John was born 14th February 1851 to John Henry Hocken and Elizabeth Sweet. In 1873 he married Elizabeth Ann Slade. They lived in East Street in Polruan and had four children – Mabel, Ethel, John Henry and Kathleen.
By the last quarter of the nineteenth century he was the main sail maker in Fowey harbour working from his sail loft beside the wet dock in Polruan. Until the latter part of the century, all sail making and repairs to sails were completed by hand. After the cost of building a ship, the next most expensive item was providing it with sails. His ledger showed that he worked on 120 ships, of which over half were Fowey registered, the rest were mainly ships involved in the china clay business.
As sail made way for steam, many trades associated with wooden sailing ships disappeared. Sail making should have been one of the trades most at risk, but by diversifying into work on fishing vessels, trading barges and yachts and running a chandlery, John survived. There is no evidence that John had to struggle. His family owned thirteen ships and in 1893 he became the managing owner for five of them. One of his ships was the E S Hocken, named for his mother. It was largest ship built in Fowey harbour.
In 1910 John retired and moved to St Fimbarrus Road in Fowey and sail making in Polruan came to an end; however his chandlery business was carried on by Slade’s yard. He died in Fowey on the 18th January 1912.
Research Liz Jolliff
Sources: https//www.rootsweb.ancestry.com (Accessed 29th Feb 2012); www.records.ancestry.com (Accessed 29th Feb 2012; Helen Doe. ‘Blockmakers, Sailmakers, Ropemakers, Blacksmiths and Brokers in the Port of Fowey: 1780-1900’, Journal of the Southwest Maritime History Society, No 16 (2003), pp 148-171