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Handsome Cockburn was a good speaker, but his critics said that he changed his mind too much and was easily swayed by different movements and ideas.

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John Cockburn

National Library of Australia

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John Cockburn (1850–1929)

South Australian premier and federalist

Cockburn was a doctor who came to South Australia from England because he thought there were more opportunities there. He became the doctor at Jamestown, a new farming town, and very quickly was elected mayor and the local member of parliament.

He was a keen reformer who took up many causes and got the reputation of being too wild and radical. But he did serve as premier briefly in 1889–90. From 1893, he was one of the ministers in Charles Kingston's long-lasting reforming government.

Cockburn attended the federal conventions of 1891 and 1897–98. He was in favour of Federation but he thought there was a danger in creating too strong a central government. He thought the best government was the one closest to the people. He worked with others to make the constitution as democratic as possible, though as a delegate from a small colony he wanted a strong Senate.

He went to England in 1898 as the representative of his colony. He had hoped to enter the new Commonwealth Parliament but his friends forgot to send in his nomination form.