In this fascinating account of Thomas Cochrane's extraordinary life, David Cordingly (Under the Black Flag and The Billy Ruffian) unearths startling new details about the real-life "Master and Commander"-from his heroic battles against the French navy to his role in the liberation of Chile, Peru, and Brazil, and the stock 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 Drawing on previously unpublished papers, his own travels, wide reading, and original research, Cordingly tells the rip-roaring story of the archetypal Romantic hero who conquered the seas and, in the process, defined his era.
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.