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Royal Naval Biography/Cochrane, Alexander Inglis



HONOURABLE
SIR ALEXANDER INGLIS COCHRANE,

Admiral of the Blue; Knight Grand Cross of the most Honourable Military Order of the Bath; Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth; and a Vice-President of the Naval Charitable Society.

The sirname of Cochrane is local, and was assumed by the proprietors of the lands and barony of Cochran, in Renfrewshire, soon after sirnames began to be used in Scotland. The first known ancestor of this family was Waldevus de Cochrane, who flourished in the reign of King Alexander III., and is witness to the charter which Dungallus, filius Swain, gave to Walter Stewart, Earl of Menteith, of the lands of Skipnish, in Argyleshire, in 1262.

William Cochrane, a chieftain who possessed some power and renown in his time, left but one child, Elizabeth, in whose favour, and the heirs male of her body, he made a resignation and entail of his whole estate, the person so succeeding to use the name and arms of Cochrane. This daughter married her cousin Alexander Blair, of Blair, Esq., and by him had seven sons. William, the second of these, was created Baron Cochrane, Dec. 27, 1647, and Earl of Dundonald in 1669. From his eldest son descended seven Earls of Dundonald; but that branch became extinct in 1758, by the demise of William, a bachelor, who was killed at the siege of Louisbourg, and the title fell to Thomas, a descendant of John, the younger son of the first Earl, who by his second wife, Jane, daughter of Archibald Stewart, of Tovience, co. Lanark, Esq. had a numerous issue, amongst whom were Archibald, the present Earl, and Alexander, the subject of this memoir, who was born April 23, 1758.

Being intended for the sea service, which appears to have been a favorite profession in his family, he embarked at an early age, attained the rank of Lieutenant in the year 1778, and served as signal officer to Sir George B. Rodney in the action with M. de Guichen, April 17, 1780[1], on which occasion we find his name among the wounded.

Soon after this event, Lieutenant Cochrane was promoted to the command of the St. Lucia sloop of war. He subsequently removed into the Pachahunter, and in Jan. 1782, exchanged with the present Sir Isaac Coffin, into the Avenger, another sloop, employed in the North River in America. On the 17th Dec. in the same year, he was made Post in the Kangaroo, and afterwards commanded the Caroline of 24 guns, on the American station.

During the interval of peace that followed the conclusion of the war with the Colonies, Captain Cochrane spent much of his time in retirement; but in 1790? on the appearance of a rupture with Spain, he was appointed to the Hind, a small frigate, and continued to command that ship until some time after the commencement of hostilities against the French republic[2]; he was then removed into the Thetis, of 42 guns and 261 men, employed on the Halifax station.

At day-break, on the morning of the 17th May, 1795, Captain Cochrane, being on a cruize off the Chesapeake, in company with the Hussar of 34 guns, Captain J. P. Beresford, discovered five sail standing to the N.W. to which he immediately gave chace. The strangers, on observing the British frigates in pursuit of them, formed the line of battle a-head, and waited to receive them. At nine o’clock, Captain Cochrane ordered the Hussar, by signal, to engage the second ship of the enemy’s van, intending himself to attack the centre ship, which appeared the largest, and the two others that formed the rear.

At half past ten, the enemy hoisted their colours, the second ship from the van carrying a broad pendant. By this time they had got within half musket shot, when the French ships opened their fire, which was soon returned, and a close action ensued. Before eleven, the Hussar compelled the Commodore, and his second a-head, to quit the line and make sail. The fire of both frigates then fell on the centre ship, and those in the rear, which, at a quarter before twelve, struck their colours; but notwithstanding, attempted to get away. One of them, the Raison of 18 guns and 125 men, the Hussar succeeded in overtaking; the other effected her escape. The ship taken possession of by the Thetis, was la Prevoyante, pierced for 46, but mounting 24 guns only. The fugitives were likewise armed en flute. This squadron was from Guadaloupe, bound to a port in America, to load with naval stores and provisions for France. The Thetis had 8 men killed and 9 wounded. The Hussar only 2 wounded.

Captain Cochrane, after serving for several years on the coast of America, where he captured several of the enemy’s privateers, was appointed in Feb. 1799, to the Ajax of 80 guns, which ship formed part of the expeditions sent against Quiberon, Belleisle, and Ferrol, in the summer of 1800[3], and afterwards joined the fleet on the Mediterranean station, under the orders of Lord Keith, with whom he proceeded to the coast of Egypt; and being directed by that officer to superintend the debarkation of the army destined to act against the invaders of that country, he displayed on this occasion a degree of skill and enterprise that stamped him as one of our ablest naval commanders[4]. At the attack made upon Alexandria, Captain Cochrane commanded a detachment of armed vessels stationed on the lake Mareotis to cover the approach of the troops. The surrender of this place Sept. 2, 1801, put an end to the war in Egypt, after a campaign of nearly six months, during the whole of which period the vigilance, activity, and judicious conduct of our officer was such as called forth the most honourable mention in the public despatches of Lord Keith, and Lieutenant General Hutchinson, the successor of the lamented Abercromby.

A treaty of peace having been signed at Amiens, the fleet returned to England, and the Ajax arrived at Portsmouth on the 8th Feb., 1802. At the general election in the same year, Captain Cochrane became a candidate for the boroughs of Dumferline, Stirling, &c. This produced a sharp contest with Sir John Henderson, Bart.; and both parties having petitioned, the latter was ousted.

On the renewal of the war in 1803, Captain Cochrane obtained the command of the Northumberland, a fine 74-gun ship; and on the 23d April, in the following year, he was advanced to the rank of Rear-Admiral, and sent to watch the port of Ferrol, and the progress of the Spanish armaments in the north of Spain, previous to the declaration of war by that country against Great Britain.

In Feb. 1805, the Rear-Admiral received orders to proceed with six sail of the line in pursuit of a French squadron that had escaped from Rochefort, and consisted of five line-of-battle ships, three frigates, two brigs, and a schooner, having on board about 4,000 troops. After running down the coasts of Portugal and Spain, and looking into Madeira, Teneriffe, and Porto Praya, he sailed to Barbadoes, and there first learnt the destination of the enemy, and their trifling exploits. The British squadron sailed again from Barbadoes, April 5, and then renewed the pursuit; passing St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadaloupe, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Eustatia, down the north side of Porto Rico, through the Mona Passage, along the southern coast of St. Domingo, and thence to Port Royal, Jamaica, where the chace was abandoned; the enemy, after levying contributions on the islands of Dominica, Nevis, and St. Kitts, destroying six merchantmen richly laden at the latter, and throwing supplies into the town of St. Domingo, having made the best of their way back to France, which they were so fortunate as to reach, notwithstanding the various detachments cruizing expressly to intercept them.

Subsequent to this chace, Rear-Admiral Cochrane assumed the command on the Leeward Island station; and in the summer of the same year he joined Lord Nelson in his anxious search after the combined fleets of France and Spain[5].

Early in 1806, Sir John T. Duckworth arrived in the West Indies, in quest of a squadron that had recently sailed from Brest for the relief of the city of St. Domingo. After forming a junction with Rear-Admiral Cochrane, Sir John lost no time in proceeding towards that place; and on the morning of the 6th Feb. he had the good fortune to discover the enemy, whose force consisted of five ships of the line, two frigates, and a corvette. The necessary dispositions were immediately made for an attack; and a few minutes after ten the action commenced by the Superb, bearing Sir John Duckworth’s flag, closing upon the bow of the Alexandre, the leading ship of the adverse line, which she compelled to sheer off, after three broadsides. Sir John Duckworth was then enabled to attack the French Admiral, in the Imperial, of 120 guns, the fire of which had been heavy on the Northumberland. By this time the movement of the Alexandre had thrown her among the lee division, which Rear-Admiral Louis availed himself of, and the action became general, and continued with great severity till half-past eleven; when the French Commander-in-Chief, much shattered and completely beaten, hauled direct for the land, and not being a mile off, at twenty minutes before noon ran on shore, his fore-mast then only standing, which fell directly on her striking. Not, long after the Diomede, of 84 guns, pushed in shore near the Imperial, and it was afterwards found necessary to burn them. The remainder of the enemy’s line, consisting of l’Alexandre, of 84 guns; le Jupiter, 74; and le Brave, 74, were taken possession of by the British, and sent to Jamaica. The frigates and corvette effected their escape.

During this conflict, Rear-Admiral Cochrane’s flag-ship lost her mainmast, and was so shattered, that the Agamemnon was ordered to stay by, and accompany her to her station. The French had 760 killed and wounded on board the three captured ships; and they no doubt lost a proportionate number in the two that were destroyed.

The total loss of the English was 74 killed and 264 wounded; the Northumberland having 21 of the former, and 79 of the latter. Rear-Admiral Cochrane had a miraculous escape, having lost his hat by a grape shot early in the battle[6].

The day after the action Sir John Duckworth issued the following general order;

“As it is impossible for language to convey an adequate sense of my feelings to the Hon. Rear-Admiral Cochrane, for the noble support rendered me by the Northumberland, or to Rear-Admiral Louis, and the Captains of the squadron under my command, for the bravery and judgment displayed in the service of their king and country, by effecting a complete victory in as short a period as our naval annals can produce; I therefore can only, with a heart impressed by the highest sense of admiration, beg to offer to the Hon. Rear-Admiral Cochrane and Rear-Admiral Louis, the Captains, Officers, and Seamen, and to the Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Privates of the Royal Marines, my warmest thanks; and I desire that the Captains will convey these my sentiments of admiration and approbation, with thanks, in the most gratifying manner, to the officers, seamen, and royal marines, as a proof of my high sense of their services in the battle of yesterday.

(Signed)J. T. Duckworth.

For the share which Rear-Admiral Cochrane bore in the action off St. Domingo, he received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament, and of the Corporation of London; the latter accompanied with the freedom of the city, and a sword of one hundred guineas value. The Committee of the Patriotic Fund also voted him a vase, valued at 300l., with an appropriate inscription; and in addition to these marks of public approbation, he was created a K.B. March 29, 1806.

On his return to Barbadoes, the principal commercial inhabitants of that island entertained the Rear-Admiral at a public dinner; and the underwriters of the two insurance offices of Bridge Town, unanimously voted him a piece of plate, of the value of 500l. sterling, in testimony of their high consideration of his meritorious services.

In the course of 1807, Sir Alexander Cochrane shifted his flag Into the Belleisle, of 74 guns; and on receiving intelligence of the declaration of war against Denmark, he immediately, in concert with General Bowyer, adopted measures for the reduction of the Danish islands of St. Thomas, St. John, and St, Croix, the whole of which, together with a large fleet of merchantmen, were taken possession of before the end of that year. In the spring of 1808, the French islands of Mariegalante and Deseada surrendered to a part of his squadron, under the command of Captain W. Selby, of the Cerberus frigate.

On the 20th Jan. 1809, Sir Alexander received a letter from Lieutenant-General Beckwith, informing him, that in consequence of some alteration of circumstances, he was induced to proceed to the attack of Martinique, and expressing a wish to see the Rear-Admiral, in order to make the final arrangements; Sir Alexander lost no time in meeting him for that purpose.

The armament appeared off Martinique on the 29th of the same month; and by the morning of the 31st, the troops, with a detachment of seamen and marines, were landed at different points of the island. After some severe fighting, in which the French were driven from different posts, a more general action took place on the 2d Feb., in the neighbourhood of Sourrier, a height commanding Fort Bourbon, the possession of which was obstinately contested for several hours at the point of the bayonet; both parties in turn charging and giving way; but at length the French were driven from their position, and the British remained masters of the height. The enemy then withdrew into Fort Bourbon, which was immediately invested by the invaders. It was captured on the 24th; when all resistance ceasing, the whole of the island was subjected to British dominion.

On the 14th April following, Lord Castlereagh called the attention of the House of Commons to the merits of that part of the army and navy which had effected the conquest of Martinique. This, he stated, was not the first time that the gratitude of Parliament had been expressed to the conquerors of that important colony; and that service had certainly never been effected in a manner more honourable, in every point of view, to those who had been employed in it, than on the present occasion. Whether the House regarded the whole course of proceedings, or the shortness of time in which the conquest had been accomplished, the service must be considered as having been performed in a way that called for the best acknowledgements of Parliament. It was a most important feature in this transaction, that it had not interfered with other services; that it had been accomplished without an armament from Europe, which had on former occasions been required; but that the ability of the officers abroad had been adequate to the purpose, without any effort from home. His Lordship concluded a long speech with moving, that the thanks of the House be given to Lieutenant-General Beckwith, Sir Alexander Cochrane, and the other officers, soldiers, seamen, and marines, for their able, gallant, and meritorious services in effecting the conquest of that Island. The resolutions were agreed to, nem. con. A similar vote of thanks was unanimously passed in the House of Lords.

On the 25th Oct., 1809, Sir Alexander Cochrane was advanced to the rank of Vice-Admiral; and early in the following year we find him co-operating with Sir George Beckwith, in the reduction of Guadaloupe; which was quickly followed by the surrender of the Dutch islands of St. Martin’s, St. Eustatia, and Saba. The latter service was, in conjunction with Brigadier-General Harcourt, most ably performed by that judicious officer, Captain (now Rear-Admiral) Fahie, to whom Sir Alexander gave the temporary rank of Commodore during the expedition.

As a reward for these important services, our officer was, in the summer of 1810, appointed Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the island of Guadaloupe and its dependencies, which flattering mark of his Sovereign’s approbation of his conduct he enjoyed, we believe, until the year 1813, when he was selected to command the fleet employed on the coast of North America; where, on his arrival, after declaring the ports of the United States under blockade, he commenced a system of operations of the most vigorous description, by which he not only put a stop to the trade of that country, but kept the whole line of sea coast in a continual state of alarm. Of the destruction of Washington, and the various other important services performed by the different branches of the force under the orders of the Vice-Admiral, detailed accounts will be found in the memoirs of Sir George Cockburn, Sir Pulteney Malcolm, and the other officers, who commanded on those occasions.

In the spring of 1815, Sir Alexander Cochrane returned to England, in his flag-ship the Tonnant, of 80 guns; and on the 12th Aug. 1819, he was promoted to the rank of full Admiral. He hoisted his flag in the Impregnable, of 98 guns, as Commander-in-Chief at Plymouth, Feb. 1, 1821.

The subject of this memoir married, in April 1788, Maria, daughter of David Shaw, of New York, Esq., and relict of Sir Jacob Wheate, Bart., Captain R.N., by whom he has had several children, the eldest of whom is a Post-Captain, and has received the honour of Knighthood for his services. One of the Admiral’s daughters is the lady of Captain Sir Edward Thomas Troubridge, Bart. R.N.



  1. See note †, at p. 103.
  2. In the spring and summer of 1793, the Hind captured no less than eight of the enemy’s privateers, mounting upwards of 80 guns.
  3. See p. 219, et seq.
  4. After the abandonment of the attempt upon Cadiz, already alluded to at p. 54, Lord Keith and Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby proceeded with their forces to the coast of Asia Minor, for the purpose of cooperating with the Turks in the expulsion of the French from Egypt. On the 22d Feb. 1801, the armament sailed from the harbour of Marmorice, and anchored in the Bay of Aboukir, March 2. An unfortunate succession of strong northerly gales, attended by a heavy swell, rendered it impossible to attempt the landing of the troops before the 8th, on which day that service was most ably performed under the superintendence of Captain Cochrane. The delays to which the fleet had been exposed, gave the enemy an opportunity to strengthen the naturally difficult coast. The whole garrison of Alexandria, amounting to about 3000 men, reinforced with many small detachments that had been observed to advance from the Rosetta branch of the Nile, was appointed for its defence. Field pieces were placed on the most commanding heights, and in the intervals of the numerous sand hills which cover the shore, all of which were lined with musketry; the beach on either wing being flanked with cannon, and parties of cavalry held in readiness to advance.

    The fire of the enemy was successively opened from their mortars and field-pieces, as the boats got withia their reach; and as they approached to the shore, the excessive discharge of grape shot and of musketry from behind the sand hills, seemed to threaten them vith destruction; while the castle of Aboukir, on the right flank, ’maintained a constant and harrassing discharge of large shot and shells; but the ardour of the officers and men was not to be damped; without a moment’s hesitation, they resolutely rowed in for the beach; and having obtained a footing, the 23d regiment, and part of the 40th, under the command of Colonel Spencer, ascended the hill which commanded the whole, and seemed almost inaccessible, with an intrepidity and coolness scarcely to be paralleled, and forced the enemy to retire, leaving behind him seven pieces of artillery, and several horses.

    The disembarkation of the army continued, and the troops were all landed on the following day, with such articles of stores and provisions as required the most immediate attention.

    The loss sustained by the navy in the execution of this service, amounted to 20 killed, 70 wounded, and 3 missing. That of the army 102 killed, 15 wounded, and 35 missing.

  5. See Vice-Admiral Sir Pulteney Malcolm.
  6. The British squadron in the above battle consisted of the following ships:

    Weather Division.

    Guns. Killed. Wounded.
    Superb 74 {Vice-Admiral Sir J. T. Duckworth.
    Captain Richard Goodwin Keats.
    6 56
    Northumberland 74 Rear-Admiral Hon. A. J. Cochrane.
    Captain
    21 79
    Spencer 74 Captain Hon. Robert Stopford 18 50
    Agamemnon 64 Captain Sir Edward Berry. 1 13

    Lee Division.

    Canopus 80 Rear Admiral Thomas Louis.
    Captain
    8 22
    Donegal 74 Captain Pulteney Malcolm. 12 33
    Atlas 74 Captain Samuel Pym. 8 11
    74 264

    Acasta and Magicienne, frigates. – Kingfisher and Epervier, sloops.