George Bowen


Early life

Bowen was born the eldest son of the Rev. Edward Bowen,[2] rector of Taughboyne in County Donegal.[1] Bowen was educated at Charterhouse School and Trinity College, Oxford, where two of his predecessors were also educated. Bowen, twice president of the union, was awarded a first class Bachelor of Arts degree in classics in 1844,[2] and was elected a fellow of Brasenose College. Bowen was called to the bar by Lincoln's Inn in 1844 and obtained his Master of Arts three years later.[3] In 1846 Bowen had some naval training, serving for sixteen days on HMS Victory.[1] In 1847 Bowen was appointed president of the Ionian University located in Corfu, a post he held until 1851.[1][3]

Service in the Ionian Islands

Bowen became the chief secretary to the government of the Ionian Islands in 1854.[2] While in that post, he married the Contessa Diamantina di Roma on 28 April 1856. Diamantina was the daughter of Conte Giorgio-Candiano Roma and his wife Contessa Orsola, née di Balsamo. The Roma family were local aristocracy; her father being the President of the Ionian Senate, titular head of the Islands, from 1850 to 1856. He was awarded a Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1855 and was advanced to a Knight Commander in the following year.[3]

Governor of Queensland

In 1859, Bowen was appointed the first Governor of Queensland, a colony that had just been separated from New South Wales. Bowen's influence in Queensland was greater than that of the governors in other Australian colonies, a large part was due Robert Herbert, who accompanied Bowen from England, and later became colonial secretary and then first premier in 1860-66.[1] Bowen was interested in the exploration of Queensland and in the establishment of a volunteer force, but incurred some unpopularity by refusing to sanction the issue of inconvertible paper money during the financial crisis of 1866. But overall, he was quite popular in Queensland, so that the citizens requested an extension of his five-year term as governor, resulting in his staying for further two years.[4]

Governor of New Zealand

In 1867 Bowen was made Governor-General of New Zealand, where he was successful in reconciling the Māori reaction to the British rule, and saw the end of the struggle between the colonists and the natives. (For a rather different view of the conflict and its partial resolution, see New Zealand land wars). Bowen also instituted the New Zealand Cross, one of the rarest bravery awards in the world, equivalent to the Victoria Cross.

Governor of Victoria

In March 1873 Bowen was transferred to Victoria (Australia) as Governor of Victoria,[1] where he embarked on an endeavour to reduce the expenses of the colony. A political crisis while Bowen took leave in England from January 1875 to January 1876, when acting governor, Sir William Stawell, showed 'too little flexibility in the exercise of his temporary powers'.[1] One of the main issues was the conflict between the Victorian Legislative Council and the Victorian Legislative Assembly; the Council was blocking legislation for its reform and for payment of members.[1] Backed by advice from the Colonial Office, Bowen consented to Premier Graham Berry's plan to break the deadlock by wholesale dismissal of public servants on the so-called 'Black Wednesday'.[1] In May 1878 Bowen said that "my reluctant consent, purely on constitutional grounds, to these dismissals … has damaged my further reputation and my career to a degree that I shall never recover. It will never be forgotten either in England or in the Colony". However several others including Hugh Childers and William Ewart Gladstone approved of Bowen's actions.[1]

Governor of Mauritius

Bowen arrived on Mauritius on 4 April 1879 and served as 13th Governor of the colony until 9 December 1880.[5]

Governor of Hong Kong

On 30 March 1883, Bowen was made Governor of Hong Kong. During his tenure, he established the Royal Observatory, which also served as the meteorological institute of the territory. He founded the first college in Hong Kong, and ordered the construction of the Typhoon Shelter in Causeway Bay, and a government hospital. He retired in 1887, due to ill health.


Bowen returned to England after his time in Hong Kong and was appointed chief of a Royal Commission sent to Malta in December 1887 to help to draft the new constitution for the island. All recommendations made by the commission were adopted. Afterwards, Bowen was sworn of the Privy Council.

Personal life

Bowen was married twice.

His first wife was Contessa Diamantina di Roma, only daughter of Count Candiano di Roma. They had the following children:

  • first child, a son who died twelve days old, born in the Ionian Islands
  • Adelaide Diamantina (Nina) Bowen, born 17 August 1858 in the Ionian Islands
  • Zoe Caroline Bowen, born 28 August 1860 at Adelaide House (the temporary Government House), Brisbane, Queensland
  • Agnes Herbert Bowen, born 26 July 1862 at Old Government House, Queensland in Brisbane
  • George William Howard Bowen, born 9 April 1864 at Old Government House, Queensland
  • Alfreda Ernestina Albertina Bowen, born 10 April 1869 at Government House, Auckland, New Zealand

Diamantina died in London in 1893 aged about 60 years old.[6]

George married his second wife, Letitia Florence White, in late 1896 at Chelsea, London.[6] Florence was the daughter of Dr Thomas Luby, a mathematician, and was the widow of Henry White, whom she married in 1878.[6]

George Ferguson Bowen died on 21 February 1899 in Brighton in Sussex, aged 77 years old.[6] He died from bronchitis after a short illness of 2 days. He was buried on 25 February 1899 in Kensal Green cemetery in London.


The following were named after George Bowen:

His wife Diamantina appears to have been more popular than George in Queensland, as there are many Queensland places named after her.


Literary works

  • Ithaca in 1850, (London, 1851[1] translated into Greek in 1859)
  • Mount Athos, Thessaly and Epirus (London, 1852);
  • Handbook for Travellers in Greece[1] contributor (London, 1854).
  • Thirty Years of Colonial Government (London, 1889, edited by S. Lane-Poole)

See also


  1. a b c d e f g h i j k l R. B. Joyce, 'Bowen, Sir George Ferguson (1821 - 1899)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 3, MUP, 1969, pp 203-207. Retrieved 18 April 2010
  2. a b c Death of Sir George Bowen, Wanganui Herald, Volume XXXIII, Issue 9676, 23 February 1899, Page 2
  3. a b c
  4. The Late Lady Bowen, Brisbane Courier, Monday 27 November 1893
  6. a b c d