Cowley, Charles Henry (1874-1944)

His father, William Cowley, owned a chemist shop in Peel, but following the death of his mother (1877) was brought up largely by relatives. At the age of 18 Cowley left Peel and travelled to Australia to seek his fortune. While in Australia he enlisted in the Artillery Brigade, worked barber and decorator’s assistant, but also took the opportunity to explore the more remote areas of the Australian Outback working as a sheep shearer and crossing the Nullarbor Plain on foot. The New South Wales Police Gazette shows that whilst he was in Australia he may have joined the police, but deserted shortly afterward (1894). He returned to Peel (1895) working for a brief time in his father’s chemist shop. Taken by the travelling bug again, he travelled to South Africa where he worked in the Kimberley diamond mines before joining Cecil Rhodes’ expeditionary force to investigate the African interior (Zimbabwe). On the death of his brother he again returned to Peel taking on the family business. Little is definitively known about Cowley’s activities during the First World War, but a marquetry cabinet in the Leece Museum, Peel is associated with a story that he was given to Cowley for his work as chemist for the Camp.

Cowley was married twice to Isobel Leece and on her death (1935) Ann Quine. He was remembered locally as having a keen interest in topics relating to the Isle of Man, particularly its archaeology and language and became a highly regarded authority on local prehistory.

He also maintained an interest in several organisations in his home town, being a warden at Peel Parish Church (now the Cathedral Church of Sodor and Man), chairman of the charity the Dale Trust, a trustee of the Corrin Estate, a member of Peel Waterworks Authority, and for many years a committee member of Peel’s Ward Library.

Throughout his life Charles Henry Cowley made an important contribution to Manx history, becoming, widely known and greatly respected, with a wide circle of friends…. His remarkable collection of some 6000 prehistoric artefacts, including fine specimens of arrowheads and axes, now known as the C. H. Cowley Collection, was presented to the Manx Museum… (Oliver & Qulliam 2006: 123)


Oliver, P. and L. Quilliam. (2006) ‘Cowley, Charles Henry. Pharmacist and Antiquarian’. (pp. 122-123). In Kelly, D (ed.). New Manx Worthies. Manx Heritage Foundation: Douglas.