December 14, 2006

Gratuitous Royal Navy Geekery Posting (TM)

Happy Birthday to the Sea Wolf!


Today is the birthday of Thomas, Lord Cochrane, born this day in 1775.

Who he, you ask? Well, he was an extremely successful and daring British naval officer during the Napoleonic Wars and was the model for Patrick O'Brian's Lucky Jack Aubrey. Indeed, the climactic battle of Master and Commander, in which Aubrey's little brig Sophie, with 14 guns and 54 men, takes on the much larger Spanish xebec-frigate Cacafuego, with 32 guns and 319 men, is based shot for shot on Cochrane's own exploit aboard the Speedy on May 6, 1801, in which he successfully carried the Spanish El Gamo. (For those of you Russell Crowe fans who are scratching your heads and muttering, "Huh?" I would simply recommend that you read the damn book.)

Here is a painting of the action:


This isn't to say that O'Brian's Aubrey is a carbon-copy of Cochrane. For one thing, the only other time their careers duplicate each other in detail comes in the section of O'Brian's cycle beginning with The Reverse of the Medal, in which Aubrey is framed and convicted of stock fraud, stripped of his rank, dismissed the service and pilloried, and even here neither the chronology nor the facts are exactly alike. (Of interest, O'Brian hints in his introduction that there may have been more to the charges against Cochrane than he or his family would care to admit.) Aubrey's later adventures off the coast of Chile are a much more diluted reference to Cochrane's service as commander of the Chilean Revolutionary Navy. And, of course, O'Brian never puts Aubrey near the Battle of the Basque Roads, one of Cochrane's most famous exploits.

For another thing, Cochrane had an enormous ego and loved the spotlight. He also apparently enjoyed (or at least didn't mind) making political enemies, doing so mostly via his outspokeness against what he perceived to be incompetence and corruption. These character traits are quite a bit contrary to Jack Aubrey's modesty and his habit of running afoul other people's hawses inadvertantly.

Cochrane wrote an autobiography that I've always found to be interesting both in terms of its reflection of the man himself (for one thing, he was an early advocate of chemical warfare) and its obvious status as source material for O'Brian:


The Autobiography of a Seaman, by Admiral Lord Cochrane.

After the Napoleonic Wars, Cochrane spent a fair bit of time free-lancing with the Chilean, Brazilian and Greek navies in various revolutionary causes. Later, he was reinstated to the Royal Navy and made C-in-C of the North American station. As he lived to be 85 and died in 1860, he even exerted some influence in the Crimean War. I'm curious as to how many more of Cochrane's exploits O'Brian might have borrowed on behalf of Jack Aubrey had he continued the series further.

UPDATE: Non-Self-Plagiarism Disclaimer. If this post seems familiar, yes, I wrote it last year and just reposted it today.

Posted by Robert at December 14, 2006 10:03 AM | TrackBack

A fine tribute. For your enjoyment, here via Flickr are a recruiting poster for Cochrane ("not drowned in the ARAB as reported") and a statue to his memory in Valparaiso.

Posted by: MCNS at December 14, 2006 03:30 PM