Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Bowen, George Ferguson

BOWEN, Sir GEORGE FERGUSON (1821–1899), colonial governor, born in Ireland on 2 Nov. 1821, was the eldest son of Edward Bowen, afterwards rector of Taugliboyne, co. Donegal. He was educated at Charterhouse, and obtained a scholarship at Trinity College, Oxford, matriculating on 16 June 1840, and graduating B.A, in 1844. In that year he was elected a fellow of Brasenose College, and in 1847 he graduated M.A. While at Oxford he was twice president of the Union. On 27 May 1844 he entered Lincoln's Inn as a student. In 1847 he was appointed president of the university of Corfu, a post which he held for four years. He acquired a reputation by his 'Ithaca in 1850' (Corcyra, 1850, 8vo), which reached a third edition in 1854 (London, 8vo), and was translated into Greek in 1859, and which Gladstone and other Homeric scholars have regarded as establishing the identity of that island with the island of Odysseus. In 1852 he added to his fame by his 'Mount Athos, Thessaly, and Epirus: a Diary of a Journey from Constantinople to Corfu' (London, 8vo). In 1848 he witnessed the desperate fighting at Vienna and its capture by the imperial troops, and in 1849 journeyed across Hungary before the close of the civil war. He conveyed a letter, at some risk, from the refugees at Widin to Sir Stratford Canning (afterwards Viscount Stratford de Redcliffe) [q. v.], the English ambassador at Constantinople, and thus prevented the fugitives being handed over by the Turkish government.

In 1854 Bowen was appointed chief secretary of government in the Ionian Islands. The desire of the natives for incorporation with the Greek kingdom was then under the consideration of the English government, and Gladstone was sent out in 1858 as lord high commissioner extraordinary to inquire into the question. Bowen advocated the surrender of the southern islands to Greece, and the incorporation of the important strategic position of Corfu with the British dominions. Although his suggestion was not adopted, the fact that the population of Corfu and Paxo was rather Italian than Hellenic was a strong argument in its favour.

In 1855 Bowen was created C.M.G., and in 1856 K.O.M.G. On 3 June 1859 he was appointed first governor of Queensland, on the recommendation of the secretary of state. Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton. The colony, on the petition of its inhabitants, had just been severed from its dependence on New South Wales. He landed at Moreton Bay on 10 Dec. 1859. The first three months of his administration were devoted to organising the departments of the new government, and he then set out on a tour into the interior. He had an observant eye for natural beauties, and a quick discernment of social or political questions in their early stages, together with a ready perception of historical analogies. The vast sheep-runs appeared to him exactly the δρόμος εὐρίες of Homer, the Darling Downs reminded him of Horace's 'Larisssæ campus opimæ,' and the squatter question seemed a revival of the strife between the patricians and plebeians for the ager publicus. Universal suffrage and vote by ballot he considered to be really conservative measures in the colony of Queensland. On his return he urged the home government to assist in the establishment of a disciplined volunteer force, both to defend the colony from foreign attack and to preserve internal tranquillity with the native population. A corps entitled 'the Queensland Mounted Rifles' was enrolled in 1860 at Brisbane, as well as several companies of infantry. Bowen encouraged the exploration of northern and inland Queensland, in which William Landsborough [q. v.], George Elphinstone Dalrymple, and others took part, while he himself accompanied an expedition which led to the formation of a coaling station and settlement at Cape York. On 16 April 1860 he was nominated G.C.M.G., and in 1866, on account of his services, his term of office was prolonged from six to eight years. In the same year, however, the monetary crisis in England affected Queensland. The failure of the Agra and Masterman's bank brought serious trouble on the colony, and the ministry proposed to meet it by issuing an inconvertible paper currency. Bowen refused to sanction the proposal, and endured in consequence considerable unpopularity for a short time. He was, however, supported by the more influential part of the community, and outlived popular resentment.

Towards the close of 1867 Bowen was promoted, in succession to Sir George Grey [q. v. Suppl.], to the difficult government of New Zealand. The second Maori war had lasted for eight years, and although the Maoris were unbroken, the home government had withdrawn almost all the regular troops. Bowen assumed office on 9 Feb. 1868. By firmness and justice as well as conciliatory efforts he reconciled the natives to British rule. He met the chiefs in conference, made official tours through both islands, and received addresses and gave answers in patriarchal style. In May he visited the Waikato district, in the centre of the North Island, a frontier district where English and Maori possessions were intermingled. He was struck by the parallel between the social condition of the Maori highlands and that of the Scottish highlands in the first part of the eighteenth century. He pursued a policy of conciliation, endeavouring to promote good feeling between the Maoris and the settlers. In October the peace was broken by dangerous and simultaneous outbreaks on the west coast of the North Island under Tito-kowaru, and on the east coast under Te Kooti. The tribes, formerly friendly, at first showed an ominous coolness, but by a personal visit to Wanganui, where they were assembled, Bowen prevailed on them to espouse the English cause. This was the turning point in the contest, and the ten years' struggle was brought to an end in 1870. The land question had been a great source of trouble, and there had been large confiscations of the estates of natives in punishment of rebellion. Bowen approached the question in an equitable spirit, and by a considerable measure of restitution mitigated the force of native resentment. In 1872, in reward for his ability and success, he was promoted governor of Victoria.

The difficulties which he met with in Victoria were of a parliamentary character, occasioned by the differences between the assembly and the legislative council, which was elected for life and was therefore more independent than a nominated second chamber. The principal incident of his term of office was a dispute on the subject of payment of members. An item was included by the assembly in the general appropriation bill for providing 'for the reimbursement of the expenses of the members of the council and assembly,' and in consequence the council in December 1877 rejected the entire bill, being precluded by the constitution from amending it. Bowen felt that the question was purely colonial and preserved strict impartiality, devoting himself to reducing the expenditure of the executive to meet the failure of supplies. In April 1878 the matter was compromised by the item relating to the expenses of members being passed as a separate bill. Bowen was afterwards assailed for the measures he took to meet the threatened financial deficiency, but he successfully vindicated his conduct by pointing out that the question was a colonial one and that he had acted in accordance with the advice of the ministry in office.

During his governorship he paid a visit to Europe and America, and received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the university of Oxford on 9 June 1875. On the expiry of his term of office, on 31 March 1879, he was appointed to the crown colony of Mauritius, where he landed on 4 April. His sojourn there was uneventful, his principal task being to put into successful operation the comprehensive labour code projected by his immediate predecessor. Sir Arthur Purves Phayre [q. v.] On 28 Dec. 1882 he was appointed to Hongkong. In two years he reconstructed the colonial legislature and established friendly relations with neighbouring powers in the course of visits to them and Japan. His tenure of office included the period of the Franco-Chinese war of 1884-5, which called for great vigilance and tact from the British governor. In 1885 ill-health compelled him to return to Europe, and on his way home he visited India and was the guest of his Oxford friend. Lord Dufferin. In 1887 he retired from office. On 26 Nov. 1886 he was nominated a privy councillor, and in the same year received the honorary degree of LL.D. from Cambridge University. His long experience rendered him a special authority on colonial questions, and in December 1887 he was appointed chief of a royal commission sent to Malta to report on the arrangements connected with the new constitution granted to that island. All his recommendations were adopted, and he received the thanks of government. Bowen died at Brighton on 21 Feb. 1899, and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery on 25 Feb. He was twice married — first, in 1856, to Diamantina, Countess Roma, daughter of Candiano, Count Roma, president of the Ionian senate. She died on 17 Nov. 1893, and he married, secondly, on 17 Oct. 1896, at the church of Holy Trinity, Sloane Street, Florence, daughter of Thomas Luby [q. v.], and the widow of Henry White. By his first wife he had a son, George William, and four daughters.

Besides the works already mentioned Bowen, who was elected a member of the Royal Geographical Society in 1844, and served on the council from 1889 to 1892, was the author of Murray's 'Handbook for Greece' (1854), and of a paper read before the Royal Colonial Institute on 'The Federation of the British Empire,' London, 1886, 8vo ; 2nd edit. 1889. A selection from his despatches and letters was edited by Mr. Stanley Lane-Poole in 1889, entitled 'Thirty Years of Colonial Government,' London, 2 vols. 8vo.

[Thirty Years of Colonial Government, 1889 (with portrait); Times, 22 Feb. 1899; Geographical Journal, 1899, iii. 438–9; Rusden's Hist. of New Zealand, 1883, ii. 446–519; Escott's Pillars of the Empire, 1879, pp. 1–7; Adderley's Review of the Colonial Policy of Lord J. Russell's Administration, 1869, i. 123–4; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886.]

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