Cowper was the third son of the Rev. William Cowper and his first wife Hannah. He was born in Dryford, Lancashire, England and was brought to Sydney by his father in 1809. Educated by his father, in 1825 he was in the public service, and when barely 19 years of age was appointed clerk of the Clergy and School Lands Corporation. He held this position for some years and in 1831 married the second daughter of Daniel Sutton. When the Clergy and School Lands Corporation was dissolved in 1833, Cowper went on the land and held extensive properties in Cumberland and Argyle counties.
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