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COWIE, James (1809-1892)

COWIE, James (1809-1892)

James Cowie was among the founders of Geelong College as a member of the committee convened to enquire into the feasibility of establishing a Presbyterian Grammar School in Geelong in April 1861.

A student named Cowie and, presumably a son of James Cowie (1809-1892), was listed as a prize winner in the 1861 Geelong College Annual Report. It is not known which of the Cowie sons this may have been.

The Argus newspaper reported his death: 'The obituary columns of the Argus of yesterday contained the notice of the death of Mr. James Cowie, which took place on Monday at his late residence, Glenmore, Elsternwick. He was 84 years of age, and death ensued from a general break up of the system. His demise has removed the sole survivor of the 30 members who constituted the first Legislative Council of Victoria.

The late Mr Cowie was a son of Mr James Cowie, brewer, of Falkirk, Scotland, and was born in 1809. His education was entrusted to a private tutor, and after a few years, and while yet in his teens, he was apprenticed to the trade of a saddler and harness maker in London. In the year 1840 he sailed for Port Phillip in the ship, 'Midlothian', and arrived here in the latter part of that year. Amongst his fellow passengers was the late Mr. W. Westgarth.

He almost immediately proceeded to Van Diemen's Land, but a few months' sojourn in the island satisfied him that greater facilities offered for his trade across the straits. In July, 1841, he returned, and proceeded to Geelong - then known as Corio - and a more important town than Melbourne. There, prior to and during the gold fever, he embarked in a combination of businesses which at once included a saddler's shop, a general store, and a shipping and mining agency. In a dozen years he had amassed a fortune, and though he retired from the cares of trade he was always among the progressive men of the day.

In 1849 he was one of the first to assist in the formation of the Geelong municipality and joined others in becoming security for £4,000 to provide for the first works carried out by the new corporation. At the first election he headed the poll by double the number of votes recorded for any other candidate. In November, 1852, he was elected mayor of Geelong, and upon his retirement was entertained and presented with a valuable souvenir.

Upon the increase in the number of members of Parliament in 1853 the late Mr. Cowie was selected to represent Geelong in the old nominee Council, and served in that capacity for two years. He resigned, in consequence of a desire to visit his native place, and after a short sojourn there he returned to the colony in the ship 'Schomberg', which was lost off Port Campbell, in the vicinity of so many wrecks of recent years. Mr. Cowie was one of the survivors taken off the wreck by the boats of a small steamer trading to Warrnambool named the 'Queen'.

In October, 1856, after the introduction of responsible government, Mr. Cowie was selected to represent the Southwestern Province in the Legislative Council, and in the year 1859 he, with 29 others was returned as a representative in the Legislative Assembly of the first Victorian Parliament after the separation. Among his confreres elected the same day were the late Messrs. J. P. Fawkner, W. J. T. Clark, James Henty, and H. Miller.

Mr. Cowie was one of the first at the Ballarat goldfields, and was also prominent in establishing the first fleet of steamers in the Geelong and Melbourne trade. He was mayor of Geelong when Governor La Trobe laid the foundation stone of the railway terminus at Geelong, the first country railway line constructed, and was also one of the directors of the company. In 1850 he was a member of the anti-convict committee. In 1848, when the owner of a store at the Elephant bridge, now the township of Darlington, he issued a paper currency of 5s, and 10s, all of which was regarded in the district as equal to any bank note.

In politics the late gentleman was regarded as a moderate protectionist and even in those early days was a strong advocate for the federation of the colonies. His funeral takes place to-day at Geelong.'

The Geelong Advertiser newspaper also reported his demise: 'DEATH of MR JAMES COWIE, JP

Throughout the whole of yesterday. the Corporation flag was flying half-mast high from the flagstaff in Johnstone Park, as a token of respect to the memory of Mr James Cowie, J.P, who died at his residence at Fitzroy on Monday evening, at the age of 81 years.

The late Mr Cowie was an old and well respected resident of Geelong, and an active-member of the Town Council. The deceased gentleman built the splendid residence now occupied by Mr G. F. Belcher, in Garden Street, close to the Eastern Beach, and in the early days successfully carried on the business of a moulder.

An intimate friend of the late Mr Cowie, writing with regard to the deceased, furnishes the following particulars in regard to his career. "Mr James Cowie, J.P., Fitzroy, was bom at Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland, 9th January, 1809. He went to London while a youth, arrived in Port Phillip, 13th December, 1840, per ship 'Midlothian', and left for Tasmania a few days later. On 8 July, 1841, he returned to Melbourne, and took up his residence at Geelong, where at the end of 1849 he took an active part in establishing the Geelong Corporation, being one of those who gave security for £4000 for the purpose of forwarding the work. He was elected councillor 4th February, 1850, alderman for the Bellerine ward 9th February of the same year, and was raised to the mayoralty 9th November, 1852.

On the 9th June, 1853, Mr Cowie was elected to represent Geelong in the old Legislative Council, and is now the only member of that body left. As a mark of the esteem in which he was held by his fellow townsmen, he was on the 23rd June entertained at what is said to have been the largest banquet that ever filled , a dining room in Geelong. On his retirement from the mayoralty in November 1853, Mr Cowie deemed to accept the usual mayor's allowance. The council then unanimously decided to present him with plate to the value of £100, but on account of private pique, political animosity, or some reason best known to the survivors of the Geelong municipality of 1853 the money has never been advanced, and the 'piece of plate' is still in 'nubibus'.

In May, 1854, Mr Cowie visited England, and on his return in the 'Schomberg' he was, on the 26th December, 1855, wrecked at Curdie's Inlet, near Warrnambool, but reached Geelong four days afterwards. On the 17th October, 1856, he was elected to represent the South Western Province in the second Legislative Council on the introduction of responsible government; on the 30th August, 1859, he was elected to represent Geelong in the Legislative Assembly, and prides himself on never having solicited a vote.

Mr Cowie was one of the first on the Ballarat goldfields and aided in placing the first steam engine there. He also took a prominent part in establishing the first fleet of steamers in the Geeloug trade. In 1850 he was a member of the anti-convict league, was appointed a justice of the peace for Geelong in 1852, and gazetted J.P. for the central bailiwick 1875. He piloted the first ship, the 'Mauritius', through the new cut of the Geelong bar. He has occupied the position of chairman of the Bench at Emerald Hill (South Melbourne), and has held the position of juror at all the Victorian exhibitions. As a resident of Fitzroy of late years, he was a prominent and useful member of the Bench of that city."

The remains of the late Mr Cowie will be interred in the Eastern Cemetery, the funeral leaving the Geelong railway station on the arrival of the midday train from Melbourne to-day.'

Sources: The Argus (Melbourne) 16 November 1892 p7 (NLA); Geelong Advertiser 16 November 1892 p2 (NLA).

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