Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bowdler, John (1746-1823)

BOWDLER, JOHN, the elder (1746–1823), author, born at Bath on 18 March 1746, was descended from a Shropshire family originally settled at Hope Bowdler. His great-grandfather, John Bowdler (1627-1661), held high office in the Irish civil service during the Commonwealth, and was intimate with Archbishop Ussher. This John Bowdler's son, Thomas, was a fellow-officer at the admiralty with Samuel Pepys, became a conscientious Jacobite, was the intimate friend of Dr. Hickes, and died in Queen Square in July 1738, at the age of 77. His elder son, Thomas, married in 1742 Elizabeth Stuart, second daughter and coheiress of Sir John Cotton, a direct descendant from the famous Sir Robert Cotton, and died in May 1785. John Bowdler the elder was the eldest son of this marriage. His mother, the authoress of 'Practical Observations on the Revelations of St. John' (Bath, 1800), written in the year 1775, was noted for her piety and general culture, and gave all her children a strict religious training. After attending several private schools, Bowdler was placed, in November 1765, in the office of Mr. Barsham, a special pleader, and practised as a chamber conveyancer between 1770 and 1780. In January 1778 he married Harrietta, eldest daughter of John Hanbury, vice-consul of the English factory at Hamburg. In November 1779 he attended Robert Gordon, the last of the nonjuring bishops, through a fatal illness. His father's death in 1785 put Bowdler in possession of a small fortune; he then finally retired from his profession. In 1795 he wrote a long letter to Lord Auckland about the high prices of the time, in which he fiercely attacked the clergy and the legislators for neglecting morality and religion. In 1796 he addressed letters on similar subjects to the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishops Porteus and Horsley. He published in 1797 a strongly worded pamphlet entitled 'Reform or Ruin,' in which he sought again to expose the immorality and irreligion of the nation. The pamphlet had a very wide sale, and reached an eighth edition within a year of its first publication. He disapproved of Sir Richard Hill's 'Apology for Brotherly Love,' a partial justification of the prevailing dissent, and issued pamphlets in support of the opposite views expounded in Daubeney's 'Guide to the Church.' In 1815 he formed a committee to memorialise the government to erect additional churches in the populous parts of England out of the public funds. In 1816 he petitioned Lord Sidmouth to abolish lotteries. He died at Eltham on 29 June 1823. Bowdler was one of the founders of the Church Building Society. He had ten children, six of whom survived infancy. His sons John and Thomas are separately noticed. His daughter Elizabeth died on 4 Dec. 1810.

[Memoir of Life of John Bowdler, Esq., written for private circulation by his son Thomas in 1824 and published for sale in 1825.]

S. L.