Sarah's Chess Journal

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         The History and The Culture of Chess

 November 2006

John Cochrane

Most of the following information comes from  WilhelmThe2nd


A brief biographical  article of Cochrane's chess career can be found on my original page on John Cochrane.

This page serves two purposes, both of which concern information sent to me by the irrepressible historical sleuth known to my readers by his handle,  WilhelmThe2nd.

The second part will contain several published obituaries and several other items published about him.

The first part will deal objectively with a rather interesting, but confusing, matter concerning which I first learned of, and  had a rather unfortunate and less than dispassionate discussion about, on the John Cochrane page at

Part I

In 1829 there was a 63 page monograph published in Madras, India:

Analysis of the Muzio gambit, and match of two games at chess, played between Madras and Hyderabad, with remarks / by Gulam Kassim of Madras , who had the chief direction of the Madras games, and James Cochrane of the Madras Civil Service.
Madras-Hyderabad (1829); Hyderabad-Madras (1829)

The book can be found at the Royal Library at the Hague

Apparently in certain instances, the James Cochrane mentioned as co-author, has often been confused with John Cochrane who lived in India during that precise timeframe. To compound the confusion, in some game scores the names John and James have also been interchanged, usually inexplicably. There seems to be no doubt that James Cochrane existed and was stationed in India at the same time as John Cochrane, but there's no indication, other than his name on the above book, that he was a chess player. This doesn't mean he wasn't, but rather simply means he is otherwise unknown. John Cochrane, of course, is very well known both as a resident of India and as a chess player of considerable skill. The rational question would be whether the Cochrane mentioned in the monograph title should have been John instead of James.

As my associate wrote:

I thought this may possibly have led the printer to assume that a 'J.' stood for 'James' instead of 'John'. But the reference to 'James Cochrane of the Madras Civil Service' is too specific.

and further:

Looking in [Jeremy] Gaige's Chess Personalia the following information is given about Ghulam Kassim and James Cochrane:

Ghulam Kassim IND
Birth: *
Death: 1844
ILN [Illustrated London News], April 26th,1845
Murray, p. 87

Cochrane, James
Birth: c.1770
Death: 08-08-1830 Cheltenham, ENG
Madras Civil Servants 1780-1839

Here are the details of [Gaige's] sources for Kassim:

From the Correspondence section of Staunton's column in the Illustrated London News, April 26th, 1845:

" 'Oriental Club.'- Mr. Cochrane is now in India . His competitor, the celebrated
Ghulam Kassim, is reported to have died within the last few months. Your third
query is unintelligible."

The first line obviously refers to John Cochrane but the reference to Kassim as his "competitor" is vague. I don't remember seeing anything about John Cochrane playing Kassim. Then again it may just mean something like "fellow chessplayer" in India.

Here is what H.J.R.Murray wrote in his History of Chess pg.87:

"Ghulam Kassim, a Madras player, made his mark in the European game. He took part in the correspondence match between Madras and Hyderabad in 1829, and in collaboration with James Cochrane published an Analysis of the Muzio Gambit, Madras, 1829."

From the Record of Services of the Honourable East India Company's Civil Servants in the Madras Presidency From 1741 to 1858 by Charles C. Prinsep. London: Trübner & Co.1885. pg.31:

"COCHRANE, JAMES.-1794: Writer. 1796: Assistant under the Secretary in the Public, Commercial, and Revenue Department. 1797: Assistant under the Sea Customer. 1798: Deputy Persian Translator. 1799 : Senior Assistant under the Resident at Mysore, and Postmaster. 1800 : Subordinate Collector in the Ceded Districts. 1803: Collector of Ramnad and Tinnevelly. 1806 : Judge and Magistrate of the Northern Division of Canara. 1807: At home. 1811 : Returned to India; Sub-Treasurer. 1812: Superintendent of Government Lotteries. 1814 : Second Member of the Board of Revenue. 1819 : Senior Member of the Board of Revenue. 1824 : Acting Member of Council and President of the Board of Revenue. 1825 : Second Puisne Judge of the Sudder and Foujdarry Adawlut. 1830 : At home on absentee allowance. Died, 8th August 1830, at Cheltenham."

With the logical conclusions:

First of all, every entry seemed to give "writer" as the first position in India, so it seems equivalent to the entry-level position that civil servants took when they first arrived in India. Secondly, and more importantly, it appears that, except for only one brief period during 1807-11, James Cochrane was in India from 1794 until returning home shortly before his death in 1830. So, assuming this record is complete, James Cochrane could only have played in Europe prior to 1794, during 1807-1811 or during his brief period in England before his death in 1830.
The fact that there was very little chess media before 1830 seems to militate against the possibility that there are any game-scores out there involving James Cochrane other than the Madras-Hyderabad correspondence match.

Some additional online searching by WilhelmThe2nd  yielded:

Literatur des Schachspiels By Anton Schmid, pp.179-80 - "This german-language book of chess bibiliography from 1870 has an entry on the Kassim & Cochrane Muzio book that does distinguish James from John Cochrane."
The Life of Major-General Sir Thomas Munro by George Robert Gleig, p.430 - mentions James Cochrane in his role as a civil servant.
Memoir of the life of ... Reginald Heber By George Bonner, p.138 - mentions James Cochrane in his role as a civil servant.


Chess in India under the Raj, from C. Gold: 'Oriental Drawings' pub. London 1806

The above drawing depicting chess in India in the early 19th century came form  Golombek's Encyclopedia of Chess. The caption is as it appears in the book. The artist was Captain Charles Gold. (father of artist/soldier Charles Emilius Gold) who died in 1842. The title of his 1806 book was Oriental drawings, sketched between the years 1791 and 1798.
According to one source:

Oriental drawings, are etchings with aquatint printed in sepia with watercolour by various printmakers after Captain Charles Gold, of the British Army, published by Nicholl, 1806. An amateur artist, Gold concentrated on the portrayal of Indian costumes. While stationed in southern India, he drew the people of the Coromandel coast and the Mysore region. His prints show fakirs and street performers such as sword swallowers and snake charmers.

Other fine examples of his work from this book can be found online:
The Palace of Tippoo Sahib
Natives Pay Homage to Their Ruler
Tipu Soldier before Seringapatan
European in a Palaquin

Part II

The following more than supplement my original page as they almost supplant it.


ONE of the most brilliant of chess-players, and cheeriest of old gentlemen, passed away from us on the 2nd of March, at the ripe age of eighty years. For the last half-century the name of John Cochrane has been a household word in all chess circles, foreign as well as English. Some men affect brilliancy, because, though endowed with a small amount of imaginative power, they are thoroughly conscious of their incapacity, to make profound combinations or conduct a game throughout with uninterrupted soundness - so to conceal their mental deficiency in these respects they persistently aim at prettiness, and occasionally have the good luck to achieve it. Others " go in " for sacrifices, because their primary object is to delight appreciative galleries and elicit from them eulogistic comments. But others are brilliant simply because they are born so. Their chief object is not to win games, nor to have their praises sounded forth by half-educated admirers, but chiefly, and indeed we may say wholly, to put forth beautiful pictures on the chess board. These players can no more refrain from so doing than the violet or lily from emitting their perfumes, or the heaven-inspired poet from pouring forth his imaginings in "words that burn," and songs that charm all kindred souls. Such a chess-player was Cochrane; in one word, he was a genius. He was the great rival of Staunton , and few more interesting games have been recorded in the annals of chess than those played by these masters. In strength Cochrane was decidedly inferior to his great antagonist, but his highly poetical style gave a form and colour to these games which Staunton was incapable of supplying. When a very young boy Cochrane was a midshipman in the Royal Navy, and on more than one occasion distinguished himself in action; but in 1822 he was called to the Bar, and immediately proceeded to Bombay , where for many years he practised his profession most successfully. Thence he removed to Calcutta , and eventually returned to England about nine years ago. His pleasant countenance, his agreeable manners, his amiable disposition, his deep sympathy with every movement that tended to promote the true interests of chess, his warm-heartedness, and, above all things, his never-lacking readiness to help all who needed and deserved assistance, endeared him to a large circle of friends and acquaintances, who now mourn over his absence, and will for ever associate his name with all that is bright and admirable in connection with chess.
('Mars' (G. A. MacDonnell) in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, March 23rd,1878, pg.22)

John Cochrane

The career of John Cochrane, whose death on the 2nd ultimo is announced this month, extended over a period, in all respects the most interesting in the annals of English Chess. He was a contemporary of Sarratt's, and a player of note when Lewis was at the top of his force. He played with Labourdonnais before the Frenchman’s great adversary, McDonnell, was known in the Chess world, and was a successful writer upon the game when (1822) Staunton was a schoolboy. More than fifty years ago (1824) Cochrane was the leading spirit on the London side in the celebrated match, by correspondence, between the London and Edinburgh clubs, a band that included such prominent players as Brande, Fraser, Lewis, Mercier, and Pratt. The plan of attack in the second game of this match, a revival of an old move of Lolli's, since become famous as the Scotch Gambit, was devised by Cochrane, who, however, left England for India before the unnecessary sacrifice of a Rook by the London Players led to the loss of the game. He returned from India in 1841, to find Staunton disputing the palm with Popert, and it was during the period, 1841 to 1843, that his best games were played. Most of these were contested with Mr. Staunton, and all that were taken down were published at the time in the Chess Players’ Chronicle; and subsequently in the Companion. He repaired to India in 1843, and was already referred to as a player of a past generation in 1846, but the publication of his games by Mr. Staunton established his reputation as one of the first players of his time.

It is unnecessary to dwell here upon his grievance against the late Mr. Staunton,- for publishing an undue proportion of games won of him in their various encounters. Mr. Cochrane was always extremely sensitive upon the subject of his play, and in any case there never could have existed a doubt as to the superiority of Staunton as a match player. The games upon which his reputation as a fine player will chiefly rest are to be found in Staunton's Handbook and Companion and those played in India, most of which appeared in the Illustrated London News, in 1852 and 1853. After his return to England, in 1868, Mr. Cochrane was a constant visitor to the St. George’s Chess Club, where he contested a large number of games against the late Herr Löwenthal. Very few of these games have been published, and very few were worthy of the old-time skill of two such renowned players, the average duration of most of them being about a quarter of an hour! Mr. Cochrane was a barrister by profession, and he practised for many years at the Calcutta bar. He died on the 2nd ultimo, in the 87th year of his age, and his funeral was attended by many members of the London Chess circle.
(from The Westminster Papers, April 1st, 1878, pg. 217)


To the great regret of the whole Chess community, alike in England and on the Continent, the Nester 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, as 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 MacDonnell, 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 be 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 Traite 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 date 29th June 1824 . To these years, 1822-24, we should be inclined to refer his long series of games with Deschapelles and Le Bourdonnais, of which so little unfortunately is known; though we observe that they are sometimes assigned to a still 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 be 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 Moheschunder Bonnerjee and Saumchurn Guttack [Guttock]. 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 be began with Mr. Löwenthal a series which was to consist, if we remember right, of 200 games, playing only when be felt himself at his best, and giving more time and attention to them than usual. These games were interrupted by the failure of Mr. Löwenthal's health. As far as played, they bad been taken down by him, and on his death the MSS. were sent to Mr. Cochrane. We hope that some, at least, of these games 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 unfrequent 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 practise of the law, and he was not unfrequently employed in arguing. Indian appeals before the Privy Council. He wrote as well as 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 his experience of the skill of Hindoo Chess players had at least contributed to his 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 Löwenthal 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, anecdotical, 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 debuts 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.
(From The Chess Player's Chronicle, April 1st, 1878, pgs. 73-75)

Here is one such anecdote from Howard Staunton’s chess column in The Illustrated London News, January 19th, 1867 , pg.75:

 "JOHN COCHRANE.-The Hindoo Patriot contains the following anecdote of this celebrated player, now, we believe, the 'Father of the English Chess School' as well as of the Calcutta Bar:-'The Father of the Calcutta Bar, we mean Mr. John Cochrane, lately went to Jessore to plead a case, and on the way he was besieged by a regular army of famine-stricken paupers. He had 1000 rupees with him, the amount of his fees, and distributed the whole amount among the poor wretches. A native of the district, from whom we have heard the story, says that he had not a shilling to pay for his dinner at the Dawk bungalow.' "

From Modern English Biography by Frederic Boase, Truro ; 1908.:

"COCHRANE, JOHN. b. 1797; midshipman R.N. ; barrister I.T. 29 June 1824 ; practised at Bombay 1826 ; standing counsel at Calcutta to H.E.I.Co. about 1834-68 ; one of the finest English chess players; played against Deschapelles and La Bourdonnais in Paris 1821 ; took part in correspondence match between London and Edinburgh 1824; played a long series of matches - with Howard Staunton 1841-2; played against St. Amant in Paris 1821 and to London 1870, St. Amant was champion of Europe 1843; author of A treatise on the game of chess 1822 d. 12 Bryanston at. Portman sq. London 2 March 1878 . Taylor 's Chess skirmishes 1889 pp. 151-6; Mac Donnell's Chess life pictures 1883 pp. 228-30; Westminster papers 1878, x 209 prt."

from George Walker's Chess Studies. London;1844. pg x.:

Of Mr. Cochrane it may be said, with greater truth than Johnson writes of  Shakespeare [sic], that "he lost the world for a quibble, and was content to lose it." Mr. Cochrane could have been the Philidor of the age; but would not. His ardent temperament, as a Chess-player, runs away with his judgment; disdaining to track a beaten path,  even if certain victory present itself in the vista  of the route. Mr. Cochrane's banner bears for its device, "Attack, attack.” -Attack at all risk-attack at every cost. Mr. Cochrane is the most brilliant player I have ever had the honour to look over or confront; not even excepting De la Bourdonnais; and pity it is that his very brilliancy so often mars success. Mr. C's game may be compared to the dashing charges made by the Mamalukes at the Battle of the Pyramids; when they impaled themselves, horse and man, upon the bayonets of France.  Mr. Cochrane has again left England for India; the Thames for the Ganges. Should these remarks meet his sight, he is entreated to believe that the secession of no one player from our metropolitan Chess circle could afford heavier cause for general regret, than that of JOHN COCHRANE."

 The Bar at  time of my connection with the High Court was still a British Bar, and very few Indian barristers had been admitted as advocates. The Father of the the Bar, though he was not then practising, old John Cochrane, who had been admitted as long ago as 1827. He was famous as a chess player, and had played in his youth with Labourdonnais and Macdonnell. He gave his name to a brilliant variation on the Salvio form of the King's Gambit. Cochrane's games with a Brahmin coruscated in the old Illustrated London News, and many of them will be found in Staunton's classical works on chess. The Brahmin's name is never given in Staunton, but I record it here as Mohesh Chunder Banerjea. In his old age Cochrane played with Sir Henry Harrison in Calcutta with very even results.

from Sir Henry Cotton's Indian & Home Memories. T. Fisher Unwin. London:1910. pg.122-123.
Sir Henry Cotton was a lawyer in India. His memoirs place Cochrane there during his first Indian period -from the 1820's until he visited England in 1841-3.

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