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HE career of an heroic seaman always possesses an interest to an insular nation like the English. Still more is this the case when the seaman, as a naval commander, achieves
brilliant exploits against enemies superior in force to himself. And still more, again, is the interest excited, when such a man sees his fair fame clouded by undeserved accusations, and fails to obtain justice until gray hairs mark the declining years of life. Such a man was the lately deceased Thomas Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald, Admiral of the Red, and Rear-admiral of the Fleet.
BIRTH, HOME, AND BOYHOOD. Thomas Cochrane, born at Annsfield, in Lanarkshire, on the 14th December 1775, was descended from a very old Scottish family. He himself believed that the first Cochrane was a Scandinavian searover, who, in a remote age, settled on the shores of Renfrew and Ayr; and such a rover would certainly not have been an inapt ancestor for him. But be this as it may, there are records of the family so far back as the year 1262, as chieftains of the barony of Coveran, Cochran, or Cochrane. Robert Cochran, about four centuries ago, was a great favourite with James III. of Scotland, and by this favouritism won for himself the enmity of many Scottish nobles. A later representative of the family, William Cochrane, as a reward for mediating between Charles I. and his angry subjects in the north, was raised to the peerage in 1641, under the title of Lord Cochrane of Dundonald ; and in 1669 the title was elevated to the higher one of Earl of Dundonald. The Dundonalds were powerful in Scotland during the remainder of that century, but in the following century they merely took rank among the nobility of average influence.
The subject of this sketch was the eldest son of the ninth earl ; his mother was a daughter of Captain Gilchrist of the royal navy. As the patriarchal estates had nearly all left the family, owing to rebellions, forfeitures, mortgages, and other causes, Thomas inherited little beyond the chance of an earldom. His father made many attempts to resuscitate the family fortunes, by entering into commercial and manufacturing enterprises. Among these were schemes for preparing soda from common salt; for the employment of alumina as a mordant for dyers and calico-printers; for preparing British gum as a substitute for gum-Senegal in calico-printing ; for the manufacture of sal-ammoniac; for producing white-lead by a new process; and for extracting tar from pit-coal. All these schemes
-as well as numerous experiments on the gas produced from coal, and on the application of chemistry to agriculture-evinced considerable chemical knowledge and general intelligence; but they proved disastrous to the family in a pecuniary sense.
When it became necessary to adopt some definite mode of life, young Cochrane, through the aid of his uncle Alexander, a captain in the navy, entered into the naval service. Before this, however, an attempt was made to obtain for him a position in the his dislike of the stiff martinet rules of military drill proved too strong to be surmounted. In his Autobiography, he gives an amusing account of his first and only experience as a military officer: . By way of initiation into the mysteries of the military profession, I was placed under the tuition of an old sergeant, whose first lessons well accorded with his instructions, “not to pay attention to my
foibles.” My hair, cherished with boyish pride, was, formally cut, and plastered back with a vile composition of candle-grease and flour; to which was added the torture incident to the cultivation of an incipient queue. My neck, from childhood open to the Lowland breeze, was encased in an inflexible leathern collar or stock, selected according to my preceptor's notions of military propriety; these almost verging on strangulation. A blue semi-military tunic, with red collar and cuffs, in imitation of the Windsor uniform, was provided; and to complete the tout ensemble, my father, who was a determined Whig partisan, insisted on my wearing yellow waistcoat and breeches-yellow being the Whig colour, of which I was admonished never to be ashamed. A more certain mode of calling into action the dormant obstinacy of a sensitive high-spirited lad could not have been devised, than that of converting him into a caricature, hateful to himself and ridiculous to others. As may be imagined, my costume was calculated to attract attention, the more so from being accompanied by a stature beyond my years. Passing one day near the Duke of Northumberland's palace at Charing Cross, I was beset by a troop of ragged boys, evidently bent on amusing themselves at the expense of my personal appearance, and in their peculiar slang indulging in comments thereon far more critical than complimentary. Stung to the quick, I made my escape from them; then rushing home, begged my father to let me go to sea with my uncle, in order to save me from the degradation of floured head, pigtail, and yellow breeches.'
ENTERS THE NAVY. At length this poor son of a poor earl, on the 27th June 1793, entered on board H.M.S. Hind at Sheerness, as midshipman, he being then in his eighteenth year. He was a stripling over six feet in height, was older than middies usually are on entering the service, was nephew to the captain of the ship, and was a lord (Lord Cochrane) to boot. These characteristics might possibly have interfered with a due obedience to discipline, were it not that he had a real love for sea-life, which rendered him willing to bend to the necessary conditions of the service. Fortunately, he was placed under a skilful though rough lieutenant, who speedily trained him to good seamanship. The_Hind started on a cruise to the coast of Norway, to look out for French privateers or convoys. Once, while on this duty, in return for hospitalities received on shore, many Norwegians were invited to visit the ship; the ladies were 'whipped or hoisted up by means of ropes and a sort of chair with ease and comfort. Unfortunately, however, there was a parrot on board who had learned most of the boatswain's calls. While one lady was being lifted in the chair, the parrot called out : 'Let go.' The seamen, thinking it was the boatswain's command, did let go; and the lady had an unexpected though temporary dip in the sea.