Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fowles, Edwin Wesley Howard (1871–1945)

by J. C. H. Gill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Edwin Wesley Howard Fowles (1871-1945), barrister and politician, was born on 17 June 1871 at Oxley Creek, Queensland, son of William Fowles, schoolteacher, and his wife Nancy, née Whittle. Educated first by his father and then at the Brisbane Normal School, he won a government scholarship in 1884 to Brisbane Grammar School where he gained the Lilley medal in 1887. A Queensland scholarship took him to Ormond College, University of Melbourne, in 1889 (B.A., 1893; M.A. LL.B., 1895). As an undergraduate he was prominent in student life, played cricket for the university and twice captained the colony in tennis. He became doubles champion of Queensland in 1906-08.

Fowles began teaching in 1895 as a resident master at Cumloden, Melbourne. He was briefly at Maryborough Boys' Grammar School, Queensland, then went back to Victoria for a spell at Geelong College. He was admitted to the Victorian Bar in 1901, and in February 1902 was admitted and commenced practice in Queensland. For over thirty years he was examiner for the Barristers' Board. On 2 November 1904 he married Janet Mary, daughter of John Archibald; they had no children.

Fowles was a prolific writer. Apart from legal texts he published a matriculation Latin grammar in 1897, and wrote many articles for the Queensland readers put out by the Department of Public Instruction for use in state schools. Besides numerous general newspaper articles under the nom de plume 'Remanet', he produced leaders for the Brisbane Courier and was associate editor of the Daily Mail in 1903-07. In 1917 he was believed to have used his talents to launch a campaign of spurious anti-government letters to the editor.

A foundation senator of the University of Queensland in 1910-16, and first chairman of the library committee, Fowles was deeply involved in establishing the university as secretary of the finance committee in 1906-11. Associated closely, too, with the setting up in 1912 of the Methodist Kings College in the university, he was its bursar and a fellow in 1916.

Like many contemporary lawyers Fowles had political aspirations. In the general election of April 1912 he failed to win Fortitude Valley in the Legislative Assembly for the United Party against David Bowman, but in July was appointed by the Denham ministry to the Legislative Council. A brilliant debater who always prepared his brief carefully and was blessed with a ready wit to squash interjectors, he became after 1915 the unofficial leader of the Opposition in the council; he frequently obstructed the policy of the Ryan government. After the abolition of the Upper House in March 1922, he unsuccessfully sought a Legislative Assembly seat at Fortitude Valley in 1923 and Merthyr in 1925.

For some years Fowles was a leading temperance advocate and was on the executive of the Queensland Temperance League. Like his father-in-law Archibald, he was a fervent Methodist and gave unstintingly of body, mind and spirit to the work and worship of his church—as choirmaster, youth leader and lay preacher. In annual and general conferences and on many committees, his advice was respected. He was a foundation member of the Presbyterian and Methodist Schools Association.

Fowles wrote many hymns, revealing poetic gifts, spiritual insight and the evangelical tradition in which he had been reared. A member of the committee for the preparation of an Australian and New Zealand supplement to the Methodist Hymn Book of 1933, he worked very hard and contributed two of his own hymns to it. He prepared a 'Methodist Hymn Book Companion' to facilitate the introduction of the new book. In many Brisbane churches he conducted community hymn-singing and explained the origin of both words and tunes.

Fowles died at home on 29 December 1945 and was cremated. His estate, valued for probate at £9189, was left to his widow, relatives, friends and various Methodist foundations.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Methodist Historical Society, Journal and Proceedings, Oct 1955, p 931
  • Queensand Methodist Times, 10, 17 Jan 1946
  • Brisbane Courier, 12 Feb 1902
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 30 Dec 1945, 12, 17 Jan 1946.

Citation details

J. C. H. Gill, 'Fowles, Edwin Wesley Howard (1871–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fowles-edwin-wesley-howard-6226/text10711, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 29 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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