His father, Captain John Cowin, from the Isle of Man, was a merchant seaman who owned own ship and traded between the Isle of Man and Mauritius. When he retired he went to live in Mauritius where he established docking and facilities.
Born in Beau Bassin, Mauritius, Cowin was educated at the City of London School before being articled to Henry Smith, a quantity surveyor of Charing Cross, London for six years. Leaving this office he worked for a time in several others before joining the newly formed City of London Imperial Volunteers and coming to South Africa, serving over a year with them and being attached to Lord Roberts's column on the march from Bloemfontein to Pretoria (1899-1900), and was made a Freeman of the City of London as a member of the Imperial Volunteers. Cowin appears to have remained in South Africa after the war and in 1902 he married Grace Ellis, daughter of JA Ellis, working in Cape Town where he was listed in 1903 as a quantity surveyor and architect living in the Main Road, Muizenberg.
In 1902 he joined the Cape Town Municipality for a short while as a quantity surveyor and architect and in June that year set up his own practice. As a Councillor on the Kalk Bay- Muizenberg Municipality he was in charge of both the Drainage and Library Committees. He was Master of the Masonic Lodge and a sidesman at the Anglican church in Muizenberg. He married Grace Ellis in 1902, the daughter of John Alfred Ellis, Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, Cape Town, and Secretary of Kalk Bay and Muizenberg Municipality. They had six children, two boys John Norris COWIN and Douglas COWIN, both of whom became architects, and four daughters, Ethel, Mona, Kathleen and Grace. They lived at The Anchorage, Main Road, Muizenberg, and his office address was 73 St. George's Street, Cape Town (Walker, 2011:24).
In 1907 he was placed second in the competition for the Bulawayo Town Hall (not built) and in 1908 left Cape Town for Pretoria to join the PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT in Pretoria, although stilMl listed in Juta's Cape Town directory for 1909. In 1911 he was about to enter into partnership with JS CLELAND, a visiting card and letterhead Cowin & Cleland exists dating from about this date. The partnership between NT Cowin and JS CLELAND seems to have been proposed while both were still working for the Public Works Department employed as temporary staff and they may have met earlier in Cape Town. Cowin entered into partnership with EM POWERS (cf. COWIN & POWERS), however, but in 1912 when Cowin and EM POWERS won the competition for the central fire station in Pretoria, Cleland received a fee from Cowin & Powers for the part he played in its design. In 1912 Cowin was elected a Licentiate member of the RIBA and was caught up in another war, the First World War, after which he was decorated for his services. After the war TG ELLIS joined the office and the style changed to COWIN, POWERS & ELLIS.In 1918/1919 Cowin left Pretoria to run the Johannesburg branch with Powers.
Powers left the practice (1932) and the firm continued as COWIN & ELLIS. Cowin was a long standing member of the Transvaal Institute, later the Transvaal Provincial Institute of Architects, and was treasurer of the South African Architectural Record, the institute's journal to which he regularly contributed. He was vice-president of the Association of Transvaal Architects from 1925 to 1926 and president from 1926 to 1927. A catholic, Cowin was a member of the Catholic Council of the Diocese of Johannesburg and later (n.d.) served on the Johannesburg City Council. He lived at Beau Bassin, Ridge Road, Mountain View, Johannesburg and died in Johannesburg at 28 Grace Rd, Mountain View.
There is an early portrait of him in Men of the Times (Cape) 1906:92. Cowin was awarded the King's South African Medal and three bars and the MBE in the First World War. LRIBA 1912; ISAA 1927. (AB&E Sep 1922:11; Cleland Papers, HSRC; LRIBA nom papers (1912) 1889; Men Cape 1906; SAAR Mar 1926:2-6 port; SAAR Jun 1926:39-41; SAAR Jun 1941:182 obit; SAWW 1908, 1935; TAD MHG 1980/42)
Publ: Fire protection of buildings, SAA&B Mar 1904:91-2; A recognised system of measurement, SAA&B Mar 1905:125-6; SAA&B Apr 1905:142-3; Building quantities, SAAE&S Jnl Jan 1907:69; SAAE&S Jnl Sep 1907: 207-10; Competitions, Jnl ATA Dec 1917:101-21; Lesson in professional ethics, Building Mar 1919:236-7; Housing and the high cost of living, (speech) Building Mar 1920:340; The Pretoria hailstorm, Building Mar 1924:30-31; Presidential address, SAAR Mar 1927:3-7; Valedictory address, SAAR Mar 1927:3-7; Concrete block construction, SAAR Jun 1928:42-3; The scale of charges, SAAR Dec 1928:97-108; Government architectural work, SAAR Dec 1928:126-33; The height of buildings, SAAR Mar 1931:3-4; Arbitration in excelsis, SAAR Jul 1932:180; American architectural practice, SAAR Feb 1932:35-6
All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.
Books citing COWIN
|Fransen, Hans. 2004. The old buildings of the Cape. A survey of extant architecture from before c1910 in the area of Cape Town - Calvinia - Colesberg - Uitenhage. Johannesburg & Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers. pp 155|
|ISAA. 1927. Register of Members the Institute of South African Architects. Johannesburg: ISAA (Unpublished Record). pp C17b|
|SAWW & Donaldson, K. 1938. South African Who's Who (Social and Business) 1938. Cape Town: Ken Donaldson. pp 52|
|Walker, Michael. 2010. A Statement In Stone. Cape Town: Privately published by Michael Walker. pp 24-28|