John Cockburn (Australian politician)

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Sir John Cockburn
John Cockburn (Australian politician).jpg
18th Premier of South Australia
Elections: 1890
In office
27 June 1889 – 19 August 1890
Monarch Victoria
Governor Earl of Kintore
Preceded by Thomas Playford II
Succeeded by Thomas Playford II

Sir John Alexander Cockburn, KCMG (23 August 1850 – 26 November 1929) was Premier of South Australia from 27 June 1889 until 18 August 1890.

Cockburn was born in Corsbie, Berwickshire, Scotland in 1850. His father was Thomas Cockburn. He was educated at Highgate School, and King's College London, he obtained the degree of M.D. London, with first class honours and gold medal. In 1875 he married Sarah Holdway (the daughter of Forbes Scott Brown) He emigrated to South Australia in 1879 and set up practice at Jamestown in the mid North.

In 1878, he was elected as the first mayor of Jamestown. In that role he lobbied the South Australian government to construct a railway to the New South Wales border to tap the newly developed silver mining fields of the Barrier Ranges. Between 1884 and 1888, during Cockburn's parliamentary career, the government line through Jamestown to Petersburg (now named Peterborough) was extended to the border to meet a private tramway built by the Silverton Tramway Company. This linked the growing mines of Broken Hill to the South Australian coast at Port Pirie, where a smelter was built in 1889, effectively capturing the economic benefits of the Broken Hill mining field for South Australia. The town surveyed at the colonial border in 1886 was named Cockburn in his honour.

He stood for Burra in the South Australian House of Assembly in 1884, serving as Minister of Education from 1885 - 1887 (under premier John Downer) before losing that seat and returning as member for Mount Barker, elected in April 1887 and holding that seat for 11 years.

In 1884, he was able to pass progressive legislation including succession duties and land tax, and in 1886 was involved in introducing payment for members of the South Australian parliament.

He became the first doctor to be Premier of South Australia on 27 June 1889 for fourteen months, before losing a no-confidence motion and handing back to Thomas Playford.

He was Minister for Education again and Minister for Agriculture in the Kingston ministry from 1893 until April 1898.

He was active in the planning of Federation, including representing South Australia at the Melbourne conference in 1890 and in Sydney in 1891.

After resigning from parliament, he went to England to serve as Agent-General for South Australia. He resigned in 1901 when the position was downgraded (due to federation), but remained in London and unofficially represented South Australia and Australia in many things.

He had a long career in Freemasonry, beginning with his initiation in 1876. He would go on to help establish the Grand Lodge of South Australia, and to serve in several high offices within it. After his return to England, he founded a new lodge in London and served as president of the International Masonic Club. As a Masonic Rosicrucian he was attracted to esoteric and philosophical subjects, and published several dozen articles exploring such themes in various Masonic periodicals.

He was created Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the New Year Honours list January 1900,[1] and a Knight of Grace of the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem in England (KGStJ) in August 1901.[2]

He died in London in 1929 without ever returning to Australia. His wife, son and daughter survived him.


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Preceded by
Thomas Playford II
Premier of South Australia
Succeeded by
Thomas Playford II