Memorable Manitobans: William Cockran [William Cochrane] (1798-1865)
Born at Chillingham, Northumberland, England, in 1798 but was a Scot. Raised as a Presbyterian, he converted to Anglicanism, was ordained deacon on 19 December 1824 and a priest on 29 May 1825, then came to Red River in 1825 as an assistant to Rev. D. T. Jones, then in sole charge of the Church Missionary Society activities in Rupert’s Land. Both Cockran and his wife came from humble origins. His wife had been a servant maid and Cockran’s speech was “broad and vulgar even as a scotchman.” Nonetheless he was ideal for Red River because of his agricultural experience as an under-bailiff in Scotland.
In the settlement,Cockran quickly turned to establishing a model farm as a means to attract the country-born to the church and the school associated with it. In 1829 he moved to the Lower Church (St. Andrew’s), where he soon had another farm and school in operation. He even extended his work to the Saulteaux in 1831. Behind his operations was the intention of attracting Indians to Red River in order to evangelize them. In 1835 he joined the Council of Assiniboia. To his regret, he was unable to bring his aboriginal parishioners quickly to the degree of civilization he desired, and for a time he became slightly jaundiced.
In 1836 he erected a church for the “Indian Settlement” which became the Parish of St. Peter’s. In 1846 he undertook the construction of the stone church at St. Andrew’s which was consecrated by Rt. Rev. David Anderson in 1849. He spent a year in Toronto in 1846-1847 recovering his health before returning to Red River service. In 1847 he took up residence in St. John’s Parish where he built a house, afterwards called St. Cross, and used as a ladies’ school.
Acting on a commission from the Church Missionary Society, he made a tour of the West in 1850 to select a suitable location for a new mission. This was established at Portage la Prairie in 1851, with Peter Garrioch as schoolmaster. At the same time he moved from St. Andrew’s to St. Peter’s making that his headquarters until 1857, when he moved to the new mission of St. Mary’s at Portage la Prairie, which was completed in 1855. He subsequently established missions at St. Margaret’s, High Bluff in 1861-1862, and Ste. Anne’s, Poplar Point in 1862-1864.
He was always a supporter of the Hudson’s Bay Company as an agent of civilization. In later years he was often embattled, partly because of his support for Adam Thom and governor William Caldwell, partly because of his wife’s involvement in the Ballenden scandal. He also came into conflict with the fledgling Presbyterian Church in Kildonan.
Father of Thomas Cochrane.
Cockran died in Portage la Prairie on 1 October 1865. His body was carried to the St. Andrew’s-on-the-Red Anglican Cemetery for burial, the place where he had commenced his church building works in 1827.
Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.
We thank Gerald Friesen for providing additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 28 June 2019