File - Thomas Cochrane fonds

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Thomas Cochrane fonds

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  • 1827-1828 (Creation)
    Cochrane, Sir Thomas John

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1 v. of textual records

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Biographical history

Thomas John Cochrane (1789-1872), naval officer, governor of Newfoundland (1825-34),was born in London on 5 February 1789, eldest son of Maria (Shaw) and Alexander Forrester Inglis Cochrane, naval officer. He married Mathilda Ross on 6 January 1812; they had two sons and two daughters. Cochrane died in England in 1872.

Due to the influence of his father, Thomas Cochrane advanced rapidly within the Royal Navy. At the age of seven, he was placed on the crew list of the ship Thetis as a volunteer, promoted to lieutenant on the vessel Jason (1805), appointed captain (1806), posted to the West Indies (1806-09) and selected frigate commander on the North American Station (1811-15, 1820-24).

In 1825 Cochrane was appointed first civil governor of Newfoundland under the Royal Charter, ending the administration of Newfoundland by naval governors (1729-1824); as civil governor, Cochrane was responsible to the Colonial Office. The appointment was preceeded by judicial reorganization (1824) and accompanied by limited constitutional reform. Cochrane was instructed to appoint a council (later the Executive Council); however, it was strictly advisory, consisting of three justices and the garrison commander and authorised to discuss only those issues determined by the governor. Cochrane consistently opposed the establishment of representative government, stating that the population was too politically unsophisticated and uneducated.

Cochrane initiated the construction of an official residence, Government House. This lavish building cost œ36,000 (1831), a sum which provoked an official inquiry. He also commissioned the erection of a retreat residence, Virginia Cottage, three miles outside of St. John's, which was connected to Government House by a specially-constructed road.

Cochrane proposed the incorporation of St. John's, an initiative opposed by merchants. His efforts to impose an import tax to raise colonial revenues was resisted by a coalition of merchants and political reformers (1826-28) who campaigned against "taxation without representation." Despite Cochrane's opposition, Great Britian instituted representative government in 1832 under the Newfoundland Act, which included the establishment of an elected House of Assembly and an appointed Legislative and Executive Council. Under representative government, however, the governor retained significant powers, including the power to adjourn, prorogue and dissolve the Assembly, the right to refuse consent to legislation, and the power to appoint the Councils.

Because he allied himself with the Conservatives, Cochrane's relations with the House of Assembly were heated, resulting in a political stalemate. Cochrane was recalled in 1834 because of his friction with the reformers. As Cochrane and his daughter departed from St. John's via Cochrane Street, named in his honour, he was unceremoniously pelted with filth.

Although controversial, Cochrane was credited with several civic improvements, including the implementation of the first comprehensive colonial census (1825), the encouragement of agricultural development as a complement to the fishery, and the development of a road network connecting the outports to St. John's, constructed by relief recipients. Cochrane also halted the practice of deporting the most destitute individuals from the Island.

Following his departure from Newfoundland, Cochrane served as the Conservative member of Parliament for Ipwich (1839-41). In 1841 Cochrane appeared before the British Select Committee on Newfoundland appointed to inquire into the constitutional issues in the colony. Arguing that Newfoundland was scarcely more than a "great ship with stages lying around her" and ill-prepared for representative government, he bolstered support for the modification of the Newfoundland constitution and the establishment of the Amalgamated Legislature in 1842.

Cochrane continued his naval career, serving as Second-in-Command (1842-45) and Commander-in-Chief (1845-47) on the China Station; Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth (1852-55); and Admiral of the Fleet (1865).

Custodial history

Scope and content

The fonds consists of one letterbook. The letters are signed W.A. Clarke, secretary to the Governor. The letterbook includes letters sent to the magistrate of Harbour Grace; extracts of other letters; circulars, and a sample census form.

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  • English

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    No further accruals are expected.

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    The unbound volume measures 33 cm x 20 cm, 36 pages.

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    Created - May 6, 2013

    Language of description

    • English

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