The pugnacious life of Thomas Cochrane (1775–1860), the British Navy’s top gun after the death of Nelson in 1805.
Ever the fighter, Cochrane vanquished the French and Spanish during a distinguished career at sea, while at home he was to be defeated by an Admiralty he had tried in vain to reform. In 1793, he joined the crew of his uncle’s ship, the Hind, served bravely there and then on the frigate Thetis. Lord Nelson gave Cochrane an opportunity in 1799 when he had the young lieutenant sail a captured French ship from Sicily to Minorca in rough seas. He later commanded the Speedy, a 14-gun brig, and used her to capture enemy ships (whose cargo he sold for the crew’s benefit). With audacity and trickery, the Speedy’s 54-man crew successfully boarded the Gamo, a Spanish ship with 319 sailors. Cochrane harassed the French supply lines into Spain during the Peninsular War and in 1809 won the Battle of Aix Roads. Lord Gambier, Cochrane’s superior officer, was court-martialed for restraining Cochrane during the action, but was later acquitted. Cochrane’s testimony against Gambier and his protests against the Admiralty’s skimming of prize money made him a marked man, and his career eventually foundered on the shoals of a financial swindle. He sought to begin a new life by fleeing England and fighting for the independence of Chile, Brazil, and Greece. He also tested early steam engines, created a sulphurous chemical weapon that was almost used in the Crimean War, and found the time to get married and father five children.
Stem-to-stern action in a lively introduction to a brilliant, tumultuous man.