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Later Years of the Young Qualtroughs from the book "A Quota of Qualtrough" Pages 48-70

The Cowan Family


THE COWAN FAMILY, Back L to R: Charles, Eunice (Jame's first wife); James (NZ historian); Maggie (daughter of W.A. Cowan's first marriage); Henry. Front L to R: John, Walter, William A. COWAN; Elizabeth Jane (QUALTROUGH) COWAN; Robert; William. Photo taken c.1900.

Betsy produced eight children - a daughter, Elizabeth Mary, who died in infancy and seven sons. The boys were James, William, Robert, John, Henry, Charles and Walter.

James Cowan inherited his grandfather’s penmanship, and his close association with the Maori in his boyhood gave him a deep understanding of, and respect for Maori culture. He became an authority on Maori matters and a writer of considerable distinction, firstly as a journalist with THE AUCKLAND STAR, then as a New Zealand Government Historian and author of international repute. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

James was married twice. His first wife was Eunice Nicholas, a part-Niue Islander, who died in 1909. His second wife was Eileen Stowell, a part-Maori, daughter of Henry Matthew Stowell, a native interpretor known also as Hare Hongi. Eileen Cowan died in 1968.

William, who made a name for himself as a horticulturist, particularly with roses and chrysanthemums, did not marry and lived in Auckland most of his life. Robert, a civil servant (Railways), married Mabel Coldicutt, of Auckland; John (Jack) entered the New Zealand Police Force and for many years was resident constable at Pukekohe and featured in a number of headline-making trials. He married a Dunedin girl, Helen Brown.

Henry, a bachelor all his life, inherited the family farm which he later sold and replaced with another in the Waikato. On retiring from the land he lived in Auckland. Charles died as a young man; Walter married Annie Elizabeth Gilmour and for a number of years worked in the timber industry in Auckland.

In one of his books, SETTLERS AND PIONEERS, James Cowan writes of his early boyhood thus:

" The farm lay with a gentle till to the north. Wheat was much grown and gave large yields. Memory lingers on the many peach groves and cherry groves, Maori planted, laden with the largest and sweetest fruit ever grown."

(The Rev. John Morgan, 'civiliser' of the Upper Waikato in the period 1842-1861, had introduced British horticulture to his native flock and the region was exceptionally self-sufficient and prosperous.)

"…. The farm life was comfortable and happy, however primitive in some ways. Peaches fattened the pigs; even the horses and cattle munched those peaches. We had everything we needed; to the youthful mind that knew no other life it was endless comfort. I came to know later how short cash often was and how the settler and shopkeeper often had to resort to the barter system in which no money passed.."

"Later on I carried to the township (Kihikihi) every Saturday on the saddle in front of me a box of home churned butter. We got fourpence a pound for it, not in cash, but took it our in a lot of groceries.

"….We were happy at home; those evenings were never monotonous. We had books at any rate. I don't know how modern youth would survive a revival of those movie-less, radio-less, jazz-less evenings (J.C.'s words in 1940; add TV, fast cars and fast foods to that!) the only sound from the outside dark the sharp wailing call of the weka in the swamp and the bittern's occasional muffled boom."

"….Candles were made by the farmer's wife from tallow; I remember the tin moulds used. Smelly candles they were, but better than nothing, especially when kerosene was hard to get."

"The flax-bush was all-important. No farmer could have done without it, for a score of purposes. The down or pollen of the raupo flowerhead was a substitue for feathers or kapoc in filling cushions."

"Harness was made in the early farming days from green cowhide cured with salt and alum. Plough and bridle reins and stirrup leathers were manufactured in that way. Floor mats and carpets were made by Maori neighbours and on these were laid dressed and dyed sheepskins."

"….The housewife made much use of abundant fruit. The big honey peaches were cut in slices which were strung with darning needle and thread on string and hung out in the wind and sun to dry; then they were laid out on boards or on sheets of corrugated iron, thoroughly dried in the hot summer sun and finally hung up in festoons in the rafters of the kitchen for future use in pies."

" There was no factory-cured bacon in the pioneer days, for there were no factories. We dealt with our own pigs on the farm and we had a hand in every stage from sty to kitchen."

Betsy's days would be full, being a good farm wife and mother. James Cowan recalls that his mother was a very reserved person but kind.

She would have known the infamous warrior Te Kooti for, fightmg days past, he was respected and even honoured. James Cowan writes

Te Kooti was our neighbour in 1884-85. He had a Government allotment, a gift from a grateful, or relieved country; it was in Kihikihi township and he had a camp for awhile on Andrew Kay’s farm just where the Orakau defenders made their desperate, forlorn effort to escape."

"He was a man of middle size with grey hair and a sparse grey beard. His features were finely cut, his strong nose aquiline, his expression determined, dogged. He was not tattooed, his frame was spare, his shoulders slightly stooped. One of his hands was mangled by a Government bullet in the 1869 campaign."

"The war-worn veteran and spiritual medicine-man (he practiced faith healing) often passed through Kihikihi township attended by his faithful cavalcade. In his later years he rode in a buggy with his two wives, stern, resolute-looking women who composed his body-guard against revengeful attack by some old enemy. Reputably each carried a loaded revolver in her blouse.

Life was not all work. One of the highlights of the year was the Kihikihi racemeeting. In 1886 Te Kooti entered a horse, a grey gelding named Panirau ('many orphans') for the Cup. No-one remembers now whether he won or lost.

The Cowans left the Waikato in 1893 to settle in Auckland, living first in Lower Grafton Road and later in Devonport. Bill Cowan died in 1913 aged 73, Betsy died in 1918 aged 80. Both are buried at O'Neills Point Cemetery, Devonport.

Nieces of Betsy - sometimes referred to rather stiffly as "Aunt Cowan" - remember her in her older age as a formal person of upright character and bearing, not given to flippancy or fripperies in dress or demeanour.

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