EVENING, JULY 25, 1929
OF HON. JAMES COWLISHAW
IN PIONEER DAYS
The Honourable James Cowlishaw, a former chairman
of directors of the Telegraph Newspaper Company, Limited, died at his home, Montpelier, Bowen Hills, early this morning. He
was in his 95th year.
Mr Cowlishaw had been
connected with the directorate of the Telegraph newspaper Company, limited, for 41 years and had been a prominent figure in
commercial and public life. He was a member of the Legislative Council from 1878 until its abolition in 1922.
Although long in retirement, Mr. Cowlishaw maintained
an interest in the world’s affairs until a week or so before his death. He took suddenly ill on Friday afternoon and
his condition gradually became worse. Death occurred shortly after 2 o’clock this morning.
The late Mr. Cowlishaw, who was the eldest member
of Mr. Thomas Cowlishaw’s large family, was born at Sydney on December 19, 1834. His father was an architect and builder.
The Cowlishaws and architecture were associated for several generations. Mr. James Cowlishaw’s uncle, after whom he
was named, was the designer of the Royal Exchange, one of the best known architectural features of London. One of Mr. Thomas
Cowlishaw’s most important engagements was the building of Government House, Sydney.
Mr. James Cowlishaw was
baptised in the historic St James Church of England, Sydney. The family then lived at Bathurst Street, and it was a matter
of peril in those rude convict days to walk from Bathurst Street to St James’s at night. Subsequently the family removed
to a stone villa on a site now covered by a portion of Mark Foy’s emporium. Later still they took up their residence
at Surry Hills, at a spot bordering on what was called the Strawberry Gardens. Oxford Road at that time was a bush track known
as the South Head Road. Mr. Cowlishaw, sen., when living at this place, helped to found what is claimed to have been the first
Sunday school in Australia. Finally the family settled down in a beautiful home on the outskirts of Sydney at the entrance
Mr. Thomas Cowlishaw was
one of the founders of the Sydney School of Arts and Mr. James Cowlishaw, at the time of his death was the oldest member of
that institution. His ticket of membership was No. 2.
Mr. Cowlishaw was educated at various preparatory
schools, including one conducted by the Rev. Mr. Dods, and finished his education at St. James’s (Church of England)
Grammar School, Sydney.
The deceased gentleman
used to relate anecdotes of those early days – the escape and pursuit of a prisoner from a gang which was working in
the neighbourhood of the site on which later was erected Darlinghurst gaol; the truancy of the irresponsible schoolboys, who
would crawl through a hole in the brick wall which enclosed the school ground, bent on seeing some episode at the adjoining
military barracks – possibly a flogging or an execution. By such stories the old gentleman gave life to otherwise dry
history. He also told stories of the ‘days of real sport’, when he and other boys paddled in the historic Tank
Stream and sampled the peaches in the gardens of the cottages which bordered the famous little stream. He used to tell, too,
of an early attempt at civic improvement by the construction of a bridge across the Tank Stream near what is now Bridge Street.
A toll was exacted from the users of this modest structure, but one fine morning it was found to have subsided into the soft
On leaving school young Cowlishaw at first had
a fancy for the apothecary’s art. His father therefore placed him with a prominent Sydney chemist. A few months of this
kind of work, however, convinced the youth that his life work did not lie in this direction. He accordingly turned his back
on drugs and chemicals and joined the clerical staff of a Mr. Dean, an auctioneer who carried on a flourishing business in
Pitt Street. So promising a business man did young Cowlishaw show himself to be, Mr. Dean offered him a partnership, but he
declined it, and accepted an appointment in connection with carrying out of the scheme for supplying water to Sydney from
what was then known as the Sand Hills. In his later years he used to tell of a mysterious cutting off of the water supply
to a certain area. This was found to be due to the choking up of a small main by a large eel.
OF THE GOLDFIELDS
The gold fever was very rampant in Australia
in those early days, and it infected young Cowlishaw, who, accompanied by a mate, tried his luck at the Turon River diggings
in New South Wales. Those were rough days too, and the young Sydney native saw goldfield life in its rude, primitive garb.
One of the men working at the same “claim” with which Mr. Cowlishaw was associated was assaulted and robbed. Mr.
Cowlishaw was one of those who joined in the pursuit of the offenders – for there were two of them – and had the
satisfaction of seeing the fugitives captured after an exciting chase. The robbers were taken to Bathurst, where they were
tried and convicted. Some years later Mr. Cowlishaw also tried his luck at Gympie, when that field was in its golden infancy;
but riches did not come to find him that way.
Mr Cowlishaw had the privilege of being present
at the turning of the first sod of Australia’s first railway. This historic event took place at Sydney on July 3, 1850.
The site of the ceremony was near that upon which Sydney’s first railway station was built at Redfern, which was then
called Strawberry Hills. It is interesting to note, that the youthful Sydney native had more than an idle curiosity in the
proceedings, for although he was not yet 16 years old, he was a shareholder in the company which was building the line. A
reproduction of a steel engraving depicting the memorable scene, also a fac-simile of the share certificate issued to Mr Cowlishaw,
were published in “The Telegraph” some years ago. The sod-turning ceremony was performed by the Hon. Mrs. Keith
Stewart, a daughter of Sir Charles Fitz Roy, the then Governor of New South Wales, as the whole of Eastern Australia was called
at that time. The population of New South Wales then was 154,976, or a little over half of that of Brisbane today. While it
private enterprise which initiated the construction of this first railway, which had Parramatta as its southside terminus,
the company failed before the line had been pushed any further than Homebush, and the Government of the day took it over,
reimbursing the investors for their outlay.
Mr Cowlishaw’s association
with railways was unique. As mentioned, he was present at the genesis of railways in the mother state. Late, when Victoria
had been erected in to a separate colony, he was living in Melbourne when the first railway was being built there and watched
the work with interest. He had gone to Melbourne for health reasons, and with some hesitation accepted a position in the Treasury
department. Many a time he saw the gold escort, with much ado, arrive from the goldfields at the old “Treasury”
which still stands in Queen Street, Melbourne. During his stay in Melbourne the young new South Welshman attended the opening
of what was then called the Hobson’s Bay railway. He was one of the few persons privileged to travel in the special
train which inaugurated the service between Sydney and Melbourne. He also was in Queensland when the iron horse started out
on its first journey into this colony, as it then was, and later, when it was decided to extend that pioneer line from Ipswich
to Brisbane he was entrusted by the Government of the day with the important task of valuing lands which it was proposed to
resume for the purpose.
Having returned to his native city, Mr. Cowlishaw
decided to associate himself with architecture. He served his time with a Mr. Blackett, who for many years was the leading
architect of New South Wales. The University of Sydney, with its beautiful Great hall, is one of Mr. Blackett’s monumental
works. Mr. Blackett soon saw that in this sturdy and brainy young man he had an apt pupil, and he spared no pains to impart
to him those principles and practices which mark the thorough architect.
Mr. Cowlishaw arrived in Brisbane on June 30,
1860. The colony then was only seven months old. It was a Sunday evening when he arrived here by the steamer ‘Telegraph’.
The infant capital naturally was but a small city at that time. Queen Street was a badly formed street, with kerosene lights
here and there to lighten its darkness at night, and the other streets were in a worse condition. Spring Hill was covered
with bush, a creek meandered down from there to the river where Charlotte Street horse ferry now is, and gave name to an adjacent
street. Around by the lower end of Albert Street was a dismal swamp, called Frog Hollow. But the young architect who had turned
his back on his rapidly growing native city saw great possibilities in the city of his adoption, and he was destined to play
an important part in its development.
Mr. Cowlishaw was one of the founders of the
Brisbane Gas Company in 1864. He was a member of the provisional committee which prepared for the launching of the company,
but at his own request he was not elected to the original directorate. His first official connection with the company was
in the office of auditor, which position he held from February, 1869, till February, 1873, when he was elected to the directorate.
In September, 1875, Mr Cowlishaw resigned his position on the directorate to engage in the redesigning of new premises for
the company, the erection of which he superintended. When the late Mr. L.A. Bernays retired from the chairmanship of directors,
in March, 1879, Mr. Cowlishaw, who, meantime, again had become a director, was elected to that position, and occupied it without
a break for 41 ½ years. He was associated with the directorate in all for nearly 47 years. When he had completed a 30 years
occupancy of the chairmanship his fellow directors made a presentation of plate to him in recognition of his invaluable services.
Under his wise guidance the company had made great progress and Brisbane possessed a gas lighting and heating system which
was a credit to the capital of this big State. The collection of plate referred to was declared by experts at the time to
be the best which yet had been seen in Queensland. Mr. Cowlishaw acknowledged the valuable gift, and the good things said
about him and his work with characteristic modesty. He was a man of action rather than words. His work was characterised by
method and thoroughness; nothing was left to chance. He was a far-seeing man, and e had a great faculty for providing for
At the time of the presentation
mentioned, Mr. Cowlishaw referred to the fact that there were only three of the original shareholders living – Messrs.
F Lassetter and Mayne, both of whom were in New South Wales – and himself.
As an architect Mr. Cowlishaw naturally became
closely associated with the building up of the city structurally. He was the designer of some of the best buildings of the
day, including banks, and other business premises, and the better class domestic architecture.
Amongst the many architectural
monuments which he has left behind him here are the Boys’ Grammar School, the Commercial Bank of Sydney in Queen Street,
Hodgson Terrace in George Street, Alexander Stewart and Sons’ warehouse in Queen Street, and the building known today
as the Grand Central Hotel, which was built as business premises for the late Mr. William Perry, in Queen Street.
In a story of early Brisbane
which he told specially for “The Telegraph” at the time of the celebration of the centenary of the discovery of
the Brisbane River, it was remarkable how clear the old gentleman’s memory was, especially for the buildings which then
stood at various points, and the class of buildings they were, whether of wood or brick, the number of stories (sic.) and
so on. . He also was able to recount some interesting experiences of the days when as a justice of the peace he sat on the
bench of the Brisbane Police Court in conjunction with such other well known early justices as Messrs. “Bobby”
Cribb, as he was familiarly called, “Tom” Petrie, Thomas Warry, and others.
The late Mr. Cowlishaw
for several years was a director of the “Courier” until Mr. Gresley Lukin bought that paper in 1873. He afterwards
was associated with the directorate of the telegraph Newspaper company for 41 years; as chairman from December, 1879, till
May, 1885, and again from January, 1913, till November, 1917, and vice-chairman from November, 1917, till August, 1920, when
he severed his long association with the directorate.
When the Legislative Council of this State was
abolished in 1922, Mr. Cowlishaw was its oldest member. He was appointed to it in 1878, so that he had been a member of that
branch of the legislature continuously for 44 years. He was not given, as indicated above, to much speaking. His voice was
seldom heard in the debates. He was not much concerned in wars in words. He was more of a constructive mind. He concerned
himself more about the provisions contained in bills, and as a rule reserved anything he had to say for that stage of the
consideration of measures, showing by a few simple sentences how far he looked into the future by pointing out possible complications
which a particular clause would lead to.
MAN OF AFFAIRS
Yet this quiet man of affairs could speak when
the occasion warranted it. At the time of the general strike of 1912, when the city was threatened with darkness and with
the cutting off of the service of such as relied on the gas for culinary and industrial purposes, Mr. Cowlishaw was the principal
speaker at several deputations to the then Premier, when the seriousness of the situation which threatened was pointed out
to him. Fortunately the far-sighted policy of the directorate averted immediate trouble and the company was able to tide over
the troublesome period without any very serious consequences.
The deceased gentleman was a most unassuming
man, of a naturally refined, pacific temperament. Tall and erect, stately and full-bearded, he was a striking, patriarchal
figure. He had an almost unerring memory, and a mind which grasped every detail of almost any task he undertook. He was particularly
simple in his tastes, not at all given to extravagance, but at the same time generous towards worthy persons and objects.
His charity, however, was of the unobtrusive kind. He hated publicity. One gift which it was impossible to hide was when shortly
after the death of his wife in June, 1914, he gave several hundred pounds to the Hospital for Sick Children, of which Mrs.
Cowlishaw had been president for many years, and of the gentlemen’s advisory committee of which he was a most useful
member, especially when repairs or extensions of buildings were required. With the two to one subsidy paid at the time this
gave the institution the particularly welcome gift of £1,000.
For many years he was a most
practical supporter of the Valley Methodist Church.
The deceased gentleman for the last few years
lived quietly at Montpelier, Bowen Hills, enjoying that rest and peace of mind to which a long, arduous, and well spent life
so much entitled him.
The late Mr. Cowlishaw left
a family of three sons and three daughters – Mt T.O. Cowlishaw (Brisbane), Mr. George Cowlishaw (New South Wales), Dr.
Eric B.O. Cowlishaw (Brisbane), and Mesdames M. Capper (Brisbane), F.D de Little (Brisbane), and V. Crowe (Melbourne). One
son, Mr. J.P.O. Cowlishaw died some years ago.