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Royal Naval Biography/Owen, William Fitzwilliam

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WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM OWEN, Esq.
Governor of the Island of Fernando Po; and a Member of the Astronomical Society[1].
[Post-Captain of 1811.]

Brother to Sir Edward W. C. R. Owen, K.C.B. M.P. &c. &c.

This officer served as a midshipman of the Culloden 74, Captain Isaac Schomberg, on the glorious first of June, 1794; and was in the Ruby 64, Captain Edwin Henry Stanhope, at the capture of a Dutch squadron, in Saldanha bay, Cape of Good Hope, Aug. 18, 1796[2]; he subsequently joined the London 98, bearing the flag of Vice-Admiral John Colpoys, with whom he quitted her during the general mutiny at Spithead, in May 1797. For his conduct on that trying occasion, he was soon afterwards presented with a commission.

At the renewal of hostilities, in 1803, Lieutenant Owen obtained the command of the Sea Flower, a 14-gun brig, in which vessel he captured le Charles, French national ketch, at the island of Rodriguez, July 15, 1806. In Sept following, we find him exploring part of the Maldiva islands, and their separating channels, which had never been regularly investigated: the additional information thus procured respecting them is duly acknowledged in an appendix to “Horsburgh’s Sailing Directions” On the 10th Nov. in the same year, he discovered an excellent channel, now bearing the name of his brig, situated between the islands of Se-Beeroo and Se Pora, near the west coast of Sumatra.

In our memoir of Viscount Exmouth, we have stated, that the Sea Flower conducted that officer’s squadron through a very intricate navigation into Batavia roads, Nov. 27, 1806: his gallant conduct, at the destruction of the Dutch shipping lying there, is thus acknowledged in the official letter announcing that event:–

“The boats of the squadron assembled alongside the Terpsichore, which, with the Sir Francis Drake, had been placed as near as possible to cover them, and were led in to destroy the enemy’s ships by Captain Fleetwood Pellew, under a heavy fire from the ships and batteries. * * * * * *

“The gallant conduct of Captain Fleetwood Pellew, Lieutenant W. Fitzwilliam Owen, and Lieutenant T. Groube, first of the Culloden, the officers, seamen, and marines employed under their command, in this important duty, is deserving of every praise. The service was directed with great coolness and judgment, and executed in the most steady, zealous, and active manner. * * * * * *

“The necessary destruction of the William corvette[3] has deprived me of an opportunity of rewarding the services of Lieutenant Owen on this occasion; I therefore beg leave to recommend him and Lieutenant Groube, who were appointed to lead divisions on this service, to their lordships’ protection.”

(Signed)Edw. Pellew.”

On the 11th Dec. 1807, Lieutenant Owen assisted at the total annihilation of the Dutch naval force in the Eastern Seas[4]: his commission as a Commander bears date May 20, 1808. Some time afterwards, he had the misfortune to be taken prisoner, and carried to the Isle of France; from whence he was allowed to depart in a cartel, just before the conquest of that valuable colony in 1810.

Captain Owen’s next appointment was to the Barracouta of 18 guns, on the East India station; and he joined that vessel time enough to assist at the blockade of Batavia, preparatory to the invasion of Java. Whilst thus employed, one of his boats, with 8 men, under the command of acting Lieutenant George Tyrrell, was attacked by a piratical proa, having on board about 50 Malays, every one of whom was either killed or driven into the sea; Mr. Tyrrell then secured the vessel and carried her off to the Leda frigate, which had hove in sight just at the close of the desperate conflict[5].

On the arrival of the expedition under Lieutenant-General Sir Samuel Auchmuty and Commodore Broughton, the subject of this sketch was ordered to assist Captain Sayer, of the Leda, in directing the debarkation of the troops, at Chillingching; and he continued attached to the army until after the surrender of Batavia, Aug. 8, 1811[6]. His promotion to post rank took place on the 2d May, in the same year.

We next find Captain Owen commanding the Cornelia, a 32-gun frigate. On the 20th Nov. 1811, when escorting some transports from Batavia towards Bombay, he accidentally saw the bottom, and carried soundings of 19 and 20 fathoms over a bank now bearing his name, but the extent of which he could not stop to ascertain: at the time of his discovering it, he made the latitude 6° 46' 30" S. and the longitude by chronometer was 70° 12' E. The ships in company with him had no soundings. The Cornelia returned home with a convoy from China, and was paid off, in 1813.

Since 1815, Captain Owen has surveyed the Lakes in Canada; and the coasts of Asia and Africa, from Cape Comorin, along the coasts of Malabar and Surat, the whole extent of the sea-side of Persia and Arabia, the east side of Africa (including Madagascar, the Seychelles, and other islands), and the Atlantic shores of that continent, to the river Gambia. He is at present employed in forming a new settlement at Fernando Po, an island in the Bight of Benin; it being supposed that it will prove not only a more healthy situation than Sierra Leone, but that it will also afford greater facilities for the prevention of the slave-trade.

We very much regret, that it is not at present in our power to give a more perfect sketch of the services of this gallant, enterprising, and scientific officer. At a future period we may be enabled to do so.

Agents.– Messrs. Maude and Co.



  1. We cannot but notice with exultation the number of naval officers who are associated in the meritorious labour of that useful body the Astronomical Society: by subjoining their names, a proof will be afforded that our service combines a prominent scientific rank with its zeal and courage:

    H.R.H. the Lord High Admiral, Sir Edward W. C. R. Owen*; Captains William D’Urban, William Henry Shirreff, Francis Beaufort*, William F. Owen, Basil Hall, John Ross, Armar Lowry Corry, William Edward Parry, John Franklin, William Henry Smyth*, John George Graham, Frederick William Beechey; Commanders John Molesworth, Pringle Stokes, Henry Foster, Hon. John Frederick F. De Roos, James Clark Ross; Lieutenants George Young, William Samuel Stratford*, George Beaufoy, Charles Ramsay Drinkwater, Thomas Graves, and ___ Kendall.

    * Members of the Council.

  2. See Vol. I. Part I, p. 51.
  3. See Vol. I, Part I, p. 223.
  4. See Suppl. Part I, p. 404 et seq.
  5. Nav. Chron. v. 27, p. 198.
  6. See Vol. II. Part I. p. 365.