Friday, 8 June 2012

The Hon. Basil Cochrane and other Nabobs

The sixth son of the 8th Earl of Dundonald, Basil Cochrane was born in April 1753. As a younger son Cochrane was born with limited prospects. In 1769 young Basil was placed as a clerk in the East India Company based in Madras, and when he returned to England forty years later was fabulously wealthy. This was due to contracts he negotiated to supply the Royal Navy in the Eastern oceans, and the size of these contracts raised more than an eyebrow in Parliament. So Cochrane’s first task on returning to England had been to defend his wealth from charges of embezzlement – something of an occupational hazard for East India Company men. Cochrane's mansion in Portman Square was reputed to be the largest and so reflected others around the square; imposing front doors opened onto a marbled main hall, from which a delicate staircase swept majestically upwards towards the reception rooms on the first floor. 
Colonial adventurers like Cochrane were often referred to as Nabobs, a corruption of the Indian title of Nawab. Frowned on for their acquisition of wealth by dubious means, on their return they had settled in some numbers in the newer developments to the west end of London and away from the traditional centres of power. A common fear was that these individuals – the Nabobs, their agents, and those who took their bribes – would use their wealth and influence to corrupt Parliament. A number of prominent Company men underwent inquiries and impeachments on charges of corruption and misrule in India. Warren Hastings, first Governor-General of India, was impeached in 1788 and acquitted in 1795 after a seven year-long trial. And Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive of India, was forced to defend himself against charges brought against him in the House of Commons. The portrait of Cochrane (above) was painted by John Smart in India in 1789. Below is the home of Clive of India at 45 Berkeley Square,a few minutes south of Portman Square.

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