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COCHRAN, ANDREW WILLIAM, lawyer, office holder, militia officer, politician, jp, and judge; b. c. 1793 in Windsor, N.S., son of William Cochran* and Rebecca Cuppaidge; d. 11 July 1849 in Sillery, Lower Canada.

The precocious son of an Anglican cleric, Andrew William Cochran grew up in a family of modest financial means but of rich intellectual resources; his father was the first president of King’s College, Windsor. After classical studies there Cochran went into law, and in 1810 a report that he and Charles Rufus Fairbanks had compiled on a sensational trial for murder and piracy was published in Halifax by James Bagnall*. Cochran’s talents in law and languages brought him to the attention of Lieutenant Governor Sir George Prevost*, who, after his appointment as governor of Lower Canada in 1811, promised Cochran a position in the colony. Cochran was only 19 or 20 when he arrived at Quebec and, in June 1812, was appointed an assistant in the Civil Secretary’s Office. The following April he was promoted assistant civil secretary.

Shortly after his arrival. Cochran was commissioned an ensign in the militia; he was appointed deputy judge advocate on the militia staff in July 1813 and in November 1814 he became acting deputy judge advocate on the army staff. Meanwhile, about April 1814, he had been named clerk of the Prerogative Court, a position he would hold until it was merged with the civil secretaryship in 1827.

Cochran quickly found that, in Lower Canadian politics, although ultimate constitutional authority for colonial affairs rested with the British parliament, there was a struggle for power within the colony between the House of Assembly, controlled by the nationalist Canadian party, and the appointed Executive and Legislative councils, dominated by the English party and loosely allied with the governor. The adoption by Prevost of a conciliatory attitude towards the assembly influenced young Cochran, and when Prevost’s successor as governor, Sir John Coape Sherbrooke*, chose a similar line Cochran’s views and experience made him the natural selection as Sherbrooke’s civil secretary; he held the post from July 1816 to the end of July 1818. Sherbrooke’s successor, the Duke of Richmond [Lennox*], adopted a policy of confrontation with the assembly, and he consequently preferred to fill the sensitive office of civil secretary with his personal secretary, John Ready.

Having undertaken to study the law in Lower Canada, with the assistance of Chief Justice Jonathan Sewell, Cochran had been called to the bar on 11 June 1817 and had subsequently started a private practice. In July 1818 he was appointed advocate general pro tempore until replaced by George Vanfelson* in January 1819. Three more appointments in the space of three years – auditor of the land patents in 1818, law clerk of the Legislative Council in 1819, and secretary of the Clergy Reserves Corporation in 1821 – increased his legal and administrative experience of colonial affairs and added more than £300 per annum to his income.

In the mean time Richmond’s successor, Lord Dalhousie [Ramsay], who had retained Ready as civil secretary, had become dissatisfied with him, perhaps as much for political as for administrative reasons. By 1822 Dalhousie was turning increasingly to the English party, of which Sewell was a leader and with which Cochran’s recent appointments had brought him into closer contact. On 4 June 1822 Cochran replaced Ready. His task, for which he received £500 sterling a year, consisted in large part of reading, arranging, and registering the governor’s official mail, provincial and imperial; he thus had considerable control over the information destined for the governor. He also often replied to the governor’s correspondents and wrote to “all public officials on the details of their respective duties.”

Cochran’s advice to the governor concentrated on administrative detail and the legal implication of proposed actions, the spheres in which he was most experienced; indeed, he once apologized for volunteering an opinion on relations with the assembly. However, the highly politicized character of the colonial administration inevitably conferred on the governor’s closest collaborator duties of a political nature. Cochran sounded out the intentions of candidates for appointment, and when, in Britain in 1824–25, Dalhousie found that he had little personal influence over the colonial secretary, Lord Bathurst, Cochran, who had accompanied him, served as his representative at the Colonial Office. Cochran shared Dalhousie’s sympathies with the Canadians in general, but the British background and narrowly legal constitutional views of both men had alienated them from the leaders of the Canadian party. This alienation intensified after Dalhousie’s return from Britain. During his absence Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Nathaniel Burton* had worked out a short-term compromise with the assembly on the thorny issue of government expenditures and, encouraged by Burton’s attitude, the assembly increasingly resisted Dalhousie’s use of the royal prerogative and demanded changes in imperial policy and legislation. Having no influence in the assembly, which was dominated by Louis-Joseph Papineau*, Dalhousie depended all the more on the appointed councils, and on 15 May 1827 he confirmed Cochran’s political role by appointing him to the Executive Council (although Cochran did not immediately take up the position). The following year Cochran probably co-authored with Dalhousie the governor’s response to Patriote attacks on his administration before the Canada committee in London. After his recall in 1828 Dalhousie informed the colonial secretary, Sir George Murray, that during his administration Cochran had been “my best informed and most able assistant.” Papineau described Cochran’s role in a more sinister light: the secretary was Dalhousie’s “right-hand man, vile architect of his master’s plots, confidant of all his unjust schemes against the country.” Shortly before he left the colony Dalhousie had rewarded Cochran with appointments as justice of the peace, king’s counsel, and commissioner of escheats and forfeitures of land.

His position in government circles not being firmly established until his engagement by Dalhousie, Cochran had resided in modest rented quarters in Upper Town until 1818 at least. On 4 September of that year he had married Houstoun Thomson, daughter of the deputy commissary general, William Thomson; they would have seven children. In subsequent years Cochran became increasingly active socially. Appointed to the committee of the Quebec Emigrants’ Society in 1819, he became president of the Emigrant Aid Society the following year. In 1823 he was a director of the Quebec Fire Office, a private fire insurance company. A cultivated man, Cochran participated in the activities of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, which Dalhousie founded in 1824; in addition to presenting papers, he was elected vice-president in 1829 and president in 1837, 1842, 1845, and 1848. He was especially interested in the collection and publication of historical texts. In the 1830s he worked to have published Indian tales collected by a personal friend and former fur trader, Roderick Mackenzie, and a manuscript journal of the last years of the French régime by Louis-Léonard Aumasson* de Courville. In 1842 the Literary and Historical Society sent him to Albany, N.Y., to copy documents relating to New France which it intended to publish. Cochran was busy in the mid 1830s as well in completing another of Dalhousie’s projects, the monument to James Wolfe* and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm*, Marquis de Montcalm. A collector of beautiful books and strange editions, Cochran gave the inaugural address to the Quebec Library Association in 1844. He was also a vice-president and honorary counsel of the incorporated Church Society of the diocese of Quebec and a member of several other institutions connected with the Church of England.

As the son of a college president, Cochran was particularly interested in the support of education. In June 1823 he had been appointed by Dalhousie to the board of the Royal Institution for the Advancement of Learning; at the time, because the institution was viewed as anti-Catholic by Canadian leaders, Dalhousie was attempting to save it from increasing irrelevance by creating a parallel Catholic board [see Joseph Langley Mills*] . Cochran was president of the Royal Institution from December 1834 until the autumn of 1837. In 1845 he gave influential testimony to a committee of the assembly which was arbitrating a quarrel between the Royal Institution and the governors of McGill College [see John Bethune*]. After the Royal Institution was reconstituted that year with members exclusively from Montreal, Cochran continued to support education as chairman of the school commissioners at Quebec and as a trustee of Bishop’s College, Lennoxville.

Solidly established in the civil service and Quebec society during Dalhousie’s administration, in the early 1830s Cochran purchased a “Canadian house and garden” overlooking the St Lawrence four miles west of Quebec. He called the domain – a relatively modest one – Beauvoir. During cholera and typhus attacks in the 1830s and 1840s he remained at Beauvoir and “kept away from town except when business or public duty called me there.” It was at Beauvoir that his wife died in 1837. His marriage on 24 July 1843 with Magdalen Kerr, daughter of former judge James Kerr of the Court of King’s Bench, reflected the progress in his social status since 1818. From 1830 to 1835 Cochran had acquired, through grants, 1,521 acres of land in Leeds, Inverness, and Ireland townships.

Cochran’s services as civil secretary had ended on 1 Oct. 1828, shortly after Dalhousie’s departure. The governor’s replacement, Sir James Kempt*, hoping to relieve the charged political atmosphere in the colony, did not wish to retain his predecessor’s closest collaborator. Cochran did not retire from the public scene, however. For a time he resisted taking the oath of office as an executive councillor – the position by making him an ex officio member of the provincial Court of Appeals would interfere with his modest legal practice – but Kempt eventually overcame his reluctance. He attended council meetings throughout the 1830s, defending Dalhousie’s policies; in letters to his former patron and to Roderick Mackenzie he expressed mistrust of the imperial government’s conciliatory policy and deplored its failure to check the growth of radicalism in the assembly. In August 1837, several months before the rebellion broke out in Lower Canada, he counselled Governor Lord Gosford [Acheson] on legal aspects of dealing with disaffected militia officers and an assembly that refused to proceed with government business. In the aftermath of the rebellions he was appointed an assistant judge in the Court of King’s Bench at Quebec on 24 June 1839; judges Joseph-Rémi Vallières de Saint-Réal, Elzéar Bédard, and Philippe Panet* had been suspended in December 1838 for having made decisions that favoured the Patriote cause.

Among the major factors leading to the rebellions of 1837–38 had been the state of the civil service, and Cochran’s career represented in microcosm the peculiarities of the provincial government. There was almost no civil administration outside Quebec. In the capital, work was distributed haphazardly; in some busy offices the incumbents’ moderate emoluments had to cover their assistants’ salaries and, conversely, some incumbents received large salaries (or fees) for little or no work. Looked at individually, the sinecures seemed corrupt, but they served to distribute income and perquisites to the office-holding élite in rough proportion to their usefulness to the executive. Cochran’s appointments spanned the extremes of this system. As clerk of the Prerogative Court (a position which did not officially exist) he received about £200 a year to sign marriage licences for an hour a week. As commissioner of escheats he drew £500 sterling a year for duties that he did not fulfil because successive governors failed to get a court of escheats functioning. At the other extreme he earned only £100 a year sterling for the arduous tasks he performed as a member of the Executive Council and the Court of Appeals. Cochran’s total income at times approached £1,000 a year in salaries and fees, roughly that of the senior judges, the bishops, and the speaker of the assembly, and more than that of almost any civil official outside the customs service.

Successive governors tried to improve this ramshackle structure, but reforms foundered on the problem of finding pensions for redundant placemen, and on the assembly’s desire for sweeping changes that the Colonial Office would not contemplate. Eventually the assembly’s refusal to pay official salaries in the mid 1830s, and parliament’s suspension of the colonial legislature in 1838, gave the imperial authorities occasion to abolish offices and pare down the earnings of pluralists; Cochran earned nothing after 1836 from his posts of auditor of the land patents and commissioner of escheats, was placed on half pay as law clerk of the suspended Legislative Council, and lost his position as executive councillor with the union of 1841. By 1838 he had been named among office holders who were to receive a pension of £200 a year “for their public services.” He was not, however, without financial resources; as a queen’s counsel he handled many criminal prosecutions at Quebec until his death in 1849 at about age 56. Ironically he succumbed to cholera in his haven of Beauvoir. The four surviving children from his first marriage of whom three were minors – inherited a modest estate.

Talent and temperament – he was a man of ready conversation with an extensive circle of acquaintances – had secured Cochran a place near the centre of the provincial administration for nearly 30 years. He was in most ways the archetypal bureaucrat of his time. He considered office holding to be a matter of class – and, in the case of important positions, to be a British prerogative. After the death of an official in the Provincial Secretary’s Office in 1834 Cochran regretted that the post had not been offered to the official’s son. The young man who obtained the position, he told Roderick Mackenzie, was “clever and respectable in his character, but not of that standing in Society which I think would have been desirable for so honourable and confidential an office”; however, he added, “he is better than a Canadian, for that office.” Cochran was typical in other respects too: never elected to public position, and for the most part successful in avoiding controversy, he was a conspicuous pluralist and sinecurist. In contrast to lazy or predatory contemporaries, however, Cochran worked with diligence, discretion, and ability and took professional pride in his vocation. He considered the dismissal from office of William Bowman Felton, who had been accused of fraud, “just and proper,” he told Mackenzie in 1837; at the same time he felt for a man “who ends so discreditably a course of 30 years in public service.” But, he added, “I confess I feel more for his family, & for the discredit brought on the Public Service, and on the Legislative Council than for the individual himself.” It was in part conscientious men such as Cochran who prolonged the old colonial system in Lower Canada by ensuring that the bureaucracy met most of the demands that were placed upon it.

Philip Goldring

Andrew William Cochran probably co-authored with Lord Dalhousie Observations on the petitions of grievance addressed to the imperial parliament from the districts of Quebec, Montreal, and Three Rivers (Quebec, 1828). He presented three papers to the Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, “Ancient documents relating to Acadia: notices of the families of La Tour and D’Aulnais, therein mentioned, so far as their history is connected with it”; “A collection and critical examination of the passages in Greek authors in which mention is made of the Hyperboreans (prize essay)”; and “Notes on the measures adopted by government, between 1775 and 1786, to check the St Paul’s Bay disease,” which were published in its Trans., 3 (1832–37): 233–41; 322–46; and 4 (1843–60): 139–52, respectively, as well as two other papers which were not published, “The diversity of laws prevailing in the different colonial possessions of Great Britain” (1843) and “On the diversity of colonial laws, the etymology of Quebec” (1844). He is also the author of Inaugural address, delivered at Quebec, before the Quebec Library Association, on Friday, 26th January, 1844 (Quebec, 1844).

ANQ-Q, CE1-61, 4 sept. 1818, 17 juin 1837, 24 juill. 1843, 12 juill. 1849; CN1-18, 27 juin, 21 nov. 1848; 21 nov. 1849; CN1-208, 3 déc. 1849. McGill Univ. Libraries, Dept. of Rare Books and Special Coll., ms coll., CH27 S63. PAC, MG 24, A40: 6341–49, 6658–60, 6763–65, 6798–800, 7696–99; B14: 1713–16; C37; MG 30, D1, 8: 473–76; RG 68, General index, 1651–1841. PRO, CO 42/216: 267; 42/295: 294; CO 47/ 122: 30; 47/ 123: 18; 47/ 126: 13; 47/ 128: 92, 144; 47/136: 45; 47/137: 158. SRO, GD45/3/34A-B. G.B., Parl., Command paper, 1837, 24, [no.50]: 35–37, Report of commissioners on grievances complained of in Lower Canada. L.C., House of Assembly, Journals, 1828–29, app.Ii, 28 Feb. 1829. L.-J. Papineau, “Correspondance” (Ouellet), ANQ Rapport, 1953–55: 269. Morning Chronicle (Quebec), 13 July 1849. Quebec Gazette, 18 June 1812; 12 June 1817; 7 Sept. 1818; 2 Aug. 1819; 23 Oct. 1820; 26 Nov. 1821; 21 July, 13 Oct. 1823; 5 Jan., 29 March 1824; 12 July 1849. F.-J. Audet, “Les législateurs du Bas-Canada.” “The Durham papers,” PAC Report, 1923: 25, 27, 38, 246. H. J. Morgan, Bibliotheca Canadensis; Sketches of celebrated Canadians. Officers of British forces in Canada (Irving). Ouellet, “Inv. de la saberdache,” ANQ Rapport, 1955–57: 123, 125, 161. Quebec almanac, 1815: 32; 1821–27. S. B. Frost, McGill University: for the advancement of learning (2v., Montreal, 1980–84), l: 65–93. Philip Goldring, “British colonists and imperial interests in Lower Canada, 1820 to 1841” (phd thesis, Univ. of London, 1978). Taft Manning, Revolt of French Canada. P.-É. Vachon, Beauvoir, le domaine, la villa (Cap-Rouge, Qué., 1977), 59–71. Frère Marcel-Joseph, “Les Canadiens veulent conserver le régime seigneurial,” RHAF, 7 (1953–54): 237. Séraphin Marion, “L’Institution royale, les biens des jésuites et Honoré Mercier,” Cahiers des Dix, 35 (1970): 97–126. R. G. Thwaites, “Le journal des jésuites,” BRH, 5 (1899): 21–22.

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Cite This Article

Philip Goldring, “COCHRAN, ANDREW WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 21, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cochran_andrew_william_7E.html.

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Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cochran_andrew_william_7E.html
Author of Article:   Philip Goldring
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 7
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1988
Year of revision:   1988
Access Date:   May 21, 2024