Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John Thomas Ewing Gowlland (1838–1874)

by Eleanor E. Barron

This article was published:

John Thomas Ewing Gowlland (1838-1874), naval officer, was born on 10 July 1838 at Leysdown, Kent, England, the eldest son of Captain Thomas Sankey Gowlland and his wife Mary, née Ewing. He entered the Royal Naval School, Greenwich, became captain of its 800 boys and in 1853 joined the navy as a master's assistant. He saw active service with the Baltic squadron in the Crimean war and at 16 won a medal for taking a prize back to England. He then served in the survey of the Chincha Islands off Peru, of Vancouver Island and Straits and in determining the northern boundary of the United States of America. As a commander he won the goodwill of the Indian chiefs and was specially thanked by the Admiralty for his excellent charts; his name is perpetuated in several places on the Pacific coast. He returned to Europe by way of Sydney and as first assistant surveyor worked in the Mediterranean.

Gowlland was appointed to the Australian survey as chief assistant in 1865. When Captain Sydney retired Gowlland took command of the survey of the New South Wales coast and compiled Admiralty charts of the coast and the tidal waters of the Richmond, Clarence, Hunter and Hawkesbury Rivers. He also surveyed the waters of Port Jackson and made the first plans of Garden Island. From 1871 his services were retained at the expense of the New South Wales government. In that year he commanded the Governor Blackall on a voyage to Cape York to observe a total eclipse of the sun. In 1872 he volunteered to command a relief expedition to search for the brig Maria wrecked off Bramble Reef. For rescuing thirty-four pitiful survivors he was given handsome pieces of plate and the thanks of the premier, Sir James Martin. In 1873 Gowlland returned to England and was promoted staff commander. He was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, and the Royal Society of Victoria. He wrote several pamphlets on the winds and currents of the eastern coast of Australia and many press articles on marine subjects. He returned to Sydney and while surveying Middle Harbour was drowned in an accident off Dobroyd Point on 14 August 1874. He was buried with full naval honours at the cemetery of St Thomas's Anglican Church, North Sydney, and survived by his wife Genevieve, née Lord, whom he had married in Sydney on 12 October 1865, and by two sons and a daughter.

Gowlland's journals and papers were clearly written and skilfully illustrated with sketches of ships, coastlines and nautical scenes, some in colour. His Australian charts, much in use until recent years, are highly regarded, and a copper engraving of the Hawkesbury, Broken Bay and Port Jackson, probably his finest work, was found about 1940 in possession of the government printer. A memorial window is in St Thomas's Church, North Sydney, and a compass designed by him is in the Admiralty at Slough, England.

Select Bibliography

  • L. S. Dawson, Memoirs of Hydrography 1856-1864 (Eastbourne, nd)
  • G. C. Ingleton, Charting a Continent (Syd, 1944)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, New South Wales), 1872, 2, 1383
  • G. C. Ingleton, ‘A Brief History of Marine Surveying in Australia’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 30, part 1, 1944, pp 1-45 and vol 30, part 2, 1944, pp 85-151
  • Naval and Military Gazette, 42 (1874)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17, 18 Aug 1874
  • Town and Country Journal, 22 Aug 1874.

Citation details

Eleanor E. Barron, 'Gowlland, John Thomas Ewing (1838–1874)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 16 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


10 July, 1838
Leysdown, Kent, England


14 August, 1874 (aged 36)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.