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Edinburgh show explores real Master and Commander

/ Source: Reuters

By Ian MacKenzie

EDINBURGH, Oct 10 (Reuters) - An exhibition devoted to one of Scotland's most colorful sailors, and inspiration for such fictional heroes of the Napoleonic wars as Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey, is giving visitors a taste of a bygone age at the national museum in Edinburgh.

The exhibition devoted to Admiral Lord Cochrane (1775-1860) has brought together a number of documents and memorabilia never seen in public before, and includes portraits, weaponry and charts from the Napoleonic wars. It runs to next February 19.

Through a turbulent career, Fife-born Thomas Cochrane went from naval hero as a famed frigate commander and a Radical member of parliament to scandal and disgrace over an 1814 stock market fraud.

He reinvented himself to command Chile's rebel navy in its fight to overthrow Spanish colonial rule - he remains a national hero in Chile to this day - and finally to participate in the Greek war of independence from Turkish rule.

"Cochrane's story is as remarkable as any of the fictional exploits which he inspired and yet he remains a figure who is not widely remembered or recognized in Scotland," said Stuart Allan, senior curator of military history at National Museums Scotland.

"This exhibition aims to remedy that by giving people a unique chance to see first hand artifacts, documents and portraits from Cochrane's lifetime."

Cochrane is regarded as having been an inspiration for the exploits of C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower, and for Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey, who gave rise to the film "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" starring Russsell Crowe.

The 19th Century novelist Captain Frederick Marryat made use of his experiences as a midshipman under the command of Cochrane aboard his famous frigate Imperieuse for such works as Mr. Midshipman Easy.

An inveterate inventor, Cochrane was an early proponent of the use of poison gas, in this case burning sulphur, and also built a rotary steam engine among other machines and gadgets and foresaw that steam would replace sail to propel the navy.

Cochrane also features in one of Bernard Cornwell's best-selling Sharpe Napoleonic war novels.

"Cochrane was an extraordinary and exasperating man; a true hero in an age of heroes. His exploits defy belief so it is wonderful that his amazing story is (being) told at the National Museum of Scotland," Cornwell was quoted as saying.

The museum said that while his name may not be so widely known today, there was no question of his impact on his own time. "He was known by name to Napoleon (who dubbed him the 'Sea Wolf), praised in verse by Sir Walter Scott, and Lord Byron said of him in 1821 'There is no man I envy as much as Lord Cochrane'."