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COCKBURN, Sir FRANCIS, soldier: b. 10 Nov. 1780 in England, the fifth son of Sir James Cockburn, 6th Baronet of Langton, and his second wife, Augusta Anne Ayscough; m. in 1804 Alicia Sandys; d. 24 Aug. 1868 at East Cliff, Dover, England.

Francis Cockburn entered the 7th Dragoon Guards as a cornet at age 19 and through purchase of commissions and promotion rose to the rank of captain in 1804. He served in South America in 1807 and in the Iberian Peninsula in 1809 and 1810. On 27 June 1811 he arrived in Canada as a captain in the Canadian Fencibles and in September of that year was promoted major. During the War of 1812 Cockburn displayed himself as a competent and diligent officer. He led successful raids against enemy forces in 1813 at Red Mills, N.Y., south of Prescott, Upper Canada, and in 1814 at the Salmon River in Franklin County, N.Y. In November and December 1814 Cockburn commanded a company of Canadian Fencibles which, with a detachment of sappers and miners, traversed what would become the “Penetang Road” between Lake Simcoe and Penetanguishene on Georgian Bay. Cockburn’s report to Sir Thomas Sydney Beckwith, quartermaster-general for Upper and Lower Canada, favoured the British scheme of establishing a naval base at Penetanguishene.

After 22 July 1814 Cockburn served at York (Toronto) and at Kingston in the Quartermaster-General’s Department for Upper Canada. On 26 June 1815 his abilities were recognized by his elevation to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the New Brunswick Fencibles and his appointment as assistant quartermaster-general for Upper Canada. In addition to his regular duties he was responsible for settling and provisioning the first groups of immigrants and disbanded soldiers to arrive in Upper Canada under Colonial Secretary Lord Bathurst’s plan for assisted emigration. Some 1,500 people were established near Perth in the Bathurst District in mid 1816, and in September Cockburn made an important early report on settlement in this area.

Cockburn was transferred from Kingston to Quebec to become deputy quartermaster-general for Upper and Lower Canada on 10 Jan. 1818. As senior officer in the department he was responsible for the military settlements in Upper Canada at Perth (established in 1816), Richmond (1818), Lanark (1820), and the Bay of Quinte area and Glengarry County (1815), and in Lower Canada on the Rivière Saint-François (1816). With characteristic industry Cockburn enlarged his Quebec office (which, he complained in 1819, was “literally filled with settlers from Morning to Night”), dealt with settlers’ petitions, and conducted numerous tours of the settlements. His reports provide valuable evidence of the early growth of these settlements. They also reveal in Cockburn, who himself held land in the Bay of Quinte area, a great personal interest in the development of the Rideau Lakes district: it was he who urged the plan of settlement adopted with the establishment of Richmond in 1818, and his belief in the potential prosperity of the district was demonstrated in his founding of Franktown in Beckwith Township, a village with his own name which he hoped would become a major trading centre. Cockburn’s work in these settlements officially ended with the cessation of military control on Christmas eve 1822, but he continued to superintend them until June 1823.

While serving at Quebec, Cockburn gained a special knowledge of Canada. In 1821 he accompanied Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay*] on a tour of inspection of over 1,600 miles, which extended to the military posts on the western frontier of Upper Canada. Cockburn Island, a hamlet, and a township in the Manitoulin district bear his name in recognition of his part in this tour. The following year Cockburn surveyed the Gaspé Peninsula to determine its potential for settlement. His most notable journey, however, was as attendant to the Duke of Richmond [Lennox*] on his fateful tour of Perth and Richmond in August 1819; Cockburn’s diary remains the main source for the events leading to the commander-in-chief’s tragic death of hydrophobia.

Cockburn began an extended leave of absence from the Quartermaster-General’s Office at Quebec in July 1823, when he returned to England. In 1825 he was one of the five commissioners, including John Davidson, asked to fix the price of lands to be purchased in Upper Canada by the Canada Company. The following year Cockburn was an important witness before a British parliamentary committee which asked him to prepare a report on past programmes of assisted emigration. Cockburn recommended strong government support of emigration, including an 18-month supply of provisions for settlers. He suggested settlement in the Gaspé and Ottawa regions and between lakes Simcoe and Huron, as well as along a line of communication between New Brunswick and Lower Canada. Cockburn opposed assisted settlement in the Eastern Townships because he felt the French Canadians and their seigneurial system offered a better barrier against the United States.

In 1827 the undersecretary of state for the colonies dispatched Cockburn on a tour of British North America to determine which remaining lands were suitable for settlement and to make tentative arrangements for possible future immigration. In his 1828 report Cockburn saw little room for further settlement but he recommended that six townships be laid out in New Brunswick in the tract between the Petitcodiac and Miramichi rivers. Again he stressed the importance of a strong communications link between New Brunswick and the Canadas.

Cockburn’s tour in 1827 was his last involvement in the affairs of British North America. He had assiduously pursued his career in Canada, although his determination when frustrated could produce in him a saturnine disposition. Nevertheless, his commanding officers always expressed confidence in his abilities and frequently praised his performance of his duties.

On 30 July 1829 Cockburn joined the 2nd West India Foot, and in September of that year was ordered to British Honduras, where from 1830 to 1837 he was superintendent of the colony. From 1837 to 1844 he served as governor and commander-in-chief of the Bahamas; he had been knighted in 1841. In 1846 he was elevated to the rank of major-general, and on 26 Dec. 1853 was appointed colonel of the 95th Foot. He became lieutenant-general in 1854 and general in 1860, and died in 1868.

Ed McKenna

PAC, MG 24, A14 (includes Cockburn’s journal); F29; RG 8, I (C series), nominal index. PRO, CO 42/182, pp.11–16; CO 42/198, pp.3–14. PAC Report, 1897. G.B., Parl., House of Commons paper, 1825, XIX, 215, pp.461–74, Canada Company: minutes of the intended arrangements between Earl Bathurst, his majesty’s secretary of state, and the proposed Canada Company; 1826, IV, 404, pp.1–381, Report from the select committee on emigration from the United Kingdom; 1826–27, V, 88, pp.1–2, Report from the select committee on emigration, 1827; 237, pp.3–224, Second report from the select committee on emigration from the United Kingdom, 1827; 550, pp.225–882, Third report from the select committee on emigration from the United Kingdom, 1827; 1828, XXI, 109, pp.359–78, Emigration: return to an address of the Honourable the House of Commons . . . ; 148, pp.379–482, Emigration: further return to an address of the Honourable the House of Commons. . . . Gates, Land policies of UC. Andrew Haydon, Pioneer sketches in the district of Bathurst (Toronto, 1925). J. S. McGill, A pioneer history of the county of Lanark (Toronto, 1968). H. [J. W.] and Olive Walker, Carleton saga (Ottawa, 1968).

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Cite This Article

Ed McKenna, “COCKBURN, Sir FRANCIS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 1, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cockburn_francis_9E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cockburn_francis_9E.html
Author of Article:   Ed McKenna
Title of Article:   COCKBURN, Sir FRANCIS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   October 1, 2023