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William Stanley Cowin

Epithet: Naturalist, co-founder of the Manx Field Club and of 'Peregrine' (1907-1958)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

Will Cowin, as he was always known, was the elder son of Frank and Eleanor Cowin, and a member of a notable Manx family. For example, his grandfather had a fashionable ladies' outfitters in Victoria Street, Douglas, and in 1958 the Attorney General was his cousin. Will himself did so well at Douglas High School that, on leaving, he entered the service of the Isle of Man Bank and soon passed all of his Institute of Bankers examinations. Thereafter he was for many years a valued member of the staff in the Trustee department.

He was an active member of All Saints' Church where he was variously deputy warden, a member of the Parochial Church Council, and treasurer of church funds.

His other interests, which were diverse, ranged from the Dilettanti Debating Society to the Douglas Rifle Club. A crack shot himself, he was their competitions secretary andwas awarded the National Rifle Shooting Association distinguished service medal in recognition of his nine-year non-stop stint in this post.

However, it was as an active field naturalist that he made his greatest contribution to the Island he loved. Even as a schoolboy he kept meticulous records of the flowering dates of plants, the emergence of insects, and the birds that he saw. Perhaps this reflected at some remove the influence of Philip Moore Callow Kermode, curator of the Manx Museum, who did his best to foster an interest in wildlife among members of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society.

As an excellent shot, Cowin held a museum auxiliary's permit which exempted him from bird protection legislation so that he could take specimens required for the collections of the Manx Museum. He befriended the young Kenneth Williamson when he became museum assistant. Together they worked on the insects of the Island and started to form a new definitive voucher collection. They visited the Calf of Man as often as they could and planned its future as a site for one of a chain of bird observatories on British shores. They started on a systematic survey of the wildlife of Langness. In March, 1938, they founded the Manx Field Club, a tacit recognition that the Island's senior natural history society had now lost sight of its founder's wide interests. They published Peregrine, a journal devoted to natural history, though not exclusively Manx. Records and notes also appeared in the journal the North-Western Naturalist. Will and Ken had a wide circle of friends and were held in great respect among field naturalists outside, as well as inside the Island. One indication of this is that Will achieved the difficult feat of finding an insect new to the British Isles. It was named in his honour Epitriptus Cowini. This robber-fly is now known as Machismus, but its epithet still honours this Manx naturalist. It has even been depicted on a Manx stamp.

His death was a shock, most particularly as he was engaged to be married. The Manx Field Club did not survive his loss and was taken back into the fold of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society where it languished until finally being terminated by the founding of the Manx Bird Club. The Peregrine, however, continued. Will's brother, Herbert Sydney Cowin carried on the family's association with the IoMNHAS, and later served as its president.

Will's natural history collections became a valued part of those of the Manx Museum and after the death of H.S. Cowin, Will's diaries were added to its archives. Much of Will's data had already been sent to various
mapping schemes for British wildlife so his contributions to Manx natural history outlived him. He is buried in St George's Churchyard, Douglas.

Biography written by Larch S. Garrad.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.119-20.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 17 August 1907

Date of death: 29 July 1958

Name Variant: Cowin, William


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