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So Many Questions: William Frederick Cochrane

William Frederick Cochrane, was born in 1877 in Belfast. His parents, Samuel Charles and Maria Cochrane were on a short visit from Montreal while his grandfather Samuel Cochrane Snr, was posted to that city as New Zealand Emigration Officer.

William’s family returned to Montreal and but tragedy overtook them a decade later. Following the death of his beloved wife, and three of his children, Samuel Charles Cochrane returned to New Zealand a widower. His three remaining children, Sarah, Alberta and William accompanied him.

William departed from New Zealand in 1898. His adopted life as a merchant seaman eventually saw him settle in Manchester where he met his wife, Maria Oakley. But his story wasn’t to end there. He soon took his young family to Australia, settling at first in Geelong, and later in inner Melbourne where he set up a business as a contract cleaner. His family in New Zealand only heard from him intermittently, and at the time of his father’s death in 1919, they hadn’t heard from him for several years.

His father’s Last Will and Testament allowed for equal shares of his property as tenants in common and specified what measures should be taken to locate him, including advertising in the Australian press and gazettes, to expire after a period of two years.

It was long thought, that William was never located, but after responding to one such advertisement, William was able to make contact with his father’s solicitor in Auckland. In those days when having any sort of formal identification was haphazard at the very best, William was able to describe certain family events and provide a copy of a photograph he had sent his family several years earlier. Copies of these letters are now in the hands of various family members.

Why William left New Zealand when he did was not known, even to his direct descendants. Because he went as far as using an alias in the early days, it was easy to assume that he didn’t want to be found. However, it could be safely assumed that married life and having children brought to him a new sense of responsibility.

William and Maria had six children, two of whom died young. William died in 1939 at the relatively young age of 66, and Maria, in 1950.

Some of the answers
When I first published this story, so many questions about his life remained unanswered, however additional information surfaced in the form of family letters written to his sister, Sarah Louisa, around the time of his departure from New Zealand.

While the letters didn’t reveal any reasons for him leaving New Zealand, they did reveal something of the family dynamics at that time.

After coming to New Zealand in 1886, William’s family was domiciled in the inner Auckland suburb of Ponsonby. Close family helped pick up the pieces of the bereaved family’s lives. However, as to be expected, many gaps still remain in our current knowledge.

As a young man, William worked as a farm labourer travelling to Taranaki and later Hawkes Bay. It may be that he also helped to support his sister, while she was at a low ebb in her life. In 1898 he decided to travel overseas, essentially just as his father had done before him.

To follow are excerpts from letters written to his sister Sarah from the period June 1896 to February 1898.

Wednesday June 3 1896, Oruamatua Station Erehwon.
'Ever since I left you I have been working on Stations principally in the Waikato & now although this is properly Hawkes Bay, yet it is what is called the Patea District. I am working for a Captain and Mr. W. Birch (you may know them) & may pretty well calculate on a Winters Billet'.

October 1896
'I have left them now and are in a place called Maraekakaho (pronounced Maria-Cocker) but I expect to leave here in a day or two & go to another station for the Shearing. I am thinking of going to Africa after all the Shearing is over & all the rest of all the work is over. I fancy I will be going to a place called Kereru in a day or two to a place called J. Anderson's Station only I am going by the name of R. C. Dudley.

These letters were signed ‘Your aff(ectionate) brother William Frederick Cochrane’

A letter dated Tuesday Jan 5 1897, is written from Poporangi Station, Kereru and is signed 'Yours R. C. Dudley'

Monday 17th May 1897. Pororangi Station Kereru
'I had no money when you wrote; but as I have blossomed out into an athlete in the last three or four months, having won a quarter and a half mile races, I entered into the race for the Ladies Bracelet (valued at 129) last Wednesday in Napier but owing to the recent floods & the extra work that it entailed so that I never had any time to train so that I only came third in the Half mile run. However I am training already for the October Sports & hope to surprize people slightly.'

The letter is signed 'I remain Yours. aff. R. C. Dudley'.

Sunday Feb 20 1898 'Lake Erie' Gisborne Roadstead (The Lake Erie is a barque, loading wool and tallow for London). He is writing to a Mr Nolan -

'Dear Sir,
You will be surprised to hear from me, but as I have two moments to spare I thought I would ask you to let Uncle Willie & Aunt Sophie know I have sailed for England. I would write to then but I am short of Stamps. You can tell them I will be back in about fifteen month’s time. We sail in a couple of days.

I remain yours Truly F William Cochrane.'

The letter was sent to “Uncle Willie” (William Stephen Cochrane) who in turn forwarded it on to William’s father, Samuel Charles Cochrane. Inside was written - 'Dear Charlie, This letter was written to Mr Nolan of Gisborne who sent (it on) to me. Fred is evidently fond of change & travelling. I hope he will arrive safely. WSC.'

The next information on him is when he calls into Montreal. He's a sailor, working on a ship called the 'Manchester Corporation'. In June the ship called into Montreal. In a letter dated June 9, from his cousin, Louie (Sarah Louise) Foster from Montreal, she called him Jackie but in the letter dated Sept 27 1900 she refers to him as Willie.

By September he is on a ship trading between Manchester and New Orleans and he has been promoted to quarter-master.

William Frederick Cochrane 1877 – 1939; Maria Dunnicliffe Cochrane (nee Oakley) 1872 – 1950

Their children:
Sybil Lilian 1904 – 1982, Charles Wilfred 1905 – 1909, Cecil Frederick 1907 – 1923, Hubert Ranulph (Bob) 1913 – 1989, Margaret Isobel (Peggy) 1917 – 1997, Beatrice May (Betty) 1917 – 1995

See also (please copy and paste):

Especial thanks to my second cousins, Linda Dodds (New Zealand) and Joy Ricks (Victoria, Australia)

Written and compiled by Wanda Hopkins, April 2019
E: [email protected]

4 comment(s), latest 4 days, 5 hours ago


Having visited family in Victoria twice in recent months, including a rail trip through familial territory, it seemed like the ideal time to begin writing up the history of my ancestral cousin, John Cowan Cochrane (1826-1903).

First cousin to my 2 x great grandfather, Samuel Cochrane (1815 - 1879) of New Zealand, John was the first born of William Cochrane and Elizabeth Cowan. Raised in Castruse, Co. Donegal, his family were farming a property owned by Elizabeth’s father in the late part of the 18th century.

John was born into an era progressing from a rural to an urban economy, and through a time of huge social change in education, science, commerce and industry. The world was also in transit with the opening of new opportunities in the Australian and New Zealand colonies. Like many of his extended family, this was the path that John chose to go down.

On 16/10/1849, John married a Jane Thomson who came from the nearby townland of Altaghadoire. Her father, William Thomson, a former ensign in the Donegal Militia, had died barely two years earlier leaving her mother, Martha, a widow.

(Altaghadoire is on the border of Co. Donegal and modern-day Northern Ireland)

Their match was apparently not approved by either family, with only John’s cousins, Joseph and Rebecca along with Rebecca’s husband the Rev. John Macky, Jane’s brother, Dr John Thomson and cousin Margaret Breaden attending the ceremony.

We pick up the threads of their story in a letter written to Thomas Macky in New Zealand a few months later, as the couple take stock of their new surroundings and begin a new life in Australia.

Pascoevale Near Melbourne,
Port Philip
July 20th, 1850

Dear Tommy
I suppose you have heard ere this that I had taken my departure from our dear native island, for some part of the Southern Hemisphere; for I was not determined, when I left home, whether I would stop here, or go on to New Zealand. However, I was tired enough of the sea when I got here and I was not in the humour to undertake another voyage so soon.

I intended to have written to you for your advice as soon as I landed, then I thought I would wait for a little, until I would see how I would like this country. However, after I had been here for some time I found there would soon be a greater objection to my going to New Zealand than want of inclination, namely want of means; so I left off writing to you from day to day, until I have spent nearly four months here.

If you heard that I came out here you heard also that I had joined my fortunes for life to Miss Thomson, for better or worse, for richer or poorer; if you did not hear of it I will tell you all about it, as far as I remember, but I think crossing the line obliterates from the memory occurrences that took place on the other side of it.

Well, I suppose you will guess the greater part of my friends were against the match at first, and made so much work about it that it took place much sooner than it would otherwise have done. Your brother, John, and Rebecca and young Joe Cochrane were the only three that stood to me through thick and thin; the others all gave in when they saw it would do no good, at least all but my father and mother, and they held out to the last minute. The Thompsons, when they saw the way things were going, turned against us also, but we got the indissoluble knot tied in Carrigan church, on the 16th October, 1849, took the train to Derry and a covered car from that to Glengollen, then back to Carnshanagh (sic) for dinner, according to a previous invitation.

(Glengollan was the residence of Thomas Norman, near Burnfoot; a large holding consisting of more than 5400 acres.)

(Carnshanagh or Carnashannagh is the townland where John & Rebecca Macky - nee Cochrane – resided. It lies just to the north of Burnfoot.)

We had a very small wedding party; I had no one but Joe Cochrane, and Jane had her brother, a doctor, and her cousin, Margaret Breaden; but your brother had a good number of young people asked for the evening, and we had a very pleasant night until 3 o'clock in the morning. In a day or two my father and mother came round, when they saw it was no use to hold out any longer; and they invited Jane and me down to the house; and we lived there after I left Sir Robert until we started to come here.

(Breaden is also spelt Bredin. This branch of the family came from Co. Londonderry)

We came out in the emigrant ship “Eliza Caroline” which set sail from Plymouth on the first of January and arrived here on the 30th of March. We had a very pleasant passage of 89 days; we had 275 passengers on board and not a single death and very little sickness.

(The Eliza Caroline famously transported 235 Irish orphans as a part of Earl Grey’s Irish Famine Relief Emigration Scheme, on this voyage.)

August 8th

We were very fortunate in having an excellent captain and crew, they were all Welshmen, and the greater part teetotallers. We sailed from Plymouth on the first day of the New Year and cast anchor in Hobson's Bay on the 30th of March, Easter Sunday.

We lived at lodgings then for about a month, during which time I engaged with a Mr Smith, as gardener, at the rate of £30 per year. However, he put me off from time to time, for two months. I thought I was all right, when I had a printed agreement, but when he came to take out my things he would not have me, unless the date of the agreement would be changed which let me lose my two months' time that he kept me doing nothing. So, as I had heard unfavourable accounts of him I was glad of the opportunity of being done with him.

I saw in one of the newspapers an advertisement for a master and mistress for the Pascoe Vale National School. I applied as a matter of course, and had the good fortune to be chosen, in preference to 13 others. We had to stand an examination. Jane teaches the female school, and I teach the boys.

It is just a new house. It was only opened on the 29th of July. It consists of two large schoolrooms, a classroom and three very comfortable apartments for our accommodation; the whole cost £305, so you may suppose it is a complete building of the kind; and there are two acres of land attached, of which I will receive the benefit. Government gives £40 per annum to each teacher, that is £80 for us both, but they will only give £40 for both for the first year. The children will average about 5d per week each, and we have 53 already, and it is supposed there will be near 100 when the days get longer.

August 9th
I like teaching tolerably well for the time, considering that I was always very much averse to it; Jane is getting on very well also; our hours are short, from 9 am to 4 pm, allowing an hour in the middle of the day for dinner, and it is very easy to reconcile a person to anything that they are well paid for. So you see, considering everything, we are comfortably situated for a beginning.

This is a fine flourishing country, I question if New Zealand is better. Everyone here that keeps steady is doing remarkably well; men who could not have bought a coat to their back, if they had remained at home, are quite independent now; some of them worth thousands.
There is a man and his wife living about two miles from us here, the man's name is George Orr, his wife's name was Haslett, she is sister to David Haslett of Derry, her mother was one of the Fultons of Drumbasnet; so you know she is the breed of the Mackys.

(John’s maternal great-grandmother was also born Fulton. His Uncle Joseph’s first wife, Rebecca, was born Orr)

They lived somewhere near the racecourse before they came out here. They are out now about nine years and although they met with losses since they came, they are living very comfortably and independently, and I am sure they never would have been that if they had remained at the racecourse. How many hundreds are in Ireland, living from hand to mouth, who could make a comfortable independency in this country.

I suppose you knew before you left home, that William Cunningham's elder brother, Andrew, was out here. He and a young man named McDougall from Conroy (Convoy?), and one of the Mackys near Newtoncunningham, who has a brother a clergyman, have been in partnership since they came to the colony; and they have succeeded remarkably well; they purchased a section (640) acres of land, between two and three years ago, and they have purchased another now. They are making money fast; they call their place Glenburnie; it is about 28 miles from Melbourne. We spent nearly two months with them, when we had nothing to do. Mr Cunningham told me to ask you when I would be writing to you, if you know anything of John Brigham, formerly of Derry. He went from Sydney to New Zealand some years ago; Mr C would like very much to hear from him. If you know anything of him, you will please be kind enough to tell him so. Mr Andrew Cunningham, Glenburnie, care of Mr Robert Gallagher, Baker, Melbourne, Port Philip, are his directions. Mrs Gallagher is sister to Mr Matthewson of the Waterside, they are doing very well in Melbourne and are very much respected.

I did not see my cousin, Kitty, for a year before I came out here, but I believe she was in fine spirits preparing for a trip to New Zealand; your brother William and her were to go together. I suppose she will be with you by the time you get this. If she is, I wish you both every happiness, which your constancy deserves.

(John’s cousin, Kitty Cochrane emigrated to Auckland in 1852, where she married Thomas Macky, the recipient of this letter.)

I need not tell you anything about how things were when I left home, as I expect William will be there. My father was appointed High Constable for the Barony of Raphoe. It will be worth about £300 per year, clear of all expense; but the country cess will be very hard to collect, owing to the bad times. Write as soon as you get this, and tell me as much about your country as I told you about Port Philip.
Jane joins me in kindest regards to you, your brother's family and to Kitty and William, if they are with you.

Believe me, dear Tommy,
very sincerely your friend,
John Cochrane

John and Jane Cochrane’s teaching careers were relatively short-lived. By 1853, they had taken up the lease of “Essendon Park”, 119 acres abutting the creek to the west of Pascoe Vale Rd, and it wasn’t long before John Cochrane began to make a name for himself in local circles for his expertise and innovative farming techniques.

A plaque at the Five Mile Creek reserve, Essendon, commemorates the site of the Pascoe Vale National School and John Cochrane, its first Head Master.