John Cochrane Obituaries – Chess Player’s Chronicle and I. O. Howard Taylor

Jump to obits: Chess Player’s Chronicle, or I. O. Howard Taylor’s from Huddersfield College Magazine

Here is an illustration I found on <Scientific American Supplement N123 1878-05-11 p1964> of John Cochrane. Apparently this is the best illustration available:

John Cochrane - SciAm Suppl N123 1878-05-11 p1964Edward Winter shows it in CN #5590,, but for some reason altered the background color. <CG> shows it as well, but as a B&W (vs. greyscale), thus losing some resolution/depth: The wikipedia illustration has been reduced to a gif, with some degradation of the image (imo) during the process: and The Wiki picture is also lacking the original source reference.

The following obituary for Cochrane comes from <Chess Player’s Chronicle v2 – April 1, 1878   p73-75>:


To the great regret of the whole Chess community, alike in England and on the Continent, the Nestor of English Chess players died on Saturday, the 2nd of March. The end was unexpected and somewhat sudden. Mr. Cochrane was at the St. George’s Chess Club, аз usual, only two days before his death: and on the Wednesday, as we learn from Mr. Steinitz in the Field, he had called at the Divan and left a note for that gentleman, evincing his usual keen interest in all matters of Chess analysis. John Cochrane was a member of the ancient and distinguished Scottish family of which the Earl of Dundonald is the head.

His age at his death has been variously described at from seventy-eight to eighty-one, but he was singularly reticent on this point, and we have reason to believe that his exact age was unknown even to his near relations. Partly from this affectation of mystery on the subject, and partly, no doubt, from the length of time during which he had been before the world, he was commonly supposed to be a still older man, and we have heard his age confidently declared to be “nearer ninety than eighty.” But the facts of his career, so far as they are known, are quite consistent with the period now assigned to his birth.

He was thus, as nearly as possible, the contemporary of La Bourdonnais, born 1797; of Alexander Mac Donnell, born 1798; and of Saint Amant, born 1800. In boyhood Mr. Cochrane was a midshipman in the navy, and, it is stated, served in that, capacity on board the Bellerophon when “that historic man of war,” conveyed Napoleon to St. Helena. The immense reductions consequent on the general peace rendered the navy, in the years after 1815, anything but a promising profession; and Cochrane was still young enough to begin life anew. It does not appear that he was a graduate at either University. We next hear of him as a law-student at the Middle Temple. It was at this period that he first rose into notice as a Chess player, and in 1822 appeared his treatise on the game, the publication of which he survived fifty-six years. Mr. Cochrane’s treatise was partly compiled from the best authorities—-thus the games at odds from the “Traité des Amateurs” were reproduced complete—-but it was not wanting in original matter, and he had already struck out some important discoveries, among others, the variation of the Salvio Gambit which bears his name. His call to the Bar bears late 29th June 1824. To these years, 1822-24, we should be inclined to refer is long series of games with Deschapelles and La Bourdonnais, of which so little unfortunately is known; though we observe that they are sometimes assigned to a etill earlier period of his life.

Not long after being called to the Bar, Mr. Cochrane determined to seek his fortune in India. He remained, however, in England long enough to take a leading part in the the early stages of the match by correspondence between London and Edinburgh, played in 1824-28. This match ended, as is well known, in the defeat of London by the Northern Metropolis, and its most remarkable feature was a game in which London, having conducted their opening brilliantly, and acquired a winning position, threw away their advantage by an unsound sacrifice. Staunton has left it on record, that the plan of attack in this game (which we hope shortly to republish) was Mr. Cochrane’s, and that he was much disappointed at receiving, in India, the news of the way it had fared in the hands of his associates. For upwards of forty years Mr. Cochrane was a leading member of the Calcutta Bar, omitting no opportunity of practising Chess, either with natives or Europeans in India, but inevitably falling short of that “pride of pitch” which can only be attained in a great European capital.

The only interruption to this career was in 1841-2, when he paid a visit of some duration to England. Devoting himself during his holiday almost entirely to Chess, he showed, by his brilliant achievements, what he might have become if he had not been self-exiled from the great centres of practical play. He defeated, we believe, every English antagonist except one. The exception was Mr. Staunton, then at the height of his intellectual and physical vigour, and who, not long afterwards, was generally acknowledged as the champion player of his time. Staunton undoubtedly won a large majority; but the record of the games in the Chronicle and Companion scarcely did justice to Cochrane’s score of victories. After his return to India, Mr. Cochrane sent home frequent specimens of his play for publication, and kept himself more constantly before the world; his opponents were mostly natives, the best known of them being Moheschnuder Bonnerjee and Sanmchurn Guttack. Familiar as his name had now become wherever Chess was played, it was scarcely expected that, after so long an acclimatisation to Indian life and habits, he would ever again be a living presence in London Chess circles. To our own recollection, his name suggested something half mythical: he was as much a hero of the past as La Bourdonnais and MacDonnell themselves.

But some eight or nine years ago he returned home; and from about 1870, was daily to be seen in his old haunts at the St. George’s Chess Club. He now played constantly, but never seriously; he was always ready to try conclusions with all comers, but he never entered a tournament or a handicap, and he did not even play for the small stake usual in clubs and public rooms. Three or four years ago he began with Mr. Lowenthal a series which was to consist, if we remember right, of 200 games, playing only when he felt himself at his best, and giving more time and attention to them than usual. These games were interrupted by the failure of Mr. Lowenthal’s health. As far as played, they had been taken down by him, and on his death the MSS. were sent to Mr. Cochrane. We hope that some, at least, of these Barnes will now be given to the world: and they will certainly afford the best specimens of Mr. Cochrane’s latest manner. With these exceptions, Mr. Cochrane’s play in old age was usually of the character termed “skittling;” he shrank from the physical fatigue of serious games, and, playing with remarkable rapidity himself, expected his adversary to keep up with his pace. Hence oversights were not infrequent on both sides, and comparatively few games at this period of his life were judged worthy of preservation. In his best days, Mr. Cochrane’s style of play was attacking, rapid, and brilliant, rather than profound or comprehensive: and up to the last, while increasing infirmities rendered him gradually more liable to error, he retained the characteristic qualities of ingenuity and brilliancy.

As we write, the image of the kindly old man rises before us, and we will devote our short remaining space to some personal recollections of what he was in his last days, as known to ourselves. On his return from India, Mr. Cochrane did not entirely abandon the practice of the law, and be was not infrequently employed in arguing Indian appeals before the Privy Council. He wrote as well аз spoke on legal subjects. His most important work, the “Defence of the Daya Bhaga,” was written in support of the native law of inheritance in Bengal, and we may be allowed to imagine that hia experience of the skill of Hindoo Chess players had at least contributed to hie intellectual appreciation of Hindoo modes of thought. A few months since he informed us that he was writing another law-book, which we fear has been left incomplete by his death. Retaining the Anglo-Indian habit of early rising, he had worked for several hours before London in general had finished its breakfast. It was still forenoon when he entered the Club, often playing with Lowenthal by appointment when no one else was there, and it was necessary to be early if one wished to secure him as an opponent, as he seldom remained longer than four or, at latest, five o’clock, retiring then to his early dinner and early rest.

His Club conversation was lively, anecdotal, sometimes jocose. Himself a bachelor, he indulged a little harmless cynicism on the subject of marriage, but his wit was thoroughly good-natured. With the feelings as well as the manners of a gentleman, and amiable to the core, he was utterly incapable of saying anything calculated to give pain. He was keenly interested in all matches, tourneys, and handicaps, though (as we have seen) he took no part in them himself; in the best games going on around him, which, owing to his deafness, he, to the amusement of the bystanders, criticised sometimes in too loud a whisper; and more especially in the débûts of young players, for whom he had always a word of kindly encouragement. Mr. Cochrane, we have been informed, was ever ready to assist objects of real benevolence, and of the days of his more lucrative practice in India some stories of great munificence are recorded.

(PP’s added)

Here is another obituary, written by I. O. Howard Taylor which can be found both in <Huddersfield College Magazine v6 1878 p211-214> and in Taylor’s book <Chess Skirmishes (1889) p151-156> (where it is attributed as from Hartford (U.S.A.) Times, 9th May, 1878)


Died March 2nd, 1878.

That silver, sparkling link ‘twixt past and present is snapt! The midshipman of sixty years ago has “gone aloft,” and, we trust, “looking upward.” Chess has lost the impersonation of chivalry. Full of years—honoured, beloved—the brilliant Cochrane has passed into the silent land.

Lahuntur anni; nee Pietas moram
Kugis, et instant! Senectse
Afferet, indomibeque Morti.

Well may the Roman poet exclaim “Eheu fugaces!” We stand before the tomb of him whom George Walker proclaimed “the most brilliant player he ever had the honour to look over or confront”; and whom Staunton, rival as he was, eulogised as ” the celebrated master, at once the most original and brilliant player of the day,” repeating that “no collection of games would be complete without examples of his bold and subtle genius.”

We stand before the tomb of him, who, fifty-seven years ago, encountered Deschapelles and La Bourdonnais—who had reached middle age ere Morphy or Kolisch or Steinitz was born —whose work preceded the Handbook by a quarter of a century—whose fame was European thirty years before Anderssen’s was established—who vanquished the Brahmins upon their own ground—who, after a protracted residence under a burning sun in an unhealthy clime with a laborious profession, returned home in green old age unconscious of decays. Enthusiastic still for Chess, the once youthful pride of the London Chess club— two generations past—became the patriarch of the St. George’s.

In his time had been fought the memorable battles between La Bourdonnais and MacDonnell, Staunton and St. Amant, Harrwitz and Horwitz, Der Lasa and Hanstein. He had taken part in the historic correspondence match between Edinburgh and London, in 1824, and could appreciate the strategy between London and Vienna, in 1875. Of all his worthy foemen of old, who, save George Walker—survives? He witnessed alike the rising and setting of reputations and the entry into the arena of dozens of players who retired beaten or wearied.

Deschapelles and La Bourdonnais, Mouret, Lewis and MacDonnell, Popert and Perigal, Staunton and St. Amant, all departed; and Lowenthal (his probable biographer) preceded his subject! What must he have thought of Bledow and Szen, Kieseritzki and Buckle, and the many great names inscribed upon the death-roll of his time, of the calamity of Neumann and Morphy; and how smiled at the retreat of veterans (boys to him) Der Lasa, Dubois, Max Lange, Boden, and so forth.

Born just as Philidor died, how astonishing to him the blindfold achievements of Paulson, Blackburne and Zukertort. How immense the development of problem composition since 1800.

He had outlived the supremacy of successive Chess styles, and seen the steady Pawn-play of Philidor exchanged for the élan of La Bourdounais, to yield in turn to the cautious, yet determined advance of Staunton; then the sudden advent of Morphy sweeping away obstacles with the irresistible energy of a flowing tide; and last, the profound thoroughness and judgment of Steinitz winning a laborious way to the Chess throne, and remodelling the principles of strategy.

Dull men condemn the style of Cochrane, while incapable of appreciating his brilliant coups. A civilisation that tends towards uniform respectable mediocrity should be thankful for marked individuality.

Cochrane’s style was Cochrane himself. Bestow on Byron the calmness of Wordsworth and the piety of Herbert, erase failings, supplement with virtues—he were no longer Byron; we should lose a giant poet to gain an average parson. And so with Cochrane—a tame, caged Cochrane were no Cochrane!

True, he had neither the learning of Lowenthal, nor the subtlety of Harrwitz, nor the solidity of Staunton—neither the accuracy of Paulsen, nor the sagacity of Steinitz ; we find in his games no conceptions approaching the superb combinations of Anderssen, far less the perfect insight of Morphy; what we do find is a fire, a resource, a dash, an invention quite his own.

He has stamped on his games the evidence of their fatherhood—parties bright with the flash of combat and the freshness of the sea; instinct with the defiant fearlessness of a forlorn hope and the passionate impetuosity of a Hotspur.

His Chess bespeaks the traditions of his race and the coursing blood of Scandinavian adventurers—worthy scion of those Cochranes whom a Scottish writer described as “long noted for an original and dashing turn of mind which was sometimes called genius, sometimes eccentricity “—of a family whose very success through want of attempered wisdom was ever clouded by attendant failure, who earned an earldom and pauperized their peerage.

The father of the great admiral, the Earl of Dundonald, impoverished himself through inventions by which others profited; and in the gallant seaman’s own life—In his achievements as in his discomfitures—one can trace precisely the qualities and precisely the defects of our Cochrane’s play—the same absence of cool judgment—the same unbounded courage —the same splendid, aspiring, yet wayward genius.

Posterity will confirm the eloquent criticism of Walker, and Cochrane’s games will remain to be admired instead of imitated, classed with defeats more glorious than victories, like the magnificent madness of the Balaclava charge.

The art of war as of Chess has changed. Providence prefers the big battalions. Undaunted coups de main assaults by a handful on a host—find little place among breech-loaders and entrenchments. Courage must yield to science and to material force and skill.

Fiery Cochrane-like onslaughts would make no more impression on the serried ranks of Steinitz than Russian and Roumanian valour on the works of Plevna.

The extent to which Mr. Cochrane, shut out from European practice, retained his Chess powers is indeed remarkable. Before me is a letter addressed to myself in December, 1869, soon after his return. In it he refers to two first-rates, remarking of one that he “thinks he is about the same force,” and of the other(*) that although he had little doubt a man so much younger would win of him they had played seven games of which he (Mr. Cochrane) had won four, lost two and one was drawn.

(*) – Baron Kolisch, whom he met in Paris, on returning from India.

To the last the rapidity of his play was astonishing—his coup d’ œil almost unparalleled.

Every adept knows what he suggested in the openings and his liberality at the Tournament of 1851.

The parties of Cochrane form no scanty record, but his finest efforts against Staunton are not extant. The exaggerated amour propre of Staunton precluded their publication, and the apparent reduction of Cochrane to a Pawn and move player in the Chess Player’s Companion was an injustice which Cochrane felt, if he did not publicly resent, especially as (for I heard it from his lips) he won the majority of the last even games they played.

England has room for Nelson and Dundonald, Chess for Staunton and Cochrane; let us spare odious comparisons and the mathematical balance of brilliant talent against practical success.

Not tall but strongly built, with powerful forehead, amiable mouth, dressed as an admiral rather than a counsel, in manners dignified yet courteous and humorous, free from all self-assertion, always ready for a sprightly joust, loving the game itself instead of looking solely to the score, and never turning recreation into business, the grand old gentleman—who would have worn well the family earldom—was the beau ideal of the Chess amateur.

None but himself can be his parallel. Alas! the raven croaks—”nevermore.” What then? Shall we mourn him who has come to his grave in full age, “like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season?”

No. He has “crossed the river to rest under the shade of the trees.”

No. The name of Cochrane is not fated to die; it soars phœnix-like from his ashes.

In Europe his birthplace, in India his dwelling-place, in the far western Continent that boasts the Queen,(*) the Muse,(†) and the abdicated Emperor(‡) of Chess; where cold consolidates the sea, where the breath of the simoom sweeps to the sky the scorched sand, and where the tropic volcano heaves the trembling earth in waves—-wherever Chess is now, and shall be hereafter, methinks I read, in golden letters that cannot be effaced,

                    JOHN COCHRANE
                clarum et venerdbile nomen.

I. O. Howard Taylor

(*) Mrs. Gilbert.      (†) Phania      (‡) Morphy.



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