Photographer's Note

Not a remarkable picture by anyone's standards of photography, but I'm posting it because I know that at least one friend out there - Martin (MJR) - will appreciate the story behind it, if not the picture itself. So this one's for Martin.

Yesterday, on the day of local council elections all over England, Scotland and Wales, I took a trip to the lovely village of Culross (pronounced "Coo-ross") which lies in south Fife on the estuary of the River Forth, facing the Grangemouth oil refinery which you can see in the distance in this picture.

But what was this? Has Alex Salmond finally given in to Donald Trump? Is Scotland now the 51st. State of America? No, I did count all the stars on that flag and there's still only fifty of them there. But why was this curious flag flying over the ruins of the old harbour in this tiny little coastal village? I must admit that I've never seen this flag before - a hybrid of the "Stars & Stripes" and the Scottish Cross of St. Andrew.

As a matter of fact, Culross might be a tiny village but it is a beautiful little place (I shall post some more pictures later) and also has a very considerable history from the industrial revolution. But, from the point of view of this curious flag, I just had to do some more research.

Apparently, various flags are flown here from time to time: sometimes a Greek flag, sometimes a Brazilian one, sometimes a Chilean one, each occasionally joined with the Scottish Saltire or flown beside it. But why?

Culross did, in the distant past, have very close connections with the very remarkable Admiral Sir Thomas Cochrane, 10th Earl of Dundonald, a Scotsman from Hamilton, who was a daring and successful sea captain of the Napoleonic Wars, leading Napoleon to nickname him Le Loup des Mers ('The Sea Wolf').

Cochrane joined the Royal Navy in 1793 at the age of 18. He served on four naval ships between 1793 and 1798, and briefly commanded the captured French battleship Genereux in 1799. He was also, in 1798, court marshalled for challenging a fellow-officer to a duel. Cochrane's triple characteristics of superb seamanship, inspirational leadership and a ready ability to make important enemies were already apparent.

In 1800, Cochrane, while still a Lieutenant, was given command of the RN sloop, HMS Speedy. The ship came complete with just fourteen 4-pounder guns and a crew of only ninety-two. Yet within a year Cochrane had captured fifty ships, 122 guns and 534 prisoners. The most famous of these early engagements was the capture of the 32-gun Spanish frigate El Gamo on 6 May 1801.

In 1801 Cochrane was promoted to the rank of Post-Captain. Given the command of the frigates Pallas and later Imperieuse, Cochrane terrorized shipping along the French and Spanish Mediterranean coasts. In 1808 he attacked Valencia in Spain and captured a number of ships. At the Battle of Basque Roads in 1809, Cochrane used fireships and explosive vessels to cause terror among the French squadron, most of which was run aground. Unfortunately his commander, Admiral Lord Gambier, delayed ordering the main fleet to attack and the opportunity for a truly comprehensive victory was lost.

Meanwhile Cochrane had, at his second attempt, succeeded in being elected to the House of Commons as an MP in 1806. He used this as a platform to attack the government's conduct of the war against France, to attack naval corruption, and to attack Admiral Lord Gambier and other establishment figures. This won him few friends in the government of the day. In 1812 Cochrane courted further controversy by, at the age of 37, eloping with and marrying Katherine "Kitty" Barnes, over 20 years younger than himself.

But the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814 gave the establishment a chance to get even with Cochrane. He was implicated in the fraud, probably as an unwitting pawn, by his uncle Andrew Cochrane-Johnstone, and convicted after a less-than-fair trial. He was sentenced to the pillory, to a year's imprisonment, and a fine of 1000. He was also stripped of the knighthood he had won, and ejected from the Royal Navy and from Parliament.

But Cochrane remained a popular hero and, because of fears of riots following widespread public outcries, his sentence to the pillory was rescinded, his fine was paid by public subscription, he avoided imprisonment and, within a month, he had been re-elected to Parliament.

Over the following 10 years he mounted a series of literally incredible naval operations as commander of, successively, the Chilean, Brazilian and Greek navies. Amongst many other feats, he captured the formidable Spanish fortress of Valdivia with just 300 Chilean troops in 1820; and in the same year he captured the flagship of the Spanish South American fleet, the Esmeralda, in the port of Callao. While in charge of the embryonic Brazilian fleet and against overwhelming odds, Cochrane captured the Portuguese garrison of Bahia and accepted the surrender of the fortress at Maranhao after an outstanding campaign of bluff and deception. In Greece he helped fight for liberation from Egyptian control.

In 1832, Cochrane received a royal pardon for his wrongful conviction and in 1847 his knighthood was reinstated by Queen Victoria.

Not only was Thomas Cochrane a remarkable naval commander, but he was also an effective politician, as a Member of the UK Parliament being responsible for the abolition of underground mine working for women and girls. He was also a brilliant engineer and worked closely with Sir Marc Isambard Brunel (father of the more famous Isambard Kingdom Brunel) in developing caisson systems here in Culross for extraction of coal from beneath the River Forth - the first ever underwater mining of coal to have been carried out in the World.

Cochrane died in 1860 at the age of 84 and is buried in the central part of the nave of Westminster Abbey.

There is a monument to Sir Thomas Cochrane in the village of Culross itself and now I know why a variety of flags fly down at the old harbour!

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Additional Photos by John Cannon (tyro) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1812 W: 411 N: 6540] (26496)
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