Book Review: Cock Tales on the Kowie, by Sue Laburn Gordon (in association with Ed Cock)

A family’s legacy to the Eastern Cape

ROB KNOWLES

INSIGHT INTO SETTLER LIFE: Sue Laburn Gordon’s book, Cock Tales on the Kowie, is a fascinating tale of a family’s lasting impact on the Eastern Cape

When I first sat down to read Cock Tales on the Kowie, I was unprepared to be drawn into the world of the Honourable William Cock and his family but, from their beginnings in Cornwall the story of this patriarch of the Cock dynasty is intricately woven in a captivating but frightening narrative of early settler life.

It is clear that William was an ambitious man, strongly principled and tenacious. Yet his story also reveals a single minded opportunistic risk-taker; perfect ingredients for a nineteenth century entrepreneur. He was destined to be a trader, a deal-maker, an advocate for the Christian church and even a politician. He was the director of banking institutions and also sat on the board of several companies.

Yet, even getting to the Cape Colony took wile and manipulation. Being a man of modest means was a boon at a time when so many areas of Great Britain were suffering great hardship. Cock at only 22-years-of-age was apparently a printer by trade and not so poorly-off that he could not have survived at home in Cornwall. But it appears his ambition had already kicked-in and would remain a factor that would drive him for the rest of his life, until he began to slow down and relinquish some of his many duties and responsibilities when in his seventies.

Cock became a leader on the ship that took him and his party to the Cape Colonies and, within a short time of his arrival, he was already making deals and arranging trades. He was heavily involved with local churches, particularly the Wesleyan and Anglican churches.

Perhaps Cock’s most long-lasting legacy was the opening of the Kowie River to create a harbour in Port Alfred (previously Port Frances). Cock wasn’t the first person who had attempted the task but, through sheer dogged determination and support from his contact, he finally achieved the task and, for a short period Port Alfred became a thriving harbour for ships bringing goods to the port as well as exporting materials to Africa and Europe.

However, sand and silt was a major obstacle to Cock’s design and, because of the ever-present dangers of entering and egressing the harbour, his plans were finally dashed. Nevertheless, that could not dampen Cock’s entrepreneurial spirit and he went on to greater things, even sitting on the Cape Legislature for two years.

This is only one story of the Cock family and the massive influence they had on Eastern Cape history. Succeeding generations of the family would extend the legacy of William Cock further. Gordon’s book is full of important facts as well as countless end-notes to verify the events in the narrative. Her writing style makes even some of the more dry passages interesting and one can get swept up in the lives of the Cock family; their triumphs and their defeats.

Gordon has obviously spent considerable time researching the Cock family and, with the assistance of Ed Cock as well as countless hours at various libraries and combing the internet she has produced a book of substance that is entertaining, informative and a much-needed addition to the rich history of the Eastern Cape.

 

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