Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cowie, Robert

COWIE, ROBERT, M.D. (1842–1874), descriptive writer, was born in 1842 at Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands, where both his father and uncle were well-known medical practitioners. He was educated partly at Aberdeen, where he took the degree of M.A., and at Edinburgh, where he was a favourite student of Sir James Y. Simpson. On the death of his father he took up his medical practice, and was held in high esteem, both for his professional and general character. He died suddenly in 1874, in his thirty-third year. Cowie was an enthusiastic lover of his native islands, one proof of which was his selection of certain physical peculiarities of the Shetland people as the subject of his thesis when applying for the degree of M.D. At a later period he contributed to the International Congress at Paris an article on ‘health and longevity,’ bringing out a wonderful prolongation of life beyond the average among the Shetlanders, which excited considerable notice. The interest excited by these papers led Cowie to prepare them for publication; but to make a more complete and popular volume much other matter was added. The book entitled ‘Shetland, Descriptive and Historical’ was the result, the latter part being a descriptive account of the several islands of the group. It forms one of the best accounts of Shetland that have appeared.

[Shetland, Descriptive and Historical, 2nd edition, with memoir of the author; British Medical Journal, 6 June 1874; Shetland Times, 4 May 1874; private information.]

W. G. B.