COWPER, William (1778-1858)


COWPER, William (1778-1858)
early clergyman
was born at Whittington, England, on 28 December 1778. His father was a yeoman farmer. At 17 years of age Cowper became a tutor in a clergyman's family, and some time later was a clerk in the Royal engineers department at Hull. He began reading for the ministry, was ordained in March 1808, and became a curate at Rawdon near Hull. There he was found by the Rev. S. Marsden (q.v.) who induced him to come to Australia. He arrived at Sydney on 18 August 1809 and became first assistant chaplain at a salary of £260 a year. He was also incumbent of St Phillip's church, the name was spelt so in honour of the first governor. He found the state of morality in Sydney deplorable, and actively set to work by preaching and example to bring about an improvement. He was one of the founders and secretary of the Benevolent Society of New South Wales, and was at one time secretary of six religious and charitable societies. In 1842 his eyesight began to fail and, obtaining leave of absence to go to London to have an operation, was presented with a purse of £780 by his parishioners to cover his expenses. He returned in 1843 with his sight much improved, and with the honorary degree of D.D., which had been conferred on him by the archbishop of Canterbury. In 1848 he was instrumental in starting the building of the new church of St Philip and himself gave £500 towards the cost of it. In 1849 he had a dangerous illness but recovered, and in 1852 was appointed to administer the diocese during the absence of Bishop Broughton (q.v.) on a visit to England. The bishop died in February 1853 and Cowper had to continue his duties until Bishop Barker (q.v.) arrived in May 1855. The new church of St Philip was sufficiently complete to be consecrated in March 1856, greatly to Cowper's joy. He died on 6 July 1858. He was married three times and was survived by four sons and two daughters. Two of his sons, Sir Charles Cowper and William Macquarie Cowper, are noticed separately.
Cowper was devoted to his work. He several times refused to become a magistrate because he considered the duties incompatible with his clerical life. He was courageous and uncompromising as a preacher, charitable and kindly in his life, and unlike other clerics of the period refused to meddle in secular and political matters.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 July 1858; The Empire, 7 July 1858; W. M. Cowper, Autobiography and Reminiscences; Andrew Houison, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. III, pp. 359-66. Many references will also be found in the Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vol. VII onwards.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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