Rear-Admiral Sir George Cockburn (1772-1853)
Cockburn was one of Nelson's talented frigate captains in the Mediterranean in the 1790s but is best known for his actions during the Anglo-American War of 1812. In 1814 he accompanied the joint naval and military force under Major-General Ross, which after the battle of Bladensburg seized the city of Washington for 24 hours. The public buildings were burnt, including the President's mansion. Its shell had to be painted white on reconstruction to hide the damage and it subsequently became more generally known as the White House. Cockburn provided support and guidance to the army throughout the campaign having become familiar with operations on shore. Ross gave credit to Cockburn for the idea of the attack on Washington although it was part of the strategy of Sir Alexander Cochrane who had become Commander-in-Chief on the North American station early in 1814. Cockburn also accompanied Ross in the advance against Baltimore and was with him during the skirmish on 12 September when Ross was killed. Cockburn's other widely known claim to fame is as the man charged with conveying Napoleon to exile in St Helena in 1815 (in his flagship, the 'Northumberland'), where he remained briefly as Governor and saw the ex-Emperor settled at Longwood, the house built for him there. He subsequently became an MP and was commander-in-chief on the North American station, 1833-36. From 1841 to 1846 he was First Sea Lord and the Navy's well considered adoption of steam technology and other reforms owed a great deal to his firm guidance, which always put professional standards above political considerations. He reached the rank of Admiral of the Fleet in 1851and briefly inherited the family baronetcy the following year.
He is shown full length to right wearing rear-admiral's undress coat and hat, 1812-25 pattern, breeches and hessian boots. In the background are the burning Capitol buildings in Washington. This picture or a version was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1817.
John James Halls
- Image reference: BHC2619
- National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
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