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John Bowman (1763–1825)

by B. H. Fletcher

This article was published:

John Bowman (1763-1825), settler, came from East Lothian, Scotland, and was a carpenter experienced in building corn-mills. He secured a free passage to New South Wales on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Banks and arrived in the Barwell in May 1798 accompanied by his Cornish wife Honor, née Honey, a son and a daughter. He was granted 100 acres (40 ha) at the Hawkesbury and, apparently pleased by his new surroundings, urged his brother William to migrate to the colony. William reached Port Jackson in the Nile in December 1801 with his son, William Bowman of Bong Bong (1798?-1848). He occupied a grant at Mulgrave Place and died in December 1811.

Between May 1798 and June 1805 John Bowman was maintained by the government and made good use of his opportunities. Governor Philip Gidley King granted him another 40 acres (16 ha) and he bought 160 (65 ha) from other settlers. With 53 acres (21 ha) under grain and 179 head of stock he was in a better position than many of his neighbours. He was among the few free migrants in an area inhabited mainly by former convicts, and was one of the five men deputed by the Hawkesbury settlers to present an address of welcome to Governor William Bligh in 1806 urging him to introduce a number of reforms.

Throughout the next three years Bowman continued to support Bligh and oppose the activities of John Macarthur. He signed the address of 1 January 1808 extolling Bligh's governorship, and in April and May he supported two petitions to Lieutenant-Governor William Paterson drawn up by a small number of free migrants and emancipist settlers. They welcomed Paterson's assumption of command and attacked the rebel government and especially Macarthur, who was referred to as 'the principal agitator and promoter of the present alarming and calamitous state of the Colony'. They depicted Bligh as an honourable man who had effected marked improvements in the administration of the settlement, and the interregnum as an era of 'oppression, alarm and terror'. In June 1800 Nicholas Bayly had unsuccessfully sued Bowman for defamation; now, in the interregnum, Bowman was imprisoned and fined in peculiar circumstances for calling Bayly a rogue.

This prosecution may help to explain some of Bowman's subsequent difficulties. Between August and November 1809 his wheat, livestock and various other effects were sold at public auction under orders from the provost-marshal, presumably to meet debts. By 1812 he had contracted additional debts of £418 13s. 6d. to John Reddington, a dealer. In May many of his possessions were put up for sale, and early in 1813, after the issuing of a court order the previous August, 415 acres (168 ha) of his land were advertised for auction. Three of these properties were sold and were bought by Reddington, but they realized enough to meet Bowman's debts. He continued to farm on the remainder, and on another 150 acres (61 ha) at Parramatta originally granted to him by Paterson in 1809. Apparently he had some success, for his family was reasonably provided for when he died on 16 December 1825. His wife died on 11 November 1826, aged 67.

The family continued to make a mark on Hawkesbury affairs. The elder son George (1795-1878) received a land grant and added to it by purchases. He built his own church at Richmond in 1845 and later presented it to the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales. He represented Northumberland and Hunter in the Legislative Council in 1851-56, and died at Richmond on 26 August 1878. William, the second son (1799-1874), was born on 11 December 1799 at Richmond. In 1825 he received a 2000-acre (809 ha) grant on the Talbragar River; he leased an additional 4000 acres (1619 ha) and in 1832 bought 5200 acres (2104 ha) at Dunn's Plains, Bathurst. On a visit to England to select immigrant workers for his properties he married Elizabeth Arthur at North Shields, Northumberland, and returned to the colony with her in 1838. He accompanied Captain Samuel Perry to the Clarence River in 1839. After a stormy campaign he was elected by one vote to the Legislative Council for Cumberland Boroughs at the first election in 1843, and was member for the same electorate in the first parliament under responsible government in 1856-57. He experimented with the export of salt beef to Calcutta, and introduced German vignerons. He died on 11 December 1874 at Richmond.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vols 3-7
  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 2-4, 6-7, 12, 26
  • J. Steele, Early Days of Windsor (Syd, 1916)
  • W. A. Steel, ‘Dunn's Plains, Rockley’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 26, part 3, 1940, pp 197-234
  • Banks papers, vol 20 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • John Bowman journal (State Library of New South Wales)
  • William Bowman papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Citation details

B. H. Fletcher, 'Bowman, John (1763–1825)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 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

Life Summary [details]


East Lothian, Scotland


16 December, 1825 (aged ~ 62)
New South Wales, Australia

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