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The Gallant Admiral Lord Dundonald

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest
 

    Excepting Lord Nelson, perhaps no other officer in the British Navy during the present century has gained greater distinction by his services than the late Admiral Thomas Earl of Dundonald, best known as Lord Cochrane, whose naval career was one of brilliant exploits and deeds of daring. In 1809 his destruction of the French ships in the Basque Roads dealt a crushing blow to the great Napoleon's maritime efforts. A few years later be served under the government of Chili and Peru, which bad revolted against Spain, and his naval assistance mainly contributed to those provinces achieving their independence. His great feats in that war were his capture of Valdivia, and his cutting out the Spanish frigate Esmeralda from under the fortifications of Callao. He -vas subsequently employed by the empire of Brazil, and there also he was completely successful. He was created Marquess of Maranham, in Brazil, and had conferred upon him the Grand Cross of the Imperial Brazilian Order of the Cruzers; he was also a knight of the Royal Order of the Savior of Greece, and of the Order of Merit of Chili, and a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Noble Order of the Bath. He succeeded his father as tenth Earl of Dundonald in July, 1831.
     It is not, however, of the services which won for his lordship the proud distinctions above enumerated that I wish to speak in this paper, but rather of an episode in his life by which he was placed in a very awkward and unenviable position, namely, a charge of conspiracy and fraud in connection with the Stock Exchange, which was brought publicly against him in the year 1814.
     Extraordinary panics have, at different times, taken place at the Stock Exchange, and the prices of stocks have risen and fallen -with rapidity at the rumors of wars, foreign alli
ances, and coalitions. Sometimes these rumors have been proved to be mere inventions. The most extraordinary conspiracy ever planned and carried out in order to bring about a panic, however, was that which formed the subject of the charge above referred to, and which was carried into execution towards the close of the great struggle between the First Napoleon and the allied sovereigns of Europe. The 'funds' were then in a very depressed condition, and great national anxiety prevailed. The best idea of this conspiracy, perhaps, may be gathered from a narrative of certain legal transactions which took place some sixty years ago.
     The trial came on for this conspiracy in the Court of King's Bench, Guildhall, on the 8th of Jane, 1814, the persons charged, besides Lord Cochrane, being Captain Randone do Berenger, the Hon. A. Cochrane-Johnstone, R. Gathorn Butt, Ralph Sandom (a spirit merchant at Northfleet), Alexander M'Rae, J. Peter Holloway, and Henry Lyte. They were indicted for conspiring to defraud the Stock Exchange 'by circulating false news of Bonaparte's defeat, of his being killed by the Cossacks, etc., in order to raise the funds to a higher price than they would otherwise have borne, to the injury- of the public, and the benefit of the conspirators.' The conspiracy was very dramatically carried out, and the report which was spread through the city by the principal persons concerned in it was such as to throw the citizens of London into a state of commotion.
     It appears that about one o'clock, a.m., on the 21st of February in the above year, a person, who was proved at the trial to be none other than Randono de Beronger, stopped a watchman in the town of Dover, and inquired the way to the 'Ship Inn,' at that time the principal hotel in the town. The person, who gave the name of Colonel De Bourg, aide-decamp of Lord Cathcart, was attired in a scarlet and gold uniform, with a large star on his breast. Having made his way, as directed, to the 'Ship Inn,' ho knocked violently at the door, and, on being admitted, pretended that be had been conveyed in an open boat from France, and landed along the coast about two miles from Dover; that he was the bearer of important news from the scat of war-being nothing less than 'that the allies had gained a great victory, and had entered Paris; that Bonapart had been overtaken by a detachment of Sachen' Cossacks, who had slain and cut him into thousand pieces; that General Platoff had saved Paris from being reduced to ashes; and that the white cockade was worn everywhere, and that an immediate peace was now certain.'
     He next wrote a letter to Admiral Foley the port-admiral at Deal, conveying to him the above 'important news;' and then immediatelyy; set off himself in a post-chaise for London, by way of Canterbury, Sittingbourne, and Rochester The object in sending the letter to Admiral Foley was that he might have telegraphed the, intelligence to the Admiralty; but through the, haziness of the atmosphere the seinaphores were of no avail. On his arrival at Rochester 'De Bourgh' made his way to the 'Crown Inn,' and communicated the news to the landlord and, taking care that the report should be, spread at every available point on his journey he hurried on until he came to the 'Elephant and Castle,' in the Kent Road; but, finding no hackney-coach there, he ordered the post-boy to drive him on to harsh Gate, Lambeth, where he entered a hackney-coach, and was driven off to a house then recently taken by Lord Cochrane in Green Street, Grosvenor Square.
    
By a little after ten the rumors had reached the Stock Exchange, and the funds rose sensibly; but, on its being found that no confirmatory news had reached the Lord Mayor, they soon went down again. But an important auxiliary to this fraudulent contrivance shortly appeared. This was the arrival of three apparently military officers in a post-chaise from Northfleet, having the drivers and horses decorated with laurel. These were Sandom, M'Rae, and Lyte in disguise. To spread the news they drove through the City, and over Blackfiiars Bridge, and were set down near the Marsh Gate, where they tied up their cocked hats, put on round ones, and walked away.
     This last contrivance was the means of raising 'omnium' to 32 per cent. The amount of stock in the possession of Lord Cochrane and Messrs. Johnstone and Butt amounted to nearly one million; and it was proved in evidence that, but for this plan for raising the funds, they must have been defaulters to the amount of 160,000, and nearly ruined by their speculations. Sandom, Holloway, and Lyte were 'jobbers' in the fuds. At the time of the trial, the two latter had confessed what was their object to the Stock Exchange Committee, though they denied any participation with the other parties. De Berenger's handwriting was proved; and the coat, purchased at Solomon's, at Charing Cross, was identified as having been bought and worn by him, and then sunk in the Thames, whence it was accidentally dredged up by a fisherman, M'Rae, who was in distressed circumstances, and who was proved to have received fifty pounds for his services.
     For the defense it was contended and proved that Lord Cochrane was acquainted with De Berenger on honorable grounds, not arising from stock-jobbing transactions, having exerted himself to get him into the Navy; likewise that he had authorized his broker to sell his stock whenever he could get a profit of one per cent.
     Lord Ellenborough tools two hours in summing-up the case, and the jury took another two hours and a half in arriving at a verdict. They found all the persons guilty; and the sentence passed upon them was as follows:
'That the defendants, Lord Cochrane and Butt, should each pay a fine of 1,000; the defendant, Holloway, a fine of 500 ; all the defendants to be imprisoned for one year in the custody of of the Marshal of the Marshalsea; and that the defendants-Lord Cochrane, Butt, and De Bcrenger-should once, during that period, stand in and upon the pillory for one hour, between the hours of twelve and two at noon, in the open space facing the Royal Exchange, in the city of London.'
    
Lord Cochrane at the time of the trial was Member of Parliament for the city of Westminster, and in the month of July he was brought to the Bar of the House of Commons, and called upon to make his defense. He most solemnly declared his innocence, and imputed great partiality to Lord Ellenborougb, the ,judge who presided at the trial, and earnestly implored the House to institute a thorough investigation of the case. The motion, nevertheless, for his expulsion was carried; but that part of the sentence condemning him to stand in the pillory was remitted, the Government being evidently afraid to carry it into effect, as Sir Francis Burdett had declared that, if it -was done, he would stand beside his friend on the scaffold of shame.
     So little did the 'people' believe in Lord Cochrane's guilt, that, on the issuing of the new writ for Westminster, he was immediately and without opposition re-elected as their representative. To crown all, however, Cochrane's political enemies had him stripped of his knighthood, and the escutcheon of his Order disgracefully kicked down the steps of St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. Lord Cochrane demurred on principle to the remission of any part of his sentence, stating that, if innocent, he ought to be publicly proclaimed so; but that, if guilty, the punishment was certainly not too severe.
     For many years Lord Dundonald remained under a cloud, a branded exile, devoting his courage to the cause of universal liberty, but lost to the country which he loved so much. In his old age justice, to some extent, was done to him by the restoration of part of the honours and dignities of which he had been stripped.
Under one Government, in 1532, Lord Dundonald received the free pardon of the Crown, and was promoted to that rank in the Navy which he would have held had he never been dismissed the service. Under a subsequent Government, in 1847, he was restored to the honours conferred upon him previous to his expulsion, a course which amounted to nothing less than a public recognition by the Government of his innocence. At his death in 1560, his remains were honoured with a grave among the nation's heroes in Westminster Abbey. Finally in 1577, the committee of privileges of the House of Lords decided that complete reparation would not have been done to Lord Dundonald unless the claims for I back pay' which had been instituted by his successor, were recognised; the committee adding that it should further be borne in mind that the exceptionally brilliant services of Lord Dundonald rendered to the British Crown as a naval officer, would, but for his dismissal, probably have earned for him more ample and adequate reward than any which he received for his services. So tardy occasionally is the action of justice.


Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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