Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cocks, Fanny Kate (1875–1954)

by Marie Mune

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

Fanny Kate Boadicea Cocks (1875-1954), policewoman and welfare worker, was born on 5 May 1875 at Moonta, South Australia, eldest child of Anthony Cocks, a Cornish miner, and his wife Elizabeth, née George, a schoolteacher. In 1885 the family moved to a farm near Quorn and Kate was educated at home; she taught for a year at Thomas Plains in 1900 and next year became schoolmistress and sub-matron at the Industrial School, Edwardstown.

In 1903 she entered the State Children's Council as a clerk where she was influenced by Catherine Helen Spence. In 1906, anxious to prove that women could deal with vagrant boys, Cocks was appointed as the State's first probation officer for juvenile first offenders. The job took her into the slums; she decided that prevention was better than prosecution and her work lessened the number of children on parole who were placed in institutions.

In December 1915 Cocks was appointed as the State's first woman police constable, concerned with female offences in the areas of adolescent sexuality and alcoholism, and the enticing for brothels of girls newly arrived from the country and overseas. She worked easily with male colleagues, and won respect and obedience from juniors in the women's branch which she headed. She combined stern efficiency with generous advice and help to needy women. Her originality, insight and kindness, especially in the Depression, led to a wealth of legends. Moral but not censorious, she never used a revolver or baton. She saw the equality of the sexes as 'a just conclusion', but believed in the sacredness of child-rearing. Her staff had to take a first-aid course which emphasized maternity care. Although slight and spare she was proficient in ju-jitsu, and once helped a woman whose husband was beating her, by tutoring her in self-defence.

In 1935 Cocks retired to nurse her dying mother and, already a justice of the peace, was appointed M.B.E. Before resigning she had cared for homeless girls in her house. In April her speech on the problem persuaded the Methodist Women's Home Mission Association to rent a cottage behind her home. That year she became voluntary superintendent of the Methodist Women's Welfare Department and served till 1951. In 1936 a property at Brighton was bought as a refuge for unmarried girls and their newly born babies and other infants needing care. Cocks found fulfilment in this work, moving to Brighton in 1937 to superintend the home. She gave and demanded much and restored people's self-esteem, but her intellectual and organizational ability is often obscured by stories of her kindness and strong religious faith. She died on 20 August 1954 and was buried in Payneham cemetery. Her home and estate, which was valued for probate at £3344, were left to her Church and the Methodist Homes for Babies, renamed the Kate Cocks Babies' Home in 1954.  It closed in 1976 and the children were moved into cottage or foster care.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Owings, Women Police (New York, 1925)
  • L. Brown et al (eds), A Book of South Australia (Adel, 1936)
  • E. Abbott, Everybody's Friend (Adel, 1939)
  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1916 (88), 1924 (53), 1935 (53)
  • Women's World, 1 May 1925
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 3 June 1935, 21 Aug 1954
  • Australian Christian Commonwealth, 16 Aug 1935
  • South Australian Methodist, 9 June 1950, 14 Dec 1951
  • Brighton Babies Home (manuscript, Central Methodist Mission, Adelaide)
  • C. Shapley, Miss Kate Cocks—Her Life and Work (1964, State Library of South Australia)
  • Police dockets 489, 788/1915 (Police Historical Society, Adelaide)
  • file 313 66/2, and GRG 18-90, 27-464 (State Records of South Australia).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Marie Mune, 'Cocks, Fanny Kate (1875–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cocks-fanny-kate-5705/text9645, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 October 2018.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

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

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018