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Royal Naval Biography/Bowen, John

[Post-Captain of 1806.]

Son of Rear-Admiral (formerly Commissioner) Bowen, whose services have been recorded in our second volume.

This officer was educated at the Royal Naval College, which he quitted in Feb. 1798; and from that period, until the commencement of 1801, we find him serving as a Midshipman on board the Argo 44, commanded by his father, under whom he assisted at the capture of a Spanish frigate, mounting 42 guns; a royal packet of 12 guns; three privateers; three armed ships, with letters of marque, and four other merchantmen: also at the recapture of a British sloop of war, and one of the Falmouth packets. We should here observe, that upwards of thirty vessels were likewise taken and destroyed by the boats of the Argo during the same period; and that Mr. Bowen served on shore, as aid-de-camp to Captain Buchanan, at the reduction of Minorca, in Nov. 1798[1].

On leaving the Argo, Mr. Bowen joined the Lancaster 64,, bearing the Hag of Sir Roger Curtis, on the Cape station, from whence he returned to England in the Adamant 50, at the close of 1801. His promotion to the rank of Lieutenant took: place in April 1802.

After serving for about a month in the Hound sloop of war, Lieutenant Bowen was appointed to the Glatton 54, then fitting for the conveyance of 400 convicts, and numerous emigrants of both sexes, to New South Wales, from whence it was directed that she should bring home a cargo of timber for ship-building[2].

A short time previous to the Glatton’s arrival at Port Jackson, two French frigates under Commodore Baudin had taken a survey of the S.E. coast of Van Diemen’s Land; which circumstance, and some private information received by the colonial government, led to the belief that our late enemy intended forming an establishment in that neighbourhood. To prevent this being done, and avoid all discussion as to right of sovereignty, Governor King resolved to take formal possession of the island; but he was unable to carry that intention into execution at the moment, by the dissensions which existed between himself and the military officers stationed in New Holland. In this state of affairs. Lieutenant Bowen gladly seized the opportunity of offering his services, which the Governor as readily accepted.

The subject of this memoir, now metamorphosed into a “Lieutenant-Governor and Commandant,” immediately proceeded to the river Derwent, where he disembarked with the embryo of the present flourishing colony of Van Diemen’s Land on the 12th Sept. 1803. The establishment then under his controul consisted of an officer and 30 soldiers belonging to the New South Wales regiment, a surgeon, a storekeeper, and about 100 settlers and convicts. In less than six months the whole of those were tolerably well housed, and land enough was cultivated to ensure a sufficient supply of corn and garden-plants for the ensuing year.

Whilst thus zealously employed, Mr. Bowen received intelligence of the renewal of hostilities in Europe, and he immediately solicited permission to return to his proper line of service. The means of relieving him was fortunately soon furnished by the arrival from England of a small party under Colonel Collins, intended to be established at Port Philip, in Bass’s Straits, but removed to the Derwent river in consequence of the former spot being found ineligible for the purpose to which it had been appropriated. By this arrangement he was enabled to return with his staff to Port Jackson, leaving the rest of his people to amalgamate with the new comers.

During his absence from England, Lieutenant Bowen was made a Commander, by commission dated May 2, 1804; and he had not been long at home before his name appeared in the list of officers promoted to post rank in honor of Nelson’s last glorious triumph.

In July, 1806, we find Captain Bowen appointed to the Camilla of 20 guns; and shortly afterwards proceeding to Newfoundland, with a fleet of merchantmen under his protection. From thence he escorted the trade to Lisbon, and there took charge of the homeward-bound convoy.

In the spring of 1807, the Camilla saw another fleet in safety to the Leeward Islands, where she continued about a year, during which period Captain Bowen was occasionally employed by Sir Alexander Cochrane in the blockade of Martinique and Guadaloupe.

Whilst cruising off the latter island, the Camilla chased a French privateer under the guns at Basseterre, in Marie Galante, which circumstance led to the capture of that small colony, as it proved that such marauders and their prizes could always take shelter there until a favorable opportunity offered for them to run over to Point-à-Petre.

The force employed against Marie Galante consisted of about 200 seamen and marines belonging to a small squadron stationed off Point-à-Petre, under the orders of Captain William Selby; and this detachment was commanded by Captain Hugh Pigot, of the Circe frigate, which latter officer speaks in high terms of the support he received from Captain Bowen, who assisted him in obtaining possession of a stockaded fort, and afterwards marched with him to the attack of Grand Bourg, the principal town. The enemy’s militia amounted to 400 men; but they were so completely surprised that very little opposition was offered to the British, who soon found themselves in quiet possession of a well cultivated island, containing a large quantity of colonial produce, and defended by 5 long twenty-four-pounders, 4 eighteens, 2 twelves, and 2 sixes, “The manner in which this service was planned,” says Sir Alexander Cochrane, “and the promptitude with which it was effected, reflects the highest credit on Captain Selby[3], the other captains, officers, and men employed thereon.”

In July, 1808, Captain Bowen sailed from Tortola with one hundred and sixty-eight homeward bound vessels under his protection, the whole of which arrived safe at their different destinations. He subsequently escorted a fleet to Heligoland, and another to Malta, from whence he also brought home a convoy. In the summer of 1809, he conducted a division of Earl Chatham’s army from Harwich to Walcheren; and then accompanied the flotilla of gun-vessels to the highest point of the Scheldt that was ever attained by any part of the British forces during that unfortunate expedition.

The Camilla, being found rotten, was paid off in Dec. 1909; and Captain Bowen did not obtain another appointment until the close of 1812, when he joined the Salsette 42, in which frigate we shortly afterwards find him affording protection as far as Madras, to a large fleet of Indiamen.

The previous reduction of the Isles of France and Java, with their dependencies, having put an end to all warlike operations in the Indian and adjacent seas, Captain Bowen had no opportunity of distinguishing himself whilst on that station, from whence he returned to Spithead in the summer of 1816. Captain Bowen married, May 13, 1825, Elizabeth Lindley, only daughter of Jeremiah Cloves, Esq. and niece to the Countess of Newburgh.

Agent.– John Chippendale, Esq.

  1. See Captain William Buchanan.
  2. The Glatton sailed from Portsmouth, Sept. 23, 1802, touched at Madeira and Rio Janeiro, arrived at Port Jackson Mar. 12, 1803, returned home by Cape Horn, and passed Portsmouth on her way to the Downs Sept. 22, 1803, having made the voyage of circumnavigation in 364 days, of which she was only 277 at sea. By means of air-tubes and other contrivances, together with due attention to cleanliness and diet, the voyage to New South Wales was performed without either fever, flux, or scurvy arising, and without any loss of lives, except 7 convicts from chronic disorders. The complement of men with which she sailed from England, was 170, not one of whom died during the whole period of her absence. This note will serve as a record of the perfection to which navigation, as well as preventive medicine, had attained in the beginning of the 19th century. We are indebted for most of the information it contains to Sir Gilbert Blane’s “Statements of the Comparative Health of the British Navy, from the pear 1779 to the year 1814.
  3. Captain Selby, then of the Cerberus, but afterwards removed to the Owen Glendower frigate, died at the Cape of Good Hope, Mar. 28, 1811.