Alexander Cochrane

Admiral of the Blue Sir Alexander Inglis Cochrane GCB (born Alexander Forrester Cochrane; 23 April 1758 – 26 January 1832) was a senior Royal Navy commander during the Napoleonic Wars and achieved the rank of admiral.

Sir Alexander Inglis Cochrane
Alexander Cochrane.jpg
Birth nameAlexander Forrester Cochrane
Born(1758-04-23)23 April 1758
Scotland, Great Britain
Died26 January 1832(1832-01-26) (aged 73)
Paris, France
Allegiance United Kingdom / British Empire
Service/branchNaval Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg Royal Navy
RankAdmiral of the Blue
Commands heldLeeward Islands Station
Jamaica Station
North American Station
Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath

He had previously captained HMS Ajax in Alexandria, Egypt during the Egyptian operation of 1801. Cochrane was knighted into the Order of the Bath for his services in 1806. In 1814 he became vice admiral and commander-in-chief of the North American Station, led the naval forces during the attacks on Washington and New Orleans, and was promoted to admiral in 1819 and became commander-in-chief of the Plymouth naval base.[1][2]

Naval careerEdit

Alexander Inglis Cochrane was a younger son of the Scottish peer Thomas Cochrane, the eighth Earl of Dundonald, and his second wife, Jane Stuart.[1] He joined the Royal Navy as a boy and served with British naval forces in North America. He served during the American War of Independence.[1]

Cochrane also participated in the Egyptian operations in 1801.[1] When Alexandria fell, Cochrane, in the 74-gun third-rate HMS Ajax, with the sixth-rate HMS Bonne Citoyenne, HMS Cynthia, the brig-sloops HMS Port Mahon and HMS Victorieuse, and three Turkish corvettes, were the first vessels to enter the harbour.[3]

About 1802-1803 Cochrane alienated the Spanish governor of Ferrol, Galicia when one of his commanders intercepted four ships of the Spanish treasure fleet returning from South America, before they reached Cádiz. The effect of Cochrane's actions was to bring Spain back into the war on France's side in 1804.[4][5]

Cochrane also had been incensed that the brilliant Sir Edward Pellew, a "tarpaulin officer" (an officer who had worked up from being a seaman), had been preferred over himself, a well connected aristocrat, as Admiral of the White to become Commander-in-Chief, East Indies. Cochrane tried to implicate Sir Edward Pellew, who had good relations with the Governor of Ferrol, in fraud, then making seriously damaging and unfounded allegations against Sir Edward Pellew's secretary Fitzgerald. These were never substantiated and destroyed Fitzgerald's career but didn't accomplish the destruction of its target, who later became Viscount Exmouth.

In the CaribbeanEdit

In 1805 Cochrane was made commander of the Leeward Islands Station.[1][6] He conducted operations against the French and Spanish on 6 February 1806 at the Battle of San Domingo during the Napoleonic Wars.[1] A cannonball blew his hat off his head while he was on the deck of his flagship, HMS Northumberland. He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on 29 March 1806 in recognition of his service.[1] Other rewards included thanks from both Houses of Parliament, freedom of the city of London, and a sword valued at 100 guineas.[1]

In Barbados, Cochrane met with General Francisco de Miranda, who had been defeated by Spanish naval forces in an attempt to liberate Venezuela. As Spain was then at war with Britain, Cochrane and the governor of Trinidad agreed to provide some support for an unsuccessful second attempt to invade Venezuela.[citation needed]

Following the concern in Britain that neutral Denmark was entering an alliance with Napoleon, Cochrane, now a rear admiral, in 1807 sailed in HMS Belleisle (74 guns) as commander of the squadron of ships that were sent to occupy the Danish West Indies.[7] In 1809 he commanded naval forces in the conquest of Martinique.[8] On 25 October 1809 he was promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral.[9] He held the position of Governor of Guadeloupe[7] from 6 February 1810 to 26 June 1813.[citation needed]

"No individual had greater responsibility for the decision to recruit and arm American slaves than did Alexander Cochrane."[10]: 16  Cochrane formed two Corps of Colonial Marines, made up primarily of escaped slaves. The first corps was based on the island of Marie-Galante and operated from 1808 to 1810. The larger second corps (the first had been disbanded), formed in 1814, was disbanded in 1815, at the conclusion of the War of 1812.[citation needed]

War of 1812Edit

Admiral Sir Alexander Inglis Cochrane by Robert Field

From April 1814, during the War of 1812 against the United States, Cochrane, then a vice admiral, served as commander-in-chief of both the North American Station, based at the new dockyard in Bermuda,[1] and the Jamaica Station, based at Port Royal.[11] He landed the force under Major-General Robert Ross that burned Washington and pushed successful naval forays at the same time. Initially he wanted to attack Rhode Island in New England after the success at Washington, but he was dissuaded by Ross and Rear Admiral George Cockburn, who wanted to go after the bigger prize of Baltimore, Maryland.

Cochrane was appointed the Commander-in-Chief, North American Station (1814-1815).[2][12] His correspondence log commences with mention of the correspondence dated 27 December 1813 from the Admiralty which formally appointed him as successor to Sir John Warren.[13]

Cochrane approved the plan proposed by Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn, 10th Baronet to attack Washington, after the latter predicted that "within a short period of time, with enough force, we could easily have at our mercy the capital".[14] The 4,500 troops, commanded by Major General Robert Ross, successfully captured the capital city on 24 August 1814; Ross then directed the Burning of Washington[15] but refused suggestions by both Cochrane and Cockburn to raze the city. Ross ordered his troops to cause no damage to private property.[16]

It was aboard Cochrane’s flagship, HMS Tonnant, near the mouth of the Potomac on September 7, 1814 that Francis Scott Key and Colonel John Skinner pleaded for and got the release of Doctor William Beanes, a civilian who had been taken prisoner in Upper Marlboro after withdrawing from the assault on Washington. The next day Key, Skinner and Beanes were transferred to the frigate HMS Surprise, with their truce vessel in tow, as the fleet slowly moved up the Chesapeake toward Baltimore. They would not be released until the assault on Baltimore was completed. On September 11 Skinner insisted they be put back on their own truce vessel which they were allowed to do, under guard. [17]

The morning of the 12th, 4500 British troops landed on the North Point peninsula and started marching toward Baltimore. Major General Robert Ross was killed by sniper fire in a skirmish that afternoon before the Battle of North Point.

Cochrane transferred his flag to HMS Surprise to facilitate moving up the Patapsco River to direct the 25 hour bombardment of Fort McHenry outside Baltimore (September 13 and 14), which proved ineffectual. He resisted calls by his junior officers to attack the fort more aggressively with frigates at close range. He ordered a diversionary raid by boats, around 1am on the 14th, to assist the army encamped near Baltimore in their proposed attack on Hampstead Hill (which they cancelled and withdrew), but this diversion had no success. In the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Cochrane's fleet used bomb vessels and a rocket ship for a long-range bombardment to minimize casualties and damage to the fleet from the fort's return fire, which inspired Francis Scott Key's poem that became "The Star-Spangled Banner", the US national anthem. [18][19]

Cochrane led the British force that won the Battle of Lake Borgne,[according to whom?] in Louisiana, in December 1814 and also controlled the soldiers and marines on ships during the Battle of New Orleans.[dubious ] His forces built a hard short road to New Orleans for use by British armed forces. The British army was defeated at the Battle of New Orleans on 8 January 1815 and Cochrane received some criticism for his role in that loss, which prevented the British from gaining a foothold in the US.[20]

One source explains that, at New Orleans, "naval support continued to be a problem, however, and though the British force led by Colonel William Thornton was able to take control of the artillery, they arrived too late. By the time the Royal Navy delivered Thornton’s troops, the battle was already lost". Cochrane subsequently filed two reports with his own version of the battle where he controlled an armada with 8,000 men. The American Naval History and Heritage Command does not lay blame on any individual in the British forces, but concludes that the "British then made a tactical error. Rather than pressing forward, they were allowed time to rest". This source also mentions that forces from the ships finally decided to attack with 1,200 British sailors and marines, but "after 36 hours of rowing, the invaders faced a hail of grape shot".[21][22]

The Duke of Wellington was particularly vociferous in his criticism. He claimed that the failure of the New Orleans campaign was largely the fault of Cochrane.[clarification needed] In a eulogy to General Edward Pakenham (Wellington's brother-in-law, killed at New Orleans), he said:

I cannot but regret that he was ever employed on such a service or with such a colleague. The expedition to New Orleans originated with that colleague ... The Americans were prepared with an army in a fortified position which still would have been carried, if the duties of others, that is of the Admiral (Sir Alexander Cochrane), had been as well performed as that of he whom we now lament.[23]

In spite of bearing some responsibility for the loss at New Orleans,[according to whom?] Cochrane was later promoted to Admiral of the Blue in 1819.[24][failed verification][12] From 1821 to 1824, he was Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth.[1] He died in Paris on 26 January 1832.

Political careerEdit

Cochrane was a Member of Parliament (MP) for Stirling Burghs from 1800 to 1802, and from 1803 to 1806.[25][26]


In 1788, he married Maria Shaw; they had three sons and two daughters.[1] His son Thomas John Cochrane was entered in the Royal Navy at the age of seven; he rose to become governor of the colony of Newfoundland, and Admiral of the Fleet; he was appointed Knight of the Order of the Bath.

Alexander Cochrane was the sixth of the surviving sons of Thomas Cochrane, 8th Earl of Dundonald. The eldest son Archibald Cochrane became the earl and lost the family lands on a series of inventions and investments. Many of the younger sons served in the military or had careers supplying it. The next brother, Charles, served in the army and was killed at the Siege of Yorktown; he had married to Catherine, the daughter of Major John Pitcairn. The third surviving son, John Cochrane, was a paymaster and provisioner to the army and navy. His children included Nathaniel Day Cochrane, who became a rear admiral, and probably the chess player John Cochrane. The next son, Basil Cochrane, made a fortune supplying the Royal Navy in India. Alexander was the sixth son. The seventh, George Augustus Frederick Cochrane, had an army career and served in Parliament. The youngest son, Andrew Cochrane-Johnstone, was an army officer, colonial governor, politician, and fraudster.

The Earl of St. Vincent wrote of the Cochrane brothers in 1806, "The Cochranes are not to be trusted out of sight, they are all mad, romantic, money-getting and not truth-telling—and there is not a single exception in any part of the family."[27]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Alexander Cochrane". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/5749. Retrieved 11 October 2015. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b "Alexander Cochrane". Battlefields Trust. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  3. ^ Marshall 1823, p. 260.
  4. ^ Hall 1992, pp. 112–113.
  5. ^ Lee 2014, p. 159.
  6. ^ Haydn 2008, p. 279.
  7. ^ a b Marshall 1823, p. 265.
  8. ^ Anderson, p. 102.
  9. ^ Marshall 1823, pp. 263–264.
  10. ^ Millett, Nathaniel (2013). The Maroons of Prospect Bluff and Their Quest for Freedom in the Atlantic World. University Press of Florida. ISBN 9780813044545.
  11. ^ Cundall 1915, p. 20.
  12. ^ a b Stephen 1887, p. 160.
  13. ^ C-in-C North American Station Admiral's correspondence log.
  14. ^ "Interview With War of 1812 Author Steve Vogel". History Net. 13 June 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  15. ^ "In 1814, British forces burned the U.S. Capitol". Washington Post. Retrieved 16 January 2021.
  16. ^ "Why Americans Celebrate the Burning of Washington". Time. Retrieved 16 January 2021. Cockburn, who accompanied Ross into the capital, reportedly wanted to burn the entire city in retaliation for American depredations in Canada. But it was an army operation and Ross' call, and he would have none of it.
  17. ^ Skinner, John Stuart. “Incidents of the War of 1812” From The Baltimore Patriot, May 23, 1849. Reprinted: Maryland Historical Magazine, Baltimore. Volume 32, 1937. (pp 340-347)
  18. ^ Vaise, Vince (Chief Park Ranger, Fort McHenry). “Birth of the Star Spangled Banner” Video tour from Fort McHenry. American History TV: American Artifacts, C-Span - August 2014
  19. ^ Vogel, Steve. “Through the Perilous Fight: Six Weeks That Saved the Nation” - Random House, New York. 2013. (pp 271-274, pp 311-341)
  20. ^ "Alexander Cochrane". NPS. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  21. ^ "Jan. 8, 1815 Battle of New Orleans". Indiana University. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  22. ^ "New Orleans 1815". Naval History and Heritage Command. Archived from the original on 22 January 2021. Retrieved 17 January 2021.
  23. ^ Holmes, Richard (2003). Wellington: The Iron Duke, Harper and Collins, p. 206.
  24. ^ Marshall 1823, pp. 257–266.
  25. ^ "COCHRANE, Hon. Alexander Forrester Inglis (1758-1832), of Lamancha, Peebles". Retrieved 11 October 2015.
  26. ^ Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "S" (part 5)
  27. ^ ""Andrew Cochrane-Johnstone" (1767–1833)], The History of Parliament online".


External linksEdit

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Stirling Burghs
February 1800 – December 1800
Succeeded by
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Parliament of Great Britain
Member of Parliament for Stirling Burghs
Succeeded by
Military offices
Preceded by Commander-in-Chief, Leeward Islands Station
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commander-in-Chief, North American Station
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commander-in-Chief, Jamaica Station
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth
Succeeded by