Cowan, John MacQueen

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Cowan, John MacQueen

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  • John MacQueen Cowan

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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.


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