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Cocks, Nicholas John (1867–1925)

by John Garrett

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

Nicholas John Cocks (1867-1925), Congregational minister, was born on 29 March 1867 in Brisbane, son of Cornish parents Nicholas Cock, labourer and later farmer, and his wife Elizabeth Ann, née Crago. His family probably moved to South Australia in the 1870s; he attended Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, in 1880-82 and later wrote the school song. He worked in an office but came under the influence of J. C. Kirby, who suggested he become a minister. From 1886 Cocks trained at Camden College, Sydney, and also attended the University of Sydney (B.A., 1890). In 1892 he graduated M.A. with the gold medal in logic and mental philosophy. Pastor at Kogarah in 1892-1901, he delivered the Livingstone Lectures at Camden College in 1892 and published them as the Growth of the Conception of Natural Law (1893). He was chairman of the Congregational Union of New South Wales in 1899-1900; and tutored at Camden College until about 1910. On 13 June 1894 in Sydney he married Elizabeth Arrabella Proctor.

Cocks served in 1901-07 at North Sydney, where he continued to live; from 1907 to 1924 he was minister of the Pitt Street Congregational Church. He was again chairman of the Congregational Union in 1917-18. During World War I Cocks held widely attended united intercessory services at Pitt Street. His sensitive and imaginative preaching commended him as a personal counsellor to many intelligent seekers. He was concerned to relate idealist philosophy to the central affirmations of Christianity and to come to grips with psychology and post-Darwinian thought. His strength lay in the quality of his mind and his understanding of people in doubt and distress, but he was a relatively poor administrator and organizer.

As chairman of the Christian union committee of the Congregational Union and of the Student Christian Movement's graduates' auxiliary, he was an early worker for church union between Congregationalists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. Cocks visited England in 1911 and met the philosophers Hastings Rashdall, A. L. Smith, and Friederich von Hügel who became his friend. As theologian he was Christocentric, but drawn toward mystical awareness of the relation between time and eternity. His numerous hymns and lyric poetry blended a love of Australian landscape and atmosphere with insight into the longings of ordinary men and women. His skill in music, mathematics, water-colour painting and chess brought him in touch with Sydney's intellectual and artistic life; during his ministry at Pitt Street, the church's fine organ was built. His books of verse include Songs of the Dardanelles (1915), the Betty Songs (1920), Australian Songs and other Poems (1925).

Cocks died of cancer on 21 January 1925 in St Luke's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery. He was survived by his wife and by their two sons and two daughters. His estate was sworn for probate at £508.

Select Bibliography

  • J. A. Garrett and L. W. Farr, Camden College: A Centenary History (Syd, 1964)
  • Congregational Union of New South Wales, Year Book, 1892-1926
  • Congregationalist (Sydney), 10 Feb, 10 Apr 1925
  • Prince Alfred College Chronicle, May 1925
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21, 23 Jan 1925.

Citation details

John Garrett, 'Cocks, Nicholas John (1867–1925)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cocks-nicholas-john-5706/text9647, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 24 November 2017.

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

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