Cochrane, Lord Thomas Alexander (1775–1860)

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Cochrane, Lord Thomas Alexander (1775–1860)

Lord Thomas Alexander Cochrane (b. 14 December 1775; d. 30 October 1860), naval commander in wars for Latin American independence. A member of the Scottish nobility with a distinguished record in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, Cochrane came to South America in 1818, at the invitation of the independent Chilean government, which gave him command of its fledgling navy. Consisting of odds and ends of warships and heavily dependent on foreign adventurers for skilled seamen, this force under Cochrane's leadership harassed Spanish-held ports along the Pacific coast and was instrumental in the capture of the key fortress of Valdivia in southern Chile (1820). In 1820 Cochrane convoyed the army of José de San Martín on its way to invade Peru. But he soon quarreled with San Martín over questions of strategy as well as over what he considered inadequate support of his naval forces.

Cochrane's pursuit of Spanish shipping in the Pacific took him as far north as Mexico before he finally returned in 1822 to Chile, where he had an estate. He did not stay there long, for in 1823 he accepted an invitation from the new Brazilian monarchy to head its naval forces in the struggle for independence from Portugal. Once again he had a heterogeneous collection of ships and a large number of foreign sailors, including British seamen whom he induced to desert their own ships. However, when Cochrane sailed against Bahia in mid-1823, the fear inspired by his reputation, quite as much as the forces he commanded, led the Portuguese military entrenched there to depart without a struggle—and Cochrane harassed their fleet all the way to the coast of Portugal. He next helped evict the Portuguese from ports they still held on the north coast of Brazil. In 1825, however, he had a falling out with the Brazilian government and returned to Europe. There he volunteered his services to help in the Greek struggle for independence from Turkey in 1827, and was reinstated in the Royal Navy in 1832.

See alsoBritish-Latin American Relations .


Basic sources on Cochrane are his own Narrative of Services in the Liberation of Chili, Peru, and Brazil from Spanish and Portuguese Domination, 2 vols. (1859), and his Autobiography of a Seaman, 2 vols. (1869). For his Chilean and Peruvian service, see Donald E. Worcester, Sea Power and Chilean Independence (1962). His contribution to Brazilian independence is covered in Neill Macaulay, Dom Pedro: The Struggle for Liberty in Brazil and Portugal, 1798–1834 (1986), chap. 5.

Additional Bibliography

Harvey, Robert. Thomas Cochrane, 1775–1860: Libertador de Chile, Brasil y Grecia. Barcelona: Edhasa, 2001.

López Urrutia, Carlos. Más allá de la audacia: Vida de Thomas Cochrane, Décimo Conde de Dundonald. Barcelona: Editorial Andrés Bello, 2002.

                                          David Bushnell