George Bowen

Sir George Ferguson Bowen GCMG PC (Chinese: 寶雲; 2 November 1821 – 21 February 1899), was an Irish author and colonial administrator whose appointments included postings to the Ionian Islands, Queensland, New Zealand, Victoria, Mauritius and Hong Kong.[1]

Sir George Bowen
1st Governor of Queensland
In office
10 December 1859  4 January 1868
Preceded byOffice Established
Succeeded bySamuel Blackall
5th Governor of New Zealand
In office
5 February 1868  19 March 1873
PremierEdward Stafford
William Fox
George Waterhouse
Preceded bySir George Grey
Succeeded bySir James Fergusson
5th Governor of Victoria
In office
30 July 1873  22 February 1879
Preceded bySir John Manners-Sutton
Succeeded byThe 2nd Marquess of Normanby
13th Governor of Mauritius
In office
9th Governor of Hong Kong
In office
30 March 1883  6 October 1887
Lieutenant GovernorLTG John Sargent
LTG Sir William Cameron
Colonial SecretaryWilliam Henry Marsh
Frederick Stewart
Preceded bySir John Pope Hennessy
Succeeded bySir George William Des Vœux
Personal details
Born(1821-11-02)2 November 1821
Parish of Taughboyne, County Donegal, Ulster, Ireland
Died21 February 1899(1899-02-21) (aged 77)
Brighton, England
Resting placeKensal Green Cemetery
Diamantina di Roma
(m. 1856; died 1893)

Letitia Florence White
(m. 1896)
Alma materTrinity College, Oxford
Professioncolonial administrator
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese寶雲
Simplified Chinese宝云

Early life

Bowen was born the eldest son of the Rev. Edward Bowen,[2] Church of Ireland Rector of Taughboyne, a parish in the Laggan district in the east of County Donegal in Ulster.[1]

Bowen was educated at Charterhouse School and Trinity College, Oxford. He matriculated at Oxford in 1840, and graduated with a first-class B.A. in classics in 1844 (promoted to M.A. in 1847). Bowen was twice President of the Oxford Union. He was elected a fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford, and entered Lincoln's Inn as a student, both in 1844.[3] In 1846 Bowen had some naval training, serving for sixteen days on HMS Victory.[1]

Service in the Ionian Islands

In 1847 Bowen was appointed president of the Ionian Academy located in Corfu, a post he held until 1851.[1][4]

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 appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1855 and was advanced to Knight Commander (KCMG) in the following year.[4]

Governor of Queensland

In 1859, Bowen was appointed the first Governor of Queensland, a colony that had just been separated from New South Wales. Sworn in on 10 December 1859, Bowen served until 1868.[5] Bowen's influence in Queensland was greater than that of the governors in other Australian colonies in a large part due to Robert Herbert, who accompanied Bowen from England, and later became colonial secretary and then first Premier of Queensland 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.[6] 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.[7]

Governor of New Zealand

The flag of New Zealand as designed by Markham in 1869, approved by Bowen.

In 1867 Bowen was made Governor of New Zealand, where he was successful in reconciling the Māori reaction to the British rule and saw the end of the New Zealand Wars.[6] Bowen also instituted the New Zealand Cross for colonial soldiers, one of the rarest bravery awards in the world and equivalent to the Victoria Cross (he was reprimanded for exceeding his authority).[8]

In 1869, Albert Hastings Markham, first lieutenant of HMS Blanche submitted a design to Bowen for a national ensign for New Zealand. His proposal, incorporating the Southern Cross, was approved and remains in use to this day.[9] In 1871, he visited Milford Sound aboard HMS Clio and Bowen Falls was named after his wife to mark the occasion.[10]

Governor of Victoria

In March 1873, Bowen was transferred to the colony of Victoria as the Governor of Victoria,[1] where he embarked on an endeavour to reduce the expenses of the colony. A political crisis occurred while Bowen took leave in England from January 1875 to January 1876, when the acting governor, Sir William Stawell, showed "too little flexibility in the exercise of his temporary powers".[1] One of the main issues was the perennial 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] In January 1878, backed by advice from the Colonial Office, Bowen consented to premier Graham Berry's plan to break the deadlock by the wholesale dismissal of public servants on so-called "Black Wednesday".[1] In May that year, 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, and he was appointed to subsequent vice-regal posts.[1]

Governor of Mauritius

Bowen arrived on Mauritius on 4 April 1879 and served as 13th Governor of the colony until 9 December 1880.[11]

Governor of Hong Kong

On 30 March 1883, Bowen was made Governor of Hong Kong. During his tenure, his administration established the Hong Kong 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.[12]


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.[13] Afterwards, Bowen was sworn into the Privy Council.

Personal life

Sir George Bowen

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 when 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 the first Government House in Brisbane
  • George William Howard Bowen, born 9 April 1864 at the first Government House, in Brisbane
  • Alfreda Ernestina Albertina Bowen, born 10 April 1869 at Old Government House, Auckland, New Zealand

Diamantina died in London in 1893 at about the age of 60.[14]

George married his second wife, Letitia Florence White, in late 1896 at Chelsea, London.[14] Florence was the daughter of Dr Thomas Luby, a mathematician, and was the widow of Henry White, whom she had married in 1878.[14]

George Ferguson Bowen died on 21 February 1899 in Brighton in Sussex, aged 77 years old.[14] He died from bronchitis after a short illness of two days. He was buried on 25 February 1899 in Kensal Green cemetery in London.


The following were named after George Bowen:

  • Bowen, a town in Queensland
  • Bowen Hills, a suburb of Brisbane, Queensland
  • Bowen Square, a pleasure garden, opposite the heritage building of AfrAsia Bank, right in the city centre of Port Louis, Mauritius
  • Bowen Park, a pleasure garden in Bowen Hills
  • Bowen Downs Station, a pastoral lease in outback Queensland
  • Bowen Bridge and Bowen Bridge Road, a bridge and the road that crosses it, in Brisbane, Queensland
  • Bowen Terrace (and Lower Bowen Terrace), a road in the Brisbane suburb of New Farm
  • Bowen Road, Bowen Drive, and Bowen Aqueduct in Hong Kong.
  • Bowen Street (now part of the RMIT campus) in Melbourne
  • Bowen Street in Wellington, New Zealand.

Queen Victoria issued the Letters Patent and the accompanying Order-in-Council that are Queensland's primary founding documents on 6 June 1859. The Letters Patent specifically appointed Sir George Ferguson Bowen as Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of Queensland, endowing him with the legal authority to oversee the installation of self-government by and for the citizens of the colony. This document was #1 in the 'Top 150: Documenting Queensland' exhibition when it toured to venues around Queensland from February 2009 to April 2010.[15] The exhibition was part of Queensland State Archives' events and exhibition program which contributed to the state's Q150 celebrations, marking the 150th anniversary of the separation of Queensland from New South Wales.[16]

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

Several objects connected to Bowen are held in the collections of the State Library of Queensland, including his ceremonial sword, an 1865 sterling silver ceremonial spade presented to Bowen during turning of the first sod of the first section of the Queensland Northern Railway and an 1882 pastel portrait by artist Henry Gordon Fanner.[17]


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

  • Diamantina Bowen, wife of George Bowen


  1. R. B. Joyce, 'Bowen, Sir George Ferguson (1821–1899) Archived 10 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol. 3, Melbourne University Press, 1969, pp 203–207. Retrieved 18 April 2010
  2. Death of Sir George Bowen Archived 4 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Wanganui Herald, Volume XXXIII, Issue 9676, 23 February 1899, Page 2
  3. Foster, Joseph. "Bowen, Sir George Ferguson" . Alumni Oxonienses  via Wikisource.
  4. Dod (1860), p. 127
  5. This Wikipedia article incorporates text from Queensland's first Governor (1 November 2022) published by the State Library of Queensland under CC-BY licence, accessed on 1 June 2022.
  6. Chisholm 1911, p. 342.
  7. "The Late Lady Bowen", Brisbane Courier, Monday 27 November 1893
  8. "New Zealand Cross". Te Papa Museum. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  9. "Rear-Admiral Sir Albert Hastings Markham, Norfolk Museums and Archeology Service". Archived from the original on 2 June 2008. Retrieved 18 November 2008.
  10. Hegg, Danilo (19 May 2010). "Bowen River". Southernalps. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  11. "Mauritius". Archived from the original on 2 June 2009. Retrieved 23 January 2013.
  12. Chisholm 1911.
  13. Chisholm 1911, pp. 342–343.
  14. Archived 9 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  15. "Number 1 - Governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen's Letters Patent (1859)". Number 1 - Governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen's Letters Patent (1859). Queensland State Archives. 5 April 2015. Archived from the original on 7 April 2015. Retrieved 21 August 2020 via National Library of Australia.
  16. Queensland State Archives (2014), "Annual report", Queensland State Archives Annual Report, Queensland State Archives: 6, 9, ISSN 1448-8426, retrieved 4 August 2020
  17. "Queensland's first Governor | State Library Of Queensland". 1 November 2021. Retrieved 29 January 2023.
  18. "Bowen, George Ferguson (BWN886GF)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.



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