The son of an Edinburgh-born solicitor, James Cowan was educated at Edinburgh Academy, Cheltenham College, and the Royal Military Academy (RMA) at Sandhurst before joining the Royal Engineers (RE). He later became an instructor in Fortifications at the RMA. He saw service in the South African War at the end of the 19th century and was mentioned in dispatches. Upon his return to England, Cowan was put in command of the RE in Chatham before becoming an assistant director of Fortifications and Works at the War Office. When he retired, Cowan had attained the rank of colonel. At the outset of World War II he was responsible for supervising the use of firing ranges for military use.
Cowan regularly shot for the Army at the annual Wimbledon and Bisley Meetings and was captain of the Army Eight between 1908-12. He also represented Scotland in the Elcho Challenge Shield on many occasions. When he was at Cheltenham College, Cowan made his Bisley début at the age of 16 in 1872 and won the Spencer Cup. Sixty-three years later, he represented Cheltenham again at Bisley, in the Veterans Match, and was nearly 79-years-of-age at the time. His biggest individual prize at Bisley was in winning The Wantage, a service rile competition, in 1897. Cowan was a former vice-president of the National Rifle Association and a member of committee of the Army Rifle Association.
|Discipline (Sport) / Event
|NOC / Team
|1908 Summer Olympics
|Running Target, Single Shot, Men (Olympic)
|Running Target, Double Shot, Men (Olympic)