BOWEN, Sir George Ferguson (1821-1899)


BOWEN, Sir George Ferguson (1821-1899)
governor of Queensland and Victoria
eldest son of the Rev. Edward Bowen, was born in Ireland on 2 November 1821 (Dict.Nat.Biog.). He was educated at the Charterhouse and Trinity College, Oxford, was twice president of the union, and in 1844 graduated with first-class honours in classics. In 1817 he accepted the position of president of the Ionian university at Corfu, travelled much in Greece, and in 1850 published Ithaca in 1850 (3rd edition 1854). In 1852 he brought out Mt Athos, Thessaly and Epirus and in 1854 appeared Handbook for Travellers in Greece, in Murray's well-known series. In the same year he was appointed chief secretary of government in the Ionian islands, then under a British protectorate. In 1858 the Ionian parliament asked that the islands should be incorporated in the kingdom of Greece, and Bowen recommended that all the principal islands except Corfu should be transferred, but eventually Corfu was included in the transfer. In 1859 he was appointed the first governor of Queensland and arrived at Brisbane on 10 December 1859. Pending the election Bowen formed a tentative government which included (Sir) R. G. W. Herbert (q.v.), and R. R. Mackenzie (q.v.). When parliament met Herbert became the first premier and held office for several years. Bowen showed much tact in his management of the politicians of the period during the difficult early years of parliament, and he quickly made himself familiar with the colony's settled districts. He had nothing like the power of some of the early governors in other colonies before responsible government came in, but he was able to exercise a considerable amount of influence and used it with wisdom. He was governor for an unusually long period, eight and a half years, his term having been extended at the end of six years. In 1866 he had a difference with his ministry which at first threatened his popularity. An attempt was made to issue inconvertible government notes and to make them legal tender in the colony. Bowen felt that this was one of the few occasions when a governor might legitimately interfere, and pointed out that the right course would be to obtain the sanction of the legislature to the issue of treasury bills. As a consequence of the governor's action the ministry resigned, and a petition was signed asking for the governor's recall. Bowen, however, was supported by the colonial office and the agitation died down. In 1868 he was made governor of New Zealand where he held office for about five years, until March 1873. He came before the end of the Maori war and showed much ability during a difficult period in the history of New Zealand.
Early in 1873 Bowen became governor of Victoria and in 1875 had a year's leave of absence in Europe. The colony was exceedingly prosperous and for some time he had no constitutional problems, but in 1877 he became involved in the struggle between the legislative assembly and the legislative council on the question of payment to members. In January 1878 he acted with doubtful judgment in consenting to the "Black Wednesday" wholesale dismissal of officials by the Berry (q.v.) government, and in February he incurred the disapproval of the members of the council by acquiescing in Berry's financial expedients during the parliamentary deadlock; but experienced British parliamentarians like Gladstone, Childers (q.v.), W. E. Forster and Lord Dufferin all approved of his conduct. In 1879 Bowen became governor of Mauritius and in 1882 he was appointed governor at Hong Kong. He left Hong Kong on a visit to England in December 1885, and in 1886 resigned his governorship and retired from the service of the crown. He, however, was appointed in December 1887, to be chief of a royal commission sent to Malta to report on the arrangements connected with its new constitution. After his return he continued his interest in colonial questions but took no part in politics. He died at Brighton on 21 February 1899. He married (1) Roma, daughter of Count Candiano di Roma, and (2) Florence, daughter of Dr T. Luby, and was survived by four daughters and a son by the first marriage. He was created C.M.G. in 1855, K.C.M.G. in 1856, G.C.M.G. in 1860, and was made a privy councillor in 1886. He was given the honorary degree of D.C.L. by Oxford university and LL.D. by Cambridge.
Bowen was a fine classical scholar who also knew well Italian and modern Greek. He was always interested in the life of the people, and tactful in his speech. He could be strong when it was necessary, and though criticized on occasions he never lacked able supporters. Generally he proved himself to be an able and excellent governor.
S. Lane-Poole, Thirty Years of Colonial Government, a selection from Bowen's dispatches and letters; C. A. Bernays, Queensland—Our Seventh Political Decade; The Times, 22 February 1899; Victoria the First Century; Burke's Peerage, etc., 1899.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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