WHEN we closed the first of this two-part account of the extraordinary life of Thomas, Lord Cochrane, the 10th Earl of Dundonald, we left him stripped of his naval career, his seat in the House of Commons, facing prison and ignominiously removed from the Order of the Bath. It was his nadir, and very few people thought he would ever recover from being convicted for his inadvertent part in the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814.

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By now Cochrane had a wife and family to support. In 1812 at the age of 36 he had married Katherine “Katy” Frances Corbet Barnes, a beautiful teenaged girl but an orphan who had no dowry. Cochrane’s uncle Basil thought she was no match for Thomas and disinherited his nephew, not least because the couple had eloped to get married. They would eventually have six children, five of whom survived beyond childhood and indeed three of whom lived into the 20th century.

Restless at home, he resumed his lifelong love of invention, best shown by his design for a convoy lamp for the Navy in 1805 – typically for Cochrane he thought the judges were biased and won the design competition under a false name.

He is also remembered for his work on early steam-powered ships and, later in life, a successful tunnelling device which he patented along with Marc Isambard Brunel that was used to build the Thames Tunnel.

Cochrane began to look abroad for somewhere he could take his undoubted talents as a seaman. At this low point in his life, salvation came from far away – South America, in fact, then in ferment across most of the continent as the revolutionary movements inspired by Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, began to sweep away the Spanish and Portuguese empires.

In Chile, the situation was complicated because the French under Napoleon had come to dominate the Spanish. An independence movement eventually led by a wealthy landowner General Bernardo O’Higgins, the London-educated republican son of an Irishman who had been Viceroy of Peru, had freed Chile from Spanish rule with the help of Argentina-born General Jose de San Martin, but the fear was that the Spanish royalist government would return. To ensure that the Spanish would all be expelled and independence secured, O’Higgins needed a navy and an admiral to command it.

Enter Cochrane, who arrived in Valparaiso in Chile in November, 1818, accompanied by his wife and two children, and immediately set about organising a navy, albeit with just two or three ships at first. He engaged British commanders and instituted Royal Navy practices, having improved them as he saw fit.

As always Cochrane went on the offensive and in early 1820 he attacked Valdivia, by far Spain’s most important base in Chile, with his flagship, the O’Higgins – once a Spanish vessel which he had captured. The action is brilliantly described in Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Devil, though it was Cochrane and not Richard Sharpe who led the attack.

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Valdivia had seven forts around its natural harbour but the problem for the Spanish was that they all faced the sea. In a daring night-time amphibious mission, Cochrane landed a force of about 300 men on the beach below Fort Ingles, the English fort, and captured it after a brief fight.

The fleeing defenders ran to the next fort, but some of Cochrane’s men got in among the escapees and duly captured the fort. They did the same to the next two forts and in the morning the other three surrendered and the Spanish royalist forces fled. Chile was effectively an independent country from that day.

The capture of the Spanish capital ship the Esmeralda and other vessels completed the victory. Yet Cochrane was prepared to risk the odd defeat in order to sow discord in the Spanish navy.

Here is Cochrane’s own account of how he used an old ruse, sailing under a false flag of neutrality, to outwit his opponents: “On the 28th, hearing heavy firing and imagining that one of the ships was engaged with the enemy, I stood with the flag-ship into the bay.

“The fog, again coming on, suggested to me the possibility of a direct attack. Accordingly, still maintaining our disguise under American colours, the O’Higgins and Lautaro stood towards the batteries, narrowly escaping going ashore in the fog.

“The Viceroy, having no doubt witnessed the capture of the gunboat, had, however, provided for our reception, the garrison being at their guns, and the crews of the ships-of-war at their quarters. Notwithstanding the great odds, I determined to persist in an attack, as our withdrawing, without firing a shot, would produce an effect upon the minds of the Spaniards the reverse of that intended.

“I had sufficient experience in war to know that moral effect, even if the result of a degree of temerity, will not unfrequently supply the place of superior force.”

He had to break off the action but had made his point: “I was reluctantly compelled to relinquish the attack. I withdrew to the island of San Lorenzo, about three miles distant from the forts; the Spaniards, though nearly quadruple our numbers, exclusive of their gunboats, not venturing to follow us. The action having been commenced in a fog, the Spaniards imagined that all the Chilean vessels were engaged. They were not a little surprised, as it again cleared, to find that their own frigate, the quondam Maria Isabella was almost their only opponent.”

COCHRANE gleefully added that the Spanish forces were so “dispirited by this discovery” that they fled.

The captured Esmeralda became his flagship and was renamed the Valdivia in honour of his great victory. For good measure, he went north with San Martin and helped the liberation of Peru.

“It was my object,” wrote Cochrane, “to make friends of the Peruvian people, by adopting towards them a conciliatory course, and by strict care that none but Spanish property should be taken. Confidence was thus inspired, and the universal dissatisfaction with Spanish rule speedily became changed into an earnest desire to be freed from it.”

He was as ever boastful of his undoubted success: “The objects of the first expedition had been fully accomplished, namely, to reconnoitre, with a view to future operations, when the squadron should be rendered efficient; but more especially to ascertain the inclinations of the Peruvians – a point of the first importance to Chile, as being obliged to be constantly on the alert for her own newly acquired liberties so long as the Spaniards were in undisturbed possession of Peru.

“To the accomplishment of these objects had been superadded the restriction of the Spanish naval force to the shelter of the forts, the defeat of their military forces wherever encountered, and the capture of no inconsiderable amount of treasure.”

Money was as always a problem for Cochrane who was also unhappy with the developing feud between O’Higgins and San Martin. Cochrane then claimed the Chilean Government failed to pay him what he was due in prize money – sums equivalent to £3 million in today’s money were involved. A parting of the ways was coming.

At this point we should deal with one of the legends that surrounds Cochrane – that he had plotted to release Napoleon Bonaparte from his exile on St Helena and make him Emperor of a Unites States of South America. Unfortunately, there is little hard evidence of such a plot, which appears to have been started by Katy Cochrane being a little too gossipy. To be fair, Thomas himself probably helped the story along because that was how he saw himself – a major player on the world stage. Napoleon died in May 1821, still imprisoned on St Helena, so any such plot was rendered literally lifeless.

WRITER David Cordingly, whose biography Cochrane the Dauntless is the best account of his life, said recently: “There is no doubt he is an absolute hero to Chileans. He played a vital role in the struggle for independence. He is one the three great liberators, along with San Martin and O’Higgins.

“The attack on Valdivia was brilliantly executed, and by destroying Spanish control of the seas, he allowed the land armies to move in for mopping up.”

The Chileans do remember him even now – they have named five ships after him, including the former Royal Navy frigate HMS Norfolk, built on the Clyde and now named the Almirante Cochrane and in service in the Pacific. Each year the Chilean navy also lays a wreath on his grave in Westminster Abbey.

Very soon after leaving Chile in 1822, Cochrane was indeed back on the world stage as he joined the navy of the fledgling Brazilian state that was trying to secure independence from Portugal.

In many ways this was to be Cochrane’s finest hour. Most of southern Brazil had declared itself independent of Portugal and had come under the rule of the Portuguese Prince Regent, Pedro the Liberator, who sided with the independence fighters against his own royal house.

The flagship of the Brazilian Navy was named after Pedro, and Cochrane took command of it and the navy in 1823. His greatest feat at sea was a battle in which his undermanned ships managed to split the Portuguese fleet in two with Cochrane pursuing half of them across the Atlantic, capturing seven ships in all.

In strategy he was even more brilliant. He sailed to Maranhão, then spelled Maranham, and conducted an outrageous bluff, convincing the defenders to the port that a huge Brazilian fleet and army was on its way to annihilate them. They surrendered, and then Cochrane worked the same trick on the port of Belém do Pará, which also surrendered.

Without firing a shot, Cochrane had destroyed Portugal’s hold on Brazil and a grateful Emperor Pedro I, as he now was, made Cochrane the Marquess of Maranhão as a reward.

That was all the rewards he got, however, and again his anger over lack of financial recompense got the better of Cochrane who promptly seized his due – and probably much more – in prize money and sailed for Britain. Nobody followed him to fight for the cash...

Though his much-reported feats in South America had made him even more famous and popular, he was still no further forward in his campaign to clear his name and restore his fortunes. He went off to fight against the Ottoman empire in the Greek navy, but that was not a major success.

In 1831, Cochrane’s father died and he became Earl of Dundonald. That new title and new political connections helped him back into the Royal Navy, and he stayed in one rank or other until his death during an operation for kidney stones on October 31, 1860. Queen Victoria had restored his knighthood in the Order of the Bath in 1847, and elevated him to Knight Grand Cross of the Order shortly before his death. His grandson was later paid a huge sum by the Government which finally accepted that Cochrane’s conviction in 1814 was unsafe. Even in death, he won.

In tribute to him, his faithful wife Katy, who had often accompanied him on ship, wrote: “The Hero of a Hundred Fights! I have followed the fortunes of that great Man. I have stood upon the Battle Deck. I have seen the Men fall. I have raised them. I have fired a Gun to save the Life of a Man for the Honour of my Husband, and would do it a gain.

“He was a Glory to the Nation in which he was born, and there is not a Member of the Family of Dundonald that need not be proud of belonging to such a noble Man as he was.”

The truest tributes to this outstanding Scot are in naval fiction – as the man upon whom Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubry are based, Thomas Cochrane will never be forgotten.