COCKBURN, John (c.1679-1758), of Ormiston, Haddington.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1707 - 1708

Family and Education

b. c.1679, 1st surv. s. of Adam Cockburn, M.P. [S] of Ormiston, S.C.J., Lord Ormiston and lord justice clerk, by his 1st w. Lady Susan Hamilton, da. of John, 4th Earl of Haddington [S]. educ. Glasgow, 1695. m. (1) 1700, Lady Beatrix (or Barbara) Carmichael (bur. 1 Aug. 1702), da. of John, 1st Earl of Hyndford [S], s.p.; (2) Arabella, 3rd da. and coh. of Anthony Rowe of Muswell Hall, Mdx. and North Aston, Oxon., 1s. suc. fa. 1735.

Offices Held

M.P. [S] Haddingtonshire 1703-7.

P.C. [S] 1704, 1707; commr. of the Exchequer [S] by 1708; ld. of Trade 1714-17, of Admiralty 1717-32, 1742-4.


John Cockburn, an undeviating Whig like his better-known father, represented his county for 39 years, voting as a placeman consistently with successive Administrations between 1715 and 1733. When the Admiralty board was re-constituted on the split in the Whig party in 1717, Cockburn was appointed to it by Lord Sunderland, to whom he wrote in 1722, ‘I am very sensible of your lordship’s friendship to me ... as in a particular manner I have always depended upon your lordship’s protection’.1 He retained his Admiralty post till it was decided that Sir Charles Wager, his junior on the board, should become first lord in succession to Lord Torrington. In a letter to Walpole on this matter in 1731 Wager wrote, ‘I cannot go over Mr. Cockburn, nor can he bear it; and I really think it would be a misfortune to the Admiralty to have him removed from thence, where he is a very good commissioner’.2 Left out of the new board in 1732, he voted for the excise bill in 1733, but went over to the Opposition shortly afterwards. His changing politics are reflected in his only recorded speeches, made early in 1734. On 25 Jan. he spoke against Samuel Sandys’s motion that the instructions sent to the British ambassador in Poland in 1729 should be laid before the House, but in support of Sandys’s second motion for an account of what applications had been made to the King by the parties engaged in the war of the Polish succession. He cited precedents from his own experience and argued that if kings expected the help of Parliament, they should take the advice of Parliament. Ten days later, speaking on the motion to refer a petition of tea dealers for relief from excise to a committee of the whole House, he said that while he was against any measure that might diminish the revenue, Members might first vote to go into committee and then vote against relief; grievances should be investigated and not ignored. On 13 Feb. he supported Lord Morpeth’s motion to prevent any officer not above the rank of colonel from being arbitrarily removed; and on 13 Mar. 1734 he voted with the Opposition on a bill to repeal the Septennial Act. No further votes of his are recorded but following the breach between the King and the Prince of Wales in September 1737, he received a circular letter from Lord Marchmont, urging the attendance of opposition Members at the opening of the new session.3 Though he did not stand in 1741, he was included in the new board of Admiralty as Argyll’s ‘friend’ after Walpole’s fall, retaining his post till December 1744, when he was ousted as a follower of Granville and Bath.4 Cockburn’s chief passion was not for politics but for agricultural improvement, in which he was, in Scotland, probably the greatest pioneer in a pioneering generation.5 Through his experiments and by extending to a quixotic degree his father’s principle of granting long leases at low rents to improving tenants, he brought about his own financial ruin, losing his estates in 1747 and 1749.6 He died 12 Nov. 1758.

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Author: R. S. Lea


  • 1. Cockburn to Sunderland, 13 Feb. 1822, Sunderland (Blenheim) mss.
  • 2. Coxe, Walpole, iii. 116.
  • 3. HMC Polwarth, v. 142.
  • 4. Walpole to Mann, 3 Mar. 1742, 24 Dec. 1744.
  • 5. Letters of John Cockburn to his Gardener (Sc. Hist. Soc. xlv), passim.
  • 6. T. H. Cockburn-Hood House of Cockburn, 158-9.