George Cockburn

Birth: 1763


Sir George Cockburn (1763-1847), general and pamphleteer, eldest son of George Cockburn, by a sister of Admiral Sir Benjamin Caldwell, G.C.B., was born in Dublin in 1763. He was gazetted an ensign in the 1st, afterwards the Grenadier, guards on 9 May 1781, and in the following year went to Gibraltar, where he acted as aide-de-camp to General Eliott during the famous siege. For his services he was promoted captain-lieutenant into the 105th regiment in 1784, and transferred in the following year to the 65th, which was then quartered in Dublin.

His new colonel, the Earl of Harrington, took a great fancy to the young man, and instead of letting him go to Canada with the rest of the regiment in June 1785, he kept him at home for recruiting duties, and sent him to study the Prussian autumn manoeuvres. In the following years he went to Austria, France, and in 1788 to Spain for the same reason, and in March 1790 he was promoted captain into the 5th (Royal Irish) light dragoons. In the same year he was made major of the Royal Irish Independent Invalids, and in November 1793 was transferred to the 92nd regiment, of which he purchased the lieutenant-colonelcy in the following month, and soon after went upon half-pay.

In 1797 he was promoted colonel, and in 1803 major-general, and from 1806 to 1810 he held a command in the northern district. In April 1810 he was appointed to the command of a division in the army of occupation in Sicily, and took charge of Messina, but his tenure of command was not long, and in November, on the news arriving that he had been promoted lieutenant-general, he had to resign. Before that time, however, he had been present at the defeat of Cavaignac's division when it attempted to land in Sicily, but the chief credit of the action is due to the adjutant-general, James Campbell.

Cockburn then proceeded to travel about Sicily, and on his return to England published two elaborate volumes with illustrations, which he called 'A Voyage to Cadiz and Gibraltar, up the Mediterranean to Sicily and Malta in 1810 and 1811, including a description of Sicily and the Lipari Islands, and an Excursion in Portugal.' He then settled down at his seat, Shanganah Castle, near Bray, county Wicklow, which he had purchased, and began to devote himself to politics. He began as a violent reformer and an admirer of Cobbett, and erected a column in his grounds in memory of the Reform Bill, which he speedily knocked down when the whigs ceased to please him.

In 1821 he was made a K.C.H. by George IV, and in 1837 William IV made him a G.C.H., rather in recognition of his activity as a magistrate than for his military services. In 1843 he published a pamphlet, which was praised at the time, 'A Dissertation on the State of the British Finances,' in which he advocated that bank notes should be issued by government and not the Bank of England, and in 1846 he issued a still more curious one, in which he examined such historical puzzles as Hannibal's passage over the Alps, and the authorship of the 'Letters of Junius,' which he ascribed, on the testimony of Dr. Parr, to Charles Lloyd. In 1821 Cockburn was promoted general and G.C.H. 1831; when he died at Shanganah Castle, 18 Aug. 1847, he was fourth general in seniority in the British army.

[Gent. Mag. November 1847, and Cockburn's own pamphlets.]


Henry Morse Stephens, Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 11. pg. 184.

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