John Cochrane (1798-1878)

By Bill Wall


John Cochrane was born on February 4, 1798 to a prominent Scottish family.  Cochrane was a member of a distinguished Scottish family of which the Earl of Dundonald (created in 1669) was the head.  He was the son of John Cochrane (1750- ?), an army paymaster and merchant, who the son of Thomas Cochrane (1691-1778), 8th Earl of Dundonald.   John Cochrane should not be confused by another chess player named James Cochrane (1770-1830).


John Cochrane was a cousin of Admiral Thomas Cochrane (1775-1860).


In his youth, John Cochrane joined the Royal Navy and was a midshipman, serving for a time aboard the HMS Bellerophon.  He was on this ship when it transported Napoleon Bonaparte to Britain in 1815.  Napoleon was then transferred to the HMS Northumberland where it took Napoleon to Saint Helena for exile.


After leaving the navy, John Cochrane studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1822, becoming a barrister in London.  He joined The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple without first attending a university.  To be called to the Bar and practice as a barrister in England, and individual had to belong to one of the four Inns of Court (professional associations for barristers and judges).


In 1819-1820, he played 5 games against The Turk (operated by Jacques Mouret at the time), winning 1, losing 3, and drawing 1.  Cochrane received pawn and move from The Turk.  He played the games in London.


In 1821, Cochrane went to France with William Lewis.  Cochrane played an odds match (a pawn and two moves) against Alexandre Louis Honore Lebreton Deschapelles  and a level terms match against Louis Charles Mahe De La Bourdonnais and lost both.


In February, 1822, at the age of 24, Cochrane published A Treatise of the Game of Chess.  He dedicated his book to William Lewis.  The London Times called this book one of the most important and scientific works ever published on the game of chess.


On June 29, 1824, Cochrane passed the bar.


In 1824, Cochrane was part of the London team that played the Edinburgh Chess Club in a correspondence match before he left for India.  The two clubs were 400 miles away and the moves were transmitted by stagecoach, which took 3 days to deliver.  In the second game, it was Cochrane who suggested the London team play 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4, the Scotch Opening.


In 1824, Cochrane went to Calcutta, India and remained there until his retirement in 1869.  He also practiced law in Bombay.


From 1834 to 1868, he was a barrister and counsel at the Calcutta H.E.I. Company.


In the summer of 1840, Cochrane returned to London from India.  During this period he played perhaps over 600 casual chess games against Howard Staunton (losing the majority).  They played most of their games at Goode’s European Cigar Divan and Chess Rooms at 39 Ludgate Hill, London.


Cochrane played a match (which he won (+6, =1, -4)) against Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint Amant.  Cochrane helped Staunton prepare for his match with Saint-Amant.


In 1843, Staunton defeated Cochrane 14-4 in a set chess match.


In 1843, Cochrane returned to India where he became known as the "Father of the Calcutta Bar" (association of barristers) and a leading member and perhaps founder of the Calcutta Chess Club.


In 1843, Cochrane defeated St. Amant in a series of unofficial games, winning 6, losing 4, and drawing 1.


In January 1851, the Calcutta Chess Club and Cochrane personally both made significant financial contributions to the first international chess tournament (Cochrane contributing 20 British pounds and the Calcutta CC contributing 100 pounds), which Howard Staunton organized. Cochrane continued to play chess and to send games to the UK for publication, mostly in Staunton's columns. His two main opponents were Indians, and against one of them he made the first recorded use of the Cochrane Gambit against Petrov's Defense.


Between 1848 and 1860, John Cochrane played hundreds of games against Bonnerjee Mohishunder (Mahesh Chandra Banerji of Bengal) of Calcutta.


In 1868, Cochrane retired from practicing law and returned to London.  After his return to London, Cochrane was a constant visitor to the St. George’s Chess Club, where he played many games against Loewenthal.


When he returned to the UK for good, Cochrane continued to practice law part-time, mainly in important cases that arose in India, and wrote articles and books about the law. By this time he was too old for serious chess competition, but played many casual games with strong players.


In 1871, Cochrane was working on a manuscript called “Loose Indian Chess Leaves.”  Cochrane had earlier worked on the manuscript and planned to give the manuscript to Paul Morphy to edit, together with one hundred guineas for expenses.  However, Morphy retired form chess and was not interested.


In 1876, Cochrane attended the match between Steinitz and Blackburne.


John Cochrane died at 12 Bryanston Street, Portman Square, London on Saturday, March 2, 1878, at the age of 80.  He was at the St. George’s Chess Club two days before he died.


His funeral was attended by many members of the London chess clubs.


His name is associated with a variation of the Petroff (Petrov) Defense, the Cochrane Gambit: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7.