Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

Fifty-one years after this occurrence, Captain Hutchinson, who had been lieutenant of the Valiant at the time, wrote to the Earl of Dundonald, to confirm the earl's statements as to the events of the day, and to relate certain anecdotes which had come under his personal notice. The French fleet, it appears, was in a panic when Cochrane commenced his attack. They ran their ships on shore, and escaped in a fright. The French government afterwards admitted this to have been the case. * There was one man, however,' Hutchinson said, 'who did remain when all the remainder of the crew had quitted. This was a quarter-master on board the Ocean, who, indignant at the cowardly desertion of the ships, hid himself when the crews were ordered to quit; and this was the salvation of that three-decker and two other ships, in an extraordinary way. A little midshipman belonging to one of our smaller vessels (I believe a brig) had been sent in a jolly-boat that night with a message to another ship, and having delivered it, instead of returning immediately to his own vessel, he proposed to his men to go and look at the French ships from which the crews had been seen to flee. His men of course were willing, and they approached cautiously very near to the three-decker (the night being very dark) before they could observe any stir on board or around her. They were then suddenly hailed by the quarter-master before mentioned with a loud “Qui vive?” (Who goes there?). Of course the poor little midshipman took it for granted that the ship was occupied by more than one man; and he hastily retreated, glad to escape capture himself. Had he known the truth, that little midshipman, with his jolly-boat and four men, might have taken possession of a three-decker and two seventy-fours!'*

Now occurred a crisis in Lord Cochrane's professional life. The ministers proposed a vote of thanks to Lord Gambier. Lord Cochrane threatened, as member for Westminster, to oppose it, on the ground that Gambier had effected nothing to deserve thanks, and that he had neglected to destroy the French fleet in Aix Roads. Lord Mulgrave tried to dissuade him from this, as a course inconsistent in a naval officer; but Cochrane contended that, as a member of the House of Commons, he had rights and duties which overrode all professional considerations, and which he would honestly use without regard to the personal consequences to himself. As soon as this intention became known, Lord Gambier demanded a courtmartial. Two months elapsed before the court was held ; but at length it commenced on the 26th July 1809, on board the Gladiator,

* The Autobiography which Lord Cochrane lived to write, in his green old of Dundonald, was the means of bringing to light many such curious anecdotes as the

age

as Earl above, which would else have possibly been lost to the world. After the publication of the first volume in 1860, he received numerous communications from aged naval officers : many of which, including the above, were printed in the second volume. Half a century had not blunted the memory of the veterans.

at Portsmouth. The court-martial, after a nine days' trial, acquitted Lord Gambier; but it was six months later before the vote of thanks was moved and carried in the Commons.

Few things are more remarkable than the immense space of time which elapsed before Lord Cochrane was placed right with the public on this and other subjects. Had he not lived to a patriarchal age, he would not have had the pleasure of seeing justice rendered to himself

. Certain charts, concerning which we need not weary the reader, were necessary to prove whether Gambier or Cochrane was more in the right concerning the famous affair in the Aix Roads. These charts were in the possession of the Admiralty; but for more than half a century he was not permitted to have a sight of them; when they did come to light, they supported the assertions which he had made in 1809. Writing as a white-haired old man in 1860, he said that, in 1859 and 1860, he had applied to two successive First Lords of the Admiralty, Sir John Pakington and the Duke of Somerset, for permission to inspect charts at the Admiralty; that the permission had been courteously given ; that he there found the evidence for which he had been applying half a century in vain; and then he added: 'It will in the present day be difficult to credit the existence of such practices and evil influences of party-spirit in past times, as could permit an administration, even for the purpose of preserving the prestige of a government, to claim as a glorious victory a neglect of duty which, to use the mildest terms, was both a naval and a national dishonour.'

To return to the events of 1809. 'From this time forward,' said the Earl of Dundonald in 1860—that is, from the date when Lord Gambier was acquitted by the court-martial—I never trod the deck of a British ship-of-war at sea, as her commander, till thirty-nine years afterwards, when I was appointed by her present Most Gracious Majesty to command the West India squadron.' Thirty-nine years of enforced absence from British sea-life for such a man! It was almost tantamount to taking away from him the very air he breathed. Cochrane was evidently much out of favour in official quarters ; and he made another attempt to agitate for naval reform in the House of Commons. When a vote of thanks to Gambier was proposed, in April 1810, Cochrane moved as an amendment that the minutes of the court-martial should be produced, in order to shew that the acquittal was contrary to the evidence; but the House rejected the amendment, and passed the vote of thanks.

MISCELLANEOUS PROCEEDINGS: 1809-1813. Just about that time, a military and naval expedition to Walcheren was much talked of, to capture and destroy the French fleet in the Scheldt, and to destroy Bonaparte's arsenals at Flushing, Antwerp, and Termeuge. It was to be one of the largest armaments ever

sent forth from England, and was to be commanded by the Earl of Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan.* If this were the proper place, we might notice one of the most disastrous and humiliating defeats ever borne by Englishmen, through the incompetence of their rulers and commanders; but we have only to do with it so far as concerned Lord Cochrane. He sketched a plan for destroying the enemy's works and fleets, and sent it to the Admiralty; but not only was his plan refused; he himself was forbidden to join the expedition, the Impérieuse being placed under another officer. Forty thousand troops, 35 sail-of-the-line, 23 frigates, and nearly 200 smaller vessels, made a miserable business of the Walcheren expedition. What would have been the result had Cochrane joined it, cannot of course be said, though the probability is that he would have fallen again into disfavour by commenting freely on the incapacity of his superiors.

Deprived of active duties at sea, Cochrane entered the arena of politics. He joined Sir Francis Burdett and Major Cartwright in the advocacy of parliamentary reform, and became an extreme Radical, according to the views of those days—although he lived to see such radicalism recognised and advocated by large majorities in the House of Commons. This is one of the many matters on which the venerable Earl of Dundonald lived to see justice done to the dashing and impetuous Lord Cochrane—the same man under two different aspects, fifty years apart. He succeeded on one occasion in inducing the House to inquire into the misdoings of the several Admiralty Courts. On another occasion he defended the privilege of liberty of speech, which had been placed in danger by the committal of Sir Francis Burdett to the Tower. On a third occasion he attacked the monstrous system on which pensions were given, not according to merit, but according to parliamentary influence. The pensions given to meritorious officers who had lost limbs in the service, were as nothing compared to those given in other ways. There were, too, sinecure offices in those days which now we look at with astonishment. Lords Arden, Camden, and Buckingham all held sinecure posts which brought them in more than £20,000 a year each. Cochrane's mode of stating these facts, in a speech in the House on the 11th of May 1810, was amusing as well as startling: '32 flag-officers, 22 captains, 50 lieutenants, 13o masters, 36 surgeons, 23 pursers, 91 boatswains, 97 gunners, 202 carpenters, and 41 cooks, in all 774 persons, cost the country £4028 less than the net proceeds of the sinecures of Lords Arden, Camden, and Buckingham. All

* A pungent satire on these two officers, relating to their dilatory and ill-organised proceedings, was put forth by a witty writer of the period :

*The Earl of Chatham, with sword drawn,
Stood waiting for Sir Richard Strachan ;
Sir Richard, longing to be at 'em,
Stood waiting for the Earl of Chatham.'

the superannuated admirals, captains, and lieutenants put together have but £1012 more than Earl Camden's sinecure alone. All that is paid to the wounded officers of the whole British navy, and to the wives and children of those dead or killed in action, do not amount by £214 to as much as Lord Arden's sinecure alone. What is paid to the mutilated officers themselves is but half as much. Should 31 commissioners, commissioners' wives, and clerks, have £3899 more amongst them than all the wounded officers of the navy of England ? I find, upon examination, that the Wellesleys receive from the public £34,729, a sum equal to 426 pair of lieutenants

' legs, calculated at the rate of allowance of Lieutenant Chambers's legs. Calculating for the pension of Captain Johnstone's arm, Lord Arden's sinecure is equal to the value of 1022 captains' arms. Two of these comfortable sinecures would victual the officers and men serving in all the ships in ordinary in Great Britain-namely, 117 sail of the line, 105 frigates, 27 sloops, and 50 hulks. Three of them would maintain the dockyard establishments at Portsmouth and Plymouth.'

Such curious political arithmetic as this was of course very distasteful to official persons generally; and Cochrane fell more and more out of favour. The Impérieuse obtained another commander, and he was left at home in idleness.

In 1811, Cochrane went to Malta, to investigate the conduct of the Admiralty Court there. The oddity of his character here again appeared. He wished to get hold of a 'table of fees,' to ascertain whether the court was legally justified in claiming the enormous fees charged for adjudicating in matters of prize-money. The existence of such a table was either denied or evaded. "As by act of parliament, they ought to have been hung up in the court, I made careful search for them, but without success. "Entering the judge's robing-room unopposed, I there renewed the search, but with no better result, and was about to return table-less; when, having been directed to a private closet, I examined that also, and there, wafered up behind the door of the judge's retiring-chamber, was the Admiralty Court table of fees ! which I carefully took down, and re-entered the court, in the act of folding up the paper, previously to putting it in my pocket.' He at once sent off the paper to England, there to be brought before the notice of the House of Commons The Malta authorities, finding what had been done, imprisoned him, and endeavoured to convict him of robbery. He contrived, in a strange way, to escape from them, and from the island, glad at anyrate to be able to send to England a document which he felt certain would not bear the test of proper examination.

In the following year (1812), Cochrane's inventive mind conceived the plan of a tremendous system of naval warfare, the nature of which was kept a profound secret, lest it should come to the knowledge of the enemy. He brought it before the notice of the Prince Regent;. and a committee of officers was appointed to investigate its merits.

22

The inventions were declared to be of a most destructive nature, but nothing was resolved on concerning their immediate use. Lord Cochrane faithfully kept to his determination, as a British subject, not to make a profit of his invention, by selling it to the enemy; he kept his secret through all the miseries and disappointments of subsequent years. At various times between 1812 and 1856, these projects of Lord Cochrane's were brought directly or indirectly under public notice. Many persons doubted the efficacy of the plans; many disliked them because of the hideous destruction they would produce; and nearly all admired the firmness of the inventor, in keeping the plans for the use of his own country alone. To this day the nature of the plans is only known to a very few officers. During the Crimean war, the name of ‘Dundonald' was frequently appended to letters in the public journals, urging the adoption of his schemes for the destruction of the Russian fleets at Sebastopol and Cronstadt; but the plans, whatever they may be, have never yet been put in execution. Nothing can exceed the positiveness with which the Earl of Dundonald in his Autobiography asserts the power of his project to work any assignable amount of injury on an enemy. “These plans,' he says, 'afford the infallible means of securing at one blow our maritime superiority, and of thereafter maintaining it in perpetuity—of at once commencing and terminating war by one conclusive victory. A hundred millions employed in war could not complete the ruin of our maritime opponents so effectually as could be done by the simple methods indicated in my plans; and that too in spite of the apparently formidable fortifications and other defences of ports and roadsteads.' All this reads incredible ; but the old man never swerved for forty years in maintaining that such would be the practical effects of his mysterious agency,

Until now, Lord Cochrane had remained unmarried; but before the close of the year, he married a lady without fortune, Miss Katherine Corbett Barnes. One of his uncles, the Honourable Basil Cochrane, who had amassed a large fortune in the East Indies, had planned a marriage for him with the daughter of an official of one of the Admiralty Courts. Now, against Admiralty Courts he had been waging war for nearly twenty years; and he argued that if he married into that circle, the world would say he had done it to curry favour with his wealthy uncle. Cochrane here displayed the same obstinate originality as in so many other events of his life; he married the lady he had chosen, rejected the lady whom his uncle had chosen, and was at once cut off from any participation in his uncle's fortune. It was a happy step, however ; for in his old age he declared the greatest treasure of his life had been the wife thus acquired.

23

« ForrigeFortsæt »