Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Meares Bowen (1803–1889)

by John Barrett

This article was published:

George Meares Countess Bowen (1803-1889), public servant and landowner, was born on 14 January 1803 at Wells, Somerset, England, the son of Captain W. H. H. Bowen, R.N., and Susannah, the daughter of Vice-Admiral Sir William Parker. After graduating from Sandhurst, he served in India, Galway and the Channel Islands, and in the 39th Regiment in County Cork, under Captain Charles Sturt. As a lieutenant he sailed with his detachment for Sydney in October 1826.

After employment in the surveyor-general's office, Sydney, Bowen became a land commissioner for determining the boundaries of counties and parishes, and then surveyor for the Church and School Corporation. He worked Bulgamatta, a grant of 2560 acres (1036 ha) near Mount Tomah, from 1831 to 1836 when he sold the land. In 1831 he was appointed justice of the peace, and in 1838 became a police magistrate. In 1837 he married Charlotte, daughter of Lieutenant Thomas Fryer; two children were born before his wife died in 1840.

Two serious clashes with the Church of England brought him notoriety. After Bishop William Broughton suggested his ordination, Bowen provocatively published The Language of Theology Interpreted, in a Series of Short and Easy Lectures (Sydney, 1836). Bowen argued that the Bible was entirely allegorical. Amidst a public controversy, he was refused ordination and communion. His church membership was later restored, but the connexion remained uneasy and was finally broken after Bishop Frederic Barker succeeded Broughton.

In 1843-46 Bowen was in Europe, where he married Letitia, a sister of his first wife. This was forbidden in Anglican law and, although the ceremony was performed twice, once by licence from the King of Denmark, the marriage was not recognized by the church in the colony. Unrepentant to the end, Bowen reaffirmed his religious views in Modern Parables, or the Voices of Revelation and Nature Interpreted and Harmonized (Sydney, n.d.), under the pseudonym of Aposynagogos, although it contained much biographical material thinly disguised.

Four children were born to Bowen by his second marriage. Until his death on 1 September 1889, he lived quietly on a farm in the Bowen Mount district and later at Kirribilli. He increased in wealth but not, to his regret, in honours and prestige. In 1852 he had a brief appointment as supervisor of some Road Trust expenditure, but was removed after he had virtually resigned because he thought the trustees insubordinate.

He was a man of commanding appearance and good background, highly intelligent, morally upright and deeply religious in his unorthodox way. That he was one of the very few respectable colonists publicly to repudiate orthodox Christianity in the 1830s points to independence of mind and courage, and was not the chief cause of his failure to achieve higher civil rank. Rather, his very strength was also his weakness. When he differed, he did so truculently, obsessively expecting opposition. Once launched on a campaign, he went to absurd lengths; when ordination was refused him, he protested to the Colonial Office that he had been denied a civil right of a contributor to the Church. Sometimes Bowen admitted his 'egotism and arrogance', but even when proffering an olive branch he tended to hold it like a club.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 18-19, 22, 24
  • H. A. MacLeod Morgan, ‘George Meares Countess Bowen’, Australian Genealogist, vol 8, part 5, Sept 1956, pp 103-19
  • Colonist (Sydney), 1, 8 Dec 1836, 25 May 1837
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8, 12 Dec 1836
  • Sydney Times, 27 May 1837
  • H. T. Stiles papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Marsden papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Broughton to Walsh, 30 Mar, 1 Apr 1850, Broughton papers (microfilm, National Library of Australia)
  • memorandum of family affairs (privately held).

Citation details

John Barrett, 'Bowen, George Meares (1803–1889)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 30 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

George Bowen, n.d.

George Bowen, n.d.

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Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Aposynagogos

14 January, 1803
Wells, Somerset, England


1 September, 1889 (aged 86)
Kirribilli, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

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Religious Influence

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