Thomas Cochrane Dundonald (Earl of).

The autobiography of a seaman, Volume 2 online

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On the statement of Mr. Eose, Vice-President of the
Board of Trade, that he had no objection to the motion.

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I then said that, if agreeable to the House, I would at
once proceed with it, and adverted to the feet that
large quantities of French silks were openly exposed
for sale in this country to the prejudice of our manu-
facturers, to whom not the shghtest concession was
offered in return. Whether rightly or wrongly, it was
the estabhshed policy of the legislature to prevent the
importation of French manufactured goods, but the
licence to do so to a small extent had been construed
into a hcence to import to any amount, and that with-
out the necessary introduction through the Custom-
house. I had been credibly informed that silks, to the
value of several hundred thousand pounds, were at
that moment lying in the river, whilst the only clause
in the licences under which these goods were suffered
to be imported, and which went to secure any reci-
procity whatever to this country, was one requiring
that sugar or coffee, to the value of bL per ton burden,
should be exported in lieu of these rich manufactured
goods of the enemy. K this were the policy of our
ministry at the present period of unexampled distress
to the manufacturing interests, the great dissatisfaction
of the manufacturers was by no means surprising.

The correctness of the statement being denied by Mr.
Kose, I remarked that if no silk goods had really been
imported, the return would effectually show this, and as
effectually calm any dissatisfaction that might prevail.
After some further unimportant discussion, the motion
was agreed to.

On the order of the day for the third reading of the
Sinecure Offices Bill (Jime 15th), I expressed my convic-

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tion of the propriety of abolishing all unnecessary offices
during the present state of the country, feeling per-
suaded that sinecures were the bond of union which held
parties together in that House, and that if sinecures did
not exist, much more attention would be paid to public
expenditure* I did not so much object to the expense
which necessarily devolved on the pubhc, as to the
influence which the power' of giving sinecures gave to
the ministry for the time being.

The Parhament being shortly afterwards dissolved,
my explanations, to the electors of Westminster relative
to the conduct I had deemed right to pursue in Parlia-
ment were comprised in the following letters : —

" Portman Square, 28th September, 1812.

** Gentlemen, — Being conscious that I have not used the
trust reposed in me to my private advantage, or to promote
the interests of those with whom I am connected by the
bonds of consanguinity or friendship, and that I have no
personal object to attain, I shall venture to submit my con-
duct to the scrutiny it must undergo, on presenting myself
with a view of again becoming one of the representatives of
this great city ; an honour which I do not aspire to from a
vain notion that I possess the qualifications requisite to per-
form its duties, otherwise than by acting uniformly according
to the best of my judgment, uninfluenced by considerations
of a personal nature. Should it appear, however, that I have
erred, I am ready to assign the reasons which have deter-
mined my vote on every occasion.

" It is unnecessary to apprise you, Gentlemen, who are so
well acquainted with the fact, that it is impossible for an
individual, unconnected with either party, to succeed in any
measiu^e which has for its object a diminution of the means
of corruption, or, in other words, the power of rewarding
those who are base enough to support men in oflSce, regard-


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less of their measures. Had the list of places and pensions;
possessed by the members of the House of Commons and
their relations, been granted, which list I moved for shortly
after my return to Parliament, the public would long ago
have been convinced that sinecures ought not to be consi-
dered, as they generally are, a burden of a known amount.
It has ever been my opinion that their abolition alone would
relieve the Crown from the thraldom in which it is held ; and
restore the depreciating currency, by promoting the proper
inquiry into the general application of the public money,
paiticularly as to the sums demanded for our enormous and
disproportionate military establishment.

" I have frequently stated, without avail, that simply by
enforcing the acts relative to prize concerns, two-thirds of
the navy now employed would be more efficient than the
whole is, under the mortification of finding the fruits of their
toil, and often more, taken for the mere condemnation of
legal captures ! History shows, without the example of the
House of Commons, that this is not the way to stimulate
men to undergo fatigue, and encounter that kind of danger,
from which no honour is to be derived. On this subject I
have not been able to induce the House to look at the proofs
which I held in my hand, and offered to produce. I am
averse to trespass on your time, though I feel that I have
material points to explain ; but these I shall defer to a more
fit opportunity.

" I am, however, anxious to add, that my absence lately,
on occasions when you have had a right to expect my atten-
dance, has been occasioned solely by ill health, and not by a
disposition to tamper with ministers for employment, even in
the execution of important plans which I had suggested ; and
which, if prosecuted on a fit scale, would afiford France full
employment in her owii defence, instead of suffering her
troops to employ themselves in the subjugation of our allies,
by whom they are paid and maintained !

" Whether I am returned to Parliament or not, as soon as
I shall have tried every means to promote measures which,

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if disclosed at present, would prore highly prejudicial to the
public interests, I pledge myself to prove to the country,
that ten millions sterling may annually be saved, and that
the relative military force of England will be increased.

" Viewing your exertions in the cause of freedom and the
purity of election with that admiration which they so justly

" I have the honour to be, Gentlemen,

" Respectively, your obedient servant,


" Portman Square, Sept. 30, 1812.

" G-ENTLEMEN, — Since I had the honour of addressing you,
by letter, at your last meeting, I have been informed by the
public prints and otherwise that some gentlemen deemed it a
material omission that I had neglected to state my opinions
therein relative to Parliamentary Reform, — a course which
I adopted, perhaps erroneously, a^ most respectful to the
Committee for promoting the Purity of Election ; imder the
conviction that they would judge of the future by the past^
and not by professions. Now, however, to clear up this
doubt, if any, after reflection, remains on their minds, I
hereby pledge myself to vote on all occasions for Reform,
from a persuasion that the ruin of the country can be averted
by that means only. I will likewise support every measure
for the abolition of sinecures, which form the bond of union
in the House of Commons against the interests of the people.
Indeed, reflection impresses this fact so strongly on my mind,
that I am disposed to think, if the advocates for Parliamentary
Reform were to direct their efforts first against these glaring
evils, that an efficient Reform would not be so far distant as
the difference of sentiments amongst its advocates unhappily

** As to the Catholic Question, Gentlemen, it is proper to
inform you that so long as its inquisitorial auricular confes-
sion and its principles so favourable to despotism prevailed
on the Continent, I was hostile to it ; but that I am now

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inclined to grant the claims of the Catholics of Ireland,
provided that they are content to receive the privileges of
Englishmen, and to relinquish their predilection in favour
of the jurisdiction of the Pope, which, however, they seem
anxious to establish in that part of these kingdoms.

** Having said thus much on the most important questions
that occur to me, I have only to add, relative to the objection
made to a naval officer being a representative for Westminster
(which I conclude is meant to extend to all other parts of
the kingdom) that one half of the taxes levied on the people
of England is disbursed on the navy — for objects which the
ability of all the civil members of Parliament cannot detect
to be erroneous from the inspection of accounts. Neither
are they judges of the means best calculated to give protec-
tion to trade, and annoy the enemy by that mode of warfare
to which England must at last resort.

" I had nearly omitted to notice that I am no advocate for
flogging; although I maintain, from a knowledge of fact,
that your fleets could not be governed at present if the
power did not exist, — a power which will cease to be abused
when Parliamentary influence shall cease to place incompe-
tent persons in command, and that in a great measure depends
upon your exertions,

"I have the honour to be,
" Gentlemen,
" Your most humble obedient servant,

" Cochrane."

The concluding paragraph of this letter will bear
comment, even in our day. The appointment of officers
to commands ought to be regulated less by interest than
desert The truth of this is now practically admitted
in other departments of the State, but unhappily the
Admiralty, to which is confided our only protection
from invasion, is, to a great extent, looked upon as a
ministerial patronage preserve, and to this supposed

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necessity the national safety may one day be sacrificed.
It has been urged, in defence of the system, that it is a
matter of little consequence, for that steam having
bridged the Channel, invasion is only a question of a
few hours, whoever may be in command of our ships.
This I deny. If our ships are in a fit condition, and
properly commanded, it is as easy to destroy the
enemy's " bridge " as ever it was, and we shall be as
much at liberty to use our own bridge as in former

If the Admiralty could be freed from its political
trammels, there is no question but that those who
direct its affairs would be generally guided in their
appointments hy merit alone. That it is not so, is a
proof that, under the unfortunate prevalence of pohtical
influence and patronage, no fair and well-understood
system of promotion can be established. Hence boys
and subordinate officers, if destitute of influence, have
no stimulus to acquiring a knowledge of their profes-
sion. Far otherwise, for whatever may be their pro-
ficiency or services, the only certainty they have is that
some one with more influence and perhaps inferior
claims may be promoted over their heads. It is not
reasonable to suppose that such a system can produce
energetic captains or admirals, except by accident.

As one ship well officered and manned is more
effective than two of an opposite description, a de-
fined and weU-regulated system of promotion upon
which all can rely will cost less to the nation, and
become the most economical as well as the most
effective. The true strength of the navy \s not in the

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multitude of ships, but in the energies and alacrity of
officers and crews ; and the repression of these quaUties
by a false system of poUtical influence, renders a double
force requisite for the accompUshment of the vital
objects of the naval service. This is as much a wajste
of power as the system itself is want of power.

The necessity of wholesome stimulatingencouragement
was deeply felt in the wars consequent on the French
Eevolution, and it will be felt in future wars whenever
they arise. No one unacquainted with the matter can
imagine how much was lost during those wars from a
total disregard of the fitness of individuals appointed by
political influence. The subordinate officers appointed
to ships of war were frequently so incompetent as to
paralyse the exertions even of the most able com-
manders, who could not be expected to sustain the
fatigue of being always on deck. For my own part, I
was so annoyed by the description of persons attempted
to be palmed upon me, that, as I have somewhere eke
said, I preferred going to sea with midshipmen of my
own training, making them perform the duties of Ueute-
nants, rather than run the risk of receiving such Ueute-
nants as were frequently appointed to situations in
active frigates, through aristocratic or pohtical in-
fluence. I am sorry the names of my midshipmen have
for the most part escaped my memory, but I may point
to three of my own making — the late Lord Napier,
Captain Marryat, and the present gallant Admiral Sir
Houston Stewart. These were my officers in Basque
Eoads, where I had only one Ueutenant. On quitting
Plymouth in the Imperieuse to imdertake that perilous

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duty, I sailed with one lieutenant only^ to avoid the
encumbrance of persons in whom I feared to repose

To return to my subject. On my re-election for
Westminster, I pubUshed a long address to my con-
stituents. From this I shaU only adduce the following
extracts : —

** GrENTLEMEN, — Being unable to convey in words the sen-
sations I experience in reflecting on the manner in which
you have returned me to Parliament, I shall leave it to you,
who are capable of such acts, to estimate my feelings.

" Gentlemen, no part of the cant of the times seems to
me more hypocritical than the declamation by party-men
against what they term the ^ overwhelming influence of the
Crown ; ' when the fact is notorious to us all that the ruling
faction in Parliament seize the offices of state and share them
amongst themselves. If a doubt as to this truth exist in the
mind of any one, let him reflect on the language of the
parties themselves, *Such an administration cannot stand.'
And why. Gentlemen ?— -not because the royal protection has
been withdrawn, but because a sufficient number do not
agree as to the division of the spoil. Oxu* liberties in these
days are not in danger from violent and open exercise of
regal authority; such acts, being free from the deception
practised by the mock representatives of the people, would
not be tolerated for an instant No, Gentlemen, it is by the
House of Commons alone that the Constitution is subverted,
the prerogatives of the Crown usurped, the rights of the
people trampled upon.

"Gentlemen, I shall not attempt to enumerate the de-
cisions of the late House of Commons, — these stamp little
credit on the memory of the principal actors, who cannot
escape from the contempt of posterity, as may, from their
insignificance, the nameless individuals who composed their
corrupt majorities. The effects, however, of this system of


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corruption may be thus briefly stated ; the prolongation of
war, the increase of the national debt, the depreciation of our
currency, the disappearance of our coin, the stagnation of
our commerce, and the consequent unexampled embarrass-
ment of our manufactures.

" Hurtful, however, as the measures pursued have been,
our total neglect of others has proved still more prejudicial ;
for whilst France has inflicted on us the evils of war, intimi-
dating surrounding states into compliance with her views,
we, who have possessed facilities to direct every portion of
our force to unknown points within the extensive range of
2000 miles of unprotected shore, have never even made, a
demonstration with intention to disturb the enemy's projects
and force him to keep his legions at home, but have left him
at full liberty to prosecute his plans at the expense of our
allies, or in the way most conducive to his interests; and,
surely, none could suit him better than to fix the little army
of England in the centre of the Peninsula, where its move-
ments are not of a desultory nature, and where, admitting
the great ability of its commander, a comparatively small
portion of the enemy's force is fully adequate to counteract
its known moverfients ! What part of these kingdoms would
be secure from attack if the French possessed a naval supe-
riority, with only 20,000 troops at their disposal? It is
obvious that there must be in every district a force equal to
that which the enemy could bring against it.

"Gentlemen, I cannot avoid stating a fact to you which I
have often offered to prove at the bar of the late House of
Commons, namely, that whilst our commerce has decreased,
that kind of trade which is most beneficial to a state has
augmented on the shores of the enemy, in a prodigious ratio ;
and the produce of the northern and southern provinces is
freely interchanged under the protection of the abuses of our
Admiralty Courts, which afford better security than all the
batteries of France. The plain reason for this is, that each
of the numerous coasting vessels must, for the benefit of the
court, be separately condemned, at an expense greater than

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was formerly demanded for the adjudication of an Indiaman 1
Gentlemen, the rapacity of these courts is frequently not
satisfied by appropriating the wJioU proceeds to themselves,
but the captors are compelled to pay an additional sum for
thus performing a service to their country. Gentlemen, that
you may have a correct notion of a proctor's bill, I take the
liberty of inclosing one for your inspection, which, I assure
you, may be considered very moderate, being only six
fathoms and a quarter long, or thirty-seven feet six inches,
whereas I now possess others that extend to fifty feet ; but I
prefer sending this to your committee, as it is the one pro-
duced by myself in the House of Commons, and by the
venerable Earl of Suffolk in the House of Lords ; the ex-
hibition of which was pronounced by the present Lord Chan-
cellor Eldon (the brother of the judge of the Admiralty
Court) to be a species of mummery never before witnessed
within those walls, and altogether imbecoming the gravity
of that branch of the legislature.

*^ The example of the industrious bee demonstrates by the
laws of nature that the drone is not to live at the expense of
the community, notwithstanding what the Whigs have said
of sinecures being held by tenure equal to that of freehold

From the preceding incomplete enumeration of my
parliamentary efforts, it will be apparent that as re-
garded my profession I had not been idle ; but every
step I took appeared to remove me farther from my
chance of being again employed. Notwithstanding
that in those days the language of members frequently
passed those bounds which the modem practice of
the House of Commons has prescribed^ in no instance,
that I am aware of, could I be accused of intemperate
treatment of any subject under discussion. Indepen-
dently of the sore point of Lord Gambler's couilrmartial,

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which was no act of mine — my offending could have
been none other than the one of attempting to rouse
the authorities to an effort for the ameUoration of the
navy, for objects which under the old system were
notoriously not achieved, viz. crippling the energies of
the enemy. It was in the circle of my political oppo-
nents considered that as member for Westminster I had
no right to interfere with naval matters — because I
was a post-captain I

It is, nevertheless, a singular fact — and one which
cannot be said of any other officer of my then stand-
ing as a post-captain — that from 1801 to 1812, — on
no occasion, not even for a single day was any vessel
of war — save the one in which my pennant flew —
once placed under my command, or once offered to
me, with the single exception of the affair of Basque
Eoads, when I was for a few days appointed to or-
ganise and make use of a flotilla of explosion and
fireships, the command of which had been declined
by several other officers to whom it had been proposed^
and then thrust on me contrary to my inclination.

That one cause of my being thus passed over was
my unceasing advocacy of the navy, admits of no doubt
It must be apparent that my motions relative to the
Courts of Admiralty raised the enmity of all who profited
by their abuses, and these were neither few nor unin-
fluential, — that my repeated invectives against sinecures
and pensions arrayed against me all who benefited by
them — whether personally or through their connections.
It is, indeed, not too much to say, that those interested
in sinecures and pensions comprised in those days a

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majority of the House of Commons, who stood up for
their own interest at the national expense as for a

My motion respecting the treatment of French
prisoners, and especially my declaration of the pro-
bable motive for erecting the prison of Dartmoor in a
dreary, desolate, and unhealthy position, such as ought
not to have been selected for convicts, served to increase
the ministerial anger. Nor was the evil abated. On
a second visit to the place, I encountered a spectacle
which made me ashamed of my country.

The reader will remember the action between the
Pallas and Minerve in Basque Eoads, as narrated in the
first volume. My gallant adversary in that frigate was
Captain CoUett, who kept the deck after every one of
his crew had been driven below by our fire, which, as
the Minerve had taken the ground, swept her decks.
My gallant opponent, however, kept the deck, or
rather stood on a gun, with as much sang-froid as
though we had been firing a salute. On our becom-
ing entangled with the Minerve' s rigging, he raised his
hat, with all the politeness of a Frenchman of the old
school, and bowed to me, a compliment which I re-
turned. Judge of my surprise, when refused admis-
sion into the prison at Dartmoor, and prowling about
its out-offices, at finding my gaUant enemy located in
the stall of a stable^ he having been recently made
prisoner. I promised to use my best endeavour to
get him removed, and on my arrival in London did so.
I beUeve with effect, but to what other locaUty has
passed fi:'om my memory.

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There is no necessity to enumerate other matters
already familiar to the reader in order to show the
estimation in which I must have been held by those
who opposed what they considered innovations, though
they must have been as well aware of the evils of a
rotten system as myself.

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The event recorded in this chapter is the most im-
portant and the happiest of my hfe, in its results, —
the " silver lining " to the " cloud," viz. my marriage
with the Coimtess of Dundonald. It has Deen said
by a Scottish writer that "the Cochranes have long
been noted for an original and dashing turn of mind,
which was sometimes called genius — sometimes eccen-
tricity." How far this may be true of my ancestors, I
shall not stay to inquire. Laying no claim to the
genius, I however dispute the eccentricity in my own
case, notwithstanding that appearances, so far as relates
to my past life, may be somewhat against me. With-
out a particle of romance in my composition, my life
has been one of the most romantic on record, and the
circumstances of my marriage are not the least so.

Early in the year 1812, it was my good fortune to
make the acquaintance of the orphan daughter of
a family of honourable standing in the Midland Coun-
ties, Miss Katherine Corbett Barnes. In consequence
of the loss of her parents, the lady had been placed

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during her minority under the guardianship of her
first cousin, Mr. John Simpson of Portland Place and
also of Fairlom House, in the county of Kent, of which
county he was then High Sheriff. The story is the old
one. Shortly after my introduction to this lady I made

Online LibraryThomas Cochrane Dundonald (Earl of)The autobiography of a seaman, Volume 2 → online text (page 20 of 36)