(1807–75), who came of an old landowning family in NSW, was the premier who introduced the key democratic reforms of manhood suffrage, the secret ballot, and more equal electorates, and was responsible for the successful carriage of Robertson's Land selection Act. As a young man he was secretary of the Church and Schools Corporation, designed to secure the pre-eminence of the Anglican Church, and at his election to the Legislative Council in 1843 was a moderate conservative. By the early 1850s he was a liberal and served as president of the Australasian League for the Abolition of Transportation. As liberal premier, he set his face against a radical land law, but soon yielded to the demand for free selection. He was the manager of the liberals rather than their leader, keeping his following together by astute use of patronage. He gave no impression of believing in the reforms which he effected. His opponents claimed with some justice that he was driven by the need to keep his ministerial salary. The committed democrats were disgusted that their cause had fallen into the hands of such a juggler. Daniel Deniehy satirised one of Cowper's most outrageous ploys in How I Became Attorney General of New Barataria (1860). has written an aptly titled biography, Patrician Democrat (1977).
From The Oxford Companion to Australian History in Oxford Reference.
Subjects: Australasian and Pacific History.