Robert Herman McCowan

  • 3Caps
  • 9Wallaby Number
Date Of BirthFebruary 28, 1875
Place of BirthRenfrewshire, Scotland
SchoolBrisbane Grammar School
Debut ClubPast Grammars (Brisbane)
Debut Test Match1899 Wallabies v Great Britain, 1st Test Sydney
Final Test Match1899 Wallabies v Great Britain, 4th Test Sydney
DiedFebruary 6, 1941


The second Test ever played in Australia was in Brisbane in 1899, and was won by Britain by 11 to 0. Because of money concerns, only six from New South Wales were included – Lonnie Spragg, Peter Ward, Bob Challoner, Charlie Ellis and Hyam Marks, but no Frank Row. So Australia’s second Test captain was Queensland’s Bob McCowan. He was fullback in two of the Tests in 1899, and wing three-quarter in the final Test. This would be his complete Test representation. Like Row, he was elected to the captaincy in the Brisbane Test by the players. Australia wore a maroon jersey with the Australian coat of arms.

Born in Renfrewshire, Scotland, in February 1875, McCowan was to die at Murwillumbah, NSW, in 1944. He played for Brisbane Grammar while at school and Past Grammar following graduation. He captained his school team, and three others in that school team faced the British in Brisbane: ‘Poley’ Evans, Albert Henry and Charlie Graham. Jack Davis described McCowan as “short, remarkably quick and good in any era.” Considered the “finest produced in Queensland”, he was said to be “fast, clever in handling, kicking and passing the ball, and tackles well... Indeed, he possessed in high degree the essentials of a crack three-quarter.” McCowan was to play 24 times for the northern tate from 1893 to 1900, and was captain in seven of these State matches. As well as going up against the British Isles, he played against New Zealand in 1893, 1896 and 1899.

George Smith told The Cynic, comparing Queensland and New South Wales after the 1893 New Zealand visit: “I think the Sydney men are far in front of those in Brisbane whom we played against. The backs up there seemed to lack combination altogether. If it had not been for McCowan’s fine play, we would have put up much bigger scores than we did. He is the best fullback we have seen over here – kicks with either foot and is a very sure tackler – I know it.” McCowan captained Queensland in an upset victory over the 1899 British team. A press report noted: “For the Queensland team McCowan at fullback had not much to do, but what he had he did well. He tackled in fine style, and in this respect he saved his side on several occasions.

He also kicked well, making good use of the touch-line.” It would appear as if McCowan had the world at his feet, captaining his State and his country, and with a successful law practice, but his life was to have a sad ending. It began with an unsuccessful plunge on Phar Lap for the 1929 Melbourne Cup, and culminated in a gaol sentence of 14 years for fraudulently misappropriating 15,000 pounds from a Trust Fund. After his release he moved to New South Wales and worked as a bar-room cleaner.

Robert Herman McCowan profile