Spain To Honour British Sea Wolf

Roundup: Talking About History

Isambard Wilkinson, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH(LONDON), 1/14/05

Spain is to honour one of Britain's greatest maritime heroes, Lord Cochrane, almost two centuries after he helped to defeat Napoleon's armies in the Peninsular War.

The town of Roses in Catalonia is to dedicate a plaque to the celebrated sea captain who was the inspiration for both Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey and CS Forester's Horatio Hornblower, to commemorate his audacious defence of the town in 1808.

The tribute to Lord Cochrane, nicknamed Le Loup de Mer or Sea Wolf by Napoleon, has taken almost 200 years to come to fruition because of lingering Spanish animosity towards Britain.

"This is a superb idea to honour such a fine sea captain," said Pablo de la Fuente, a military maritime historian who lives in Roses. "It has taken so long because of Gibraltar. But it is time to acknowledge that we sometimes forget the huge collaboration of the Royal Navy and gallantry of British sailors."

Thomas Cochrane (1775-1860), 10th Earl of Dundonald, was a household name in Britain two centuries ago and his exploits have been immortalised more recently in the swashbuckling action film Master and Commander.

During his naval career, he also found time to be elected to Parliament but ended up in prison after being framed in a Stock Exchange scandal. He escaped and later commanded the Chilean, Brazilian and Greek navies before returning home when his name was cleared.

His link with the picturesque bay of Roses dates back to his defence of the local fort, pounded by the French and, as he wrote later, scarred by a hole "as large as the Great West Window at Westminster Abbey".

At one point Cochrane strolled out under fire to pick up a dislodged Spanish flag and raise it again. His bravado won him a broken nose and a splinter that pierced the roof of his mouth.

As the French swarmed through the town below, he evacuated the fort with the loss of only three of his men. The French lost more than 100 of theirs. As the French breached the fort's fortifications, Cochrane demolished the walls with a booby trap he had left behind.

Until last year the fort had not been restored. The mayor of Roses lacked funds to carry out a full reconstruction of the walls and so replaced the old stone with concrete.

Hard feelings over Gibraltar aside, Josep Barris, the town archivist, believes that the delay in acknowledging Lord Cochrane's heroism may have been due to the state in which he left the fort.

"After all, it was he who blew up the fort," he said. "We have to understand it was in a time of war."

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