Captain George Cockburn

George Cockburn
Painted as Admiral of the Fleet, Sir George Cockburn in 1817 and pictured against the flames of Washington in the war of 1812

1772 - 1853

Painted by John Iames Halls

Captain George Cockburn was one of a number of able officers who served under Nelson. Cockburn served in the Mediterranean from 1795 to 1797 and wrote of Nelson, "next to my own father, I know of none whose company I so much wish to be in or who I have such real reason to repsect".

It is likely that much of the affection that this shows stemmed from the co-operation with Nelson in the sharing of prize money. Nelson left his squadron at Leghorn in the command of Cockburn whilst he communicated with the Austrian army on shore or to Admiral Jervis. Nelson was happy to leave Cockburn to carry out the tasks of blockading the Italian ports "we so exactly think alike on points of servicc that if your mind tells you it is right, there can hardly be a doubt but I must approve".

Nelson lobbied Jervis to appoint Cockburn to a larger command and he was duly rewarded with the 42-gun frigate La Minerve captured from the French. Nelson sailed in La Minerve to oversee the evacuation of Elba in 1796. Near Gibraltar, Commodore Nelson directed a short action in which the Spanish ship Santa Sabina was captured.

Nelson and Cockburn sailed from Gibraltar in February 1797, passing through the Spanish fleet at night and in thick fog. Nelson carried the news of the Spanish fleet to Admiral Jervis who was patrolling off Cape St. Vincent before transferring from La Minerve to Captain.

Thomas Masterman Hardy served as Lieutenant under George Cockburn. It was as Captain Hardy that he was to become famous as Captain of Victory at Trafalgar (1805).

Minerve sailed from Gibraltar on 11th February 1797. That night (11/12 February 1797) saw Minerve sailing in fog. During the morning watch she found herself sailing through dark shapes in the night - which turned out to be the Spanish fleet. Minerve remained unseen by the sleeping Spanish lookouts and Nelson and Minerve passed safely through the Spanish fleet. By daylight, Minerve was again on her own and now Nelson was intent on finding Admiral Jervis with news of the whereabouts of the Spanish.

Nelson and Minerve found Jervis on 13th February. Nelson passed the news to Jervis who laid plans for the inevitable battle - the Battle of Cape St. Vincent.

George Cockburn rose to become Admiral of the Fleet, Sir George Cockburn. As Rear-Admiral he commanded the detachment of Royal Marines that put Washington to fire during the war of 1812 (the Americans used white paint to hide the fire damage, creating what has become known as 'The White House') . In 1815, in command of Northumberland he was to transport the defeated Napoleon Bonaparte into exile on the island of St. Helena. He died in 1853.

The painting of George Cockburn by Halls (above) shows him standing before the flames of Washington in 1812.


Related links

St Vincent 1797 - main index

Page creation: Peter Milford - St Vincent College, February 1997 - updated June 2000