George Ralph Richardson Cockburn, Principal of the Upper Canada College, Toronto, for nearly twenty years, is a son of Robert and Margaret (Burke) Cockburn, and was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, February 15, 1834. He received his education in that city, in the celebrated High School, then under the Rectorship of Dr. Schmitz, and passed thence to the University, where, on the completion of a brilliant career, he graduated with the highest classical honors, carrying off the Stratton Prize, 1857. He then more fully prosecuted his classical studies under Professor Zumpt, one of the most famous classical scholars in Germany, while his residence in Paris enabled him to profit by the instructions of several of the most learned men of France.
Before leaving the Old Country, Principal Cockburn took charge of the classes of Dr. Schmitz, Rector of the Edinburgh High School, for a few months, during the absence of the Doctor.
In 1858 our subject came to Canada, having been appointed by the Council of Public Instruction to the Rectorship of the Model Grammar School for Upper Canada. Shortly after wards, at the request of the Government, he inspected during two years the higher educational institutions of the Province, and embodied his views regarding them in two able reports.
Having thus thoroughly acquainted himself with their condition, and the status generally of educational matters here, he visited most of the higher scholastic institutions in the United States. In 1861 he was appointed by the Government, Principal of Upper Canada College and member of the Senate of the University of Toronto. Probably no man ever came to Canada to teach with higher recommendations than Principal Cockburn furnished. We have before us the “Journal of Education,” Toronto, for August, 1858, which contains very strong testimonials from Leonhard Schmitz, LL.D., and Dr. A. W. Zumpt, already mentioned; Professor Kirkpatrick, M.A., of Oxford; Professor John Wilson (Christopher North), of the University of Edinburgh, and others. We copy entire the testimonial of Dr. Schmitz, which is dated at the High School, Edinburgh, September 29, 1857.
“Ever since Mr. Cockburn completed his curriculum at the High School and University of Edinburgh, in both of which institutions he gained the highest distinctions for scholarship, he has been most actively and successfully engaged as a classical and English teacher,. first in Merchisten Castle Academy, and afterwards for several years in Montgreenan House Academy; and I know that in. both these institutions he has been the means of raising learning and scholarship to a point which had been quite unknown before. During the last year he has visited nearly all the countries of Europe, and made himself thoroughly conversant with the languages of Germany, France, and Italy languages which he had well studied before he entered upon his travels.
“Mr. Cockburn is not an ordinary scholar, but a thorough philologist, possessing a good insight into the structure, the relations and affinities subsisting between the ancient and modern languages of Europe., He thoroughly understands the art of communicating to young people information in a clear and lucid manner, and of inciting their minds to independent activity. He unites, in short, in an eminent degree, all the qualities extensive knowledge, experience and skill that ought to recommend a man who proposes to devote himself to the higher departments of education.”
A few months later, in reply to a special note of inquiry from Dr. Ryerson, of Toronto, Chief Superintendent of Education, as to Mr. Cockburn’s Latin scholarship, Dr. Schmitz said, that “all the points stated in Mr. Cockburn’s testimonial in reference to his scholarship, apply in the same, if not in a higher degree to Latin as to Greek, and that he regarded Mr. Cockburn as one of the best Latin scholars that Scotland has produced.” It is enough to say that the expectations raised by such testimonials have been fully realized in the successful career of our subject.
Principal Cockburn is a member of the Church of England, and a Christian gentleman of the purest type. In 1866 he married Mary, sole surviving daughter of Hampden Zane and Emily St. Aubert Churchill Zane, and thus became connected with two of the oldest and most influential families in Virginia and Kentucky, many members of which have been prominent Southern politicians and leading members of the Legislature.