Tuesday, 7 December 2010

National Museum sets sail with the real Scots Master and Commander

An article from The Scotsman today. I have a bit of an interest in Cochrane, and we're planning a blog post about him shortly...

He was the Scottish seafarer whose exploits inspired the creation of the fictional English naval heroes Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey.

Thomas Cochrane, the son of a nobleman and inventor, was forced to join the Royal Navy as a teenager when his family's estate had to be sold off.

Now one of Britain's most successful and controversial naval figures of all time is to be honoured with a major exhibition in his native land, dedicated to his extraordinary life and military career.

Curators at the National Museum of Scotland are putting together the tribute to the man from Lanarkshire, whose heroics matched those of any of his fictional alter-egos.

Jack Aubrey was portrayed on the screen by Russell Crowe in 2003 in the Oscar-winning film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

A spokeswoman for the National Museum, which is staging the exhibition from October 2011-February 2012, said it would bring together for the first time an "extraordinary collection of awards, personal possessions, private papers and dramatic paintings".

Cochrane, born in 1775, joined the navy when he was 17 and went on to become a hugely successful captain during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, earning him the nickname the Wolf of the Seas by the French.

But he also made enemies in the navy and corridors of government with his daring tactics and outspoken criticism.

Famous exploits included capturing one Spanish frigate with twice the firepower of his vessel, and causing havoc in the Mediterranean after taking command of two others.

He pursued a political career, winning election to the Commons after standing on a ticket of parliamentary reform. But he was dismissed by the Royal Navy and expelled from parliament in 1814 following a conviction for Stock Exchange fraud, although Cochrane claimed his trial was politically motivated.

However, he went on to fight in the navies of Chile, Brazil and Greece in their wars for independence and was eventually reinstated to the Royal Navy, at the rank of admiral, in 1832, and later pardoned for the crime over which he always maintained his innocence. He was eventually given the honorary title of Rear-Admiral and was buried in Westminster Abbey after his death at the age of 85.

Many of the items - some borrowed from private collections - will be going on display for the first time. Stuart Allan, exhibition curator, says: 'He is one of the towering figures of naval history, a Scotsman who made a truly global impact.

His extraordinary story will take visitors on a voyage across the world, through the age of sail and the age of steam, and deep into the turmoil of the Age of Revolution where men fought in far-flung places for the cause of liberty, and for their own gain.

"The authentic Cochrane is as incredible as anything in fiction."

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