Joseph Cochrane (1823-1875)

Family and friendship in New Ulster

Wanda Hopkins, Mt Barker, South Australia

Following the traditional naming patterns, the Cochran family of Donegal and Londonderry had a succession of Josephs in their family tree. The name Samuel was almost as common.

We will start with Joseph of Chrislaghmore (1753 – 1838), father of Joseph (1789 – 1865) of Londonderry and Buncrana. To complicate events further, Joseph of Londonderry had a cousin, also named Joseph (1792 – 1877), who also features prominently in the history of the family. We know from his Last Will and Testament that this Joseph Cochrane was also based at Chrislaghmore and that he amassed a great deal of property during his life. He is referred to as “Cousin Joseph” in the following account.

Joseph of Londonderry and Buncrana also had a son, Joseph (1823 – 1875), who immigrated to New Zealand. This Joseph is known as “Joe” to many family historians. He was also referred to as “Young Joe”. This is Young Joe’s story.

My great, great granduncle, Joseph Cochrane, left Londonderry for Auckland in April 1854. Aged in his early thirties, he already had a lifetime of experiences in his home land.

Born into a family of merchants in Londonderry in 1822, he endured his family’s fall from grace. His father had declared himself bankrupt in the late 1830s on the verge of inheriting a rural estate from his late father at Chrislaghmore; land that had been in the family for at least three generations previously.

As a consequence of his downturn in good fortune, his father sold his property in nearby Buncrana in an attempt to repay his many debts and lost the battle to retain his right to the Chrislaghmore property. Presumably this property would have eventually been left to Joseph, and his brothers Samuel and James, had times been better. Further research indicates that his father’s share of the freehold property at Chrislaghmore was probably acquired by his cousin and namesake, Joseph Cochrane, to keep the property in the family. His Uncle Samuel retained title to another part of the property.

Young Joe was loyal to his family who in turn were highly dependent on him. In times where his older brother had already left the fold, Joseph helped shore up what remained of the family’s reputation and foster good will.

Family letters from this period document that he not only accompanied his aunt to Scotland to seek medical assistance, but his sister, Kitty, to London prior to her departure for New Zealand. He had also assisted in the running of the Flax and Tow Spinning Mill in Buncrana, then owned by the Alexander family, when the business experienced financial difficulties in the late 1840s. Likewise, Joseph removed to Londonderry in an attempt to revive a warehouse business known as the “City House” with his Aunt Orr. Unfortunately, this venture also failed and it was left to Joseph to wind up its affairs and advertise its sale.

Bridge leading to the former site of the Buncrana Flax and Tow Spinning Mill
Bridge leading to the former site of the Buncrana Flax and Tow Spinning Mill, Co. Donegal

The Cochranes were closely related to the Macky family in neighbouring Co. Londonderry, whose fortunes were also quickly diminishing. A decision was taken for the family to emigrate on the recommendation of three of their sons who were making a new life in New Zealand, brothers James, William and Thomas Macky. With his sister, Kitty, now married to Thomas Macky and residing in Auckland, and elder sister, Rebecca, married to the Rev. John Macky, also about to emigrate, it became natural that Joseph and his recently widowed sister, Anne Alexander, would follow suit. There was also a mention in family letters of the prospect of employment in the Macky family’s new enterprises, should he decide on this course of action.

Joseph’s travelling companions also included the Macky elders, John and Eliza, and youngest Macky sibling, Dorcas. It was left to Joseph to organise suitable passage for himself and his fellow travellers.

Their father remained in Londonderry, with his wife of five years, Elizabeth. Their two daughters, Sarah and Jane, were born in that city in 1852 and 1855.

After a journey of four months duration our party of travellers arrived in New Zealand on 21 August 1854, being met in Auckland by James, William and Thomas Macky.

By July of the following year Joseph had established himself in Tauranga in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty region setting up a large trading store in Otumoetai. His store is believed to have been situated on land belonging to prominent local Maori chief, Hori Ngatai, who from all accounts appears to have been his protector and friend.

At the time of his arrival the Bay of Plenty was already recognised as a major food producing region and Auckland was growing sufficiently enough in size that a coastal trade with the area had the potential to become a very lucrative operation. The Maoris in the area had already embraced a European way of food production and trading including livestock, wheat and maize. Joseph no doubt saw a future in the region and his family association with the Macky brothers, who had already established themselves in Auckland as merchants and exporters, most likely paid a part in his decision to settle in the area.

The earliest documented source of Joseph Cochrane living in Tauranga came in the form of a note to Archdeacon Brown of the Te Papa Mission, dated 10 July 1855 in which Joseph announced his intention to become a part of the Tauranga community. At this time he performs what is probably his first civic duty, a pledge of five pounds to the Patriotic Fund.

Interior of the Te Papa Mission Station
Interior of the Te Papa Mission Station, now known as The Elms, Tauranga NZ

It is also known that during his stay in Tauranga he boarded with Mr and Mrs Carl Volkner at the mission station. Volkner assisted Archdeacon Brown by conducting a school for Maori children on the mission, in the years leading up to his ordination.

During the mid-1850s there was ongoing disharmony among some of the local tribes who had lived nearby. In this climate of unrest Joseph Cochrane’s store became the target of a raiding party. While the influence of the local chief was sufficient to save the property from damage, an underlying sense of disquiet persisted for many months possibly even prompting Joseph Cochrane’s early departure from the area. Certainly, by January of the following year, he was gainfully employed by his brother-in-law, Thomas Macky, in Auckland.

In 1858, in correspondence addressed to Joseph’s sister, Catherine Macky, there is further evidence of his early connection to the region and the generosity that typically characterised him. In a letter penned by a Mrs Spencer of Tarawera she reminds Catherine to:

“tell your brother that his hospitality to Hori has been publicly announced at every village from Auckland to this place. The distinguishing part seems to be in the food being set on the cheffonier (sic)”.

Probably because of these established friendships and his local knowledge, Joseph Cochrane not long afterwards accompanied William Macky to Tauranga to demonstrate the use of the plough to natives.

By 1859 there were new ventures afoot for Joseph Cochrane beginning with him travelling to Australia in May and returning three months later with the family of Captain Ranulph Dacre, a former business associate of Macky brothers. By October the same year he formed a new business partnership with his brother, Samuel, newly arrived from Montreal. The early part of the 1860s would see Joseph continue to establish himself in Auckland as an auctioneer and land agent.

collapse of the Ligar Canal
Dramatic photograph of Lower Queen St, Auckland, taken in June 1860 showing the collapse of the Ligar Canal

The premises of Samuel Cochrane, Brother & Co, and that of Thos. Macky & Co. adjoin the Metropolitan Hotel on the corner of

Fort St. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries 4-400)

By now a well-known Auckland identity, Joseph’s name often appeared in the local newspapers. Frequently outspoken about current affairs there were many times he provided a dissenting point-of-view. An eloquent writer, he often expressed an impassioned view of his subject matter.

His patriotism towards his adopted country was unbounded and persuasive, as demonstrated in his very open support of John Williamson’s election to the post of Superintendent of the Province of Auckland in 1861. Cochrane also endorsed former Auckland Mayor, Archibald Clark’s nomination to the Provincial Council in 1867.

In his leisure time, Joseph Cochrane pursued an enthusiasm for artistic activities. Involving himself in Auckland amateur theatre during the early 1860s, he was instrumental in the formation of a new choral group, the Auckland Harmonic Society. He was also an active committee member and fundraiser, volunteering his time for the YMCA, the Auckland Rifle Volunteers and the Mechanics Institute, on occasion using his skills as an auctioneer to the benefit of the Auckland community.

Joseph’s association with Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty was far from over. In correspondence to Archdeacon Brown in 1861 there is mention of at least one consignment of Tauranga apples being shipped to Auckland for sale in Cochrane’s mart. The letter also discusses his on-going friendship with the Volkner family, who were soon to remove to Opotiki. He writes:

“Mr & Mrs Volkner have come up from Tauranga. Mrs V is wonderfully recovered and almost as usual. She finds that all Mission Stations are not so healthily situate as Te Papa. She desires her best & sincerest good wishes to Miss Rymill & yourself.”

Following his ordination, Volkner took charge of the CMS Mission in Opotiki where the Whakatohea community built a church and a school for the mission station. At the time of the Maori wars in 1864 the Maori community sided with their Waikato and Tauranga kin. Te Aporotonga, an important local chief was captured and later executed. The Te Whakatohea people believed that their leader had been murdered by pro-Government supporters from the rival Te Arawa tribe and Volkner was believed to be a government spy among them.

On 21/3/1865, Volkner and fellow missionary, Thomas Grace, were taken prisoner by the Pai Märire. Grace was spared but Volkner was hanged the following morning and beheaded. Te Whakatohea believed Volkner’s killing was that of utu for the earlier murder of Te Aporotonga. The government responded with military reprisals and land confiscations resulting in a number of claims for compensation in the latter part of the decade.

During July 1867, Joseph Cochrane took up a brief appointment as Clerk of the Court at nearby Maketu. No doubt, mindful of the death of his friend Carl Volkner in the area a scant two years earlier it could easily be assumed that this was the reason that he took on this particular post.

Maketu estuary
The estuary at the small coastal town of Maketu, 2016

The hearing was concerned with claims for the confiscated block in neighbouring Matata and Waitahanui, but with another round of cannibalistic murders just days before the court was due to sit, the court was adjourned before this inquiry was completed.

Even so, Joseph Cochrane was not to leave the district entirely unscathed. On departing Maketu, the cutter in which he was travelling was stranded on the sandbar with Cochrane and several other passengers losing all their possessions in the incident. Fortunately no lives were lost and considering the backdrop of unrest and violence all those affected must have been rather relieved that this was the worst that had happened.

Cochrane would safely return to Auckland with Commissioner Mackay and Crown Agent Wilson on the newly commissioned SS Tauranga a week later. The compensation court did not re-commence until September of the same year.

Joseph Cochrane would also return to the Bay of Plenty in September, this time on a different assignment. In the school room of the Durham Redoubt in Tauranga twenty local gentlemen met to consider the formation of a Discussion Society, Cochrane among them. Perhaps hinting of his general compassion for the plight of the Maori, the first topic for debate was whether the confiscation of Maori lands was justifiable, a Mr Little taking the affirmative and Cochrane, the negative.

Unfortunately, insolvency had shadowed Joseph Cochrane for the previous two years but in these times of recession, he wasn’t alone. He filed for bankruptcy in December 1867, his many assets being sold during the following year to settle his estate. Following his forced retirement from Auckland business circles he took up a number of official postings on the Thames goldfields. These included Clerk of the Court, Receiver of Gold Revenue, issuing Miners’ Rights and Deputy Returning Officer.

However, this change of lifestyle did not diminish Joseph Cochrane’s involvement in Auckland society and he remained a welcome addition to any guest list often putting his speechmaking skills to the test while attending these events.

At the time of his death in October 1875 Joseph was obviously very highly regarded. He spent his final days as the guest of his brother-in-law, Thomas Macky, in his Ponsonby home. On the eve of his passing he was visited by one of his oldest friends in the colony, Hori Ngatai, on whose land he had set up his trading post in twenty years earlier.

Expressing a previously unacknowledged side of his life, the Bay of Plenty Times reported Joseph’s death in the following manner:

“In unsettled times when war was threatening this district Mr Cochrane successfully exerted his influence in advising and pacifying the natives”

“Mr Cochrane enjoyed the esteem of a very large circle of acquaintances for his upright and conscientious character. He was always cheerful, intelligent, generous hearted and those qualities characterised all his actions through life.”

While it was not always through his own endeavours that his history is so well documented, his obituary reflects a true mark of respect to one of New Zealand’s lesser-known early citizens. His passing was noted with a similar level of regret in Auckland, the Thames and also found its way into the Londonderry press.

As coincidence would have it, he died on the same day as former mayor, Archibald Clark, whose political views he had supported many years earlier. The Thames newspapers noted that flags in the harbour were flown at half-mast for his and Clark’s death.

Joseph Cochrane was interred on 18/10/1875 at the Symonds St Cemetery, Auckland, in the area set apart for the family of Thomas Macky. He never married, so left no direct descendants.


New Ulster – the name given to a large part of the North Island of NZ by Governor Hobson

Utu – to reciprocate. May be for either good or bad deeds

Pai Märire (aka Hauhau) – religious faith that arose from the Taranaki land conflicts in about 1862


The Tauranga Historical Society

The Elms Collection

Website of the Macky family of New Zealand

New Zealand newspaper references from the Newspapers Past website

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Library

Irish newspaper references from the Find my Past website

Modern photography: Wanda Hopkins (New Zealand) and John Hopkins (Ireland)


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