James Cowan died on 21 July 1890 as the result of a shocking accident at Dry Creek when his horse-drawn vehicle was hit by a train, killing him and his passenger instantly. Cowan was born in England in 1848 and arrived in South Australia in 1852; he was educated at North Adelaide Grammar School. While still a young man he bought a flour mill in Two Wells and later became the proprietor of mills in Quorn, Mallala, Allendale, and Gladstone. With others, he formed the Adelaide Milling Company and had interests in the Willowie Pastoral Company. He was also interested in mining and was one of the group who opened the Bird-in-Hand Mine in Woodside.
The depression of the early 1890s affected his businesses and he suffered losses but he had invested in Broken Hill Proprietary when shares were at a low price and the great increase in their value restored his fortune. He purchased three-station properties in the north – one in Charlotte Waters, one in Alice Springs, and another on the River Murray. He was also a promoter of the Tietkins Exploration party. He had interests in breweries in Broken Hill and Port Pirie and was involved in the foundation of the Coke Company in Port Pirie.
In April 1890 he was elected to the House of Assembly for Yatala and was looked upon as a possible Minister of the Crown until his untimely death robbed the colony of an intelligent and able man.
J.J. Pascoe (ed), History of Adelaide and Vicinity, Hussey and
Gillingham, Adelaide, 1901, pp. 412-143.