Cockburn, Sir George (1764–1847), soldier, traveller, writer, and antiquary, was born 18 February 1764 in Dublin, only child of George Cockburn (d. 1775), a Scottish businessman who settled in Ireland in 1739 and married Ann (d. 1769), second of two children of Charles Caldwell, solicitor to the customs. When his father died he became the ward of his uncle Andrew Caldwell, a Dublin solicitor. He was educated at the schools of William Darby in Ballygall and of a Mr Crawford in Hackney, near London. He became an ensign in the Guards (1781) and after various promotions – captain lieutenant (1784), captain (1787), major (1790), lieutenant-colonel (1793), colonel (1797), major-general (1803), lieutenant-general (1810) – was appointed general in 1830. His service included a stint as ADC to Gen. George Eliott in Gibraltar (1782), some months in Guernsey (1794), periods as OC in Sunderland (1806–7) and Chelmsford (1808–10), and command of part of the army occupying Sicily (1810). He also travelled extensively. After his service in Gibraltar he toured Italy and France (1782–3). Sent in 1785 to observe the Prussian army's autumn manoeuvres, he travelled through Belgium, France, and Holland as well as Germany. In 1788–9 he journeyed through France, Germany, and Spain, and in 1810–11, after relinquishing his command in Sicily, travelled widely through the island and later published A voyage to Cadiz and Gibraltar, up the Mediterranean to Sicily and Malta, in 1810, & 11, including a description of Sicily and the Lipari Islands, and an excursion in Portugal (1815). It was on later trips (including a visit to Italy in 1821 and through France, Switzerland, and northern Italy in 1824–5) that he acquired most of the antiquities (mainly inscribed stones and vases) with which he adorned Shanganagh Castle, near Bray, his home for the last fifty or so years of his life; previously he had lived in Dublin when he was in Ireland. He married (1790) his cousin Eliza, daughter of Phineas Riall of Heywood near Clonmel, Co. Tipperary. They had six children: Catherine (b. 1791), George (1792), Elizabeth (1793), Phineas Charles (1795), Ann Frances (1797), and Mary (1803). After his service in Sicily he spent the rest of his life at Shanganagh, interesting himself in politics and writing: Military observations respecting Ireland (1804); Six letters on subjects very important to England (1831); Dissertation on the state of the British finances (1843); On Hannibal's route and passage over the Alps to Italy . . . (1845). The British Library has manuscripts of unpublished works: ‘Description of the state of Ireland’ and ‘On health and its preservation’ (unfinished). He was awarded the KCH (1821) and the GCH (1837). He died at Shanganagh on 18 August 1847. A portrait painted in Rome in 1793 by Hugh Douglas Hamilton (qv) is in a private collection. The National Army Museum (London) holds a small collection of letters from and to Cockburn.
Gent. Mag., xxviii (Nov. 1847), 539–401; DNB; R. Astbury, ‘Sir George Cockburn: an Irish traveller and collector’, Classics Ireland, iii (1996), 1–17