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British Industrial History

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John Bowen (1785-1854)

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John Bowen (1785-1854)

Born in Bridgwater, Somerset.

He left school at the age of 11, but subsequently took every opportunity for self-education. He was apprenticed to Thomas Pyke, but became restless and left to seek adventure, eventually joining the Navy. After being shipwrecked he returned to Bridgwater and resumed his apprenticeship with Pyke.

He moved to London in 1805, and in 1806 he started work with George? Robinson, a lighthouse contractor.

1806 Married Jane Biggs.

1807-8, Sent to the Farne Islands, Northumberland, to install a temporary light.

1808 He went to India for the East India Company, erecting lighthouses and making machinery.

1812 Bowen returned home for a two-year break, during which time he took a course in practical mathematics from Peter Nicholson.

He returned to India and the East India Company, and carried out consultancy work for Calman and Brown of Calcutta.

1816 Bowen joined ? Calman and Henry Jessop (a son of William Jessop of the Butterley Co, in charge of an adventurous mission to transport the cast iron components of a large iron bridge, and a pumping engine, upriver from Calcutta to Lucknow. 70 boats and 900 boatmen were employed. The items had been made by the Butterley Co in Derbyshire and shipped out round the Cape. The 2627 individual bridge components, weighing 750 tons, were delivered to the river bank at Lucknow, but there they were to remain for many years, no finances having been provided to erect the bridge. It was not constructed until the 1840s. The bridge, designed by John Rennie, had been ordered by the Nawab of Oudh to carry a private road across the River Gompti.

Bowen returned overland to Calcutta, but bad health forced his return to England.

He became a wine merchant in Bridgwater, and involved himself in local affairs.

1830 Partnership dissolved between John Bowen, Morley Chubb, and Charles James Chubb, wine and spirit merchants, Bridgwater. Business to be continued by John Bowen[1]

Bowen became engineer to the Bridgwater Turnpike Trust.

Bowen was a social reformer, and opposed the 1832 Reform Act, He edited a newspaper called The Alfred from 1831 to 1833, but gave it up as the result of violent opposition.

Bowen was appointed a Guardian of the Poor for the Bridgwater Union, but resigned in 1837 over conditions at the Bridgwater Workhouse, and employed a great deal of energy in efforts to reform the situation. He wrote letters to the Times and to Parliament, detailing, for example, 27 deaths in six months, and reporting 94 deaths from dysentery following cost-cutting in food purchasing.[2]. He also appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on the Operation of the Poor Law Amendment Act in 1838, as did his friend, William Baker, a Bridgwater currier[3]

Bowen's first wife died in 1838, and he subsequently married Jessie Nicholson, the daughter of Peter Nicholson.

Bowen died on 29 March 1854.

The above information has been largely condensed from [4], and from information provided by Dr. D Greenfield, who delivered an I.C.E. lecture entitled 'John Bowen and the Lucknow Bridge' in December, 2016[5]. Dr Greenfield has made an extensive study of Bowen's life and work, drawing on Bowen's fascinating journals.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. London Gazette, p.1370
  2. [1] 'The Bridgwater Workhouses' by Roger Evans
  3. [2] Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons and Command, Volume 19, Part 2
  4. [3] Bridgwater Heritage Group - Bridgwater Scientists - John Bowen 1785 - 1854
  5. [4] I.C.E. Lecture: 'John Bowen and the Lucknow Bridge', Taunton, 5 December 2016