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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bowen, Diamantina (1833–1893)

by Hugh Gilchrist

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Diamantina Bowen (1833-1893), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co.

Diamantina Bowen (1833-1893), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co.

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3356220

Diamantina Bowen (1833-1893), governor's wife, was born in 1833 on the island of Zante (Zakinthos), Greece, tenth of eleven children of Conte Giorgio-Candiano Roma and his wife Contessa Orsola, née di Balsamo. The family—originally named Regolo and with origins in thirteenth-century Rome—included notable men in the Venetian occupation of Corfu, the Peloponnese and Crete, and some distinguished personages in newly independent Greece. Belonging to the small aristocracy of the Ionian Islands, Diamantina enjoyed a privileged life during the British rule (1815-64). Her father was president of the Corfiot Senate and titular head of the Ionian Islands Republic. Queen Victoria appointed him the islands' poet laureate.

On 28 April 1856 in the Palace of St Michael and St George, Corfu, Contessa Diamantina Roma married (Sir) George Ferguson Bowen, government secretary of the islands. He was appointed first governor of Queensland in 1859 and Lady Bowen accompanied him to Brisbane with their daughter, arriving on 10 December. She ably fulfilled the ceremonial role of governor's wife. In 1864, with a silver spade and a cedar wheelbarrow, she turned the sod for Queensland's first railway-line, at Ipswich. An exemplary hostess at Government House and a tireless worker for charity, she gave birth to three children while in Brisbane and helped to found the Lady Bowen Lying-In Hospital in 1866. In January 1868 she and Sir George proceeded to New Zealand on his appointment as governor-general. Here their last child was born. They returned to Australia in March 1873 when Bowen was sworn in as governor of Victoria.

By then Diamantina had acquired some of the characteristics of a grande dame, and was an elegant and fascinating figure evoking popular respect. To a gossip columnist she was 'as exotic as a bird of paradise, still a beauty, with black dazzling eyes, a flawless cream complexion and a figure that, even in the dresses of the period, was the envy of many younger matrons'. Mrs Campbell Praed had described Lady Bowen's 'soft foreign accent'; in private conversation with Sir George she normally spoke Italian. Active in charitable causes and cultural events, she was dignified but also unconventional: on one occasion she went roller-skating. Attacked by a deranged woman (Esther Gray) in Collins Street in 1876, she suffered only slight injury. In February 1879 a large assemblage at a Melbourne banquet heard Marcus Clarke's poem, 'Farewell to Lady Bowen' set to music by Alfred Plumpton. Sir George was governor of Mauritius until 1882 and of Hong Kong in 1882-86.

His wife was a woman of poised serenity and kindness, with a degree of reserve. Self-disciplined, compassionate, dutiful, she was interested in garden plants, music and objets d'art, and was a fine pianist and singer. On Sir George's retirement they and their two unmarried daughters settled in London, where she worshipped at the Greek Orthodox Church in Moscow Road. She died of acute bronchitis on 17 November 1893 in Cadogan Square, and was buried in the Bowen family grave at Kensall Green. Her husband and their five children survived her.

Among many place names commemorating her are the town of Roma and the Diamantina River in Queensland. In 1953 her many letters, long preserved in a villa on Zakinthos, were destroyed after earthquakes in the Ionian Islands.

Select Bibliography

  • U. G. Prentice, Diamantina, Lady Bowen, Queensland’s First Lady (Brisb, 1984)
  • H. Gilchrist, Australians and Greeks, vol 1 (Syd, 1992), and for bibliography
  • M. Hancock, Colonial Consorts (Melb, 2001).

Citation details

Hugh Gilchrist, 'Bowen, Diamantina (1833–1893)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Diamantina Bowen (1833-1893), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co.

Diamantina Bowen (1833-1893), by Johnstone, O'Shannessy & Co.

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3356220

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Roma, Contessa

Zakinthos, Greece


17 November 1893
London, Middlesex, England

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence