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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cockram, Thomas (1831–1912)

by Mary Turner Shaw

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

This is a shared entry with Thomas Cockram

Cockram Family: Thomas (1831-1912) and his son Thomas (1860-1920) were builders. Thomas senior was born on 10 April 1831 either at Derby or at Biddulph, Staffordshire, England, son of Thomas Cockram, carpenter, and his wife Phoebe May. Trained as a bricklayer, he came to Victoria in 1853 and for some years worked at his trade in Melbourne. He supported the eight-hour movement and marched on 21 April 1856 to celebrate the establishment of the eight-hour day; his name is one of the fifty-two enshrined in the Melbourne Trades Hall as pioneers of the movement. On 22 July 1858 at North Melbourne he married, with Wesleyan forms, Ann Walsh from Cork, Ireland; they had two sons and three daughters.

In 1861 Cockram began contracting on his own account and by 1867 had opened a builder's office in North Melbourne. His earliest jobs were for schools: among those still standing are the Brighton school (1875) for leading architects Leonard Terry and Percy Oakden, and the Faraday Street school (1876) for Joseph Reed and Barnes. In the boom of the 1880s his business grew; in 1883 he successfully tendered for the 320-room Grand Hotel (later the Windsor) in Spring Street, designed by Charles Webb and in 1888 for the equally grand Federal Coffee Palace (demolished 1972) for William Pitt. In 1886, also for Pitt, he had built the Princess Theatre in Spring Street. As Melbourne's boom subsided, a last impressive contract in 1892 was for the Head Fire Station on Eastern Hill. All but the first named of these surviving buildings now hold National Trust classifications.

Thomas junior, born on 6 February 1860 at Bendigo Street, North Melbourne, was trained as a bricklayer and worked with his father. In 1896 Thomas Cockram and Son were the successful tenderer for the nave of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Bendigo, but the completion of the first section was greatly impeded by problems arising from the quality of the stone. By 1904 Thomas junior was tendering under his own name but he was faced with lean decades with few large contracts offering. He had married first at Parkville on 3 November 1886 with Bible Christian forms, Eleanor Byford (d.1892), and second at St Mary's Catholic Church, St Kilda, on 12 September 1893, Mary Laurent, daughter of a French college professor.

Despite the depletion of Cockram resources, the standing of both father and son remained high. In 1896 the elder had been elected president of the Master Builders' Association of Victoria and in 1899 the younger was elected to the office. Thomas senior died on 7 April 1912 at his home in Brighton, predeceased by his wife and a son, and was buried in Melbourne general cemetery. Thomas junior died of cancer in hospital at Brighton on 2 June 1920, survived by his wife, a son of his first marriage and four sons and a daughter of his second. He was buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sutherland et al, Victoria and its Metropolis, vol 2 (Melb, 1888), M. T. Shaw, Builders of Melbourne (Melb, 1972), and for bibliography.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Mary Turner Shaw, 'Cockram, Thomas (1831–1912)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 12 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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