The life and exploits of the daring seaman Thomas Cochrane, who rose from midshipman to admiral and was called "the sea wolf" by Napoleon, are so extraordinary that his life reads like a compelling work of fiction. In one sense it became so, for the novelist Patrick O'Brian took Cochrane's exploits and used them as the basis for Jack Aubrey, the main protagonist of naval novels set during the Napoleonic War. His life on land was as colourful and adventurous as on sea. Like O'Brian's Aubrey, he was framed in a Stock Exchange scandal. Sentenced to the pillory, he escaped prison by means of a rope and fled the country to become a mercenary admiral in the service of countries fighting for independence. Off the coast of Chile, Peru, Brazil and Greece, always outnumbered and outgunned, he became a legend of daring and courage - on one occasion chasing the entire Portuguese fleet in a single ship. An innovative tactician, he was the first advocate of onshore guerilla raiding. He promoted the use of explosive-laden ships and counter-intelligence and recommended the use of sulphur gas to the Admiralty.
Robert Harvey is the author of numerous books including Clive (of India) and The Undefeated. He has worked for the Economist and is a former MP. He lives in Shropshire.