Memory and museums

Today in South America, Cochrane remains a hero and a legend. The Chileans venerate him as one of the giants of their country’s independence and the creator of their navy, and have generously overlooked the negative side of his troubled and quarrelsome personality. Statues have been erected to his memory, and museums, plazasand streets – even towns – have been named after him.

There is always an Almirante Cochrane in the Chilean list of warships, two rooms in the Maritime Museum in Valparaisoare devoted to his lifeand achievements, and dramatic paintings ofhisvictories by Thomas Somerscales fill the walls of the National Congress and the Club Naval of Valparaiso. In terms of his contribution toindependenceLordCochrane deserves this reputation. In his three-year command ofthe Chilean Navy hehad, in typically audacious and spectacular ways, wrested command of the Pacific from the Spaniards and effectively ensured the independence of Chile and Peru. As Maria Graham put it, ‘he had taken, destroyed, or forced tosurrender every Spanish naval vessel in thePacific; he had cleared the western coast of America of pirates. He had reduced the most important fortresses ofthe common enemy, either by storm, or by blockade; and added lustre even to the cause of independence by exploits worthy of his own great name.

It is Cochrane’s tragedy that his uneasy and suspicious personality prevented him from enjoying the fruits of these spectacular triumphs. No sooner had a victory been gained than its effect was squandered in argument and mistrust.

Memory and museums

Instead of the honours, effusive expressions of thanks and concrete rewards thatwere visible toeveryone else, all Cochrane could see were plots, betrayal and poor treat-ment. It is the tragedy of succeeding generations that it is this distorted picture of the wars in the Pacific that up to now has been accepted as the truth.

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