Victoria, BC – Today marks a sobering anniversary in our history. June 2nd is the official End of Watch for Cst. Johnston Cochrane, who was killed in the line of duty 158 years ago. Cst. Cochrane was the first law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty in British Columbia and the first VicPD officer to make the ultimate sacrifice. His story is told below by Sgt. Jonathan Sheldan.
On or about June 1st, 1859, Constable Johnston Cochrane travelled from Fort Victoria out towards Craigflower Farm investigating the theft and shooting of livestock. As was the norm, police did not carry firearms unless on a hazardous duty away from the Fort or in possession of an actual arrest warrant. With warrant in hand, Cst. Cochrane was armed with a pistol and headed out of town looking for Joseph Lewis; a suspect in the theft of some pigs.
Cst. Cochrane failed to return as expected and his lifeless body was discovered beside Craigflower Road by Francois Pressci. He had been ambushed and shot twice in the head. The incident was first reported in the British Colonist on June 3rd, 1859 which called it a “Barbarous Murder.”
A number of early arrests were made including that of Joseph Lewis. Lewis was released on the 15th of June from the original warrant and denied all knowledge of Cochrane’s murder. Pressci was also suspected of involvement but no charges were ever entertained due to lack of evidence.
Cst. Cochrane’s murder is the first of any Law Enforcement Officer in British Columbia and it remains unsolved.
Johnston Cochrane originated from Ireland and came to the Crown Colony with his wife and young children. A “local subscription” was raised for the widow to support her. He was buried at “The Old Burying Grounds” beside Christ Church Cathedral in what is now known as Pioneer Park.
Johnston Cochrane was 36 years old.