The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Cowper, Hon. Sir Charles

Cowper, Hon. Sir Charles, K.C.M.G., sometime Premier of New South Wales, son of the late Ven. Archdeacon William Cowper, D.D. (q.v.), was born at Drypool, Yorkshire, on April 26th, 1807, and when two years old was brought to Sydney by his father. He was educated privately, and entered the Commissariat department under Commissary-General Wemyss, being appointed secretary to the Church and School Lands Corporation in 1826 by Governor Sir Charles Darling. In 1831 he married Eliza, second daughter of Daniel Sutton, of Wivenhoe, near Colchester, Essex. When the Church and School Lands Corporation was dissolved in 1833 Mr. Cowper went to reside in the county of Argyle, and held some sheep stations on the Murray. He was made a magistrate of the territory in 1839, and in 1843 he contested Camden with Mr. Roger Therry, Attorney-General, and was only defeated by ten votes. Being immediately invited to stand for the county of Cumberland, he was returned to the Legislative Council by a large majority, defeating even so popular a man as the late Sir James Macarthur. He was chairman of a company formed in 1846 for railway construction, and in 1851 he contested Sydney against Dr. Lang, Captain Lamb, and Mr. Wentworth, but was defeated. He was then returned for Durham. He introduced the Act for incorporating the Sydney Grammar School, and that for establishing colleges affiliated to the university. He was offered the position of Chief Commissioner of the city of Sydney, with a salary of £1000 a year, by Sir Charles Fitzroy; but declined it. At the general election in 1856 he was returned for Sydney to the first Legislative Assembly. On the resignation of the Donaldson Ministry, the first which held office under responsible government, in August 1856, Mr. Cowper was sent for by Sir W. Denison, and requested to form a Ministry. He was successful in that object, and himself held the post of Colonial Secretary, having for his colleagues the late Mr. Robert Campbell, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Terence A. Murray, Mr. (afterwards Sir) James Martin, and Mr. (afterwards Judge) Lutwyche. Objection was taken by the Opposition to the personal composition of the Ministry, and they were defeated and resigned in October, after holding office for six weeks. In Sept. 1857 Mr. Cowper became Premier and Colonial Secretary for the second time, and held office till Oct. 1859, passing the Electoral Act in 1858. His administration were defeated on their education policy, and Mr. Forster succeeded, but was ejected in less than five months, when Mr. (afterwards Sir) John Robertson's first Ministry was formed, with Mr. Cowper as Colonial Secretary. Under their ægis the famous Land Bill of 1861 was carried, and also a measure prohibiting future grants in aid of the religious bodies. In Jan. 1861 Mr. Robertson, whilst continuing to hold office as Secretary for Lands, surrendered the Premiership to Mr. Cowper, who held it till Oct. 1863, when the Martin Ministry came in, but was in turn defeated in Feb. 1865, when Mr. Cowper became Premier and Colonial Secretary for the third time in a period of great financial difficulty, and he resorted to ad valorem duties to tide the colony over the crisis. In Jan. 1866 Mr. Martin again came into power; and the Robertson Ministry having intervened, Mr. Cowper became Premier and Colonial Secretary for the fifth time in Jan. 1870. He, however, resigned in December following, to become Agent-General for New South Wales in London. As a mark of appreciation of his public services the estate of Wivenhoe was purchased by public subscription, and settled on Lady Cowper. Mr. Cowper was created K.C.M.G., and died on Oct. 19th, 1875, in London, having resigned the AgentGeneralship some time previously.