If you’ve been fascinated by swashbuckling naval heroes such as Master and Commander’s Jack Aubrey or CS Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, then the National Museum of Scotland’s new exhibition Admiral Cochrane, the Real Master and Commander is for you.

Even if, like me, you’ve never seen the film Master and Commander, the exhibition still sheds fascinating light on a little-known Scottish-born figure, Lord Thomas Cochrane, who had a huge influence both in Britain and on the other side of the world – and served as the inspiration for popular naval heroes in books and films today.

Rising quickly to fame after battling the Spanish in the Mediterranean, Cochrane was notorious for his daring naval missions and unorthodox methods, even going as far as to publicly criticise his commander for a lack of bravery in fighting the French in the Battle of the Basque Roads. After a spectacular fall from grace, Cochrane found fortune again in the emerging independent countries of South America, first as head of the Chilean Navy and then working with the Brazilian navy in the country’s fight for independence.

A fascinating film at the start of the exhibition highlights the reverence he is still shown in Chile, and documents from the National Records of Scotland track Cochrane’s life and travels, from a sketched map of Brazilian waters to disturbing plans for early chemical weapons.

Dr Tristram Clarke of the National Records of Scotland with a boatswain’s whistle

The artefacts illustrating Cochrane’s event-filled life, including an imposing array of boarding weapons, medals and decorations from throughout his life, and portraits of the great man and his associates, are spectacular, and paint a vivid picture of a life at sea. After so many fictionalised versions of Cochrane’s exploits, the National Museum of Scotland’s new exhibition gives us the real story of one of Britain’s great unsung naval heroes.

Admiral Cochrane, the Real Master and Commander, National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, until 19 February 2012.


  1. Hi there,
    Are there still members of the Cochrane family alive, and if so do they use the title of Dundonald, and Maranhao as well ?
    Just very curious…I have lived in Brazil and there was never any reference of him in any history books till about a year ago in a book called 1822 !! Even in this book the author is toally scathing about Cochrane’s antics and methods. He is referred to as a common thief masquerading as an Admiral !!
    Of course the British take on all of this is different….it was needs must for Cochrane because he was not getting paid by the Brazil government, and he had to pay his sailors somehow !! Even up in Pernambuco in the Ricardo Brennand Institute in Recife…there is no mention of him !!

  2. The actor Michael Cochrane (plays Oliver Stirling on The Archers and numerous TV roles)is a descendant. Another direct descendant was the rather enigmatic ‘diplomatist’ Charles Cochrane who served in various unspeicied capacities in various countries including Chile, where he became a close friend of Pablo Neruda. Neruda was indeed inspired to write a poem “Lord Cochrane de Chile” which was set to music by Chile’s most famous composer of the time, Gustavo Becerra-Schmidt. Cochrane I believe left Chile in disgust after the deaths of Allende and Neruda, disgusted by the 1973 coup – he was honoured more recently, in 2004, with the PAblo Neruda Medal. Dougla Cochrane had two sons so , yes, there are several members of the family alive.

  3. I understand that forces under Admiral Cochrane were directly responsible for a (failed)invasion of the city of Buenos Aires in the early 1800’s. The Spanish viceroy had escaped the city and left it to the local population to fight off the British. This weakened Spains position in what was a Spanish colony and was cause for the seeking of independance by what was to become the Argentie Republic in 1816. Also the direct descendents of Lord Cochrane have their family seat in Ireland.

  4. Sadly missed this exhibition. Cochrane was MP for Honiton in 1806 which is something we seem not to want to honour. odd because in 1920 we had our first woman Mayor (in the West Country) and most famous – ex suffragette, served 11 times. Juanita Maxwell phillips was born and brought up in Valparaiso until 1890; her mum I think wsa Margareta King poss Chilean. They must have known about Cochrane. Any connextion?
    I am researching these two . we have just published a book by Julia Neville ‘Viva Juanita’ Champion for Change in the West country and would welcome links from Chile, Scotland anywhere!

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