The Life of Catherina Pitcairn

Today we take a more detailed look at one of the people mentioned in our recent biography of the eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, An Infamous Mistress.

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden.

Our subject today is Catherina Pitcairn who was first cousin to Grace; Elizabeth Dalrymple had married John Pitcairn, a man who rose through the ranks of the marine regiments. Grace’s elder sister, Jacintha, was especially close to her Pitcairn relatives and spent some time living with her aunt, uncle and cousins at their home in Kent, close to the military base there. When Jacintha married, in 1771, to Thomas Hesketh, a Lieutenant in the 7th Foot Regiment, Catherina was a witness at the marriage. Shortly afterwards Catherina herself married, to a fellow officer from the 7th Foot, Charles Cochrane who was the second son of the Earl of Dundonald.

Winckley - 1785 wedding dress
Wedding dress in cream silk, 1785

Thomas Hesketh and Charles Cochrane were commanded, with their regiment, first to Canada and then to America where they saw action in the War of Independence. John Pitcairn too was there and his son, William, both with the British Marine force. Jacintha, with two young children in tow, followed her husband overseas and remained close by his side through his adventures in America. Catherina initially remained in England with her two infant children.

The Cochrane’s had a son (Thomas, son of the Honourable Charles Cochrane Esq and Catherine his wife was baptised on the 1st August 1773, at St Margaret’s in Rochester Kent) and a daughter.

British Infantrymen of a Royal Regiment in an Encampment by unknown artist (c) National Army Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
British Infantrymen of a Royal Regiment in an Encampment by unknown artist
(c) National Army Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In Boston, Charles Cochrane was promoted to a Captaincy in the 4th Regiment of Foot, ‘The King’s Own’, the youngest captain in that regiment, and was employed in helping in father-in-law, Major Pitcairn. Despairing of promotion within the 4th Foot, Cochrane transferred to the 1st Foot Guards and then a commission to Brevet Major within the British Legion, the ‘Green Dragoons’. Another officer who served with the British Legion was ‘Bloody Ban’, otherwise Banastre Tarleton, remembered to history not only for his military endeavours but also as the lover of the actress and courtesan Mary Darby Robinson who was a rival to our heroine Grace Dalrymple Elliott for the affections of the young Prince of Wales in the early 1780s. Ban was Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment, composed of small loyalist units of American infantry and cavalry.

Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1782 via Wikimedia Commons
Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1782 via Wikimedia Commons

In June 1780 Cochrane asked for leave to go home and see his wife and the two young children he had left behind; additionally, his father had died and his father-in-law, Major Pitcairn had lost his life at the Battle of Bunker’s Hill (otherwise Breed’s Hill). He had been away for almost seven years. His request was granted and he was given important military despatches to take back to England with him and a letter to Lord Amherst from General James Robertson, who said of him that:

Major Cochran who carrys this is an Officer who has gallantly distinguished himself – and can inform You of what is passing here, and perfectly well of the state of Carolina and Georgia.[i]

Lord Cornwallis, in charge of the British force, was sorry to see such a talented young officer leave, writing the following heartfelt letter to the ‘Honble Major Cochrane’.

Campden, June 10th, 1780

Dear Sir,

I cannot let you go from hence without expressing the very sincere regret I feel at your leaving my corps, and assuring you that on any future occasion I shall be happy in serving with so able and spirited an officer. I heartily wish you a prosperous voyage, and a happy meeting with your family, and am with great regard,

Your most obedient and faithful servant,


Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis by Thomas Gainsborough, 1783. National Portrait Gallery
Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis by Thomas Gainsborough, 1783.
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Cochrane’s attempts to get home were met with drama; he was set upon by three privateers, whom he overcame and delivered back to New York as prisoners, returning to his schooner to be once again attacked by two rebel privateers from the New England shore, resulting in him jumping overboard and swimming back to shore to save the dispatches he carried whilst his schooner was taken.

Finally managing to get back to England, he collected his young family and brought them back to New York with him. Catherina and her two children waited there, in the October of 1781, while Charles Cochrane was sent to Yorktown in Virginia where a siege was underway, reaching Chesapeake Bay in a whaleboat on the 10th October with the French fleet firing on him as he landed. Perhaps he intended to rejoin the British Legion, now renamed as the 5th American Regiment and skirmishing with the French at Gloucester across the York River, but instead, he was appointed by Lord Cornwallis as his acting aide-de-camp.

Siege of Yorktown (1781) by Auguste Couder via Wikimedia Commons
Siege of Yorktown (1781) by Auguste Couder via Wikimedia Commons

A day later Lord Cornwallis was inspecting the defences and his newly appointed staff member accompanied him. Cochrane was allowed to fire one of the cannons himself, and he leaned over the breastworks to see where his shot landed in ricochet: a fatal error! A cannonball from the French and American lines (the American forces were commanded by General George Washington) was incoming, and as Cochrane leaned forward he was decapitated by it.[ii] Lord Cornwallis later surrendered his position.

His young widow was grief-stricken when she heard the news, and further tragedy lay in store for her, as her two young children both died young. Bereft, she returned to England.

The Dead Soldier by Joseph Wright of Derby, c.1789. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
The Dead Soldier by Joseph Wright of Derby, c.1789.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Catherina Pitcairn - St Barts the LessAt the church of St Bartholomew the Less, in the City of London, on the 19th February 1789 and after years of widowhood, Catherina married once more, to Charles Owen Cambridge.

Charles Owen Cambridge was the son of Robert Owen Cambridge (who added Owen to his name to inherit from an uncle), a poet and old Etonian who was a contemporary of the renowned letter writer Horace Walpole. And Horace Walpole, in turn, was the great-uncle of Lord Cholmondeley, Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s lover and protector: as we note in our book, Grace’s world was but a small one no matter how far she or her family travelled.

Both parties to the marriage had been widowed for Charles Owen Cambridge had married previously in 1787 to a lady named Mary Edwards, only to be bereaved by her death, possibly due to an early and complicated childbirth, less than seven months later.[iii] His brother, the Reverend George Owen Cambridge, was the presumed suitor of the diarist and novelist Fanny Burney, only George showed a distinct disinclination to commit to a marriage with her. She did, however, mention the Cambridge family on many occasions in her diary.

Charles Owen Cambridge © National Portrait Gallery, London
Charles Owen Cambridge
© National Portrait Gallery, London

A son, named Robert Owen, was born to Charles Owen Cambridge and his new wife Catherina, in 1790, baptised on the 6th August at East Lavant in Sussex. Sadly the tragedy which had dogged Catherina’s former life followed her into this new marriage, and the son died young aged only fourteen years.

Catherina and Charles Owen Cambridge did both lead long, and one hopes happy, lives; Catherina died in 1835 at the age of 84 years and Charles lived on until 1847, and the tremendous age of 95 years. They lived at Whitminster House in Gloucestershire, an old, and somewhat dilapidated in their day, medieval manor house.

A description of the manor house is available to view via the British History Online website.

Whitminster House via Heritage4Media
Whitminster House via Heritage4Media

Charles Owen Cambridge was a virtuous man. He paid for the education of fifteen boys and twenty-five girls in a day school in Moreton-in-Marsh and supported twenty-six boys and thirty-two girls in a Sunday school at the same place. He was also a zealous advocate of the proposal to adopt machinery instead of climbing boys to sweep chimneys clean. In 1828 Charles and another supporter of the campaign, E.J. Kirkman, Esq, attended a meeting at Fareham in Hampshire to consider this; Cambridge and Kirkham sent the machinery from Portsmouth and supervised the cleaning of three chimneys at the Red Lion Inn with this apparatus. The conclusion was that the chimneys were effectually swept clean in about a quarter of an hour, and the good people of Fareham who attended the meeting resolved to abstain from the use of sweeping boys and to persuade their neighbours to do the same.

The Red Lion at Fareham as it is today, via
The Red Lion at Fareham as it is today, via

Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s sister, Jacintha, had her own adventures in America during the years of the War of Independence, when she followed her own husband overseas, an interesting counterpart to Catherina Cochrane’s experiences. More information can be found in our book, An Infamous Mistress: the Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, which not only covers Grace’s fascinating life but also documents the varied and interesting lives led by her relatives.


The Lady’s Magazine: or, Entertaining companion for the fair sex, June 1804.

Hampshire Chronicle, 18th August 1828.

Gloucester Chronicle, 12th January 1839.

The Court Journals and Letters of Frances Burney: Volume ii: 1787, edited by Stewart Cooke, 2011.

Memorial of Captain Charles Cochrane, a British Officer in the Revolutionary War, 1774-1781, by Mellen Chamberlain, 1891.

Oatmeal for the Foxhound: Banastre Tarleton and the British Legion


[i] James Robertson to Lord Amherst, 12 August 1780, in James Robertson, The Twilight of British Rule in Revolutionary America: The New York Letter Book of General James Robertson, 1780-1783, eds. Milton M. Klein and Ronald W. Howard (Cooperstown, NY: The New York State Historical Association, 1983), p141.

[ii] Major Charles Cochrane has the unfortunate distinction of being the only British officer killed during this action.

[iii] Charles Owen Cambridge married Mary Edwards on the 26th July 1787 at East Lavant in Sussex; she died on the 14th February 1788.

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