Nicknamed le loup des mers (“the sea wolf”) by Napoleon, Thomas Cochrane was one of the most daring and successful naval heroes of all time. In this well-written account of Cochrane’s life, David Cordingly unearths startling new details about the real-life “Master and Commander,” from his daring exploits against the French navy to his role in the liberation of Chile, Peru, and Brazil, and the shock exchange scandal that forced him out of England and almost ended his naval career. Drawing on previously unpublished papers, his own travels, wide reading, and the kind of original research that distinguished Cordingly's previous book, The Billy Ruffian, Cordingly tells the fascinating story of the archetypal Romantic hero who conquered the seas and, in the process, defined his era.
“The stops and starts and shifting alliances of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815), including, in a larger sense, our own War of 1812 with Britain, tend to blur the memory of even passionate history buffs, and one of the strengths of Cordingly's narrative is how well he places the naval battles, which the British could never seem to lose, against those on land, where they could hardly seem to win. He also excels at describing the world of the age of sail (keeping nautical jargon to a merciful minimum) and the socio-political arcana of early-19th-century Britain, with its ‘rotten boroughs’ and ‘pocket boroughs’ and Dickensian brutality. But his signal achievement is in bringing to life both the conflicted genius of Cochrane and the remarkable cultural context in which he lived.”—Ken Ringle, The Washington Post“[Cordingly] used previously unpublished papers, extensive original research and his own travels to tell Cochrane’s story which is as good as any fiction.”—BoatU.S. Magazine“Avast, Horatio Hornblower! Shove off, Jack Aubrey! Give way to a real life knee-breeched naval hero. Maritime historian Cordingly presents the life of Thomas Cochrane, tenth Earl of Dundonald (1775-1860), a lanky Scot who was the very model, we are told, for the stalwart characters of C.S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian. As a lad in the Royal Navy, Cochrane quickly became adept at navigation, seamanship and ship-handling. Employing family connections, then a common shortcut, he obtained command of his own ship. Using subterfuges like flying false colors (also accepted practice at the time), he captured many prize French and Spanish vessels. His career advanced as captain of a frigate, but it wasn't all smooth sailing. Cochrane was court-martialed for losing a sloop, acquitted, then jailed in 1814 for participating in a stock market fraud. Elected a member of Parliament, he proved as terrible at politics on land as he was audacious at sea. With his remarkable record fighting Bonaparte, Cochrane was recruited to help bring democracy, or at least independence, to Chile, Brazil and Greece. In retirement, he spent time fostering useful inventions and promoting his reputation. When he died, the old hero was buried in Westminster Abbey. Readers can practically smell the salt air as Cordingly recreates the age of sail, of press gangs, of round shot, grape, canister and loud nine pounders, of well-armed ships of the line, jolly boats, bum boats and fire ships. To document the career of his hero, the author draws on memoirs, logbooks, archives, correspondence and ephemera. He chronicles in copious detail Cochrane's considerable bravery on deck and personal failings ashore. Landlubbers may find this a lengthy voyage, but devotees of yarns about brave British tars will be delighted to be aboard.”—Kirkus Reviews“Thomas Cochrane (1775-1860) was a British naval hero said to have inspired the creation of C.S. Forester's fictional Horatio Hornblower. But Cochrane was also very human, as he fought against a financial scandal and lost glory and honor. Drawing on previously unpublished papers, Cordingly presents a balanced and readable history of Lord Cochrane that covers Cochrane's maneuvers against the French navy as well as his part in the liberation of Chile, Peru, and Brazil. Whereas another recent biography, Brian Vale's Cochrane: The Unhappy Hero, assessed Cochrane as guilty in an 1814 stock market fraud, Cordingly believes his subject was innocent. He may bring overdue recognition to Cochrane, his naval skills, and his role as inspiration for popular naval fiction.”—Bryan Craig, Library Journal“Thomas Cochrane was one of the Royal Navy's greatest frigate captains and most controversial figures during the Napoleonic Wars. A counterpoint to Horatio Nelson and his ‘band of brothers,’ who were masters of fleet actions and blockade, Cochrane was a daring commerce raider whose prizes were so rich that he sailed into port with solid gold candlesticks lashed to his mastheads. He was a master as well of coastal raiding and cutting-out expeditions, culminating in the crippling of a French squadron at Basque Roads in 1809. Cordingly, an established historian of Nelson's navy, tells Cochrane's story with flair and sympathy—especially when recounting his professional destruction by a corrupt and inefficient naval establishment, which he challenged from his seat in Parliament with the same energy he turned against the French at sea. Cochrane's support of radical domestic causes further marked him, and in 1814 he was convicted in a Stock Exchange scandal whose details remain unclear. Surmounting disgrace and imprisonment, Cochrane in 1818 was offered command of revolutionary Chile's navy. He led it to victory against its Spanish enemy, then repeated the performance for another rebel state, Brazil. Less successful fighting for the Greeks against the Turks, he returned to Britain a national hero, had his case successfully reviewed and was restored to rank and honor. Small wonder that Cochrane's career was a major source of Patrick O'Brian's popular series, though Cochrane might have considered Jack Aubrey a bit of a bore.”—Publishers Weekly
David Cordingly was Keeper of Pictures and Head of Exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum for twelve years, where he organized such exhibitions as “Captain James Cook, Navigator,” “The Mutiny on the Bounty,” and “Pirates: Fact and Fiction.” His other books include Life Among the Pirates, Heroines and Harlots, and the highly praised The Billy Ruffian. He lives by the sea in Brighton, England.