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George Cowen

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George Cowen (1792-1857)


1858 Obituary [1]

MR. GEORGE COWEN was born in the immediate vicinity of Carlisle, on the 29th September, 1792.

Having received the rudiments of education in the neighbourhood of the place of his birth, he was transferred to Green Row School, a large seminary on the English shore of the Solway Frith, then under the able superintendence of Mr. Joseph Saul, its founder. Here his studies were directed to mechanical science and the useful arts.

In 1812 he was sent to Soho, where, under Messrs. Boulton and Watt, he acquired that knowledge which was decisive of his future pursuit in life, and where he became the intimate companion of Mr. Joseph Miller, M. Inst. C.E. The friendship thus formed, increased with years, and was only put an end to by Mr. Cowen’s death, the survivor feeling that event as one of the greatest calamities that could befall him, leaving, as he himself has feelingly said, 'a blank in his existence.'

From Soho, Mr. Cowen was recalled to domestic scenes and employment. His indefatigable Father had become the head of a large cotton-spinning concern at Carlisle, under the designation of Cowen, Heysham, and Co. The practical working of this establishment was in the hands of the elder Mr. Cowen, and he, with a full knowledge of the benefits of personal experience in any calling, directed the attention of his two sons, the deceased, and his brother, Mr. R. Cowen, Assoc. Inst. C.E., to all the branches of the mechanical arts, but especially to the steam-engine and the machinery in use in the spinning of cotton, wool, silk, &c. It was in this field that these gentlemen acquired that practical knowledge, for which in after years both became distinguished.

In 1813, Mr. G. Cowen commenced in Carlisle the manufacture of hosiery, and carried it on for many years with success. In 1821, he and his brother purchased and took upon themselves the management of the extensive cotton-spinning establishment at Mill Ellers, near the village of Dalston, which had been previously carried on by the late Messrs. Daniel, Hebson, and Co.

This was at the period when great changes were introduced in the machinery for cotton-spinning. Desiring to move along with the onward flow of improvement, the Messrs. Cowen threw aside the old machinery and adopted the new, their own knowledge enabling them to make proper selections. Prosperity attended their well directed efforts, and in a few years Mr. R. Cowen, the elder brother, retired from the firm.

In 1834, Mr. G. Cowen joined the firm of Miller, Ravenhill, and Co., Engineers, Glass House Fields, London, and continued a partner about ten years, but took no active part in the management.

Mr. G. Cowen married a lady of great amiability, by whom he had two children, a daughter and a son. The former is dead ; the latter lives to be the solace of his mother in her widowhood.

When death interferes, the blow is always felt as the severest, save dishonour, that can reach the domestic circle : when it comes in the awful form that attended Mr. Cowen’s sudden departure, the calamity is overwhelming. While attending the half-yearly meeting of the Maryport and Carlisle Railway Company, of which he was a director, on the 18th February, 1857, Mr. Cowen suddenly fell from his seat, and on being removed into an adjoining room, it was found that he was a corpse. The cause of Mr. Cowen’s death was disease of the heart. A local journal says of him :-“ Few have departed more loved by his family and friends, more kindly regarded by the community among whom he dwelt for more than half a century. . . . Long habits and knowledge of business rendered him efficient in all that he undertook. But he was more than a mere man of business. His mind was richly stored with science and literature. . . . At Dalston his improvements have been great and eminently successful. In his capacity of magistrate, he was intelligent, firm, and impartial : always just, yet leaning to the side of mercy and genuine liberality. But it was in his private circle that he appeared to the greatest advantage- kind and considerate as a friend-hospitable without ostentation- as a husband and father in full possession of the affection of those he had most reason to love. . . . On Tuesday the proceedings of the railway meeting were suspended for some time in consequence of the impressive event which had taken place in the presence of all: and when the business was resumed, the meeting put upon record an expression of their regret at the loss of a valuable colleague, and of sympathy and condolence with his afflicted family. Few, perhaps, knew the deceased better than the writer of this paragraph. It is with unaffected grief that he pays this tribute to the head and heart of as sterling an Englishman as ever breathed. He is gone. 'After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.’ And he leaves behind an unsullied name, and an example that some of the best of us may follow with advantage to ourselves and to society at large.'

On Monday, February 16th, 1857, all that was mortal of him was deposited in the grave in which his daughter slept, in the churchyard of Dalston, close to the resting-place of his friend, the late Mr. Thurnam, and not far from that of Bishop Percy, who was also suddenly taken away.

At the time of his decease, Mr. G. Cowen was a magistrate for the county of Cumberland, and a justice of peace for the city of Carlisle. He was elected an associate of the Institution on the 2nd May, 1854; and whenever he was in. London, he always attended the meetings, and evinced great interest in the proceedings of the Institution


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