My birth took place at The Holmes, a place about a mile south-west of Kilmarnock on the first day of January, eighteen hundred and twenty. The place has long since been down and the ground levelled and ploughed. At that time Alexander Guthrie of The Mount was the manager for the Duke of Portland's mines in Ayrshire. My father Robert Cowan was what was called Underground Manager. My mother was Marion Hunter, daughter of Hugh Hunter, miller at New Cumnock in this county.
My oldest recollections are connected with accidents at the works. On one occasion a workman, who was to be at our house, did not cast up at the time appointed. I heard disappointment expressed and then told that I had seen a number of men going on a road visible from that 'carrying something...'. My father at once went off and I trotted with him to Orr's house. There on the floor was Orr's corpse, he killed by some accident, the young widow wild with agony, neighbours holding her, and two young fatherless boys awed into silence by the scene. My mother soon cast up as was her wont on all these occasions and we left. When we returned later my father said to the sobbing widow that he would look after the boys, and he did so and they turned out well. A son of one of them, an able student, is about to be licensed to preach the gospel by our Free Church.
Shortly thereafter water burst into one of the mines and one man, George Law, was shut into the mine. There was no engine on that pit; only a horse gin, it only being a few fathoms deep. Of course the excitement was great till it was seen how much water would flow in from the old waste. It was not much, but it took about eight and forty hours to lower it sufficiently to allow my father to find his way into George. When he did find him he was alive, very weak and seemingly wild. He was brought up, wrapped in blankets and carted home. I remember well, how after he partially recovered, he got out of doors, pale, quiet, tottering -- but the shock and the bad air was too much for him and, ere long, he passed away. His widow, a true Christian, was left with a young family, utterly destitute. She was allowed to remain in her house and lived for fully forty years thereafter. I saw her, on her deathbed, when we went over the above event and she spoke of her dark outlook, but she added "The Lord has been truly good; we never wanted. His goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life."