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Clan Cockburn

Clan Cockburn is a Scottish family or kin-group who do not have a recognised chief and therefore are considered an armigerous clan.


There is uncertainty over the source of this name. <ref>George Way of Plean and Romilly Squire, Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopedia, 373</ref> The name may originate with the lands of Cukooburn in Roxburghshire, although this is considered unlikely. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 2723</ref>

Anderson suggests that the name may be a corruption of the old English name 'Colbrand'.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 373</ref>

Middle Ages

In 1250 the name appears as a territorial designation through a mention of John de Kockburn in Colessie in Fife. It mentions a place in Berwickshire. <ref>David Dorward, Dictionary of Scottish Surnames, 48</ref> There is a hill called Cockburn Law north of Duns in Berwickshire. The area also had a Cockburn Tower- a small fortified house- which was purchased by William Cockburn in 1527 by Alexander Lindsay, Earl of Crawford. <ref></ref>

Peres de Cockburn gave homage to Edward I of England and appears in the Ragman Roll of 1296.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 373</ref>

A Robert de Cockburn is mentioned as a ‘serviens’ (servant or sergeant) in a charter, dating from 1232 to 1242, in which land is granted to the Chapel of St. Nicholas, next to a bridge over the River Spey in Moray. <ref>PoMS Document 3/414/4</ref>

A Petro de Kokeburne is mentioned on a document, dated from 15 May 1285, that records the sale of land to Kelso Abbey, near Roxburgh. <ref>PoMS Document 3/495/3</ref>

Sir Alexander de Cockburn married the daughter of Sir William de Vipont, owner of the lands of Langton in Berwickshire, and it is said they passed to him on the death of Sir William at the Battle of Bannockburn.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 373</ref>

The Langton estate was located to the southwest of Duns, about 6 km from Cockburn Tower. Sir Alexander's second marriage to the heiress Maria de Monfode added the estate of Skirling (in Peeblesshire). The greatly enlarged Cockburn lands were split up among Sir Alexander's three sons; however, the barony of Langton and Carriden remained with the eldest son Alexander. For the next 400 years, the Cockburns of Langton were prominent landowners in Berwickshire. Other branches of the family acquired estates in Ormiston and Clerkington (just southwest of Haddington) in East Lothian. The Cockburns of Henderland and of Skirling held estates in Selkirkshire and Peebleshire, respectively.

His son, also Sir Alexander, was created a hereditary usher in 1373.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 373</ref> It was held as an adjunct to the barony of Langton by a charter of James IV in 1504. The office of Usher caused problems for the family as it was usurped by the Earl of Wigtown and in the following dispute Alexander Cockburn of Langton was briefly imprisoned.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 373</ref>

William Cockburn of Langton was a son of Sir Alexander. <ref>House of Cockburn, 55-56</ref> He is said to have been a close associate of James IV. His sister, Margaret, was an attendant of Margaret Tudor, James' wife. <ref>House of Cockburn, 55-56</ref> Alexander Cockburn and two of his sons died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.<ref>House of Cockburn, 55-56</ref>

Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

From 1527 to 1598 Cockburn tower was the family seat. However in 1696 it was auctioned off as well as the surrounding lands, to pay debts and fell into disuse soon after. <ref></ref>

Eighteenth Century and decline as landowners

By the middle of the 18th century, as a result of financial difficulties, the Langton and Ormiston branches of the Cockburn family lost most of their land holdings. <ref>Thomas Cockburn-Hood, The house of Cockburn of that ilk and the cadets thereof: with historical anecdotes of the times in which many of the name played a conspicuous part, Scott and Ferguson, Edinburgh, 1888</ref>

Sir Archibald Cockburn, 4th Baronet of Langton borrowed increasing sums of money, primarily from the Cockburn of Cockburn branch of the family, to help finance ambitious agricultural reforms on his Langton estate. These financial difficulties were not resolved by the three succeeding baronets of Langton. At time of the death of Sir Alexander Cockburn, 7th Baronet at Fontenoy in 1745, the financial situation of the Langton branch had become critical.

In 1747, his heir, Sir James Cockburn, 8th Baronet, was unable to fend off the claims of his creditors, which included Sir James Cockburn, 3rd Baronet Cockburn of that Ilk, Thomas Hay, and others. The decision of the Lords of Session in Scotland in favor of the creditors was appealed to the House of Lords in London, but the earlier decision was upheld. <ref>House of Lords Journal, v. 28, pp. 381-391, March, 1755</ref>

The resulting bankruptcy led to the auctioning off of the Estate of Langton, which was purchased in 1757 by David Gavin.

Despite the loss of their land, the Langton branch of the Cockburn family would continue to be prominent in Great Britain well into the 19th century, but now in the military and judicial arenas. The Cockburn of Langton baronetcy went dormant in 1880 when the 12th Baronet, Sir Alexander Cockburn, died without legitimate issue.

Another branch of the family also experienced extreme financial difficulties during the eighteenth century. John Cockburn of Ormiston was an enthusiastic proponent for the modernization of Scottish agricultural practice. The financial consequences of his plans were as ruinous to the Ormiston branch of the Cockburns as they were to the Langton branch. He attempted to demonstrate the benefits of his reforms in a model community at Ormiston. His ambitious schemes ran into financial difficulties and he was required to sell the estate of Ormiston in 1747 to John Hope, 2nd Earl of Hopetoun.


During the eighteen and nineteenth centuries several members of the Cockburn family were notable jurists.

Adam Cockburn, Laird of Ormiston, Lord Ormiston (1656-1735), was a Scottish administrator, politician and judge. He served as Commissioner for Haddington Constabulary in the parliaments of 1681-2 and 1689, and in the conventions of 1678 and 1689. He was appointed Lord Justice Clerk on 28 November 1692. Cockburn served as a member of the Privy Council, Treasurer Depute from 1699 until the accession of Anne, Lord Justice Clerk for a second term (1705–10), and a Lord of Session from 1705.

He was one of the Commissioners named to inquire into the Massacre of Glencoe on 28 May 1695, and became somewhat unpopular in some quarters because of the powers awarded to his position in order for him to reach conclusions in the matter. On 6 February 1699 he succeeded Lord Raith as Treasurer-depute of Scotland, which he retained until the accession of Queen Anne, when he was dismissed from all his offices.

He obtained a commission appointing him a second time Lord Justice Clerk dated 8 January 1705 and was at the same time appointed to succeed Lord Whitelaw as a Lord Ordinary in the Court of Session. He left the office of Lord Justice Clerk again in 1710 but retained his place as a Lord Ordinary until his death, on 16 April 1735, in his 79th year.

Anne Cockburn, Lady Inglis, daughter of Lord Ormiston, pictured in 1745

Sir Alexander James Edmund Cockburn, 12th Baronet of Langton, QC (24 September 1802 – 28 November 1880) was a Scottish lawyer, politician and judge. A notorious womaniser and socialite, as Lord Chief Justice he heard some of the leading causes célèbres of the 19th century.

Sir Alexander Cockburn

Admiral Sir George Cockburn

Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Cockburn, 10th Baronet GCB (1772-1853) was a Royal Navy officer. As a captain he was present at the battle of Cape St Vincent in February 1797 during the French Revolutionary Wars and commanded the naval support at the reduction of Martinique in February 1809 during the Napoleonic Wars.

369px-Rear-Admiral George Cockburn (1772-1853), by John James Halls.jpg

He also directed the capture and burning of Washington on 24 August 1814 as an advisor to Major General Robert Ross during the War of 1812. He went on to be First Naval Lord and in that capacity sought to improve the standards of gunnery in the fleet, forming a gunnery school at Portsmouth; later he ensured that the Navy had latest steam and screw technology and put emphasis of the ability to manage seamen without the need to resort to physical punishment. In August 1815 Cockburn was given the job of conveying Napoleon Bonaparte to Saint Helena.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 373</ref>


There is a Cockburn family DNA project based in North America which contributes to genealogical research. <ref></ref>