Frank Cowper

Ink on paper illustration of a sailboat
Lady Harvey on Loch Goil. An illustration of Cowper's yacht, by the author, from his book Jack-All-Alone.

Frank Cowper (18 January 1849[1] 28 May 1930)[2] was an English yachtsman and author who was highly influential in popularising single-handed cruising.[2] He has been credited as "the forefather of modern cruising", and his books "laid the foundation" of the pilot guides used by yachtsmen today.[3] As an author he also saw some commercial success with a number of published adventure and romance novels.


Cowper learned to sail on the Upper Thames, hiring catboats with friends when he was an undergraduate at Oxford.[4] In 1870, in his final year at university, he spent his summer vacation in Auray, in Brittany in northern France, sailing a small dinghy in the Gulf of Morbihan and out into Quiberon Bay.[4]

Between 1892 and 1895[5] Cowper circumnavigated the British Isles, exploring practically every river and creek round the coast.[6] He also crossed the English Channel to France and Belgium.

Cowper's most well-known work, Sailing Tours, describes these voyages and was published in five volumes between 1892 and 1909. Original copies are now quite collectable, and a full set can fetch as much as £500.[3] In 1985 Ashford Press published a facsimile reprint of all 5 volumes.

Cowper originally undertook the voyages documented in Sailing Tours, mostly single-handed, in the yawl Lady Harvey, a 44 foot (13 m) Dover fishing lugger built in 1867. In his 1921 book Single-Handed Cruising, Francis B. Cooke claimed that no amateur yachtsman had ever single-handed a larger vessel.[6]

Cowper was a contemporary of the first single-handed sailor to circumnavigate the globe, the American Joshua Slocum, but where Slocum braved the oceans, the British coastal waters in which Cowper sailed are famous for their large tidal range and rife with hazardous rocks and currents.

Cowper sold Lady Harvey in 1895,[3] then building a ketch of his own design, Undine II, which became his favourite but which he sold in 1899. He next owned a yawl named Zayda, followed by a French fishing lugger, Idéal, and a 14-ton cutter Little Windflower. In 1921 Cowper purchased the 41 foot (12 m) cutter Ailsa, which was to be the last boat he owned.

Nearly 120 years after the publication of Sailing Tours, it was still being cited by the publishers of sailing guides, Neville Featherstone describing Cowper's writing as "a rich blend of navigational facts laced with his own semi-libellous observations on the world around him".[5] Alan Titchmarsh described it as a "rich source of inspiration" for his 1999 novel, The Last Lighthouse Keeper.[7]


Cowper also wrote several adventure and romance novels. One of these, The Island of the English (1898), was described as having "a strong compelling note of verity" and a "vivid flexible style".[8]

Personal life

Cowper studied classical history at Queens College, Oxford, and graduated with honours.[4] The university commuted this to an MA in 1875.[1]

On 28 December 1876, Cowper married fellow author Edith Cadogen, daughter of the Rector of Wicken.[9][10] They made their home in the Isle of Wight and Edith bore 10 children; 3 did not survive infancy[9] but their eldest, Frank Cadogan Cowper, grew up to become a recognised pre-raphaelite artist.[11] The marriage was troubled, however - Edith accused Cowper of violence and frequent infidelity, and they divorced in 1890.[12][13]





  1. 1 2 Peter Howard Cadogan. "Family of Catherine Croom Lovegrove and Henry Cooper". Peter Cadogan's Family History. Archived from the original on 2016-03-27. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
  2. 1 2 "Obituary: Frank Cowper". The Yachting Monthly. No. No. 291, Vol. XLIX. July 1930. Retrieved 2016-03-27.
  3. 1 2 3 Meakins, Ben (22 December 2014). "Frank Cowper - the forefather of modern cruising". Practical Boat Owner. Retrieved 2016-03-27.
  4. 1 2 3 John Leather (1985). Introduction (Sailing Tours: Part III, Falmouth to The Loire). Ashford Press Publishing. p. iv. ISBN 0-907069-19-3.
  5. 1 2 Neville Featherstone (24 May 2010). West France Cruising Companion: A yachtsman's pilot and cruising guide from L'Aberwrac'h to the Spanish Border. Wiley. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-470-75374-3.
  6. 1 2 Cooke, Francis B. (1919). Single-Handed Cruising. p. 5. Retrieved 2016-03-27.
  7. Titchmarsh, Alan (4 October 1999). The Last Lighthouse Keeper. Simon & Schuster Ltd. p. Acknowledgements. ISBN 978-0684819907.
  8. "New Books - The Island of the English". Boston Evening Transcript. Dec 17, 1898. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
  9. 1 2 Peter Howard Cadogan. "Family of Francis Cowper and Edith Eliza Cadogan". Peter Cadogan's Family History. Archived from the original on 2016-03-27. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
  10. Paul Ripley. "Artist Information for Frank Cadogan Cowper". Art Renewal Center. Retrieved 2016-03-27.
  11. "Cowper, Frank Cadogan, R.A. - The Golden Bowl". Sotheby's. 2012. Archived from the original on 2016-03-28. Retrieved 2016-03-27. Frank Cadogan Cowper was born in Wicken, Northamptonshire in 1877. His father was Frank Cowper, an author who specialised in writing yachting novels and was the grandson of the Rector of Wicken.
  12. "COW Frank Cadogan Cowper, letters to his mother [Edith Cowper] 1899-1908". Royal Academy of Arts Archive. Royal Academy of Arts. Archived from the original on 2016-03-27. Retrieved 2016-03-28.
  13. Marmor, Lail A. (May 2013). Re-Presenting Rossetti: The Art of Frank Cadogan Cowper (Thesis). Retrieved 2016-03-27.
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