200 Years Ago | On August 24, 1814, after defeating the Americans at the Battle of Bladensburg, a British force led by Major General Robert Ross occupied Washington D.C. and set fire to many public buildings, including the White House, the Capitol, and other facilities of the U.S. government. Ross decided to destroy only public property and spared that of private citizens, The attack was in part a retaliation for the American actions in the Raid on Port Dover and the burning of the British capital of York, now Toronto. Later white paint was used to hide the fire damage, so the ‘Executive Mansion’ became known as ‘The White House.’
Rear-Admiral Sir George Cockburn commanded the detachment of marines, part of the joint naval and military force under Major-General Ross, which seized the city of Washington for 24 hours. Cockburn, having practiced joint operations on shore in the Mediterranean, provided support and guidance to the army throughout the campaign. Ross gave credit to Cockburn for the idea of the attack on Washington. In the portrait he is shown wearing rear-admiral’s undress coat and hat, 1812–25 pattern, breeches and hessian boots. In the background are the burning Capitol buildings in Washington.
Cockburn’s other claim to fame is as the man who carried Napoleon to exile on St Helena in 1815.
John James Halls (1776–1853)
Rear-Admiral Sir George Cockburn, 1772-1853,
Oil on canvas, 94 x 58 1/2 in., (2390 x 1485 mm.)
Exhibited, Royal Academy, 1817.
now, London, National Maritime Museum, BHC2619