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'.
'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 -
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
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): https://www.facebook.com/notes/nz-ulster-connections/a-letter-from-montreal/613387528829326/
Especial thanks to my second cousins, Linda Dodds (New Zealand) and Joy Ricks (Victoria, Australia)
Written and compiled by Wanda Hopkins, April 2019