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Cockburn, Sir John Alexander. (1850-1929)

March 9, 2013

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Cockburn, Sir John Alexander. (1850-1929)

Premier of South Australia, was born at Corsbie, Berwickshire, Scotland, on the 23rd August 1850.  He was educated at Chomeley School Highgate, and became a medical student at Kings College, London(MD in 1874; and Fellow). In 1875 he migrated to South Australia, and whilst practicing medicine at Jamestown began to take an interest in municipal affairs; in 1877 he was elected mayor of the town.

In 1884 he entered  politics as member for Burra in the House of Assembly, and in the following year became Minister for Education in the first Downer Ministry, which resigned in June 1887. In April 1887 he had been elected for Mt Barker, a seat he held until he retired from politics.  He became Premier and Chief Secretary in June 1889, and during his 14 months in office passed some advanced measures, including Acts providing for succession duties and a progressive tax on unimproved land values. In June 1892, after two years in opposition, he became Chief Secretary in the Holder Ministry, which was defeated four months later.  He Joined the Kingston Ministry in June 1893 as Minister for Education and minister for Agriculture, and held those portfolios until April 1898, when he resigned to become Agent General for South Australia in London.

Cockburn took an important part in the federation movement, representing his colony at the Coventions in 1890, 1891 and 1897-8. Australian Federation , a collection of his articles and speeches on federation, was published in London in 1901.  As Minister of Education he instituted Arbor Day in South Australia, and had much to do with the founding of the South Australian School of Mines and Industries.  He worked for the payment of Members of Parliament, for women’s suffrage, and for the principle of ‘one man one vote’.  In addition to legislation for which he was personally responsible he was often the inspiration for advanced legislation that was finalised by others .

Although he resigned as Agent General in 1901 and did not return to Australia, Cockburn continued to show his interest in the country by representing the Commonwealth or South Australia at various international congresses, by presiding over the Australian Chamber of Commerce in London and writing on Australian subjects.  He was also on the London boards of directors of several Australian companies.   He died in London on 26th November 1929, and was survived by his wife Sarah Holdway, whom he had married in 1875, and one son and one daughter. He was created K.C.M.G in 1900.

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One Comment
  1. If you are going to the Bundaleer Concert Weekend this month then consider visiting the Jamestown Railway Station where the National Trust has a collection of wonderful memorabilia about this significant South Australian.

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Dr Jeff Nicholas

This site is about both History & Biography

The Victorian Commons

Researching the House of Commons, 1832-1868

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