Umpire Cowman made his mark with Cricket Museum

Lynn McConnell

February 12, 2003

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Stan Cowman, who died in Upper Hutt on February 2, aged 79, loved cricket, and that love is represented in the National Cricket Museum housed at the Basin Reserve.

Cricket history hasn't always been fashionable, but in setting up and contributing his drive to the Museum which sits beneath the older grandstand at the ground, he has provided future generations with an indelible link with the game's past.

According to his comrade-in-arms at the Museum, Don Neely, it was on an occasion during a rain break in an Australia-New Zealand Test at the ground in 1985/86, that Cowman's show of memorabilia became the launching pad for what has become a resting place, and showpiece, of much of the material associated with the game.

Cowman, a former international umpire who stood in two One-Day Internationals during a career that started with a Plunket Shield match between Wellington and Canterbury in 1973/74 and which continued until the summer of 1984/85, had built up a collection of books, magazines, bats, ties and other cricketana which he put on show in what was the meeting room of the Wellington Cricket Umpires' Association in the old dining room of the stand which now houses the museum.

It proved very popular and when cricket enthusiasts Ron Brierley, later Sir Ron, and John Oakley saw the appeal that Cowman's collection had for people they were so impressed that it was determined there and then that it was an ideal place for a museum.

Livewire Cricket Wellington chief executive Daryn Hanna got involved and with Oakley and Brierley chipping in $10,000 each, and getting another $10,000 each from nine companies they were involved in a campaign fund of establishment was set up. Another $30,000 came from Tourism New Zealand and museum display expert Gary Couchman was called in and the National Cricket Museum was opened by the Governor-General Sir Paul Reeves on November 29, 1987.

Until his death Cowman was the honorary curator of the Museum. While getting the Museum up and running was one thing, keeping it operational, and staffed, was another.

But Cowman, who had a marvellous knack for getting people involved, built up a core of loyal volunteers who manned the museum whenever it was open.

As its reputation grew, so did its collections. The Museum now houses probably the best cricket library in the country and has become the collection place for the acquisitions of past players who no longer have a need for the materials, or from families whose deceased members had collections that needed to be given to a suitable body where they could be maintained.

Born on April 14, 1923, in Yorkshire he worked in a worsted manufacturers in Bradford before joining the RAF at age 17, being called up when he was 18. He trained in Canada, the United States and the Bahamas as a navigator, serving as a Flight Lieutenant in Coastal Command in 59 Squadron where he was involved in anti-submarine work in the Atlantic and in convoy escort protection. After the war he qualified at Durham University as a dental surgeon. Eventually he bought his own practice. Cricket remained a passion and he became a member of the local Bankfoot Cricket Club.

But dissatisfaction with the workings of the National Health Service led him to emigrate to New Zealand where he was sponsored by the Patea Public Relations Association where he set up as a dentist in the 1960s.

An early sign of his later work with the Museum was foreshadowed when he helped form the Patea Historical Society.

In 1971 he began a connection with Lower Hutt where he was appointed charge dental surgeon at Hutt Hospital, a position he held for 17 years.

Cricket wasn't his only sporting connection as he became a hockey referee, and achieved a notable double record when refereeing an international match. He was also a president of the New Zealand Hockey Umpires' Association.

(Thanks to Don Neely and Kevin Nelson who assisted in providing information for this obituary).

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