1641, under the title of Lord Cochrane of Dundonald; and in 1669 the title was elevated to the higher one of Earl of Dundonald. The Dundonalds were powerful in Scotland during the remainder of that century, but in the following century they merely took rank among the nobility of average influence.
The subject of this sketch was the eldest son of the ninth earl ; his mother was a daughter of Captain Gilchrist of the royal navy. As the patriarchal estates had nearly all left the family, owing to rebellions, forfeitures, mortgages, and other causes, Thomas inherited little beyond the chance of an earldom. His father made many attempts to resuscitate the family fortunes, by entering into commercial and manufacturing enterprises. Among these were schemes for preparing soda from common salt; for the employment of alumina as a mordant for dyers and calico-printers; for preparing British gum as a substitute for gum-Senegal in calico-printing ; for the manufacture of sal-ammoniac ; for producing white-lead by a new process;, and for extracting tar from pit-coal. All these schemes —as well as numerous experiments on the gas produced from coal, and on the application of chemistry to agriculture-evinced considerable chemical knowledge and general intelligence; but they proved disastrous to the family in a pecuniary sense.
When it became necessary to adopt some definite mode of life, young Cochrane, through the aid of his uncle Alexander, a captain in the navy, entered into the naval service. Before this, however, an attempt was made to obtain for him a position in the army; but his dislike of the stiff martinet rules of military drill proved too strong to be surmounted. In his Autobiography, he gives an amusing account of his first and only experience as a military officer: * By way of initiation into the mysteries of the military profession, I was placed under the tuition of an old sergeant, whose first lessons well accorded with his instructions, “not to pay attention to my foibles.” My hair, cherished with boyish pride, was, formally cut, and plastered back with a vile composition of candle-grease and flour; to which was added the torture incident to the cultivation of an incipient queue. My neck, from childhood open to the Lowland breeze, was encased in an inflexible leathern collar or stock, selected according to my preceptor's notions of inilitary propriety; these almost verging on strangulation. A blue semi-military tunic, with red collar and cuffs, in imitation of the Windsor uniform, was provided; and to complete the tout ensemble, my father, who was a determined. Whig partisan, insisted on my wearing yellow waistcoat and breeches--yellow being the Whig colour, of which I was admonished never to be ashamed. A more certain mode of calling into action the dormant obstinacy of a sensitive high-spirited lad could not have been devised, than that of converting him into a caricature, hateful to himself and ridiculous to others. As may be imagined, my costume was calculated to attract attention, the more so from being accompanied by a stature beyond my years. Passing one day near the Duke of Northumberland's palace at Charing Cross, I was beset by a troop of ragged boys, evidently bent on amusing themselves at the expense
of my personal appearance, and in their peculiar slang indulging in comments thereon far more critical than complimentary. Stung to the quick, I made my escape from them; then rushing home, begged my father to let me go to sea with my uncle, in order to save me from the degradation of floured head, pigtail, and yellow breeches.'
ENTERS THE NAVY. At length this poor son of a poor earl, on the 27th June 1793, entered on board H.M.S. Hind at Sheerness, as midshipman, he being then in his eighteenth year. He was a stripling over six feet in height, was older than middies usually are on entering the service, was nephew to the captain of the ship, and was a lord (Lord Cochrane) to boot. These characteristics might possibly have interfered with a due obedience to discipline, were it not that he had a real love for sea-life, which rendered him willing to bend to the necessary conditions of the service. Fortunately, he was placed under a skilful though rough lieutenant, who speedily trained him to good seamanship. The Hind started on a cruise to the coast of Norway, to look out for French privateers or convoys. Once, while on this duty, in return for hospitalities received on shore, many Norwegians were invited to visit the ship; the ladies were 'whipped' or hoisted up by means of ropes and a sort of chair with ease and comfort. Unfortunately, however, there was a parrot on board who had learned most of the boatswain's calls. While one lady was being lifted in the chair, the parrot called out : 'Let go.' The seamen, thinking it was the boatswain's command, did let go; and the lady had an unexpected though temporary dip in the sea.
On returning from Norway, young Cochrane was transferred from the Hind to the Thetis, a more powerful frigate, which was placed under his uncle's command. The Thetis was ordered to join the squadron of Admiral Murray, sent out in 1794 to capture some of the French settlements in North America. When about nineteen years of age, our hero was promoted by Admiral Murray to the rank of junior lieutenant; and soon afterwards he became acting. lieutenant of the Africa, under Captain Home. Cochrane, in his Autobiography, speaks of the dreary five years' that the squadron spent near the North American coast, capturing few prizes, and being engaged in few exciting adventures ; cruising among the fogs of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, instead of joining in the brilliant achievements that marked the maritime wars of Europe.
CRUISE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN: 1798-1801. Towards the close of 1798, Cochrane received the appointment of junior lieutenant of the Barfleur, the flag-ship of a fleet with which Lord Keith was blockading the Mediterranean ports of Spain. This was a kind of service that at first gave slender hope for activity, seeing that the Spanish fleet shewed little tendency to quit the defensive batteries of Cadiz, and hazard a naval battle. On the 6th of May 1799, however, there was a formidable assemblage of hostile ships. A French fleet, which came quietly round to Cadiz, consisted of thirty-three sail of the line; and a Spanish fleet of twenty-two sail, in the harbour, swelled the number to fifty-five sail of the line, besides several frigates belonging to the enemy. Lord Keith had under him at the time fifteen sail of the line and one frigate. The Spaniards, however, did not come out of the harbour, and the French did not want to fight; for their purpose was to liberate the Spanish fleet from Cadiz, and accompany it to Toulon. Young Cochrane and other officers of the Barfleur burned with impatience to be up and doing,' to connect their names with some achievement that would bring them honour or prize-money, or both. On one occasion, when Lord Keith knew, but Earl St Vincent (his superior in the Mediterranean command) did not know, the whereabouts' of the French, St Vincent sent peremptory orders which Keith felt compelled to obey, although they carried him away from the very direction in which he knew the French were sailing. In June, Keith succeeded St Vincent as commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean; and Cochrane shifted with him from the Barfleur to the Queen Charlotte, a larger and finer ship. Again and again was the search for the two hostile fleets renewed : a weaker force running up and down the Mediterranean to intercept, fight, and capture two fleets of much greater strength. Now at Toulon, now at Minorca, now at Gibraltar ; then at Cadiz, at Tetuan, at Carthagena—the 'big ones' were always running away from the 'little ones. At last it became certain that they had emerged from the Mediterranean altogether, and were proceeding northward along the Portuguese coast to the Bay of Biscay. Lord Keith pursued, but had the mortification of seeing them enter safely at Brest, where he could not get at them. The whole affair was most distasteful to young officers like Cochrane, affording not the smallest opening for a brush with the enemy. Keith, foiled in his chase, went to Torbay; and while he was there, the French and Spanish fleets, stealing quietly out of Brest, sailed down again towards the Mediterranean?
Cochrane's first experience in the Mediterranean was thus anything but gratifying to him. While Keith was at Torbay, Nelson was achieving brilliant things off the Sicilian coast, and was making himself the idol of the navy. Cochrane never served under Nelson, but they conversed once at Palermo; and the former treasured up a maxim which Nelson impressed upon him in regard to naval warfare : 'Never mind mancuvres ; always go at them! This was just after Cochrane's own heart; he did 'go at them' all his life, whenever he had an opportunity.
A more busy scene was now in store for the energetic young Scotchman. Early in 1800, Cochrane was placed in command of the Speedy sloop. If ever a man owed success to himself and his crew, and not to his vessel, such was now the case. The Speedy was a sloop of 158 tons, armed with fourteen 4-pounders, and manned, ʻor rather crowded,' as he expressed it, with fifty-four officers and men. He asked for and obtained two 12-pounders, but found that his little craft was too weak to carry them. When, in his old age, the Earl of Dundonald wrote his Autobiography, he dwelt with a sort of comic affection on the little vessel which, as the young Lord Cochrane, had formed his first command nearly sixty years before. 'Despite her unformidable character,' he says, "and the personal discomfort to which all on board were subjected, I was very proud of my little vessel, caring nothing for her want of accommodation, though in this respect her cabin merits passing notice. It had not so much as room for a chair, the floor being entirely occupied by a small table surrounded with lockers, answering the double purpose of store chests and seats. The difficulty was to get seated, the ceiling being only five feet high ; so that the object could only be accomplished by rolling on the locker, a movement sometimes attended with unpleasant failure. The most singular discomfort, however, was that my only practicable mode of shaving consisted in removing the skylight, and putting my head through, to make a toilet-table of the quarter-deck.'
Nevertheless, in this little tub of a vessel, Cochrane did that which made thé French and Spaniards very uneasy, and proportion. ably won for him a reputation at home. Besides boarding and searching innumerable neutral vessels, he had much fighting and some capturing. On the 10th of May he captured the Intrépide, a French privateer of six guns and forty-eight men—his first prize. On the 14th he recaptured two merchant-ships which had been seized by armed boats of the enemy. On the 16th of June he captured a small vessel off Elba ; and on the 22d recaptured a prize from a French privateer. On the 25th he followed a Spanish privateer, the Assunçion, of ten guns and thirty-three men, right under a fort near Bastia, attacked and captured her, and carried her off though pursued by five gun-boats. On the 9th July his boats cut out a Spanish ship lying actually within the range of the guns of Cape Sebastian, and brought it away ; on the 19th and 31st he captured two French privateers; and on the 3d of August he took his long train of prizes safely into Leghorn Roads.
Far into the year 1801 did this cruise extend, and numerous were the adventures to which it led. The Speedy sailed hither and thither, capturing French and Spanish merchant-ships, privateers, and regular vessels of war, not only off the Spanish coast, but throughout the whole of the western half of the Mediterranean. Cochrane was seldom dismayed by disparity of numbers or strength. His tactics sometimes bore a laughable resemblance to those of a little man when fighting another a head taller than himself; there is a chance, in such a case, that the giant will hit over instead of at the dwarf. An instance of this kind presented itself on the 6th of May. He fell in with a large Spanish xebec frigate, the Gamo. Cochrane ran up close to it without firing a shot, although receiving two broadsides while so doing. 'To have fired our pop-gun 4-pounders at a distance,' he says, 'would have been to throw away the ammunition ; but the guns being doubly, and, as I afterwards learned, trebly shotted, and being elevated, they told admirably upon her main-deck. . My reason for locking our small craft in the enemy's rigging was one
which I mainly relied for victory_namely, that, from the height of the frigate out of the water, the whole of her shot must necessarily go over our heads; while our guns, being elevated, could blow up her main-deck.' The Spaniards, not liking this state of things, made arrangements for boarding the Speedy; but Cochrane deemed it much more suitable that he should board the Spanish vessel instead. Consequently, the surgeon taking the helm, all the rest of the crew, officers and men, clambered up into the big ship. Some of the English sailors, at Cochrane's suggestion, blackened their faces, and came upon the Spaniards up the bows of the ship in such guise as to startle them by a diabolical appearance. Cochrane was particularly fond of queer devices of this kind. 'In difficult or doubtful attacks by sea, he observes, and the odds of 50 men to 320 come within this description, no device can be too minute, even if apparently absurd, provided it have the effect of diverting the enemy's attention whilst you are concentrating your own. In this and other successes against odds, I have no hesitation in saying that success in no slight degree depended on out-of-the-way devices, which the