Saturday, May 6, 2017

The only practicable mode of shaving consisted in removing the skylight and putting my head through

Admiral Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, Marquess of Maranhão was a British naval commander during the French Revolutionary and then Napoleonic Wars from 1793 to 1815. He was a notable iconoclast, cycling between awards for his leadership, bravery and accomplishment and punishments for insubordination, disobedience and other headstrong behaviors. He is the template for a whole crew of swashbuckling literary naval leaders such as C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower, Patrick O'Brian's protagonist Jack Aubrey, and Alexander Kent's (Douglas Reeman) Adam Bolithio.

But every hero has a beginning. From The War For All The Oceans by Roy Adkins and Lesley Adkins, describing Thomas Cochrane's first command.
The Speedy certainly was a small craft. Optimistically described by the Admiralty as a sloop, the British ship was considered by Thomas Cochrane as 'little more than a burlesque on a vessel of war . . . about the size of an average coasting brig, her burden being 158 tons . . . crowded rather than manned, with a crew of eighty-four men and six officers'. Just promoted to commander, Cochrane nevertheless professed to be 'very proud of my little vessel'. This did not mean he was blind to the ship's shortcomings, the main one being the armament, which 'consisted of fourteen 4-pounders! a species of gun little larger than a blunderbuss'. A broadside from these guns was seven iron balls weighing in total 28 pounds, and Cochrane found that he could fit them all in his coat pockets and still comfortably pace the quarterdeck. The ship was so cramped that Cochrane's cabin had 'not so much as room for a chair, the floor being entirely occupied by a small table surrounded with lockers, answering the double purpose of storechests and seats. The difficulty was to get seated, the ceiling being only five feet high, so that the object could only be accomplished by rolling on the locker, a movement sometimes attended with unpleasant failure.' The lack of space in the cabin was extremely uncomfortable for Cochrane, who was over six feet tall, and he found that the 'only practicable mode of shaving consisted in removing the skylight and putting my head through to make a toilet-table of the quarter-deck above'.

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