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COCKSHUTT, IGNATIUS, businessman and philanthropist; b. 24 Aug. 1812 in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, son of James Cockshutt and Mary Nightingale; m. first 22 Sept. 1846 Margaret Gemmell (d. 1847) of Montreal, and they had a daughter; m. secondly 9 Sept. 1850 Elizabeth Foster of Mount Pleasant, Upper Canada, and they had six sons and three daughters; d. 28 Feb. 1901 in Brantford, Ont.

Ignatius Cockshutt’s father was engaged in business for some years in Yorkshire and Lancashire before he decided to emigrate. His first venture, a cotton factory, failed in 1816 in the commercial depression following the Napoleonic Wars. He then managed his grandfather’s farm until embarking in business again in 1822. His chequered career and his conviction that literary achievement did not necessarily prepare a lad for a useful life probably explain why he provided his son with only a basic education: Ignatius attended a Leeds boarding-school for just one year, followed by some time at a school in Colne. James later explained that the sight of a Luddite mob smashing wagon-loads of machinery in the streets of Colne finally induced him to seek a more hospitable place in which to invest his inheritance from his grandfather.

The Cockshutt family sailed from Liverpool for Quebec in July 1827. They intended to settle in Pennsylvania, but on board a friend, James Laycock, persuaded James to go into business with him in York (Toronto), Upper Canada. The partnership lasted until Cockshutt set himself up as a general merchant a year later. He decided in 1829 to open a branch in Brantford, in partnership with Christopher Batty, and sent Ignatius to clerk in the new store. Brantford was still part of the Six Nations Reserve and, before the town-site’s cession to the crown in 1830, white residents there were squatters. This uncertainty of tenure and its retarding effect on settlement probably affected Cockshutt and Batty, for they closed out in less than a year.

Ignatius nevertheless believed that Brantford would be a profitable location and he persuaded his father to reopen the branch in 1832. This time the Cockshutts met with such success that two years later James shut the York store to move to Brantford himself. In 1840 Ignatius and his sister, Jane, purchased the business and by 1844 they had accumulated capital of $10,000. Two years after his sister withdrew from the business in 1846, Ignatius was judged to be worth that amount in his own right.

General merchandising remained Cockshutt’s main occupation until 1882, and it made him wealthy. Cautious and plodding, he avoided the speculations in grain, lumber, and land that ruined many of Brantford’s businessmen in the 1850s. He none the less shared with other boosters a pride of place and, by fostering schemes to enhance Brantford’s advantages of location over Hamilton, sought to make it the commercial entrepôt for the western part of the province. As the largest property owner in the town from its incorporation in 1847, he benefited the most from any appreciation in real-estate values. He participated in the promotion of the Brantford and Buffalo Joint Stock Railway (later renamed the Buffalo, Brantford and Goderich) and served on its board of directors from 1850 to 1853. The road failed to pay expenses, however, and its bankruptcy wiped out his $3,000 investment (the second largest among Brantford investors). Other local projects in which he participated were more successful, if unspectacular, in making profits. In 1856 he undertook the construction of a toll-road from Brantford to Oakland. He was president of the Brantford Gas Works for a time and of the Brantford Waterworks Company from its formation in 1870 until its take-over by the city in 1889.

The mercantile agency of Dun, Wiman and Company [see Erastus Wiman] gave $750,000 to $1 million as a conservative estimate of Cockshutt’s wealth in 1875, although it noted that he had a good deal more capital at his command since he invested funds for English friends and relatives. Much of his wealth was in real estate. In 1880, besides his own business and residence assessed in the municipal tax rolls at $20,750, he had 41 rental properties valued at $56,100. He also owned 21 farms in Brantford Township. Until the 1870s his manufacturing investment took the form of ownership of all or part of the land and plant occupied by a factory; the return was rent, not a share of profits or losses. Subsequently he began to advance money in the form of mortgages: $37,000 to ten different factories in the 1870s alone. Conservatism in investment, though a factor, does not entirely explain his preference for mortgages; it was as much a reflection of the limited ways in which businesses could organize capital as it was an indication of a desire to minimize risk.

Cockshutt did take shares in companies in which he or his family could exert managerial influence. He held stock in C. H. Waterous and Company [see Charles Horatio Waterous*], of which his son James G. was for a time president, and provided capital for the Cockshutt Plough Company Limited when James struck out on his own. Ignatius himself became president of the Craven Cotton Company of Brantford following its reorganization in 1882. At that time he withdrew from his mercantile business, turning over its departments to his sons. In response to a crisis in 1883 caused by overproduction in the cotton industry, he joined the Canadian Cotton Manufacturers’ Association, set up to fix production quotas. Like other cartels, it was difficult to police and he complained in 1889 to Andrew Frederick Gault that his mill was suffering because others refused to abide by their commitments. In 1891 Cockshutt and his board decided to sell out to Gault; they accepted $130,000 for their business ($60,000 in cash and the balance in bonds), reckoning that they had already expended nearly twice that sum.

Throughout his life Cockshutt devoted considerable time and money to Christian philanthropy. He belonged to a Methodist sect, the Inghamites or Independents, which had originally flourished in Yorkshire and Lancashire. His father had founded two congregations in Upper Canada, the first in York, which did not thrive, and the second in Brantford. Its evangelical doctrines were demanding, and Ignatius Cockshutt, who remained an Inghamite throughout his life, refused to let faith rest easily upon him. As he wrote to a relative, “The great matter for all to earnestly consider [is] how do I stand in the sight of the Lord. Am I resting on the sure Rock Christ trusting alone in his precious Blood [and] finished work for sinners like you [and] me.” His religious convictions required him to engage in charity work and evangelism. “We are commanded to do good to all as we have opportunity especially the household of faith,” he explained to a correspondent. In 1887 he donated land and $10,000 for the Brant County House of Industry. Other agencies in Brantford, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, the Young Men’s Christian Association, and the Young Women’s Christian Association, received substantial donations. As well, he established the Widow’s Home in Brantford and, with Thomas Strahan Shenston*, the Brantford Orphan’s Home, the operation of which Cockshutt took over entirely in 1879. He also sent money regularly to Dr Thomas John Barnardo for work with destitute children in Britain and volunteered to find situations locally for child immigrants. His major commitment, however, was to support one mission in Jamaica entirely and another partially.

Cockshutt had an austere personality, emanating from his religion and work ethic, and expressed in the patriarchal discipline he exerted over his children, nine of whom survived childhood. Loans to his sons when they embarked in business were painstakingly recorded and fully secured. In 1890 he lectured the fiancé of his daughter Elizabeth on matrimonial finances, couching his disapproval of their marriage settlement in no uncertain terms. William Foster* suffered particularly from being his father’s son. Ignatius did not approve of his choice for a wife, refused to sanction the marriage, and, when William would not listen, had local doctors declare him mentally unstable and packed him off to an asylum at Canandaigua, N.Y., until he gave in to his father’s wishes. It is hardly a wonder that the children at times believed he displayed more interest in his dogs, for whom he felt great affection, than in them. William nevertheless went on to become a noted mp and exponent of imperial free trade, while another son, Henry* (Harry), gained prominence in manufacturing and as a lieutenant governor of Ontario.

Discipline, rooted in his faith and demonstrated in his relations with his children, characterized Ignatius Cockshutt’s success in business. Careful attention to his undertakings earned him a fortune. Perhaps because Brantford’s size limited the prospects for growth of any mercantile venture, Cockshutt diversified his business interests and from the 1870s made significant investments in local manufacturing.

David G. Burley

A volume entitled Memoirs of Ignatius Cockshutt, consisting chiefly of his own reminiscences, collected and arranged by a member of his family was published posthumously at Brantford, Ont., in 1903.

AO, F 243; F 262, MU 7223–27; RG 21, Brantford, assessment rolls, 1880. Baker Library, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 13: 21, 45, 82F, 116. MTRL, T. S. Shenston papers. NA, RG 5, B9, 72, no.1550; RG 31, C1, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, Brantford. Univ. of Waterloo Library (Waterloo, Ont.), Brant County, copy-books of deeds, Brantford, instrument nos.4185, 4801, 4825, 5430, 5515, 6124, 6541, 6567, 6824, 8316, 9234, 10388, 10473, 11003, 11044, 11375 (mfm. at AO). Daily Courier (Brantford), 1 March 1901. Daily Expositor (Brantford), 2 March 1901. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1851, app.Z. The history of the county of Brant, Ontario . . . (Toronto, 1883), 285. Naylor, Hist. of Canadian business. F. D. Reville, History of the county of Brant (2v., Brantford, 1920).

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

David G. Burley, “COCKSHUTT, IGNATIUS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 23, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cockshutt_ignatius_13E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cockshutt_ignatius_13E.html
Author of Article: David G. Burley
Title of Article: COCKSHUTT, IGNATIUS
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1994
Year of revision: 1994
Access Date: April 23, 2014