COCHRANE, Thomas, Lord Cochrane (1775-1860), of Holly Hill, Titchfield, Hants.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1806 - 1807
1807 - 5 July 1814
16 July 1814 - 1818

Family and Education

b. 14 Dec. 1775, 1st s. of Archibald, 9th Earl of Dundonald [S], by 1st w. Anne, da. of Capt. James Gilchrist, RN. educ. privately, Chavet’s mil. acad., Kensington, Mdx.; Edinburgh Univ. 1802-3. m. secretly at Annan, 8 Aug. 1812, and publicly 22 June 1818, Katherine Frances Corbett, da. of Thomas Barnes of Romford Essex, 4s. 1da. KB 24 Apr. 1809, expelled 15 July 1814, reinstated as GCB 22 May 1847; suc. fa. as 10th Earl of Dundonald [S] 1 July 1831.

Offices Held

Ensign Balder’s ind. co. ft. 1793; lt. 78 Ft. and Wood’s ind. co. ft. 1793; capt. 106 Ft. 1794.

Entered RN 1793, lt. 1796, cdr. 1800, capt. 1801, struck off navy list 1814; restored as r.-adm. 1832, v.-adm. 1841; c.-in-c. W.I. and N. America 1848-51; adm. 1851; r.-adm. of UK 1854-d.

Elder bro. Trinity House 1854-d.


The Dundonald family fortunes were already at a low ebb when Cochrane’s eccentric father succeeded to the title in 1778. His attempts to revive them through the promotion of industrial chemistry, in which the results of his undoubted talents were blighted by poor judgment and bad luck, only made matters worse, driving him to sell the family estates at Culross in 1793 and, several years later, to eke out his days in debtor’s exile abroad. With no material inheritance to anticipate, but possessed of a large share of his father’s original, if erratic inventiveness of mind, Cochrane, whose brief army career was purely nominal, entered the navy in 1793 under the aegis of his uncle Alexander Cochrane*. For seven years he served in the North Sea, American waters and the Mediterranean without notable incident, though he quickly earned a reputation for truculence, resentment of authority and inability to know when to remain silent. It was clear that he, like his father and uncles, would never settle for a quiet life.

On receiving command of the brig Speedy in 1800, he gave full rein to his brilliant seamanship, foolhardy courage and talent for piracy. His list of prizes steadily mounted and on 6 May 1801 he engaged and captured a Spanish frigate four times the size of his own vessel. Two months later he was taken in action by the French, but he was released after a fortnight and acquitted by the obligatory court martial on the loss of the Speedy. He regarded his tardy promotion to captain, 8 Aug. 1801, on the day news of his exoneration was received in London, as a slight, maintaining that it should have been dated from 6 May. He blamed the delay on deliberate and politically motivated obstruction on the part of the authorities and in particular of St. Vincent, first lord of the Admiralty, who does appear to have been immensely irritated by the importunities of Cochrane’s ill-regarded kinsmen on his behalf. He then damned himself forever with St. Vincent by personally insulting him when vainly pursuing promotion for his lieutenant on the Speedy.1

On the conclusion of peace Cochrane, whose early education by a succession of hired tutors had been sketchy, entered himself as a student at Edinburgh University, where he almost certainly attended Dugald Stewart’s lectures on political economy. When war was renewed in 1803 he sought employment, but St. Vincent was at first obstructive and eventually palmed him off with a decrepit ex-collier, in which, after a period in the Channel, he was sent to protect non-existent fishing fleets beyond the Orkneys. He had little prospect of advancement under St. Vincent and Lord Keith, who reported him to the Admiralty as ‘wrongheaded, violent and proud’, but late in 1804 St. Vincent’s successor Lord Melville, who was related by marriage to his uncle Andrew Cochrane Johnstone*, appointed him to the frigate Pallas. A three-month cruise off the Azores before going on American convoy duty brought many rich pickings, and his daring exploits off the French coast in the first half of 1806 added to his stature as a war hero.2

Just after his return to Plymouth in May 1806 a by-election occurred at the notoriously venal borough of Honiton, where Augustus Cavendish Bradshaw was seeking re-election after appointment to an Irish place. The radical journalist William Cobbett, whose friend Richard Bateman Robson, an opponent of corruption, had been returned for the other seat two months earlier, had announced his intention of standing on ‘purity’ principles; but when Cochrane, accompanied by Cochrane Johnstone, arrived at Honiton and pledged himself never to accept a place or pension, Cobbett made way for him. Although Cochrane was beaten on this occasion, he was returned with Cavendish Bradshaw, apparently without opposition, at the general election four months later. When calling for parliamentary reform in the House, 29 Jan. and 5 Feb. 1817, he confessed that he had bribed his way to success, but in his autobiography, written some 50 years later, he claimed that after his defeat at the by-election he had paid each of his 124 voters ten guineas as a ‘reward’ for withstanding bribery, thus creating expectations of a repeat performance at the general election, which, once safely returned, he refused to fulfill. Whatever the truth—and, arguably, the two accounts are not mutually incompatible—he certainly defaulted on bills for treats to the voters after his election.3

Cochrane, who was reckoned ‘adverse’ to abolition of the slave trade by the ‘Talents’, doubtless on account of his uncle Andrew’s West Indian interests, was at sea in the Imperieuse from November 1806 until February 1807 and became aware of further aspects of the corruption and inefficiency in naval administration against which, for both selfish and public-spirited reasons, he was determined to fight in Parliament. He took a month’s sick leave, 14 Apr. 1807.4 He dared not show his face at Honiton at the general election when, at Cobbett’s prompting, he stood for Westminster. He ‘unequivocally’ avowed his ‘intention to stand unconnected’ with any of the four other candidates but, according to Francis Place, he applied unsuccessfully for a coalition with the radical (Sir) Francis Burdett* part way through the campaign, during which he accused St. Vincent of bartering naval commissions for borough influence, attacked abuses in naval administration and called for the exclusion of placemen and pensioners from the House. Although Cobbett laid more stress on the importance of returning Burdett, he advised the latter’s supporters to give their second votes to Cochrane, noting that ‘his principles are new to his rank, and he will keep his word if elected’. Almost two-fifths of his votes, which gave him a comfortable second place, were shared with Burdett, but over a third were split with the official government candidate. Cochrane was known to be hostile to Catholic relief and had not voted for Brand’s motion condemning the ministerial pledge on the subject, 9 Apr. 1807. He took no part in the popular celebrations of Burdett’s victory.5

Cochrane quickly drew attention to himself in the House as a ‘no party’ man, but his early experiences there were unhappy. On the address, 26 June, he condemned its prejudgment of the Egyptian expedition, but defended the dismissal of the ‘Talents’ and the sudden dissolution:

He hoped some third party would arise, which would keep aloof from selfish interest, and sinecure places and pensions. Unless they acted upon different principles he could not honestly support either of the present parties.

On 7 July he moved for inquiry into places, pensions and sinecures held by or in trust for Members and their relatives. Perceval, seeking to bury this information, proposed instead investigation into all places and pensions. Cochrane stood by his original motion, which was defeated by 90 votes to 61; and when Perceval moved to refer the broader inquiry to the finance committee Cochrane’s amendment to speed it up and restrict it to Members’ spoils went down by 101-60. His call for papers intended to expose naval abuses, 10 July, when he specified poor food, the extreme length of cruises, keeping ships at sea in an unfit condition, inadequate medical facilities and corruption in the distribution of prize money, aroused considerable outrage on both sides and was negatived without a division. He generally approved the militia transfer bill, 28 July 1807.

Ordered back to sea soon afterwards, he later claimed, unconvincingly, that his constituents had given him ‘unlimited leave of absence’. For the next 17 months he added to his popular reputation with a series of brilliant and disruptive operations on the coasts of Spain and France, and in November 1808 he conducted the land defence of Rosas, where he was wounded in the face. He returned to England early in 1809 hoping to promote his ideas for a flexible, naval-based war strategy, using the ill-defended coastal islands of France and Spain as launching points for lightning raids on enemy fortifications and supply lines, but was pressed into taking charge of the attack by fire-ships and explosion vessels on the French fleet in Aix Roads, under the overall command of Admiral Gambier. The assault, which Cochrane led in person, 11 Apr. 1809, was only a partial success in terms of destruction, but the morning revealed all but two of the enemy ships helplessly aground. To Cochrane’s amazement Gambier, judging the risks too great, declined to send in the main fleet to finish them off and it was only when Cochrane took the Imperieuse in alone that the Admiral felt obliged to send support. Cochrane arrived home to a hero’s welcome, 21 Apr., and was made a Knight of the Bath, the King deciding that although it was not usual to confer that honour on a captain (St. Vincent’s being the only previous case), his ‘personal rank may give a colour to it’.6

He voted for Hamilton’s motion charging Castlereagh with electoral malpractice, 25 Apr.; attended and addressed the Crown and Anchor reform dinner, 1 May; and declared his support for parliamentary reform ‘upon old constitutional principles’ when speaking for Madocks’s censure of ministerial corruption, 11 May; but, whether by accident or design is not clear, he was not one of the minority who voted for Burdett’s reform motion, 15 June 1809. Meanwhile, having taken umbrage at Gambier’s despatch on the Aix Roads affair, which did not give him due credit, he made a fatal blunder by informing the first lord that he was determined to oppose the proposed vote of thanks to Gambier, on the ground that he had failed to destroy the French fleet, and by resisting all attempts to dissuade him. He was easily outmanoeuvred, for Gambier demanded a court-martial which inevitably, if dubiously, acquitted him, 4 Aug. 1809. Cochrane’s proposals for an invasion of the Biscay islands were ignored and he was temporarily superseded in the command of his ship when it took part in the Walcheren expedition.7

Cochrane, who voted against government on the address, 23 Jan., and the Scheldt inquiry, 23 Feb., 5 and 30 Mar., and attended the Westminster reform meeting, 9 Feb., moved on 29 Jan. 1810 for the minutes of Gambier’s trial, but was defeated by 171-19. He objected to the vote of thanks later the same day and found 40 Members to join him in dividing against it. In moving for papers to expose abuses in the Admiralty courts, 19 Feb., he spoke, according to Perceval, ‘with great acrimony and severity’ and ministers conceded only such information as suited them. He obtained more papers and gave notice of a motion for inquiry, 9 Mar. He voted against the committal of Burdett for breach of privilege, 5 Apr., and was prepared to mine his Piccadilly house with gunpowder to obliterate intruders seeking to arrest him, but Place talked him out of this mad scheme. He was the only speaker in the debate of 10 Apr. who unequivocally condemned the execution of the Speaker’s warrant, and even he left the House, according to Perceval, ‘for the purpose of letting the vote pass unanimously’. He voted for the release of John Gale Jones, 16 Apr., presented the Westminster petition for the liberation of Burdett the following day, and on 21 May both deplored the precipitate enclosure of Bere forest as a waste of naval timber and voted for Brand’s parliamentary reform motion. In one of his few really effective parliamentary performances, 11 May, he denounced the injustices of the pensions system, exposing the discrepancies between payments to disabled seamen and those to administrators and political sinecurists: in these terms, he calculated, the Wellesleys were worth 426 pairs of lieutenants’ legs, Lord Arden’s sinecure was the equivalent of 1,022 captains’ arms, and Lord Buckingham’s would fund all the victualling offices and still leave £5,000 change. On 13 June he moved his resolutions condemning abuses in the administration and distribution of prize money, which were rejected by 76 votes to 6. He got nowhere with his attempts to impress his naval war plans on the Admiralty, whose response was to give him an ultimatum either to rejoin the Imperieuse on active service or surrender his command. He refused to be fobbed off or muffled, and accepted the end of his prospects of worthwhile professional employment.8

In 1811 Cochrane, who had recently bought a house in Hampshire, went to the Mediterranean, partly to experiment with mortars, but mainly to seek redress for a financial grievance against the Maltese prize court. He got no satisfaction, and purloined the table of fees, for which he was arrested and imprisoned. He soon escaped and returned to England, where he enjoyed a minor triumph in the House, 6 June 1811, when he revealed the flagrant abuses in the administration of the court and secured the production of most of the information which he demanded. His call for inquiry into the conduct of the court officials, 18 July was negatived. He supported investigation of arrears of pay due to seamen on foreign service, 12 June, condemned the treatment of French prisoners-of-war, 14 June, and used the debate on the gold coin bill, against which he voted, 19 July, to combine his demands for economy with advocacy of his plans for naval warfare and denunciation of the policy of propping up despotic regimes in the Peninsula and Sicily with land armies and subsidies.

He spoke in much the same terms when seconding Burdett’s reform address, 7 Jan., and in subsequent speeches, 22 Feb. and 16 Mar. 1812. Two weeks earlier he had submitted to the Regent detailed plans for a coup de main against France using saturation bombardment and poison gas. A secret committee was appointed to consider them, but they were discreetly shelved.9 He blamed the rise in London crime on the enormities of the spoils system, 18 Jan., publicized the Duke of Cambridge’s recent surrender of a sinecure, 23 Jan. refused to vote on the sinecure paymastership, 23 Feb., because its abolition would merely delude the public into believing that the whole system was being purged, proposed financing the Plymouth breakwater by a tax on sinecures, 17 Mar., and tried unsuccessfully to extend the scope of the sinecures bill, 15 June. He could not support Burdett’s call for the abolition of flogging in the armed forces, 13 Mar., arguing that the problem lay not with the power to flog, which was necessary to maintain discipline, but with the abuse of that power, which he traced to the pernicious effects of parliamentary influence, whereby the privileged were able to get their immature offspring into positions of authority. He had similarly defended the practice of gagging, 18 July 1811. On 24 Mar. he deplored the diminution of prize money by recent regulations and revealed the strong element of self-interest which had helped to inspire his crusade against the system: ‘He would never be a robber of his own country, but he saw no reason why we should not be permitted to plunder our enemies’. His motion for accounts of imports of French goods under licence was agreed to after amendment, 4 May, and he supported Martin’s unsuccessful bid to bring in a bill to regulate the office of registrar of the Admiralty court, 19 June 1812. Seven weeks later he made a runaway marriage, which proved to be entirely happy, with a 16-year-old orphan.

Cochrane was still distrusted by many of the leading Westminster radicals, who initially decided to support Walter Ramsden Fawkes* with Burdett at the 1812 general election, but his announcement of his determination to stand on his own bottom compelled them to reconsider. He was examined by Place and two members of the Westminster committee and required to give assurances as to his political views and conduct and to answer the objections to him. His replies, which satisfied his interrogators, were made public in a second address: he pledged himself to vote on all occasions for parliamentary reform and the abolition of sinecures admitted his past hostility to Catholic relief, but expressed a reluctant and very heavily qualified inclination to concede it; answered the charge that as an officer in the pay of government he was unfit to represent Westminster by arguing that his professional expertise was an asset in the struggle against corruption, and stood by his recorded views on flogging. He was adopted at a subsequent meeting of the electors, with the proviso that he should pledge himself to resign if he was sent abroad on active service, and was returned unopposed with Burdett.10

Cochrane, who abstained from all divisions on Catholic relief in the new Parliament, acquiesced in the grant of £100,000 to Wellington but deplored the strategy of ‘internal warfare’, 7 Dec., and also acquiesced in the grant of £200,000 for the relief of Russia, 18 Dec. 1812, because it represented only ten days’ expenditure in the Peninsula. He seconded Burdett’s motion on the Regency, designed to protect the interests of Princess Charlotte, 23 Feb., but opposed his call for inquiry into the case of Capt. Phillimore, which involved allegations of the infliction of unduly brutal punishment on a seaman, 5 May. He failed to find a seconder for his motion for printing all papers concerning the revenues of Greenwich Hospital, 11 Mar., and his subsequent motion for the production of accounts was rejected. He presented the petition of Manchester reformers complaining of harassment, false imprisonment and malicious persecution, 2 June. His resolution condemning poor naval pay and excessive length of service, 5 July, was negatived without a division, and three days later he was the only Member to support Burdett’s motion for the biannual publication of unclaimed wages and prize money due to dead sailors. On both occasions he was involved in vituperative exchanges with his dedicated enemy John Wilson Croker, secretary of the Admiralty.

Early in 1814 Cochrane was preparing to take his uncle’s flagship to American waters, where Sir Alexander Cochrane had command of the reinforced North Atlantic fleet, but he was overtaken by disgrace and degradation. He was implicated, with his uncle Cochrane Johnstone and Richard Butt, in a fraud on the Stock Exchange perpetrated through the agency of Random de Berenger, a soldier of fortune. A false rumour of Buonaparte’s defeat and death in battle was circulated, causing stocks to rise rapidly, and shrewd speculators made considerable profits before the truth was discovered. Cochrane was indicted in April and tried in King’s bench before Lord Ellenborough. All the defendants were found guilty, 9 June, but Cochrane Johnstone fled the country before sentence could be passed. Cochrane’s appeal for a new trial was dismissed and he was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, a £1,000 fine and an hour in the pillory. Henry Crabb Robinson, who was present, recorded that ‘he stood without colour in his face, his eye staring and without expression; and when he left the court it was with difficulty, as if he were stupefied’.11

The question of Cochrane’s innocence or guilt is probably beyond ultimate proof.12 He made money, though not a killing, out of the rise in stocks and some of the circumstantial evidence was damning; but his defence seems to have been botched and Ellenborough’s handling of the case was far from impartial. He maintained to the end of his life that he was the innocent victim of a political witch-hunt. Over 30 years later Sir Thomas Byam Martin recalled how, after the trial, the Regent had expressed ‘in emphatic words’ before a gathering of senior naval officers his ‘determination to order his degradation’. He was struck off the navy list and ignominiously expelled from the order of the Bath. Summoned to attend in his place to defend himself, 5 July 1814, he protested his innocence and violently abused Ellenborough. A motion for his expulsion was carried, by 140 votes to 44. There were a number of pretenders to his seat, but the severity of his sentence and doubts of his guilt swung popular opinion in his favour. Burdett, who threatened to sit in the pillory with him, came out decisively for his re-election and he was returned again unopposed, 16 July. Ministers decided against challenging the legality of his election and, fearing public disorder, remitted his sentence to the pillory.13

Cochrane escaped from King’s Bench prison, where he had composed his lengthy and bitter Letter to Lord Ellenborough, on 6 Mar. 1815. Three days later he informed the Speaker that, once the corn bill agitation had subsided, he would attend to take his seat and demand inquiry into Ellenborough’s conduct of his trial. He turned up on 21 Mar., before the House had formally convened, and while awaiting the arrival of the certificate of his return from the crown office was arrested, forcibly removed from the chamber and returned to prison, where he was kept in close confinement for four weeks. The authorities conveniently decreed that his arrest did not constitute any breach of privilege. After a fortnight’s token refusal to pay his fine on the expiration of his sentence, he was released on 3 July. He took the oaths and his seat the same day and had the satisfaction of dividing against the Duke of Cumberland’s marriage establishment bill and seeing it defeated by one vote. Three days later he gave notice that next session he would move for inquiry into his trial and Ellenborough’s handling of it.14

Cochrane voted against government on the Spanish Liberals, 15 Feb., the army estimates, 28 Feb., when he attacked the military occupation of Malta and France and called for the abolition of slavery, and again, 8 and 11 Mar. 1816. He voted against the property tax, 18 Mar., opposed the increase in Admiralty salaries, 20 Mar., and divided against government on Bank restriction, 1 and 3 May, and for a reduction of the Irish vice-treasurer’s salary, 17 June. On 5 Mar. he had presented 13 charges against Ellenborough, which he moved to have referred to a committee of the whole House, 30 Apr. Burdett was his only backer against a majority of 89 and these proceedings were expunged from the records of the House. On 29 July 1816 Cochrane turned up at a meeting of the Association for Relief of the Poor, chaired by the Duke of York and attended by other royal dukes, the chancellor of the Exchequer and a cluster of bishops. He forced the promoters to dilute their motion attributing distress to the transition from war to peace by threatening an amendment which blamed the large national debt and profligate expenditure, and went on to reduce the meeting to chaos by denouncing the proposed subscription as a fraud on the public and by opposing the vote of thanks. John Whishaw told Lady Holland, 3 Aug., that ‘Cochrane is considered as having been very triumphant’.15 He was tried at Guildford for his escape from King’s Bench, 17 Aug., found guilty and fined £100. He refused to pay and was taken into custody, but was released when his constituents raised the money by subscription.

Cochrane was a founder member of the Hampden Club, whom he advised in June 1816 to concentrate on considering methods of promoting reform rather than indulge in constitutional disputes and, less shrewdly, to seek to destroy the revenue and the government by renouncing luxuries. When Burdett stood aloof from the radical reformers early in 1817 Cochrane, whose radicalism was intensified by personal bitterness, agreed to lead their campaign to bombard Parliament with reform petitions. Samuel Bamford, the provincial radical, who called on Cochrane with other Hampden Club delegates, found him ‘cordial and unaffected in his manner’ and contrasted the ‘simple and homely welcome’ which they received with their frosty and patronizing reception by Burdett. If Henry Hunt is to be believed, Cochrane had to have his arm twisted before agreeing to present the petitions, but once he did so he pursued the business with gusto, though with little skill or authority. On 29 Jan. 1817 he occupied two hours in the presentation of petitions, most of which were rejected as libellous and unparliamentary and which he was compelled to admit he had not read. He later voted for the Whig amendment to the address and then proposed one of his own, calling for parliamentary and economical reform and retrenchment, but failed to find a seconder. He delivered more petitions during February, endorsing their calls for annual Parliaments and universal suffrage. Sir Robert Heron, who judged him ‘a wretched speaker’, thought little of his performances, but reckoned he had got the better of the Whig Henry Brougham on 17 Feb. when, armed with materials by Place, he exposed Brougham’s explicit commitment, when angling for Cochrane’s seat in 1814, to radical reform, since repudiated. Cochrane took a leading part in the opposition to the suspension of habeas corpus and the seditious meetings bill in late February and March. Warned by the Speaker that his assertion that the people would be driven to use force or to withhold taxes amounted to an incitement to riot, 24 Feb., he insisted that he was merely advocating passive resistance and dissociated himself from the Spencean schemes of revolution and confiscation. He was encouraged by Whig resistance to the coercive measures and on 26 Feb. he gestured in the direction of cementing an alliance between them and the reformers:

he had experienced a sort of malicious satisfaction at seeing, for ten years past, that the hopes of the opposition were disappointed by their being kept out of power. He was now, however, decidedly of opinion, that their restoration to place and power was the only means of giving us a chance of escaping degradation and ruin.

He explained to a friend two days later:

You will perceive ... that I have resolved to steer another political course, seeing that the only means of averting military despotism from the country is to unite the people and the Whigs, so far as they can be induced to co-operate.16

Cochrane objected to the instability of the paper currency, 5 Mar., and appealed for support to the landed gentry, 7 and 12 Mar., arguing that they were being plundered by excessive poor rates, high taxes, the interest on the funded debt and the currency fluctuations. He supported Brougham’s motion for inquiry into commercial dislocation, 13 Mar., but identified the cause as crippling taxes and advocated a gradual rather than precipitate return to cash payments. The same themes marked his two speeches of 28 Apr. 1817, when he demanded parliamentary reform as the essential prerequisite for restoration of the economy and denounced the issue of Exchequer bills as a ‘nugatory and contemptible’ evasion of the need for a ‘radical remedy’.

He got nowhere in his protracted legal battle to challenge the distribution of prize money for the Aix Roads affair and in May 1817 suffered another financial blow when his Honiton creditors obtained a court order for the seizure of his Hampshire house against the unpaid election bills of 1806. He resisted forcibly for a while, before paying up with a bad grace.17 In the House, 19 May, he gave notice of a motion for inquiry into this episode, but when speaking against bribery on the Haslemere election case, June, he explained that ‘urgent private business’ had compelled him to postpone it. He supported Burdett’s reform motion, 20 May, describing Members, in the present corrupt system, as ‘the maggots of the constitution’, opposed the renewed suspension of habeas corpus, 18, 23, 24 and 27 June, and damned the entire policy of repression, 11 July 1817.

Cochrane had already been approached by representatives of the Chilean government to take command of their navy in their struggle for independence from Spain. He accepted, sold his property in England and in August 1817 went to France, whence he wrote bitterly that ‘the cursed recollection of the injustice that has been done to me is never out of my mind, so that all my pleasures are blasted’. He was suspected by the authorities, not without reason, of involvement in a plot to effect Buonaparte’s escape from St. Helena and install him as the ruler of an independent South America; and the following year he told John Cam Hobhouse, who found him ‘a mild very gentlemanly agreeable man’, that ‘when he was at Paris, the servant at the hotel told him he was instructed to collect all the bits of paper he threw into the fireplace, and even those he used at the close stool’.18

He returned to England for the 1818 session, when he demanded the application of a portion of the droits of Admiralty to the relief of distressed seamen and deplored the absence of any reference to retrenchment in the address, 27 Jan.; voted for Folkestone’s motion on the operation of the suspension of habeas corpus, 17 Feb.; presented reform petitions, 3 Mar.; voted against the ducal marriage grants, 13 and 15 Apr.; presented but was forced to withdraw the exiled Cobbett’s petition against spies and censorship, 14 May, and voted for repeal of the Septennial Act, 19 May. At the annual celebration of Burdett’s Westminster victory four days later he ‘very foolishly’, as Place thought, announced that he was about to leave the country for 18 months, thereby precipitating an unseemly scramble for his seat among the rival radical factions. He confirmed his resignation a week later and on 2 June, when speaking for Burdett’s reform motion, announced that this would probably be the last time he addressed the House. He was ‘extremely affected, shedding tears’, but recovered himself to denounce corruption and pay tribute to his constituents, who had ‘rescued him from a desperate and wicked conspiracy, which had nearly involved him in total ruin’. He professed to forgive his persecutors, but this he never did. After the division, in which he was Burdett’s only supporter, he presented Cobbett’s petition for annual Parliaments and universal suffrage, but the House was counted out before it had been read.19

For the next ten years Cochrane fought in the service of Chile, Peru, Brazil and Greece, earning much acclaim but little money for his exploits. Thereafter he concentrated on his campaign for personal justice and restitution. He was granted a free pardon and restored to the navy list, largely through the personal intercession of William IV, in 1832, but another 15 years elapsed before he was reinstated in his civil honours. He enjoyed a belated chief naval command in his seventies and ended his days as rear-admiral of the United Kingdom, but he never realized his many outstanding financial claims, which were partially acknowledged by the payment of £5,000 to his grandson 16 years after his death.20

Cochrane, one of the most colourful and attractive characters to sit in the House in this period, made his presence felt there on occasion, but left no lasting impact. An unlikely Member for Westminster in the first instance, he maintained his position as Burdett’s colleague largely through the magnetic force of his personality and his gift for leadership. His radicalism had little intellectual content and was rooted in his hatred of corruption and the iniquities of the spoils system, nurtured and sustained by his successive professional disappointments and constant battles with authority, in which he was usually outmanoeuvred. Too prone to look for trouble, too quick to resent blows to his pride or purse, he was implacable in his hatreds and became progressively embittered by his unforgiving rancour towards his many enemies. Yet in private life he was always charming, mild-mannered and benevolent; and Greville the diarist reflected on meeting him in 1830 that ‘it is a pity he ever got into a scrape; he is such a fine fellow, and so shrewd and good-humoured’.21

He died 31 Oct. 1860 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


See Dundonald, Autobiog. of a Seaman (1860 ed.), a partisan and apologetic account of his career to 1814. The rest of it is covered in the Life by his son and H. R. Fox Bourne (1869) and by a sequel to the Autobiog. ed. by his grandson (1890). The most recent of the numerous biographies are W. Tute, Cochrane (1965); I. Grimble, Sea Wolf (1978); and D. Thomas, Cochrane (1978). See also the entry on Cochrane by A. Prochaska in Biog. Dictionary British Radicals ed. Baylen and Gossman, i. 90-93.

  • 1. Dundonald, i. 93-151; Thomas, 60-75; St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lv), 348, 350, 353; Keith Pprs. (idem xc), 349, 376, 386.
  • 2. Dundonald, i. 163-79, 183-201; St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lxi), 337, 344; Markham Corresp. (idem xxviii), 153, 366, 369.
  • 3. Dundonald, i. 179-81, 202-4; Pol. Reg. 7, 14 June 1806.
  • 4. CJ, lxii. 325.
  • 5. Add. 22906, f. 280; 27838, ff. 21, 100; Dundonald, i. 215-19; Grey mss, Markham to Howick, 10 May 1807; H. Hunt, Mems. ii. 271-3.
  • 6. Dundonald, i. 338-403; Thomas, 148-73; Geo. III Corresp. v. 3865.
  • 7. Dundonald, i. 403-ii. 132; Thomas, 174-90.
  • 8. Creevey Pprs. ed. Maxwell, i. 128; Geo. III Corresp. v. 4089, 4133; G. Wallas, Place (1918), 51; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 12 Apr. [1810]; Dundonald, i. 151-64.
  • 9. Dundonald, ii. 227-45; Thomas, 192-8; Add. 41083, f. 166; Keith Pprs. (Navy Recs. Soc. xcxvi), 315.
  • 10. Whitbread mss W1/2019; Add. 27840, ff. 3-4, 7-8, 10, 56-57, 73-74, 77; 27850, f. 255; Dundonald, ii. 257-60.
  • 11. Thomas, 211-29; Crabb Robinson Diary (1872), i. 226.
  • 12. See H. Cecil, A Matter of Speculation (1965) and a rejoinder by D. Cochrane, The Case of Lord Cochrane (1965).
  • 13. Dundonald, ii. 316; seq.; Martin Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. xix), 198-200; Romilly, Mems. iii. 144; Heron, Notes (1851), 37-38; Colchester, ii. 511-12.
  • 14. Life, i. 49-75; Colchester, ii. 531-6, 550.
  • 15. Life, i. 84-108; Add. 51658.
  • 16. J. Cannon, Parl. Reform, 169-70, 173; Bamford, Passages in Life of a Radical (1893), ii. 21-22; Hunt, iii. 424-30; Heron, 82; Wallas, 125; Life, i. 118-19.
  • 17. The Times, 13, May 1817; Thomas, 240-1; Life, i. 125-9.
  • 18. Life, i. 130-1; Castlereagh Corresp. xi. 381; Add. 47235, f. 8.
  • 19. Add. 28741, ff. 15, 38; Staffs. RO, Hatherton diary, 2 June [1818].
  • 20. Thomas, 245-342.
  • 21. Greville Mems. ed. Strachey and Fulford, i. 399.