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Thomas Cowlishaw

Thomas Cowlishaw

Maria Evans

Thomas Cowlishaw
Maria Evans

Thomas Cowlishaw arrived in Australia with his wife, Maria Evans, in 1833 on “Henry Porcher”. The couple had 7 children, all lived to adulthood. The obituary following gives an insight into Thomas Cowlishaw’s life, and his personality. He lived in Sydney, and died at his home, “Chaddesden Villa”, in Paddington, Sydney.


Thomas was born in Wirksworth, Derbyshire, England, in 1806. Wirksworth was a lead mining area. His death certificate states he was married in London, where he had moved to study architecture with his uncle, James Cowlishaw. His marriage took place not long before the couple set sail for Australia.  


Thomas and Maria are buried in a vault in the Old Methodist section of Rookwood Cemetery.(see photo below) There is a grave beside the vault where his son, Thomas (1836-1907) and Thomas's wife, Catherine Chambers Williams, are buried.




1875, PAGE 151


This article is signed G.W. and was probably written by George Woolnough, Thomas Cowlishaw's son-in-law.



was born in Derbyshire, Sept 12th, 1806 and died at Paddington, Sydney, Nov. 6th, 1875, in the 70th year of his age.


When emigration to new countries was less popular and easy than it is now, and when a voyage from England to Australia was long and wearisome, a small band of young men and their wives set out for these shores; here to make their home, to live and to die. The late Mr. And Mrs. Cowlishaw, then newly married, belonged to that little company, and were among its last survivors, having lived in this colony upwards of forty years, the whole of which time was spent in Sydney or its suburbs. Their protracted passage here, sufficed to form and strengthen friendships which lasted through all the following years, till all the voyagers, save one, have been laid in the grave. The oldest of his friends and acquaintances will recollect Mr. Cowlishaw chiefly as


Fifty years ago there were not so many able and willing citizens as now to take an interest in public affairs. There were few persons of independent fortune; and to give ones time to popular concerns, was to take it away from ones private business.

The colony was without experience in philanthropic, legislative, and municipal institutions, such as can be found everywhere to-day. With his benevolence of spirit, his transparent sincerity, his great self-reliance, and his untiring industry, Mr. Cowlishaw was just the man to be of service in his adopted city. The public soon knew him as a man of rare integrity, and the value which they placed upon his sterling qualities was manifested by the extent to which they reposed their confidence in him and availed themselves of his services. The largest and most distinguished monument of his public life is the Destitute Childrens Asylum at Randwick. He, with four other gentlemen only one of whom survives were its founders and life long supporters, and he had a seat at its Board of Directors till his death. Having for the last seventeen years held the office of Government Valuator, he was obliged to lead a more retired life than formerly, and to give himself up fully to the faithful discharge of duties which required a most conscientious care, and a fidelity which was above suspicion. It is only an act of justice to his memory, to say that no deed of his public life was, or ever could be impeached for its want of truthfulness, or purity, or personal uprightness.

The most warmly cherished circle of his friends knew him best as


For some years he was a worshipper at St. James' Church, having been brought up in the Church of England. On removing to Surry Hills he soon commenced to attend the nearest place of worship, which happened to be the little Wesleyan Chapel on the north side of Bourke-street. That was the day of small things with Methodism in that part of the city. But there was life in the little cause fathered by a godly few, most of whom have passed away. Being fairly connected with, and attached to the Wesleyan Church, Mr. Cowlishaw was faithful in all things till death. He speedily became the friend of nearly all the men who made the second generation of Wesleyan Ministers in this country; and no man ever felt himself more honoured by their friendship. In the course of years he cheerfully accepted those offices which always fall thick and fast into willing hands, and he did good service in them all. His favourite place was the Sunday school, where he laboured as he had opportunity and strength; never feeling so happy as when there. On his retirement from the superintendency of the Bourke-street school, the officers and teachers gave him an address in which they said, "Most of us have been associated with you in this school for many years, some of us, indeed, as far back as we can remember, when we entered as scholars in the infant class. While we formally bid you farewell, we pray God that it may please Him to prolong your life many days, and that the setting of your sun may be in glory."

Mr Cowlishaw was best known and most dearly loved


All who entered there saw his wisdom and his goodness as a husband and a father. For his children his first care was, not that they should be great, but useful and honourable in the world. The principles upon which his household was ruled were drawn from the Bible, and his methods of family control and guidance won the confidence of his sons and daughters, no less in their childhood than in their riper years. His joy was to be in their midst, or to watch their way in life; and they rise up to call him blessed. In death, as in life his thoughts were of there (sic.) welfare. There was a message for each of them; a few choice words, as apples of gold in pictures of silver. He had nearly reached the allotted three score years and ten, when he began to fail. The death of the late Mrs. Cowlishaw shook his frame and his mind so much that he was never quite himself again. Frequent attacks of inflammation of the lungs made him feel, and his children see that he would soon leave them for a season. His last illness was short, and though apparently not severe, he distinctly knew it was "the beginning of the end". But in patience he possessed his soul. There was no mental wandering, no spiritual distress for a moment. When told that no more could be done for him, but that he must not be alarmed, he replied, "you need not tell me that, I am in the hands of God." As the last hour came, he said, "I am safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on his gentle breast." Most truly of him it may be said "he fell asleep in Jesus."



may be set out in a few words. Many of his virtues were of the unobtrusive sort; and were known only to those who knew him well. He was a man of a remarkably pure mind. Things profane and vile never had a lace in his breast; nor did he seem capable of noticing such things in other people. A child is not more simple and free from guile than he was in this respect all life through. In him this was a quality of heart, which made it almost impossible for him to be suspicious, or envious, or vindictive. With such a trait of character it was certain that the kindred virtue of benevolence would be found. But his alms were in secret, and he never forgot that the Lord loveth a cheerful giver. The extent to which he gave to the funds of the church and for the relief of the poor, entitles him to be called a generous man, and saved him from dying rich. In the later years of his life, the most noticeable mark of his piety was seen in his habits of private devotion. He loved to read the Word of God, and private prayer was the secret place from which he came forth in the armour of light. When no longer able to attend to these things personally, he anxiously asked them to be done by others for him; joining in and responding with a fervour which displayed the old delight strong in death. He rests from his labours, and his works follow him; and whilst no one can take his place, our confidence is that the God of our families, and head of our church will raise up others to befriend the poor, instruct the young, and support His cause.

G. W.

Cowlishaw Family Vault at Rookwood Cemetery
Thomas and Maria Cowlishaw were buried in a vault in the Old Methodist section of Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney. To the left of the picture is the memorial for Thomas' second son, Thomas and his wife, Catherine Chambers Williams. The grave sites are becoming badly overgrown with trees, and it is hoped will be cleared soon by the Cemetery trust.


January 25th, 1913




            On this page of the ‘Telegraph’ today may be found portraits of the late Mr. And Mrs. Cowlishaw, Sen,. of Sydney, father and mother of families of that name in New South Wales, Queensland and New Zealand. Mr Cowlishaw was a foremost man in what may be termed the colourisation of Australia. In other words, he was one of a number of sturdy Britishers who came to this country to lay its foundation in pastoral work, commerce, and other branches of civilisation. Having completed the period of his articles to his brother, Mr. James Cowlishaw, a leading London architect, one of those whose principal works was the Royal Exchange, London, he resolved, with his young wife, to set out for Australia. They embarked on board a ship which made the voyage in the extraordinary period of ten months. On the shore, waving farewell was Mr. Cowlishaw’s young friend Mr Henry Robertson. They had been companions in articles to the elder Cowlishaw. When the long voyage ended, and the ship was being made fast to the wharf in Sydney, there on it stood young Robertson awaiting to bid a hearty welcome to the new comers. When they had left England, he resolved to follow them, and so with his young wife, making a shorter passage than their friends made, he was the first to reach the new home.  The two men were fast friends till death parted them. For some years before that event, they were both engaged in the weighty and honourable service of valuing large areas of land being taken up by the Government for railway purposes.

            One of Mr. Cowlishaw’s first and largest engagements was in building Government House, the edifice over which there has recently been a peculiar dispute between the Federal Government and that of New South Wales. As all folk who know that edifice are aware, it is built of stone from basement to turret. In that respect it is monumental to Mr. Cowlishaw. He had an expert’s knowledge of stone suitable for edifices, and he was a past master in his knowledge of stone treatment. To him is due the credit and all of it in introducing this class of work in Australia, The first house that he built for himself was of stressed stone. Even the staircase was of that material. It was when superintending the building of a bank in George Street, that an accident came near to costing him his life, and which left him slightly lame to the end of his years. The incident was singularly characteristic of the man. He was directing the laying of a large corner block of dressed stone. Seeing that there was danger of an accident to someone, he, himself, took the post of danger. That was a mark of the man’s character all through. His disposition was self-denying and generous.

            Mr. and Mrs. Cowlishaw were members of the Church of England They worshipped at old St. James’s. The Hon. James Cowlishaw, M.L.C., the eldest living son, and some other children of the family were baptised in that historic church. At that time the family had their home in Bathurst Street. It was a matter of peril, by night, to go from Bathurst Street to St. James’s Church. Under the pressure of circumstance, the elder members of the family crossed the street to worship in the Baptist chapel, still standing at the rear of St. Andrew’s Cathedral. The Rev. John Saunders was its Minister. Lady Renwick, of Sydney, is his daughter. He had been trained for the legal profession, and in other respects, he was a highly educated man. He is remembered as having been one of the earliest and most earnest advocates for total abstinence. His personality was charming. Quite naturally, therefore, Mr. and Mrs. Cowlishaw were much drawn to him. His chapel to them was a sort of chapel of ease. Subsequently, the family lived in the aforementioned stone-built edifice in Liverpool Street. It was part on a part of the site now covered by the Mark Foy emporium. Some years afterwards, the family removed to Surry hills to a spot bordering on Strawberry Gardens. There they found themselves still farther from their parish church, and with rather more danger to them when attempting to make their way along the bush track, then called the South Head Road, now called Oxford Road. In the new neighbourhood, Mr. Cowlishaw felt himself surrounded by several new conditions. The late Lancelot Iredale, brother, father, grandfather and uncle of possibly every Iredale in Australia had built a school-chapel in that neighbourhood. His neighbour, Nightinglale, father of the Messrs. Charles and Alfred Nightingale, well known in Brisbane, had commenced a Sunday school in the little edifice. Like Robert Raikes, founder of Sunday schools, Mr. Cowlishaw was impressed on seeing so many children too far from their parish church for their regular attendance, probably not receiving overmuch, if any religious instruction in their homes. Mr. Cowlishaw entered on this Sunday school work con amore. So far as it is known, that was the first Sunday school in New South Wales, if not in Australia. The little edifice became a cottage when, under Mr. Cowlishaw’s energetic direction, a larger edifice was required. So that, should anyone in Australia be entitled to be called the father of Sunday schools, Mr. T. Cowlishaw, Sen., was the man. His name coupled with that of the Sunday school at Surry Hills, must be known throughout Australia. It would be possible in this country to find some scores of individuals who passed through that school under Mr. Cowlishaw’s superintendency. Finally the family settled in a beautiful home on the outskirts of Sydney and at the entrance to Paddington. From that home came two of the sons, the Hon. James, M.L.C., and Mr George Cowlishaw, whose death recently took place. From that home went out Mr. William Paton (sic.) Cowlishaw, a graduate of the Sydney University, a solicitor, and a barrister at law. He made his home in New Zealand, and died there. Two of the sons, known as Cowlishaw Brothers, were merchants in Sydney. The elder daughter became Mrs. George Woolnough. The younger waited and watched the declining years of her parents. First Mrs. And then Mr. Cowlishaw died in that Paddington home. Mural tablets to their memory were created in the aforesaid Surry Hills Church. The above reference to Mr. Cowlishaw’s character might be very much enlarged. So also might be the history of his life. Mr. Cowlishaw was one of the founders of the Sydney School of Arts. He was its first treasurer. The Hon. James is a life member, and probably the oldest member. Mr. Cowlishaw founded a benefit society whose offices were at old St. James Church. He was the first local promoter of local penny savings banks. He devised and successfully worked a financial scheme for liquidating debts on churches, school houses, and minister’s residences. In his early days he was a member of an aldermanic council for Sydney, but later in life he withdrew from these engagements. He was a man to whom it seemed almost impossible to cherish a suspicion of anyone. He never was known to speak evil of anyone. He was a pur minded, large hearted man; without a trace of racial or religious bigotry. As he lived, so he died. He was revered by his children, and honoured and trusted by all who knew him in private, social, or public life.

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