Sir Alexander Forester Inglis Cochrane
1758-1832. Born on 23 April 1758, he was the sixth surviving son of Thomas, 8th Earl Dundonald, and of his second wife, Jane Stuart. He was the father of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Thomas John Cochrane, the godfather and uncle of Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, and the uncle of Captain Hon. Archibald Cochrane and of Rear-Admiral Nathaniel Day Cochrane.
On 19 May 1778 Cochrane was commissioned lieutenant, and in the following year he joined Admiral Sir George Rodney’ flagship Sandwich 90, Captain Walter Young, in which he served at the capture of the Caracas convoy and the Moonlight Battle off Cape St. Vincent on 16 January 1780. He was then appointed to the Montagu 74, Captains John Houlton and George Bowen, and was badly wounded in the Battle of Martinique on 17 April when serving as the Montagu’s third lieutenant, his injuries being described as ‘two or three wicked wounds in his hip and thigh’.
On 6 December 1780 he was promoted commander, nominally of the sloop St. Lucia in the Leeward Islands, although he in fact took command of the bomb Vesuvius 8. After transferring to the sloop Pachahunter in May 1781 he exchanged in December with Commander Isaac Coffin into the sloop Avenger 16, serving in North America. On this station he was posted captain on 17 December 1782, and he immediately commissioned the recently purchased Carolina 24. He next had the Sophie 24 on the same station, which vessel sailed for England in March 1784 with several hundred thousand guineas aboard, and after arriving in the Downs she was sent up to Woolwich to be relieved of her precious cargo by a convoy of wagons.
Although Cochrane was not employed by the navy during the first years of the peace he was nevertheless most active, proposing a process in 1786 whereby fish from Scotland could be delivered fresh to London by laying them in ice, thereby drastically reducing the price to the consumer, and also attempting to re-establish the family finances with his brother by developing industrial chemicals, although not with any great success.
He did not see any further service until the Spanish Armament of 1790 when he commissioned the frigate Hind 28, and being attached to the Grand Fleet he was sent by Admiral Lord Howe to Plymouth with despatches after his command had sprung her bowsprit. Once that dispute was settled he served in the North Sea and off Scotland in protection of the fisheries and in the preventative service, in which capacity he brought the Flushing smuggling vessel Stag into Leith after a two hour chase in January 1792, and later detained the sloop Expedition off the Pentland Firth on 28 May. In June, whilst anchored at Leith, the Hind’s marines were summoned by the Edinburgh authorities to help prevent a mob descending on Henry Dundas’ residence, Melville Castle, and returning to sea Cochrane had less success in November when a fog prevented the Hind from running down the infamous smuggler Morgan Rattler.
Cochrane continued in command of the Hind after the beginning of the French Revolutionary War in 1793, and he quickly enjoyed a great degree of success against the enemy with eight privateer captures in the Channel. These included the Custine 6 off Le Havre in February, Aimable Marie 10 in March, Tarquin 16, Liberté 12, and Egalité 8 in April and Georgette 24 in May, whilst he also assisted in the capture of the privateers Espoir 12 on 2 March and Club de Cherbourg 10 in June, as well as sending in many recaptured British merchantmen. During this time he benefitted greatly from the experience and skill of his first lieutenant, the celebrated Jack Larmour.
In November 1793 he recommissioned the Thetis 38, reputed to be the largest and finest frigate in the service, with which he entered Leith in December to complete his crew. He then spent time off the coast of Norway, returning to the Downs in March and sending further prizes into Yarmouth. At the end of the month he conveyed the Duke of Gloucester and his suite to Ostend.
In May 1794 the Thetis sailed to Halifax with Vice-Admiral Hon. George Murray’s squadron, and during the year she captured another half-dozen prizes, including a West Indiaman which was re-taken from a French cutter. In November he carried mail from Halifax to New York, and shortly afterwards it was reported that the Thetis had been lost on the American coast, although it transpired that she had in fact been towed into Norfolk by the Cleopatra 32, Captain Alexander Ball, after running onto a sand bank whilst chasing a privateer. On 17 May 1795, in company with the Hussar 28, Captain John Beresford, which had earlier assisted the Thetis after she had gone aground, Cochrane captured the Prévoyante 24 and Raison 18 off Cape Henry, these being two French storeships which were in effect a frigate and corvette armed en-flute.
During 1796 the Thetis saw some service out of Bermuda, and by February 1797 she was back at Halifax. After going out on a cruise she sailed up the Potomac in November, giving passage to a number of eminent gentlemen who were visiting George Washington at Mount Vernon, but on returning to Norfolk the crew had to hoist out her guns and stores after she drove aground. She then saw further service cruising out of Bermuda before returning from North America to Portsmouth at the beginning of November 1798, whereupon Cochrane was presented to the King at a levee in St. James’ Palace. The Thetis then sailed around to Plymouth to be paid off.
In February 1799 Cochrane was appointed to the Ajax 80, sailing from Portsmouth for Plymouth to join Rear-Admiral Hon. George Berkeley’s squadron at the beginning of April, and being present in the blockade of the five Ferrol ships of the line in the Aix Roads during the campaign brought about by the breakout of the Brest fleet on 25 April. By August she was back with the Channel fleet at Torbay, and on 9 January 1800 captured the privateer Aventureux whilst on passage to Portsmouth. The Ajax dropped down to St Helens at the beginning of March, but within a matter of weeks was back at Plymouth for repairs, having been thrust so far on to her beam during a storm that six feet of her main-yard had become submerged. After going out of port again in June she then served under the orders of Commodore Sir Edward Pellew and Rear-Admiral Sir John Warren in detached squadrons sent to assist French Royalist uprisings during June – August.
Continuing to command the Ajax, Cochrane saw further service from the beginning of 1801 in the Mediterranean where he was responsible for leading the opposed troop landings in Egypt on 8 March, thereby earning the praise of the commander-in-chief, Vice-Admiral Lord Keith, and the army commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Abercromby. In November he joined the attack on Alexandria with Major-General Eyre Coote which resulted in the city’s capture, and he led a small squadron of naval vessels into the harbour. On 8 February the Ajax arrived at Portsmouth having previously been driven by gales up to the Downs, whereupon Cochrane left her to be replaced by Captain William Bradley.
During the peace he sat in the House of Commons as the M.P. for the Stirling Boroughs in succession to his younger brother Andrew, having been elected in February 1802 after a recount, although his victory over his cousin, Sir John Henderson, was not confirmed until February 1804. He then lost his seat to Henderson in 1806.
In March 1803 Cochrane was one of the first officers who attended the Admiralty seeking re-employment in the likely eventuality of war recommencing with France, and he returned to duty in October on board the Northumberland 74, serving in the Channel and commanding a squadron which found itself detained in Bearhaven by gales that winter. In May 1804 it was speculated that he would join the Board of Admiralty under Lord Melville in William Pitt’s incoming administration, but in the event this did not happen.
Cochrane retained the Northumberland after his elevation to flag rank on 23 April 1804 with his flag captain being Captain James Oswald, and from September Captain George Tobin. Despite his wish for a command in the East Indies he was engaged to keep watch on the neutral but overtly hostile Spanish at Ferrol from May in succession to Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Pellew, who had been given the East Indies station. In this role various accusations were levied against him in the papers of attempting to provoke war with Spain in order to line his own pocket, charges that were almost certainly politically motivated. They arose after he provided what turned out to be exaggerated reports of a Franco/Spanish expedition fitting out at that port, resulting in the British government ordering the detention of four Spanish treasure frigates by a squadron under the command of Commodore Graham Moore on 5 October. Cochrane also sparked a lifelong enmity with Pellew when he accused his predecessor’s secretary, Thomas Fitzgerald, of ‘fraud and peculations’ at Ferrol, charges for which he provided no evidence, and which years later were proved to be false, although by then Fitzgerald had been dismissed from the navy and ruined.
In February 1805 he was ordered to leave his station with six sail of the line by Admiral Hon. William Cornwallis and sent in pursuit of Rear-Admiral Missiessy’s Rochefort squadron which had escaped port on 11 January. He searched for the French at Lisbon, Madeira, the Cape Verde Islands and finally the West Indies, and he remained at Barbados following his appointment at Viscount Melville’s behest as the commander-in-chief of the Leeward Islands. When Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson arrived with the Mediterranean fleet in pursuit of Vice-Admiral Villeneuve, who had broken out from Toulon on 29 March he temporarily seconded Cochrane to his fleet on 4 June, but the latter returned to his station after Nelson set sail for Europe.
On 6 February 1806 Cochrane was second-in-command to Vice-Admiral Sir John Duckworth at the Battle of San Domingo. During the action the Northumberland, captained in an acting capacity by John Morrison who had joined her in the previous autumn, suffered twenty-one men killed and seventy-nine wounded, with Cochrane escaping death when his hat was carried off his head by a huge splinter. To honour his part in the victory he was created a K.B on 29 March, was awarded a sword from the Patriotic Fund, and received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament.
At the end of June 1806 he sailed to Martinique in pursuit of another, superior, French squadron under the command of Rear-Admiral Willaumez, and he followed it as far as Puerto Rico before returning to Tortola to protect a British convoy once it became apparent that the French would decline an engagement. This withdrawal did not prevent him being castigated in some quarters for failing to bring the French to account, despite the fact that he had an inferior squadron and that his first concern was to protect the islands and shipping on his station.
Whilst commander-in-chief in the Leeward Islands Cochrane regularly shifted his flag, flying it temporarily in 1805 aboard the Jason 32, Captain William Champain, and during March and April 1806 aboard the Dolphin 44, Lieutenant Thomas Tudor Tucker. Thereafter he returned to the Northumberland, Acting-Captain Joseph Spear, who in early 1807 was replaced by Cochrane’s nephew, Captain Nathaniel Day Cochrane. In July he shifted his flag into the Belleisle 74, again commanded by his nephew, whilst the Belleisle’s captain, William Hargood, took the Northumberland back to England, and in November Captain William Maude assumed the command of the Belleisle. Cochrane then removed his flag to the Neptune 98, Captain Charles Dilkes, in October 1808.
Meanwhile in the early part of 1807 Cochrane blockaded the principal French West Indian island of Martinique, and he also spent further time off Tortola collecting the homeward-bound trade. To avoid the hurricane season he retired to Halifax in the autumn for two months, and upon returning to the Leeward Islands he peacefully took possession of the Danish West Indian territories between 21 and 25 December following that country’s declaration of war. During 1808, in an otherwise quiet year, he captured the French island of Marie-Galante in March, and it was successfully defended from a French attack in August with the assistance of a corps of colonial marines consisting of escaped slaves and free blacks that he had raised.
Cochrane thereafter concentrated on reducing Martinique, and in a short campaign the island was taken on 24 February 1809 in co-operation with the Army under the command of Lieutenant-General George Beckwith. Shortly afterwards Cochrane led the squadron which captured the French sail of the line Hautpoult 74 off the Saintes on 17 April, and those islands were also taken under British control. At the end of August he arrived at Halifax once more to ride out the hurricane season, prior to departing Nova Scotia for the West Indies on 14 November, having in the meantime been promoted vice-admiral on 25 October.
On 6 February 1810 Cochrane, with his flag in the Pompée 74, Captain George Cockburn, co-operated once more with Lieutenant-General Beckwith in the capture of Guadeloupe, and upon assuming the role of governor of that island he immediately banned any condemnatory comments by French officials against the British government. He was succeeded in command of the Leeward Islands by Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Laforey at the end of 1810, and in June 1813, to great fanfare and the apparent good wishes of the inhabitants, and after ten years away from his homeland, he left Guadeloupe and embarked aboard the Cressy 74, Captain Charles Pater, for passage to England.
At the end of November 1813 Cochrane was appointed to the command of the North American station based at Halifax, and arriving at Portsmouth on 27 January he raised his flag aboard the Asia 74, Captain John Wainwright, to set sail for Halifax four days later. His intended permanent flagship, the Tonnant 80, was fitted out by Captain Richard Raggett during January and was then commissioned at Chatham by his nephew, Captain Lord Cochrane, but that controversial officer lost the command when he was arraigned on charges of defrauding the Stock Exchange. On 6 April Captain Alexander Skene assumed the command of the Tonnant, taking her out to Halifax where Cochrane and Captain Wainwright joined her on 9 June, and following Wainwright’s return to England with despatches in early September Captain Charles Julius Kerr commanded the Tonnant through to June 1815.
Arriving at Bermuda in early March 1814, the vehemently anti-American Cochrane ordered the blockade of the entire enemy coastline and issued a proclamation to the Negro slaves offering their freedom and resettlement in British possessions, as well as a position in another corps of colonial marines that he had formed. In June he was joined upon the Tonnant by his captain of the fleet, Rear-Admiral Edward Codrington, and on 24 August he landed Major-General Robert Ross and Rear-Admiral George Cockburn to burn Washington in retaliation for American excesses in Canada. He was less successful when forced to withdraw a force which attacked Baltimore in September, and a similar attempt to capture New Orleans in December with Major-General Sir Edward Pakenham failed when the army was defeated, however he did capture Mobile with Major-General Sir John Lambert in February 1815.
Cochrane’s intention had been to deliver the Americans a drubbing before peace could bring an end to the War of 1812, and this he managed to do without too much collateral damage amongst the civilian populace, and without any great assistance from the army. Nevertheless his political opponents did not hesitate to criticise him, and he was accused of concentrating too much on plunder, with one of his detractors being the Duke of Wellington, whose view was somewhat coloured by the death of his brother-in-law, Pakenham, at New Orleans.
At the peace Cochrane returned to Portsmouth in May 1815 aboard the Tonnant with Lieutenant-General Sir George Prevost a passenger to find that he had been created a G.C.B. on 2 January. He set up residence in a mansion at No 19 Upper Harley Street, and after being promoted admiral on 12 August 1819 he returned to service in February 1821 when appointed the commander-in-chief at Plymouth. During his time commanding the Devonshire port he flew his flag aboard the Impregnable 104, Captain Charles Dashwood, who was replaced in July 1821 by Captain Alexander Skene, whilst from January 1823 his flagship was the Britannia 120, Captain Skene, and following that officer’s death in Edinburgh during September his son-in-law, Captain William Henry Bruce. Cochrane was succeeded in the Plymouth command by Admiral Sir James Saumarez in March 1824.
In the spring of 1831 Cochrane held a private audience with the King of France in Paris, and he died in that city on 26 January 1832 whilst visiting his daughter-in-law, Lady Troubridge, in the company of his brother. He was buried at the Père la Chaise cemetery.
Having been elected M.P. for the Stirling Boroughs on 24 February 1800 at the instigation of Henry Dundas, the future Viscount Melville, Cochrane retained the seat until 1802, and he held it again from 28 February 1803 until 1806 when he lost that election. In the same year he failed to be returned for the seat of Fowey in Cornwall. He was a nominal supporter of William Pitt, and two of his brothers also served in Parliament. During 1818 he attempted to return to parliament but was defeated in a disputed election for the County of Lanark, and in 1819 it was rumoured that he would sit for the most prominent borough, Westminster, but in the event he did not contest that seat.
On 26 April 1788 in New York he married Maria Shaw, the American-born widow of Captain Sir Jacob Wheate Bt. with whom he had three sons and two daughters. In addition to Thomas, who became admiral of the fleet, his elder daughter Anna Maria married Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Troubridge, and his second daughter, Jane, married Henry Bruce, who served as his flag-lieutenant in 1823 and eventually rose to flag rank. Cochrane, who was known to his family as ‘Sandy’, made strenuous efforts to further the early career of his nephew, Hon. Thomas Cochrane, and he wrote letters to the Admiralty urging his promotion following his capture of the Spanish xebec Gamo. His authority as commander-in-chief in the Leeward Islands also allowed him to post his own son to the rank of captain at the age of seventeen. He owned the estate of Lamancha in Peebles, Scotland.
Adored by his men, Cochrane was praised for being brave, humane, religious, amiable, skilful, enterprising, and active, if somewhat impatient with a furious temper. He was renowned for his regular and official complaints at the activities of the prize courts, and was seen as a difficult man in respect of his dealings with authority. Both Admiral Lord Keith and Admiral Lord St. Vincent held coloured views of the Cochrane family, the former calling them ‘crack-headed and unsafe’, the latter labelling them ‘money grabbing and romantic’, and affirming that the ‘Cochranes were ‘not to be trusted out of sight’. During his various posts as a commander-in-chief he ensured that excellent intelligence networks were developed.