Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Arthur Bowes Smyth (1750–1790)

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Arthur Bowes Smyth (1750-1790), surgeon, was born on 23 August 1750 at Tolleshunt D'Arcy, Essex, England, the seventh child of Thomas Smyth, a surgeon. He lived at Tolleshunt D'Arcy and practised there at least between 1778 and 1783. In 1787 he was appointed a surgeon in the Lady Penrhyn in the First Fleet; he took charge of the prisoners when the convicts' surgeon on board, Dr Alltree, fell ill at Tenerife. Under the name of Arthur Bowes, as he was known in the colony, from 22 March 1787 to 12 August 1789 he kept a journal which included a record of the events of the voyage and the first weeks in New South Wales. While still in Sydney, on 19 March he reported on the birds of Lord Howe Island where Lieutenant Henry Ball had landed from the Supply on the way back from Norfolk Island.

Smyth left Sydney in the Lady Penrhyn on 20 April, and the journal is most significant for its descriptions of bird life at Port Jackson and Lord Howe Island, where the ship called on her way to China. He collected curios and natural history specimens on his excursions at Port Jackson, in a way typical of the non-scientific collecting done in the colony before George Caley arrived in 1800. Bowes must have been one of the first white men to see an emu, of which he made a drawing. While on Lord Howe Island he made the earliest known drawing of the now extinct white gallinule, and observed the bell magpie or currawong and four now rare or extinct birds, which have been identified as the Lord Howe Island pigeon, the booby, the Lord Howe Island rail or woodhen, and an extinct species of parrakeet. He died soon after his return to England and was buried at Tolleshunt D'Arcy on 31 March 1790. His journal is held by the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vol 1 part 2, vol 2
  • K. A. Hindwood, ‘An Historic Diary’, Emu, vol 32, part 1, July 1932, pp 17-29
  • MS 995 (State Library of New South Wales).

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Smyth, Arthur Bowes (1750–1790)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 19 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bowes, Arthur
  • Smythe, Arthur Bowes

23 August, 1750
Tolleshunt D'Arcy, Essex, England


31 March, 1790 (aged 39)

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.

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