Captain David Mitchell Cochrane
Captain David Mitchell Cochrane, like his father, was a born sailor, and is the ideal commander of passenger steamers, being courteous, companionable and popular with both old and young, whose pleasure or business it has been to take passage on the finely-furnished steamers he has sailed during the last twenty-five years. He has the true taste for the fine things done in seamanship, and if he is a rigid disciplinarian his officers and crew respect him none the less. Although not young in years, the Captain is strong in the vital principles of life kept young by an energetic nature. The man whose wife yields him an undivided devotion, and whose children respect him, is a pretty safe commander for the passenger to trust.
Our subject is a son of Capt. Robert and Ellen (Smith) Cochrane, and was born in Oswego, N. Y., October 4, 1837. His parents were natives of Scotland, the father being born in Saltcoats, Ayrshire, in 1807, and the mother in Stevenston, same county, in 1812. The father, as has been said, was a born sailor, and had followed a seafaring life from boyhood. First shipping out of Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland, he visited ocean ports in all waters and latitudes, and when he was twenty-five years old, and an accomplished seaman, he came to the United States, where he soon qualified himself as a skillful New York pilot in what was the (1832) known as "newsboats." In 1834 his wife crossed the Atlantic to join him, and, after residing in New York City a short time, they removed to Oswego, locating there in 1835. The Captain entered the employ of Messrs. Pardee & Carrington as mate of a schooner with Captain Green, soon becoming master. His first vessel was the schooner Mary Ann, followed by the Mohawk, Hamilton, Pearl, Frontier, Alvin Bronson, bark Nucleus, and the new schooners Scotland and Ireland, the last two being built in Maumee City and brought out new by Capt. Robert Cochrane. He also sailed the first propeller, the Vandalia, in 1846, a notable mark of confidence in those days, when the captain of a steamboat was a bigger man than the President. During the winter months, after laying up his lake vessels, the Captain repaired to New York and resumed the duties of pilot. The children of the family besides David M., are: Ellen, now the wife of John McKenzie; James W.; Agnes, wife of Capt. Daniel Maybee; John W., master of the steamer Marion; Alexander and Robert. Their mother is still living in Milwaukee, at the age of eighty-six.
Owing to the fact that Capt. David M. Cochrane, the subject of this article, began sailing with his father in the propeller Vandalia in 1846, when he was but nine years old, his public-school education was confined to the winter months. >From that date until 1853 he sailed as boy and before the mast in many vessels, notably the Pearl, Citizen, J. Oades, J. Reed, Nicaragua, and as second mate of the Nucleus, Mark Sibley, Baltic, Canton, Two Charlies, Jessie Hoyt, Acontias, and Hamilton. In the spring of 1853, when but sixteen years of age, he was promoted to first mate of the brig Pilgrim, with Capt. George Vickery, and of the brig Shakespeare the two following seasons. At that time he and Oliver Gilmour (now deceased) were the two youngest mates on the lakes. Then came on several dull seasons, and lake vessels began to seek an outlet to the Atlantic, many making foreign voyages; and Capt. D. M. Cochrane, after sailing the lakes during the summer months, would hie himself to the seaboard and engage on New York pilot boats, thus passing the winters. His next billet as mate was on the schooner Joseph Grant (the largest schooner of her day, capable of carrying all the way to 22,000 bushels of wheat), followed by the C. N. Johnson, Thornton, G. D. Norris, Caroline Simpson, T. P. Handy, brig William Lewis, St. Andrews, John Harmon and General Winfield Scott.
In the spring of 1863 Captain Cochrane was appointed master of the new schooner Dick Somers, built by Wolf & Davidson at Milwaukee. She was sold before the close of the season, and the Captain was transferred to the Columbia, as superintendent of construction, bringing her out new. While working on her at Green Bay he received a telegram from the owners of the schooner Orkney Lass, requesting him to go to Milwaukee and take charge of that vessel, her skipper having decamped. He reached Milwaukee on November 29, and found the schooner loaded with Milwaukee club wheat consigned to Kingston. He cleared the vessel, but did not reach the port of destination until December 14, having wind, snow and sleet in his teeth all the way, and the ice in the Welland canal so solid that he had to engage tugs to break a passage. In the spring of 1864 he entered the employ of Tyson & Robinson as master of the schooner Ben Flint, and sailed her four consecutive seasons, after which he purchased a fourth interest in the schooner Neshoto, and sailed her. In 1869 he again assumed command of the Ben Flint. That fall, in the capacity of wrecking master, he recovered the machinery of the propeller Brockville, ashore near Ludington, Lake Michigan, and abandoned to the underwriters. In September, 1868, Tyson & Robinson purchased the wreck of the propeller Equator, lying on the beach at North Manitou island. Two well-known captains worked at the stranded vessel for two years, but failed to float her. Captain Cochrane was then appointed to the task, and did a notable wrecking feat, getting her off and landing her at Milwaukee in fourteen days. The machinery was taken out and put into the tug Bismarck, the hull being converted into the barge since known as the Eldorado.
After an experience of a quarter of a century in sailing vessels, Captain Cochrane turned his attention to steam, and in the spring of 1871 was appointed master of the new lake tug Bismarck, which had received the machinery of the propellor Equator, and sailed her two seasons. The Bismarck was a notable boat, and her name has been changed several times. At this writing she is owned by Capt. B. Boutell, of Bay City, Mich., and is known as the Traveler. It was with her that Captain Cochrane took the first tow of vessels, consisting of the schooners Filer, Tyson, Robinson and Eldorado, through the lakes, all reaching their port of destination in good condition. After laying up the Bismarck at the close of navigation, the Captain engaged with the Engleman Transportation Company to sail their winter boat, the steamer Messenger, between Grand Haven and Milwaukee. All went well until the 29th of January, 1873, when the Messenger was caught in the ice while en route from Grand Haven with a jag of freight, including some rice and flour. The steamer broke out of the ice after ten days, and worked to within five miles of Muskegon, when the ice drifted down to her and cut a hole in her hull as large as a big safe. The leak was stopped with bedding, and the Captain listed the vessel by transferring the freight, thus bringing the break above the ice-floe, and enabling the carpenter to plank it over. The steamer remained in the ice until the 24th of March, when she finally broke out and reached port. Her imprisonment lasted fifty-four days. During this time the crew subsisted principally on boiled rice and flour pancakes; they were out of meat fourteen days before any of the crew could get ashore to secure food. At Black Lake a farmer killed an ox which the men carried aboard in pillow slips. At the end of the first month, half of the crew were sent ashore at Whitehall. The Messenger drifted from off Grand Haven to abreast of Ludington, the distance from shore ranging from four to fourteen miles. One day Captain Cochrane walked ashore on the ice fourteen miles, when the mercury was ten degrees below zero. All suffered greatly from the cold. After getting out of the ice on March 24, the steamer made Stony Creek, where she took aboard fifteen cords of wood which farmers hauled to the steamer over three miles of firm shore ice. She reached Manistee April 7.
Captain Cochrane was then assigned to the command of the passenger steamer Manistee, transferring to Minneapolis in the fall. In 1874 he sailed the passenger steamers Lake Breeze and Forest city, respectively, and on September 10, of that year, the Captain was presented with an elegant gold watch and chain by the citizens of Manistee for his uniform courtesy.
In the spring of 1875 he was appointed master of the new passenger steamer Flora, plying between Milwaukee and Manistee, and purchased an interest in the passenger steamer John A. Dix. In 1881 he became sole owner of the John A. Dix, and sailed her with good business success for sixteen years. In 1893 he was chosen as general manager of the World's Fair Steamship Company, which comprised the steamers Christopher Columbus, Duluth, Superior, John A. Dix, City of Toledo, Music, Arthur Orr, R.J. Gordon, International and Cyclone. This company accommodated over two million people during the progress of the Fair (the number on "Chicago Day" being 98,000), without an accident or the loss of a single life, which is a wonderful record and reflects great credit on the management of the steamers. September 10th appears to be a pleasurable date for Capt. D.M. Cochrane, for on that day again, in 1893, he was presented with a splendid Knight Templar charm, studded with brilliant diamonds, by the captains and employees of the World's Fair Commandery, and a noble of the Mystic Shrine.
On March 4, 1861, Captain Cochrane was wedded to Miss Jane McManus, daughter of Michael and Katherine McManus, of Syracuse, N.Y. The children born to this marriage are: Ellen S., now the wife of William Miller, David K., who is a graduate of the University of Michigan Literary Department and Law College, and is now practicing law in Chicago; Agnes S.; William H., assistant passenger agent for the Goodrich Transportation Company of Chicago; Robert M., George R., Seymour B., Harry and Katherine Arabella. The family homestead is at No. 3530 Ellis avenue, Chicago.
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This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.