FROM COUNTY DONEGAL TO COUNTRY VICTORIA: JOHN COWAN COCHRANE
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,
July 20th, 1850
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.)
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.
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 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.