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James W. Cockburn, QC (February 13, 1819 – August 14, 1883) was a Canadian Conservative politician, and a father of Canadian Confederation.

James Cockburn
James Cockburn.jpg
1st Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada
In office
November 6, 1867 – March 25, 1874
Governor GeneralThe Viscount Monck
The Lord Lisgar
Prime MinisterSir John A. Macdonald
Succeeded byTimothy Anglin
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Northumberland West
In office
Succeeded byWilliam Kerr
In office
Preceded byWilliam Kerr
Succeeded byGeorge Guillet
Personal details
Born(1819-02-13)February 13, 1819
Berwick-upon-Tweed, United Kingdom
DiedAugust 14, 1883(1883-08-14) (aged 64)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Resting placeSt. James Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Political partyConservative


Early lifeEdit

He was born in Berwick-Upon-Tweed on the EnglishScottish border and immigrated to Canada with his father, James Cockburn Snr. (1787–1832), mother, Sarah Turnbull (1797–1867) and brother, Adam (1820–1861), at the age of 13. After attending Upper Canada College and Osgoode Hall, he established a law practice in Cobourg, Ontario.


In the 1850s, Cockburn was elected to the town council. In 1861, he was elected to the Province of Canada's legislative assembly as a Reformer representing Northumberland West. Despite elected as an opponent of the Macdonald - Cartier administration, Cockburn switched allegiances and became a supporter of Macdonald's Liberal-Conservative Party.

Cockburn attended the Quebec Conference of 1864 as a supporter of Confederation. After Confederation, he was elected to the new House of Commons of Canada in the country's first election. He was nominated by Sir John A. Macdonald to be Canada's first Speaker of the House of Commons, a position in which he served from 1867 to 1874.

His performance as Speaker was hindered by the fact that he spoke no French in a chamber in which both English and French were official languages.[citation needed] He did however understand French. In 1872, Cockburn was nominated for a second term as Speaker despite reservations by the Opposition that he had been too favourable to the government in his rulings. Cockburn lost his seat in the 1874 election that had been precipitated by the Pacific Scandal and that brought down the Macdonald government.

Cockburn won back his former seat in the 1878 election but did not take an active role in Parliament. He resigned in 1881 when he was appointed to collect and classify Canadian statutes but this assignment was cut short by his death.


Cockburn died on August 14, 1883 from unknown causes. He is buried in St. James Cemetery, in Toronto.

Personal lifeEdit

He married Isabella Susan Patterson (1838-1862) in 1854 and they had three children: Sarah Isabella Cockburn (1857-1911), Francis Cockburn (1858-?) and May Cockburn (1859-?).


  • Swainson, Donald (1982). "Cockburn, James". In Halpenny, Francess G (ed.). Dictionary of Canadian Biography. XI (1881–1890) (online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
  • James Cockburn – Parliament of Canada biography
  • Gravestone, St. James Cemetery, Toronto