I decided to do one more Lord Cochrane piece before moving on to something else. This episode predates The Boats of HMS Impérieuse by a year. At the time Cochrane was commanding the 32-gun 12-pounder frigate HMS Pallas with a crew of about 220 and was part of a British squadron blockading the port of Bordeaux. Cochrane had made a habit of raiding deep up the Gironde estuary and had a crew well drilled in small boat work. Cochrane had even had a galley constructed to his own specifications for the express purpose of cutting out enemy shipping and raiding coastal installations.
On April 5, 1806, Pallas was anchored just off the Cordouan light, pictured above, at the mouth of the Gironde. Cochrane received word from local informants that two French corvettes were anchored some 20 miles farther up the river and naturally decided to cut them out.
The plan was equal parts simplicity and audacity.
I’ve noted on a couple of occasions that I’m reluctant to cover the careers of well know figures such as Nelson because they have been covered in such detail that I can’t add anything new to the discussion while on the other hand there is constellation of lesser known, and indeed forgotten, officers which I can write about.
Unfortunately, because of the tie in this blog has with historical fiction set during the Age of Sail one well known naval officer will be the subject of several stories in the future. That officer is, of course, Lord Thomas Cochrane. We’ve previously written on one of Cochrane’s most famous exploits, the capture of the 32-gun frigate El Gamo while commanding the 14-gun HMS Speedy. While that incident made Cochrane’s reputation as a bold and enterprising commander, what is often overlooked is the fact that he was also a skilled practitioner of amphibious warfare. Continue reading
Periodically, we’ve noted instances where actual events enter naval fiction set during the Age of Sail will little more than the names of people and ships changed. Sometimes the actual events are toned down for the novel because of the implausibility of the real event, such as Cochrane taking El Gamo or Nelson using one Spanish first rate as a bridge to board and take a second first rate.
Another incident ties together Midshipman Horatio Hornblower, Lieutenant Lord Ramage, and Commodore Horatio Nelson. Fog and the Spanish Fleet.
In the short story, Hornblower, the Duchess, and the Devil, which is included in C. S. Forester’s Mr. Midhipman Hornblower, Hornblower, commanding a prize en route to England, finds himself enshrouded in fog, a fog which also includes the Spanish fleet and is subsequently captured and imprisoned at the fortress at Ferrol. In Dudley Pope’s Ramage, Lieutenant Lord Ramage, commanding the cutter HMS Kathleen, finds himself in the same unpleasant circumstances. He however, evades imprisonment, gains key intelligence on the Spanish fleet then in port in Cartagena, and is able to warn Admiral Sir John Jervis of their intentions.
The real story is just as strange.
HMS Speedy (14) under Lord Thomas Cochrane takes the Spanish frigate El Gamo (32)
A quick perusal of this blog will show that I’ve shied away from writing much on major figures of the Age of Sail. While I have biographical entries on lesser known figures, like Sir Henry Duncan and Midshipman Flinders, there is no story on Horatio Nelson or, perhaps the most swashbuckling figure of the Napoleonic Wars, Lord Thomas Cochrane.
My reasoning is grounded equally in two sensibilities, practicality and snobbishness. Practicality because these two men have been the subject of an immense amount of study and literature and there is little I could add to anyone’s understanding of either. Snobbishness because these two men, etc. etc.
I’ll be deviating from this a bit as I delve more deeply into Dudley Pope’s Nicholas Ramage novels because Pope, probably because of his background as a chronicler of the Royal Navy, pulls in a significant number of incidents from the lives of these two men as plot elements.
Now to the story.