Magazine article History Today

'Napoleon Is Dead': Following Our Article in November about Thomas Cochrane's Plans for Chemical Warfare, Richard Dale, Author of a New Book on Cochrane, Reveals How the Maverick Naval Hero Was Disgraced over His Association with a Stock Market Scandal

Magazine article History Today

'Napoleon Is Dead': Following Our Article in November about Thomas Cochrane's Plans for Chemical Warfare, Richard Dale, Author of a New Book on Cochrane, Reveals How the Maverick Naval Hero Was Disgraced over His Association with a Stock Market Scandal

Article excerpt

ON A COLD NIGHT in February 1814, a few weeks before the entry of the Allies into Paris and Napoleon's exile to Elba, an officer wearing the red uniform of an aide-de-camp knocked on the door of the Ship Inn, Dover. He told the innkeeper he had just been landed by a French boat and that he brought sensational news from the battle front. The Allies had won a crushing victory, Napoleon had been killed by the Cossacks and the white cockade of the Bourbons now reigned supreme in Paris. The messenger, who introduced himself as Colonel du Bourg, asked for pen and ink and immediately wrote a letter to the admiral at Deal which was entrusted to one of the inn's postboys. Du Bourg then requested a post-chaise to take him to London.

Du Bourg made brief stopovers at Canterbury, Sittingbourne, Rochester and Dartford, spreading the news of the Allied victory and Napoleon's death to the innkeepers en route. He was put down in Lambeth, where he transferred to a hackney coach that took him over Westminster Bridge to Grosvenor Square and then to 13 Green Street, Mayfair, residence of Lord Cochrane, aristocrat, Member of Parliament and one of England's greatest naval heroes.

When the stock market opened at 10 am that morning, reports of the sensational news were beginning to multiply among traders and brokers in the City. The price of government bonds rose sharply and this upturn was given further impetus at around midday, when a chaise and four, decorated with laurels, came tearing over London Bridge and drove through the City. The occupants wore the blue uniforms and white cockades of royalist French officers and they scattered billets inscribed with 'Vive le Roi!' and 'Vivent les Bourbons!. This triumphant display was interpreted as further confirmation of Napoleon's downfall and a large crowd gathered outside the Mansion House in anticipation of an official announcement by the Lord Mayor. But when confirmation of the news failed to materialize, investors realized that they had fallen victim to a stock market hoax and the price of government bonds fell heavily.

The outcry that followed prompted the Stock Exchange to launch an investigation. On March 4th it posted a notice requesting an interview with all those members who had transacted business with an investment syndicate consisting of Lord Cochrane, his uncle the Honourable Cochrane Johnson and a Mr R.G. Butt. The Exchange at the same time offered a 250 [pounds sterling] reward for the discovery of Colonel du Bourg.

It was not long before a certain self-styled 'Baron' de Berenger was identified as the masquerading du Bourg. He, along with the three members of the investment syndicate, who had made a combined profit of over 10,000 [pounds sterling] by selling out on the day of the fraud, were indicted for conspiracy. The trial that followed on June 8th-9th was one of the most contentious cases ever to come before an English court. The presiding judge, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Ellenborough, was later criticized for allowing the first day of the trial to continue far into the night--by which time the defence lawyers were exhausted--and also for conveying to the jury only too clearly his own conviction of the defendants' complicity. At the end of the proceedings the jury reached a verdict of guilty and Cochrane himself was sentenced to a year in prison, fined 1,000 [pounds sterling] and ordered to be put in the pillory (the last punishment being later remitted). …

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