James Pattison Cockburn was a British military officer and a watercolourist. Many of his drawings and watercolours are important as pictorial records of life in early Canada.
He studied as a cadet at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, England from 1793-95. As part of his training he took courses in topographic drawing from Paul Sandby, chief drawing master.
Upon completing his military studies, Cockburn was posted to several areas, including East India and Europe, where he assimilated the influences of the Dutch and Italian landscape schools. Cockburn was then posted to Canada. He was in Quebec, first from November 1822 to June 1823, and then from August 1826 to August 1832, during a long period of calm, which allowed him to paint.
Most of his many watercolours were made during his second posting. His duties as a commander of the Royal Regiment of artillery required that he travel widely in Lower and Upper Canada on annual inspection tours. During these tours Cockburn sketched all the time, making a great number of drawings and paintings covering the country from Quebec to Niagara, carefully and accurately representing the landscape and the buildings of the period.
His streetscapes of Quebec City and Montreal are particularly valuable pictorial records of the architecture and daily life of these cities, indicating certain features, which have since vanished.