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Cooper, Roland Edgar

  • REC
  • Person
  • 1890-1962

Roland Edgar Cooper was born in 1890 in Kingston-Upon-Thames, but lost both his parents by the age of four. He came to be cared for by his aunt Emma Wiedhofft who was married to William Wright Smith, eventual Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. It was this association that was to shape Cooper's career - he travelled to Calcutta with Smith in 1907 when he became in charge of the Herbarium there, travelling and collecting botanical specimens in Sikkim, Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. In 1910, Cooper and Smith returned, and Cooper took the Horticultural course at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
In 1913, Cooper returned to the Himalayas to collect plants for A.K. Bulley of Ness, near Liverpool. He travelled through Sikkim in 1913, Bhutan in 1914-15, and the Punjab in 1916.
In 1921, after the First World War, during which Cooper served in the Indian Army, he was appointed Superintendent of the Botanic Garden at Maymo in the Shan Hills of Burma, eventually returning to Scotland in the late 1920's for the education of his son. From 1930-1934 Cooper worked at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh as the Garden Curator's assistant, taking the role of Curator (Head Gardener) himself in 1934, a post he held until his retirement in 1950. Post retirement, he and his wife Emily Bartusek moved to Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex.
During his career, Cooper became a Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society, the Botanical Society of Edinburgh (now Scotland), the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Scottish Anthropological Society. He was also the vice-president of the Scottish Rock Garden Club, of which he was a founder member.

Cowan, Alexander

  • COA
  • Person
  • 1863-1943

Born 1863; died 1943
Alex Cowan was the grandson of Alexander Cowan, a papermaker and local benefactor of Valleyfield House, Penicuik, Midlothian. Educated at Loretto School and Cambridge University he developed a love of the flowers and ferns which grew in the gardens of Valleyfield House and his home, Dalhousie Castle as well as the family’s country seat at Logan. He acquired plants while travelling in Europe and established an important fern collection. Cowan was made a fellow of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh in 1900 and was later its President from 1937 to 1939. He was secretary of the Alpine Botanical Club between 1903 and 1924 and, reflecting his knowledge of and interest in ferns, was President of the British Pteridological Society from 1909 to 1920. In his later years he developed an interest in breeding sheep in his farms in the Pentland Hills. Following the family tradition of public service he was Provost of Penicuik Town Council for nine years and served on Midlothian County Council for forty.
Sources: R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists’; Transactions of Botanical Society of Edinburgh obituary 1943
D.W.

Cowan, John MacQueen

  • GB/NNAF/P147032
  • Person
  • 1892-1960

Born Kincardineshire 1892; died Edinburgh 1960
Educated at Gordons College Aberdeen and Edinburgh University graduating MA with honours botany, John Macqueen Cowan completed his training in forestry at Oxford before being appointed to the Indian Forest Service in 1914. During ten years with the Indian Service he studied and classified vegetation and made considerable plant collections in Sikkim, Bengal and Burma, travelling with his wife, also a botanist. He was attached to the Indian Army during the First World War and served in Egypt and Palestine. On his return to India he officiated as Director of the Botanical Survey then as Superintendent of Royal Botanic Garden Calcutta from 1926, retiring in 1928. In that year he gained a temporary appointment as a botanist in the herbarium at Kew and in 1929 undertook botanical expeditions to Iraq and Persia principally to collect tulip bulbs but returning with 2,500 plant and herbarium specimens. In 1930 Cowan became assistant to the Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, a post he was to hold for 24 years. Using the Garden’s extensive collections he became an authority on Rhododendron, publishing widely on this and other genera. During the Second World War he was seconded to the Ministry of Supply build up timber production in west of Scotland. Cowan was President Botanical Society of Edinburgh from 1951 to 1953. On retirement in 1954 he took charge of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) Garden at Inverewe in Wester Ross developing it into a major visitor attraction, and also inaugurated the prestigious NTS garden cruises.
Sources: R. Desmond ‘Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturalists); HR Fletcher and WH Brown ‘The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 1670-1970’; obituary folder.
D.W.

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