Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Cowles (1837–1923)

by R. B. Shannon

This article was published:

Charles Cowles (1837-1923), gunsmith and firearms dealer, was born on 8 March 1837 at Topcroft, Norfolk, England, son of James Cowles, publican, and his wife Honour, née Seago. On 28 February 1864 at Walworth, Surrey, Cowles married Cecilia Emma Dunn; with his employer, William Green, they migrated to Queensland. After moving to Sydney in 1865 Green became ill, decided to return to England and left the gunsmithing business he had established at 96 Market Street, Sydney, to Cowles. In 1867 he moved to 205 Pitt Street, and in December 1875 to Cannon House, 411 George Street. In 1885 he formed the partnership of Cowles, Dunn & Co. with his brother-in-law Arthur Dunn. About 1892 the name of the business changed to Cowles & Dunn, by which it was known until after World War II.

Cowles was an accomplished shot; he had been a member of the Metropolitan Pigeon Club and in the late 1880s was a member of the North Sydney Gun Club. In 1884 he moved his home from Hadleigh in North Sydney to Myahgah, Belmont Road, Mosman, and from June 1893 to January 1898 was a member of the first Mosman Council, serving as alderman and as second mayor. He returned several times to England, the last in 1904, and visited America.

The gunsmithing business of which Cowles was principal was undoubtedly the largest in Australia during the second half of the nineteenth century. Cowles was agent for the English gunmaking firm of W. & C. Scott & Son. Numerous firearms, quite possibly made in England, bear the names of C. Cowles; Cowles, Dunn & Co.; and Cowles & Dunn.

He died at Mosman on 24 December 1923, predeceased by his wife by a few months, but survived by four sons and four daughters of their ten children. He was buried in the Congregational section of the Gore Hill cemetery. His home Myahgah became Mena Hospital. Cowles Road and Myahgah Road, both in Mosman, perpetuate the memory of Charles Cowles, gunsmith.

Select Bibliography

  • R. B. Shannon, Colonial Australian Gunsmiths (Syd, 1967)
  • R. B. Shannon, ‘Charles Cowles 1837-1923: Australian Gunsmith’, Descent (Sydney), vol 3, part 2, 1967, pp 41-43.

Citation details

R. B. Shannon, 'Cowles, Charles (1837–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 16 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


8 March, 1837
Topcroft, Norfolk, England


24 December, 1923 (aged 86)
Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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