1797 acct of work done at Garlaff
Coalwork Reparing the Horse gin and preparing the gin Rink and Removing and Setting up the
Horse Gin at the new pit By the men Belonging to the work and others
By the late eighteenth century, the transformation of the lowland economy from
isolationism to capitalism was accelerating. While the emancipation
of the Scottish colliers in 1799 is regarded by some historians as having had little
impact on the labour supply in the mines, it did apparently unleash two ambitious young
entrepreneurs into the new capitalist world. These two brothers were passionate about
pursuing exciting opportunities.
James McCowan was one of those men listed in the above 1797
account. That he started his own coalmine in precisely the year of collier emancipation and that his
equally ambitious younger brother, David, emigrated to Trinidad only a year later
is unlikely to be a mere coincidence. The story of their sudden transformation from collier-serf
to capitalist may not be unique in that era of radical economic
change. What is special perhaps is the relative abundance of
information which describes at least portions of the fascinating careers of these ordinary
but ambitious men.
Here are some of the Ayrshire McCowans who entered the new business and professional
world in the early-mid 19th century:
Writer (lawyer), Inspector of the Poor in Cumnock. Died
in Cumnock in 1866.
Mason, living near Paisley, Renfrewshire, by 1800.
Probably employed in building the factories of the industrial revolution, as were his
McCowan cousins, the millwrights, in nearby Neilston. Emigrated
to Trinidad, Dec. 1800. Married Sarah Thomas Packwood. Importer
of goods from Britain. An architect in later years, quoting on public buildings. At least
two sons: Robert Thomas McCowan and James Anderson McCowan.
Highly successful in the new capitalist economy. Philanthropist and Marine Insurance Broker.
Married Margaret Walker and died in 1908.
Sir David McCowan, Baronet:
Knighted in 1928 for his philanthropic work in Scotland.
Although not yet proven, two medical doctors, Francis da Cruz McCowan and
Alexander George McCowan, are believed to be grandsons of George McCowan_1754_512. Their father
was George_McCowan_1790, Surgeon to His Majesty's Police
of Calcutta (born 1790, MRCS 1814).
Died 1863; Banker in Ayr; Married twice (Agnes Crook; Joanna McCall). Father of Sir David McCowan, Baronet, Insurance Executive.
Died 1834 in Scarborough, Upper Canada. This
entrepreneur moved to Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, and became Coalmaster of the Auchanbeg Coalworks. Married Margaret Porteous and
emigrated to Scarborough, Upper Canada, in 1833.
Died 1880, Stockbroker and Chartered Accountant in
Glasgow: Married twice (Christina Murdoch Graham and Elizabeth Jamieson); son Robert
William also an Accountant and Stockbroker. One of Robert William's cousins was Robert
Collins, son of William Collins, the renowned Printer and Publisher in Glasgow.
Banker in Strathaven, Lanarkshire: "During his
years of activity he took a special interest in the agricultural affairs of the district,
being recognised as a friend of the farmers in all their business affairs, and it was
largely due to his energy that the district cattle show attained its poularity."
Eldest son of David McCowan and Sarah Packwood, born in
Trinidad. A military surgeon, medical doctor and onculist, he returned to the
McCowan ancestral Parish of Cumnock and was one of the heroes in stemming the cholera
outbreak of the late 1840s. A family story is that this dark complexioned "ship's
doctor" once visited his McCowan cousins in Scarborough, Canada. His wife was born in
"Iron Master". Died 1900. Successful executive industrialist in
Whitehaven, Cumberland, England. Early career experience in Ricarton and Kilmarnock,
Ayrshire. Married Mary Jane Brown. Eldest son, James Crichton McCowan, was Factor and
Agent to the Marquis of Salisbury. Second son, John Marshall Bunten McCowan, was a
barrister in London.
The Scarboro Heights Record V12 #2
The McCowans' Who's Who Vol. 5
A short biography of scientist John McCowan (1863-1900)
appears in Hydraulicians in Europe, 1800-2000. This biographical dictionary of
leaders in hydraulic engineering and fluid mechanics was a labour of love for Professor
Willi Hager. To order, please go to www.iahr.net or
contact the IAHR Secretariat at firstname.lastname@example.org,
phone 34 91 335 7919.