Cochrane: The Life and Exploits of a Fighting Captain

Cochrane: The Life and Exploits of a Fighting Captain

by Robert Harvey

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A seaman as heroic as Nelson, a master of gunnery and genius at deception, a tactician so formidably skillful Napoleon called him "the sea wolf," Thomas Cochrane made of his life a legend more sensational than any of the works of fiction it inspired—like the tales of C. S. Forrester and Patrick O'Brian's best-selling series of naval novels featuring the


A seaman as heroic as Nelson, a master of gunnery and genius at deception, a tactician so formidably skillful Napoleon called him "the sea wolf," Thomas Cochrane made of his life a legend more sensational than any of the works of fiction it inspired—like the tales of C. S. Forrester and Patrick O'Brian's best-selling series of naval novels featuring the redoubtable Jack Aubrey. Barely twenty-five in 1800 when he assumed command of the tiny brig Speedy, Cochrane sailed to naval glory in the Mediterranean and won national fame at home. A maverick, he preferred innovation to the orders of the Admiralty. He flew under false colors, instituted in-shore guerrilla raiding, promoted the use of explosion ships, and experimented with poison gas. As a mercenary, he fought in the cause of independence for Chile, Peru, and Brazil, where, outnumbered and outgunned, he triumphed over Spanish and Portuguese naval forces. He also survived a Stock Exchange scandal that landed him in prison. Rebellious, dashing, mad, heroic, Cochrane epitomized the spirit of the Romantic Age he embodied.

Editorial Reviews
You think that you don't know anything about Commander Thomas Cochrane (1775-1860), but you do. The seafaring 10th Earl of Dundonald was the real-life model for Patrick O'Brian's immortal "Lucky" Jack Aubrey. But don't suppose that Cochrane holds our attention for merely derivative reasons. In the words of the authoritative Times Literary Supplement, this hotheaded sea-warrior was "the great naval commander in the history of the British Navy -- probably in the history of naval warfare -- and certainly no one, not even Nelson, could claim his quicksilver genius in action, and his life was all action." Action, one might add, well captured in this rousing biography.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Thomas Cochrane was one of the most successful captains in British naval history. He was the inspiration behind the famous novels of C.S. Forrester and Patrick O'Brian. Yet he was almost erased from his country's history by a corrupt Admiralty with whom he constantly banged heads. In this history, which should appeal to Forrester's and O'Brian's readers, Harvey attempts to return Cochrane to prominence, focusing on three aspects of his career: fighting captain in the British Navy, radical politician and expatriate military genius who, after suffering disgrace in England, helped South American countries battle for independence. In the early 1880s, Cochrane used deception, tactical strategy and expert seamanship to win battles against supposedly unbeatable opponents. His strength was such that Napoleon dubbed him "the sea wolf," and Harvey captures the excitement of his exploits in immediate, gripping prose. The sections about Cochrane's career in Parliament and his exploits in South America are less entertaining, but necessary in order to paint a complete picture of his life. The book does not shy away from Cochrane's feud with his superiors in the navy or from his alleged involvement in a stock exchange scandal, but in all cases the author comes out as pro-Cochrane. One flaw is Harvey's tendency to assign thoughts to Cochrane without any historical support for them. To his credit, however, Harvey includes many primary accounts of Cochrane's exploits. These, unlike Harvey's speculations, give the reader true insight into a man who inspired so many novels. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Avid readers of both the Hornblower and Aubrey-Maturin seafaring novels will thoroughly enjoy this book. In fact, the author of the latter, the late Patrick O'Brian, once indicated that reading about Thomas Cochrane's exploits gave him background for the early novels in his series. In the early 1800s, Cochrane was a brilliant sailor and daring tactician who often employed highly risky strategies to accomplish his missions. However, he was constantly in hot water with the higher-ups because of his unwillingness to accept the policies and procedures of the time. He eventually lost his commission with the British Navy (though it was finally restored) and spent time in prison for his part in a stock market fraud. Consequently, he went into the employ of Chile, Brazil, and finally Greece to direct their naval forces. Despite a few confusing details, Harvey (see Clive: The Life and Death of a British Emperor, reviewed above) has provided an entertaining biography that readers of the above-mentioned series should enjoy. Highly recommended to collections of British history and libraries where these novels are popular.--Robert E. Greenfield, formerly with Baltimore Cty. P.L. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Patric O'Brian borrowed many episodes of Cochrane's life as a model for Aubrey's career and the plots of several of the novels. It is striking, in moveing from King's biography of O'Brian to Harvey's book, to realize just how much more vividly compelling Cochrane's life was than its fictional version; it is all the difference between a portrait and the living face. To those who are drawn to the age, and especially to aficionados of O'Brian's work, I would recommend Robert Harvey's Cochrane.
Times Literary Supplement
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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* * *

The Napoleonic Wars

The lieutenant of the watch ... looked with attention at the approaching figure. It was that of a skinny young man only just leaving boyhood behind, something above middle height, with feet whose adolescent proportions to his size were accentuated by the thinness of his legs and his big half-boots. The newcomer was dressed in a badly fitting uniform which was soaked right through by the spray; a skinny neck stuck out of the high stock, and above the neck was a white bony face ...

    `How old are you?'

    `Seventeen, sir,' stuttered Hornblower.

    `Seventeen!' The disgust in the speaker's voice was only too evident. `You must start at twelve if you wish to become a seaman. Seventeen! Do you know the difference between a head and a halyard?'

    C. S. Forester, Mr Midshipman Hornblower (1950)

Chapter One

Mr Midshipman Cochrane

Left in the unaccustomed peace and solitude of his prison lodgings, as Thomas Cochrane's racing thoughts became reconciled to his predicament, a particular memory came flooding back: of his arrival as a tall and gangling seventeen-year-old aboard a navy ship — the Hind, a small armed schooner based at Plymouth, nearly twenty-one years before to the day, on 27 June 1793. The youth was six foot two, with a mop of distinctive red hair, dreamy yet penetrating blue eyes, a prominent hook nose and a broad, strong mouth with aslightly quizzical, humorous expression. As he climbed aboard ship, it was evident that he was both shy and polite. He must have seemed anything but promising material to the first lieutenant of the little ship, Jack Larmour.

    Above all, Cochrane was — or appeared to be — a child of privilege. Descended from a long line of one of the most distinguished military families in Scotland, he was the eldest son of the ninth Earl of Dundonald, a title that dated back to as far as 1648, whose forebears had married into one of Scotland's most ancient and distinguished families, the Bruces. The Cochranes were warriors by profession: one had been killed in 1758 in the attack on Louisberg during the Seven Years War. Another had died at Yorktown, where he had served as an aide in the last disastrous campaign of General Cornwallis which sealed the outcome of the American War of Independence.

    Now young Thomas Cochrane had been appointed to his first ship by its captain — none other than his uncle, the Hon. Alexander Cochrane, who had pulled strings for him, providing him with a fictitious naval record as a volunteer at the age of seven who had served in no fewer than four ships before he came aboard the Hind. This deception was necessary so that he could start his career as a midshipman rather than having to work his way up from the lower deck. Larmour, a tough, self-made master seaman who had done just that, looked upon his new charge with contempt and decided to teach him his first lesson. When Thomas's huge chest of personal possessions was brought on board, Larmour ordered it opened, scattered its contents, and sawed it nearly in half, before ordering the boy to take it below.

It was the first harsh introduction to his new life. But the youngster was far from being the stranger to humiliation and even hardship that his illustrious pedigree suggested. Thomas's childhood had been highly unusual, and had helped to forge his strong independence of spirit. His father Archibald, the ninth Earl, who had inherited the title when Thomas was aged three, was master of Culross Abbey House, built in 1608 next to the ruins of a thirteenth-century Cistercian monastery. The house was sited on an evocative inlet of the Firth of Forth 12 miles across the waters from Edinburgh. Although endowed with great prestige and a large amount of land which contained coal mines, the family was far less wealthy than previously, and Cochrane's brilliant, eccentric and vigorously inventive father set about restoring its fortunes — with disastrous results.

    The boy's lack of team spirit or subservience was established by not being sent to the smart but brutal public schools of the time, such as Eton or Harrow. Instead he was educated by a succession of private tutors, which left him considerable time to devote to the pleasures of exploring an extensive estate in beautiful surroundings. Cochrane amusingly recalled two of his teachers, one:

of whom my most vivid recollection is of a stinging box on the ear, in reply to a query as to the difference between an interjection and a conjunction; this solution of the difficulty effectually repressing further philological inquiry on my part.

    We were, after a time, temporarily provided with a French tutor, a Monsieur Durand, who, being a Papist, was regarded with no complacent eye by our not very tolerant Presbyterian neighbours. I recollect this gentleman getting into a scrape, which, but for my father's countenance, might have ended in a Kirk Session.

    As a matter of course, Monsieur Durand did not attend church. On one side of the churchyard was the Culross Abbey cherry-garden, full of fine fruit, of which he was very fond, as were also the magpies, which swarmed in the district. One Sunday, whilst the people were at church, the magpies, aware no doubt of their advantage, made a vigorous onslaught on the cherries — provoking the Frenchman, who was on the watch, to open fire on the intruders from a fowling-piece.

    The effect of this reached farther than the magpies. To fire a gun on the Sabbath was an abomination which could only have emanated from a disciple of the Scarlet Lady, and neither before nor after did I witness such a hubbub in the parish. Whatever pains and penalties were to be found in Scottish church law were eagerly demanded for Monsieur Durand's benefit, and it was only by my father's influence that he was permitted to escape the threatened martyrdom. Annoyed at the ill-feeling thus created, he relinquished his engagement before we had acquired the rudiments of the French language.

Cochrane had three younger brothers and appeared to be devoted to his beautiful mother Anna who died when he was nine, at perhaps the most sensitive age in a child's life, contributing to the lifelong emotional vulnerability that lay beneath his extraordinary physical courage.

    Archibald Cochrane was a scientific innovator at a time when new discoveries and patents were all the rage, and he set about turning his gift to restoring the ailing family fortunes. One day a sudden explosion of light at midnight from the little inlet alarmed those awake on both sides of the Firth of Forth. As the young Thomas later described it:

Having noticed the inflammable nature of a vapour arising during the distillation of tar, the Earl, by way of experiment, fitted a gun barrel to the eduction pipe leading from the condenser. On applying fire to the muzzle, a vivid light blazed forth across the waters of the Forth, becoming, as was afterwards ascertained, distinctly visible on the opposite shore.

It was a discovery of great importance: coal gas, which was soon to be used for street-lighting across the developed world. The young Thomas was proudly taken to see the great inventor, James Watt, who appreciated its possibilities. Yet it was one of Watt's disciples who was to patent the invention in 1804, depriving Archibald of the commercial benefits of his discovery.

    In fact, the Earl had stumbled across coal gas entirely by accident. He had invested £22,500 of his own money and that of other investors to set up four furnaces to extract tar from the abundant coal on his estate for another purpose altogether. With characteristic foresight he had realised that coal tar could be used to coat the hulls of ships which were periodically invaded by worms, something which until then could be prevented only by the hugely expensive process of hobnailing them with iron nails (or by 1780, the equally expensive process of `coppering'). Archibald Cochrane had indeed hit on the solution.

    But there was a snag: the monopoly of ship's repair in the naval dockyards was enjoyed by the Admiralty; and the latter was completely uninterested in the new invention. The reason was straightforward — as a shipbuilder in Limehouse explained it: `We live by repairing ships as well as by building them, and the worm is our best friend. Rather than use your preparation, I would cover ships' bottoms with honey to attract worms.'

    The young Cochrane had seen his first experience of the vested interests and corruption that was eating away, like those worms, at the underbelly of the Royal Navy. Not until 1822 was coal tar adopted — and it was the celebrated Sir Humphry Davy who gained the credit.

    Now in financial trouble, the Earl engaged in one experiment after another: for manufacturing salt (discovering in the process how to produce soda artificially, which was to be used widely by others for making soap and glass), sal ammoniac, alumina for silk and calico printing, and white lead. This latter-day alchemist also tried to create a kind of bread extracted from potatoes. In 1795, he published his pioneering Treatise Showing the Intimate Connection between Agriculture and Chemistry. Nearly two decades later, Davy once again trumped him, publishing his Elements of Agricultural Chemistry along much the same lines, and secured the credit for revolutionizing farming methods.

    Life at Culross, once so idyllic, was now tinged with foreboding. With the death of his beloved first wife, four children on his hands, and his creditors closing in, in 1788 the Earl remarried, a good-looking and wealthy widow, Isabella Raymond, who saved the estate from bankruptcy. He despatched his two eldest sons to a fashionable military academy at Kensington Square in London, with a view to army careers.

    The prickly and sensitive child was deeply upset by the move from Culross and returned six months later, saying he detested army life, and wished instead to go to sea — his mother having been the daughter of a frigate captain and his favourite pastime having been to sail about in a makeshift boat in the little inlet. His irascible father, who had endured a brief spell of naval life and hated it, had no time for such rebellion and sent Thomas down to join the 104th Foot under the patronage of an uncle, Andrew Cochrane-Johnstone, who, much later, was to have a fateful influence on Cochrane's life.

    The boy was dressed, on his father's insistence, in a bright yellow waistcoat and trousers — the Whig colours — while his hair was shaven and a mixture of candle-grease and flour applied to what remained of it. A horde of jeering street urchins followed the unhappy youth down London's streets. His reception at the barracks was no better. After a few weeks he returned home to face the wrath of his father. This account is Thomas's, and was probably nearly as highly coloured as his waistcoat; the truth was that the already quirky and unsociable boy had no interest in the dreary regimentation and institutionalized high jinks of army life and saw in his romantic vision of a life at sea an outlet for his individualism.

    He stayed at Culross another three years. After the excitement and independence of his youth, life under the eye of his stepmother began to pall and when Thomas was seventeen, the Earl at last acceded to Thomas's requests to be allowed to go to sea (something in which he was supported by his uncle, Alexander). Culross Abbey House was once again in imminent danger of being sold, and Dundonald was eager to get him off his hands.

    These experiences were undoubtedly defining: highly intelligent, with a surprisingly thin skin towards slights and humiliations for someone later to prove so brave in combat (not an uncommon combination), a restless and independent individual with a love of personal freedom and open spaces, he had acquired two major traits: an obsession with making money in his own right, and an almost pathological rebelliousness towards authority, now represented by his father.

    Fortunately, this was not on display when he was first ridiculed as an apparently spoilt young aristocrat by the earthy Larmour on that fateful June day in Plymouth harbour. The huge natural crescent was an awesome bustle of ships, small boats, sailors and vendors. He meekly went below. Six months earlier King Louis XVI of France had been executed in the latest excess of the French Revolution, and war had been declared between Britain and France — a war that was to last for nearly three decades. The boy midshipman belonged to a service which boasted 45,000 men and cost some £4m a year. There were some 150 ships in commission in the mightiest navy in the world.

Thomas's life was hard going at first, although the navy was hardly the sink of institutionalized brutality that is popularly conceived. The schooner was a small, fast ship. It had two masts, each rigged with fore and aft sails. Its twenty-eight nine-pound guns were assembled on a single deck. The quarters for the midshipmen were damp and dark, below the gun-deck, though more spacious than for the seamen, and were only dimly illuminated by candles and the few cracks of light that showed from the decks above. The lonely Thomas, on his first few nights aboard, would have found the quarters stiflingly close, hunched in a `cot' — a hammock of canvas stretched across a frame — with only a shelf for his possessions, a far cry from the windy spaciousness of Culross. In port the seamen's cots actually touched each other. At sea there was much more room, as men took turns to take the watch.

    He would, surprisingly, have been a comparatively senior member of the ship's company. More than four-fifths of ordinary seamen, and half of able seamen, were aged under twenty-five. Only about a fifth were married. Boys of between six and eighteen were to be found aboard ship, many of them engaged simply in playing as well as learning the ropes. There were also plenty of animals aboard, including the inevitable rats, but also such livestock as cattle, sheep, pigs and goats, for food. The dirt can be imagined, but British ships were rigorously kept clean. About half of the crew would have been `impressed' — that is, involuntary — but only merchant seamen could be so recruited.

    The damp below the decks could be pervasive, depending on the condition of the timbers. In summer, especially in the tropics, the heat and stench could be overpowering, although in winter the cramped conditions meant that men rarely suffered from the cold; on this, his first sea journey on a northern station, the heat was probably not too bad for Cochrane.

    As Mr Midshipman Cochrane became accustomed to being awoken at 6 a.m. to hurry about his new duties, he would quickly have understood the no-nonsense approach to naval discipline, although its harshness varied enormously from ship to ship. Such discipline and inflexible routines were essential to keeping order among so many men at such close quarters. Alexander Cochrane had a reputation as a strict captain; this would at least have had the advantage for the young Thomas of ensuring that bullying and abuses below deck were strictly controlled.

    In less-well-ordered ships, young midshipmen were at the mercy of `oldsters' — men passed over for preferment who would probably have to spend the rest of their lives in their jobs. Even youngsters could be venomous. As one seaman observed:

We had a midshipman on board of a wickedly mischievous disposition, whose sole delight was to insult the feelings of seamen and furnish pretexts to get them punished ... He was a youth of not more than twelve or thirteen years of age; I have often seen him get on to the carriage of a gun, call a man to him, and kick him about the thighs and body, and with his feet would beat him about the head; and these, though prime seamen, at the same time dared not murmur.

`Cobbing' — being beaten by a stockingful of wet sand — was a frequent form of physical abuse. The men's routine sexual needs were usually accommodated in port by allowing prostitutes on board, a practice the vast majority of captains turned a blind eye to, and even regulated to reward the deserving. The cry `show a leg' in the morning derives from the need to check whether a man or a woman was in a cot, the latter being allowed to sleep on undisturbed. The `cockpit' of a ship derived its name from the place where the all-too-frequent brawls between the working girls or `port wives' occurred.

    The quality of the food aboard ships of the time has often been commented upon. Much depended on whether the ship was close to port, whether the food was properly stored, the climate and so on. There were certainly abuses, but it must be remembered that these were the early days of food preservation, without refrigeration, canning and the like, and the possibilities for deterioration were much greater. The purser, whose job it was to provide the food, was one of the ship's company, and he too was liable to be judged by his peers.

    The rations were the subject of strict written regulations: a packet of biscuits each day for every seaman, which in practice was often sodden and weevil-ridden; and a gallon of small beer, a very weak version of the real drink, no more really than water flavoured with hops. Each seaman was also entitled to 4 pounds of salt beef, 2 pounds of salt pork, 2 pints of peas, 3 pounds of oatmeal, 6 ounces of butter and 12 ounces of cheese a week. Flour, suet, currants and raisins were also issued. Where possible cabbage and greens were provided. Lime and lemon juice had largely conquered the most dreaded disease, scurvy.

    Although in practice particular items often went short and food often went bad, these were substantial enough rations — as they had to be to keep the crew strong and able-bodied. The threats to food were legion, according to one purser. Biscuit was endangered

by its breaking and turning to dust; of butter, by that part next to the firkin being not fit to be issued; of cheese, by its decaying with mould and rottenness and being eaten with mites and other insects; of peas, oatmeal and flour, by their being eaten by cockroaches, weevils and other vermin, and by that part at the top, bottom and sides of the cask being so often damaged, as not being fit to be issued; besides the general loss sustained in all these provisions by rats, which is very great ...

The beer ration was often changed to a pint of wine or half a pint of rum, the latter usually being mixed with water and called grog, the seaman's favourite drink. Men dined in messes of four to eight on each table.

    Cochrane witnessed the first exercise of the lash aboard his uncle's ship. Punishment was a fact of life, but flogging was not all that frequent except on a minority of ships. A typical average was some fifteen floggings in nine months, usually of between twelve and twenty-four lashes, although occasionally far more. This made severe punishment a significant part of navy life, but hardly a daily occurrence.

    Captain Frederic Chamier describes the first flogging he witnessed as a young midshipman:

The Captain gave the order `Give him a dozen'. There was an awful stillness; I felt the flesh creep upon my bones, and I shivered and shook like a dog in a wet sack. All eyes were directed towards the prisoner, who looked over his shoulder at the preparations of the boatswain's mate to inflict the dozen: the latter drew his fingers through the tails of the cat, ultimately holding the nine ends in his left hand, as the right was raised to inflict the lash. They fell with a whizzing sound as they passed through the air, and left behind the reddened mark of sudden inflammation ...

    At the conclusion of the dozen I heard the unwilling order, `Another boatswain's mate!' The fresh executioner pulled off his coat. The prisoner had said nothing during the first dozen, but on the first cut of his new and merciless punisher, he writhed his back in acknowledgement of the pain; the second stripe was followed by a sigh; the third by an ejaculation; and the fourth produced an expression of a hope of pardon. At the conclusion of the dozen, this was granted, and the prisoner released.

Another observer remarked that after two dozen lashes `the lacerated back looks inhuman; it resembles roasted meat burnt nearly black before a scorching fire'.

    This was undoubtedly very harsh, but no more so than many punishments ordinary people could expect on land. Provided punishment was meted out fairly, and not excessively, it was probably supported or at least accepted by the majority of the men, who disliked their fellows getting away with serious offences, particularly major theft, for which the cat-o'-nine-tails was prescribed, or less serious ones, such as malingering.

    There were lesser forms of beating for more minor offences — such as minor stealing, always deeply unpopular on board ship, for which a man could be made to walk a gauntlet with his shipmates hitting him with knittles, small ropes. Liars were publicly humiliated by being made to clean the heads (latrines) for several days. Other punishments included ducking or a public scrubbing — usually for a dirty man — or wearing the cangue, a wooden collar with a cannonball attached, for several hours.

    The terrifying ordeal of being flogged around the fleet, applied only in the most serious cases of mutiny, was extremely rare, although performed with sadistic precision to ensure the victim did not die — for example, 200 lashes would be applied at a time on three successive fortnights. Keelhauling, being dragged under the length of the ship, is believed to have died out in the seventeenth century, when it was also extremely rare. About thirty people a year were executed in London and Middlesex, compared with only a dozen executed for desertion at sea over a seven-year period. Only murder, sodomy, and extreme cases of theft were punishable by death. Mutiny was often not punished at all, if non-violent and the purpose was the removal of a hated officer.

Cochrane's first ship was a schooner. This was a plaything compared to the magnificent first-rated three-deckers — which were nevertheless difficult to handle — which provided the admiral and his officers the space to live in state. In 1808 a first 120-gun three-decker was built. There were also 90-gun second-rate three-deckers, the hulls of which were tall and short, and therefore sailed badly; these were being phased out, as were the still more unwieldy 80-gun three-deckers (although 80-gun two-deckers were more manoeuvrable). The bulk of the line-of-battle ships (those which sailed in the traditional line to engage in fleet action bringing all their guns to bear) were, however, 74-gun two-deckers; 65-gun two-deckers were a cheaper version of this, and regarded as very poor quality — they were being phased out by Cochrane's time; 50-gun two-deckers were short, but of slightly better sailing quality.

    Frigates, with their speed, manoeuvrability and gunpower, were the real stars, acting in flotillas or single-ship actions. The 38-gun frigate was the most popular of these in Cochrane's time, with some eighty in service compared with the increasingly obsolete 44-gun frigates, the still popular 40-gun frigates and the smaller 28-gun ships.

    The cheap, quickly built, and even more nimble sloops (of which there were about 200 in 1801) also performed a major role. Bomb vessels had been created to act as mortars capable of firing explosive shells at enemy ports. Brigs (with fourteen 24-pound carronades), schooners (with 4-6 guns), cutters (with ten 18-pound carronades), and gunboats with a single gun made up the complement.

    Life aboard the Hind for the young Cochrane would have been concerned with the well-oiled operation of an experienced crew going about routine duties which occupied much of the day. Cochrane himself would have been at a considerable advantage from the start, even for a novice midshipman. He was older, taller and more heavily built than the young midshipmen; as the captain's nephew he would probably have enjoyed some sort of protection from real abuse, if any occurred aboard the ship. He records only one incident of his being disciplined aboard the Hind, and then not harshly. When he left his post without authorization on one occasion, he was ordered up the mast by Larmour for several hours.

    Cochrane's chief recollection later was of the enormous debt he owed Larmour for teaching him the skills of seamanship; the first lieutenant was in turn astounded that this privileged and titled midshipman should so eagerly seek to learn. For it was much more usual for those from Cochrane's background, knowing that they stood a good chance of being promoted through connection, to disdain the mechanics of sailing the ship. Larmour famously remarked that parliamentary influence never got a ship off a lee shore (one in which the wind is blowing towards the land with the ship dangerously close to the latter). In following his lead Cochrane was already breaking with convention.

    To a vigorous young man such as Thomas Cochrane, fulfilling his life's ambition, the discomforts of life on board were compensated for by the excitement of sailing, of experiencing the salt smell of the open sea, the wind lashing his face and the pitching and rolling of the ship for the first time. The young midshipman was first shown the tasks of each man on board: the young, and strong topmen were assigned to the masts, their main job to loose sail or furl it or, more commonly, `reef' it — shorten it by gathering a section up to the `yard' and tying it with lengths of ropes sewn into the sail called reef points or let-out reefs. The yard was the spar — the crossbeam — to which the sail was secured.

    On the Hind there were only two masts, but on a larger ship, such as Cochrane was later to command, three. The sails on the latter were divided into the jibs at the front of the ship, the foresails on the foremast, the staysails, also on the foremast but behind them, the mainsails on the mainmast, the staysails also on the mainmast but behind them, and the mizzen sails on the mizzen (rear) mast, with the spanker billowing out behind. In turn, the sails were on three horizontal levels: main, topmast and topgallant. The topmen, whose work was the most dangerous and skilled, were the strongest and bravest of the men, and respected as such aboard ship.

    Next in the pecking order came the forecastlemen, who were usually older, often former topmen who had lost their agility. They had charge of the jib sails at the front of the ship as well as the anchor there and the guns. The third group of seamen, also usually older, were the afterguard, handling the spanker, the guns at the stern, and most importantly the braces, the ropes to which all the sails in the ship were attached. The waisters were usually the dullest-minded in the middle of the ship, handling the foresail and mainsail, as well as pumping the bilges. Lowest in the hierarchy were the `idlers', not because they were idle but because they did menial tasks. They included the carpenter and his mates, the cook and the officers' servants, usually ship's boys. In addition each ship usually had around fifty marines, to fight on land and enforce order.

    The men were divided into two watches for each side of the ship, the larboard (the left or, in today's term, port) and starboard (the right). Young Thomas Cochrane would have learnt the inflexible routines aboard ship: the 4 a.m. call with the idlers being called to scrub the decks and prepare the galley, the off-watchmen being woken at around 6 a.m., the stowing of cots and tidying of quarters. Breakfast was at 8 a.m., divisions at 9.30, when the men went on garage, followed by the various ships' tasks and drilling at 10.00. At 11.30 there was a break to `up spirits' — have a ration of beer or grog — with lunch at noon. After the afternoon work, the day ended at 4 p.m. with another up spirits and evening meal. The two main drills were setting sail, which most well-ordered ships could do all at once in from four to six minutes, a remarkable achievement for around 15,000 square feet of sail in a medium-sized 31-gun frigate, and gun practice.

    The young Cochrane would have learnt how the Hind would zigzag into the wind or away from it, tacking from one side to the other because it could not sail directly into it, no more in fact than 67.5 degrees on either side of the wind direction. Tacking was a skilful and difficult manoeuvre, which involved briefly facing the wind and risked missing stays and falling astern on the original tack or being unable to catch the wind on either side. The equivalent manoeuvre away from the wind — wearing — was much easier and faster, although more dangerous in heavy seas or before a strong wind because of the speed of the ship. A ship tacking into the wind travelled, of course, much more slowly than one wearing away from it.

    Ships would average a speed of around 6 knots, but they could go as fast as 14 knots for short stretches, which was essential when a smaller ship was being chased. There is an account of just such a chase for the very ship Cochrane now sailed for the first time — just three years later, in 1796. James Gardner, a lieutenant aboard ship, described how in a gale and under chase from two French battleships

We should have been captured for a certainty if the Frenchman had possessed more patience. And so it happened: for a little before six, when he was within gunshot, the greedy fellow let another reef out of his topsails, and just as he had them hoisted, away went his foreyard, jib-boom, foretopmast, and maintopgallant mast ... We immediately let two reefs out of the topsails, set topgallant sails and hauled the main tack on board, with a jib a third and the spanker. It was neck or nothing. For my part I expected we should be upset and it was with uncommon alacrity in making and shortening sails between the squalls that we escaped upsetting or being taken.

The Hind had covered 120 miles in 12 hours before getting away. Upon such superb seamanship as this were ships won or lost.


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Donald Wollheim
Lovecraft is the Columbus of the malignant universe -- Stephen King and his contemporaries are but those who follow.

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