COCKBURN, Sir John Alexander (1850-1929)

COCKBURN, Sir John Alexander (1850-1929)
premier of South Australia
son of Thomas Cockburn, was born at Corsbie, Berwickshire, Scotland, on 23 August 1850. Educated at Chomeley School, Highgate, and King's College, London, he obtained the degree of M.D. London, with first class honours and gold medal. He emigrated to South Australia in 1875 and, practising at Jamestown, began to take an interest in municipal affairs, and in 1877 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 (q.v.) ministry, which resigned in June 1887. Cockburn had been elected for Mount Barker at the April 1887 general election and held this seat for 11 years. He became premier and chief secretary on 27 June 1889, and though only in office for 14 months passed some progressive measures including acts providing for succession duties and land taxation. After two years in opposition Cockburn became chief secretary in Holder's (q.v.) cabinet in June 1892, but this ministry was defeated a few weeks later. He joined the Kingston (q.v.) ministry on 16 June 1893 as minister for education and for agriculture and held these portfolios until April 1898, when he resigned to become agent-general for South Australia at London. He took an important part in the federation movement. With Playford (q.v.) he represented South Australia at the Melbourne conference in 1890, and he was one of its seven representatives at the Sydney convention held in 1891. When the election of to delegates to represent South Australia was held in 1897 there were 33 candidates and Cockburn came third on the poll after Kingston and Holder. A collection of his articles and speeches on federation was published in London in 1901 under the title Australian Federation. As agent-general he did very good work, but he resigned in 1901 and never returned to South Australia, though he continued to show his interest in that state in every possible way. He represented Australia at workmen's insurance, eugenics, and other congresses held in the early years of this century, and he took much interest in nature study, in child study, and in the London school of economies and political science. He wrote various articles and pamphlets on Australian, Imperial and educational subjects, and was on the London board of directors of several Australian companies. He died at London on 26 November 1929. He married in 1875 Sarah Holdway, daughter of Forbes Scott Brown, who survived him with a son and a daughter. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1900.
A picturesque and charming figure, Cockburn had a long and busy life of which only 23 years were spent in Australia. As minister of education he instituted arbor day in South Australia, and had much to do with the foundation of the South Australian school of mines and industries. He had an alert and quick-moving mind, and as a politician he was able to sympathize with the demands of a growing democracy. He worked for payment of members of parliament, for women's suffrage, and in addition to legislation for which he was personally responsible, he was often the inspiration for advanced legislation which was brought into being by other men.
The Times, 27 November 1929; The Advertiser, Adelaide, 28 November 1929; Debrett's Peerage, etc., 1929.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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