Cr Richard Bowen JP, Alderman, City of Melbourne

Melbourne in the late 1850’s was a bustling city which had grown explosively due mainly to the Victorian gold rush.  Most of the main streets were paved and a bridge had been built over the Yarra River.  By 1854 the population was around 80,000 people.[1]  The traditional owners of the land where city was growing, had been pushed further and further back, having been moved through a series of reserves.[2]  This was the city that Richard Bowen came to when he left his farm in Newnham and bought a home in Jeffcott Street, West Melbourne.[3]  He was to become a Councilor and Alderman of the city.

Richard Bowen was born in Beguildy, Radnorshire, Wales in 1816 to Francis and Anne Bowen.[4]  Richard probably came to Australia in around 1847.[5] According to his death certificate he resided in Victoria for 57 years.[6]  Apparently, he travelled extensively before settling in Newnham, Victoria.  Richard’s parents and siblings followed in 1850,[7] and soon the family owned four farms in the district.  Richard’s farm was known as Oakdale. An anonymous family history states “he bought an acorn from England, which he planted beside his house, and it grew to be one of the largest oaks in Victoria.  He built part of his house of stone quarried from Willow Vale farm”.[8]

The Bowens were a colourful family.  My mother tells the story of how on a visit to some Bowen cousins she was told to wash up before tea only to find the younger Bowens had deposited rabbits’ heads in the hand washing dish!

The family appears many times in newspapers of the day, which recount several incidents of assault.  On one occasion Richard and his brother, Morgan, went to visit their elderly sister after hearing she was ill.  Sarah was apparently being “kept under lock and key” by Richard’s nephews, Francis and George. She had made a will in their favour and they must have felt they needed to protect their interests as the family seems to have been somewhat dysfunctional.  As Morgan tried to open the gate, Francis hit him with an axe handle breaking both wrists.[10]  Francis was sentenced to nine months hard labour.[11]

However, it appears that Richard was perhaps a more civilized member of the family and apparently was very community minded.

Richard married his first wife Eliza Capelin on 23rd June,1855 in the St James Old Cathedral Church.[12]  This beautiful church, only a block away from where Richard lived in Jeffcott Street, has a fascinating history.  The move to have Melbourne declared as a city seems to have stemmed partly from the wish to establish a bishop’s see of the Church of England in Melbourne.  A bishopric could only be declared in a city.   Once Melbourne was declared a city the first bishop was installed in the modest timber Cathedral Church of St James.   Soon there were moves to build a more permanent church and the St James Old Cathedral Church was built in Collins Street in 1839.  It remained as the cathedral church until St Paul’s Cathedral was completed in 1891. There were moves to demolish the church but instead, in 1914 it was moved, brick by brick, to the corner of King and Batman Streets, where it stands today.[13]

Richard and Eliza had a long marriage until she died in November 1898[14], but it seems they had no children.  Interestingly, Richard married again the following year to Eliza Jane Nicole, widow of Richard’s Jeffcott Street neighbor, Joseph Nicole.  Richard and Joseph may well have been friends as Richard was a witness to Josephs will.[15]

As previously suggested, Richard was a community minded citizen and served in many positions over the years. But it is also likely that many of these positions may have been motivated by business interests and status. In 1865 he was a Director of the Manchester Unity Independent Order of Odd-Fellows.[16]  In 1876 he was a member of the No. 2 School Board.[17]  In the same year he appears as an Assessor for the Corporation of the City of Melbourne.[18]  Then, on 11th September 1877, Richard was elected to the Bourke Ward of the Melbourne Corporation as a Councilor “to fill a vacancy caused by the resignation of Mr T. McPherson”. The election was held at the West Melbourne Literacy Institute in Williams Street.[19]  This Institute was a circulating library and reading room.  Unlike modern libraries, circulating libraries charged a fee for the loan of books.  The Institute also “hosted public meetings, the Swedish Church and a Temperance Lodge”.[20]  Richard was the Secretary of the Institute in 1879,[21] so this was most likely a business venture.

In 1879, Richard was appointed as a Commissioner “to take measures for the holding of an International Exhibition of Works of Industry and Art” in 1880.[22]  The Exhibition Building was at the time, under construction in the Carlton Gardens to house this international Exhibition. “The Exhibition Building epitomised the wealth, opulence, excitement, energy and spirit of Marvellous Melbourne”. [23]

But one has to wonder what Richard’s attitude would have been to the plight of the traditional owners in “Marvellous Melbourne”.  By this time aboriginal numbers had dwindled to a few hundred.  They were living on 2300 acres near Healesville after having been first given a reserve of land near what is now the Royal Botanic Gardens, then moved through a series of sites at Narre Warren, Mordiallac and Warrendyte as each site became more valuable.  At Healesville they established a business growing hops which were much in demand for brewing so they prospered for a few years.  However, in 1886 greedy landholders reclaimed half the land which ruined many of the remaining aboriginal families.[24]

Richard served as a Councillor until 1899 when he became Alderman of the Bourke ward.[25]  By this time he was an elderly gentleman of 83 years and it is likely that his health was failing.  He died at his home, at 34 Jeffcott St on 2nd August 1904,[26] a very wealthy man with property, shares and cash totaling €5608 16s 2d.  He owned 3 properties in Jeffcott street, the Australia Felix Hotel in Lonsdale Street and his farm at Newnham.  He bequeathed sums of money to several family members but his will also provided for part of the income from the Australia Felix Hotel to be paid to the Melbourne Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children for a period of 20 years.[27]

Richard Bowen was somewhat of a paradox.  It is hard to determine whether he was truly a community minded citizen or perhaps an opportunistic businessman.

 

 

Bibliography

Anonymous. The Bowen Family. Copy held in Authors possession.  History written by an anonymous person from the Partridge descendants of the Bowen Family.

Hotham History Project, “West Melbourne Literacy Institute – A history” https://www.hothamhistory.org.au/product/west-melbourne-literary-institute-a-history/.  Accessed 27 September 2018

Kyneton Observer

Melbourne Directories, Findmypast, Accessed 17 September 2018

Probate and Administration Records 1841-1925; Series: VPRS 7591, Public Record Office Victoria, North Melbourne, Victoria.

Records and Archives Branch of City of Melbourne, The History of the City of Melbourne, November 1997.

Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Victoria.

Royal Exhibition Building, “From Federation to Fashion, Fire and Ferraris the Royal Exhibition Building has many stories to share” https://museumsvictoria.com.au/reb/stories/  Accessed 27 September 2018

South Australian Register

The Melbourne Age

Tim Flannery, The Birth of Melbourne, The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, 2012.

Victorian Government Gazettes (Sands & McDougall), Findmypast, Accessed 17 September 2018

Wales, Births and Baptisms, 1541-1907. Salt Lake City, Utah.  Family Search. Accessed 29 September 2018.

 

 

[1] Records and Archives Branch of City of Melbourne, The History of the City of Melbourne, November 1997, p. 21

[2] Tim Flannery, The Birth of Melbourne, The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, 2012, pp. 18 – 21

[3] Anonymous. The Bowen Family. Copy held in Authors possession.  History written by an anonymous person from the Partridge descendants of the Bowen Family

[4] Family Search, Wales, Births and Baptisms, 1541-1907. Salt Lake City, Utah.  FHL microfilm 104,458. Accessed 29 September 2018.

[5] Anonymous. The Bowen Family. Copy held in Authors possession

[6] Death Certificate, Richard Bowen, died 2 August 1904, Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages, Victoria, 7373/9871

[7] ‘Shipping Intelligence, Arrived’ South Australian Register, 10 Sept 1850, p. 2.

[8] Anonymous. The Bowen Family. Copy held in Authors possession

[10] ‘Peculiar Assault Case’ The Melbourne Age 16 February 1897, p. 6.

[11] ‘Francis Richard Bowen Convicted’ Kyneton Observer, 4 May 1897, p. 6.

[12] Marriage Certificate of Richard Bowen and Eliza Capelin, married 23rd June 1855, Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages, Victoria, 605/1224.

[13] Records and Archives Branch of City of Melbourne, The History of the City of Melbourne, p. 20;

[14] Death Certificate of Eliza Capelin, died 18 November 1898, Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Victoria, 17588

[15] Will of Joseph Edward F Nicole, died 6 December 1879, Public Record Office Victoria; North Melbourne, Victoria; Victorian Wills, Probate and Administration Records 1841-1925; Series: VPRS 7591, 020/368

[16] Findmypast, Victorian Government Gazettes (Sands & McDougall), 1865, Image No. 350, Accessed 17 September 2018

[17] Findmypast, Victorian Government Gazettes (Sands & McDougall), 1876, Image No. 1514, Accessed 17 September 2018

[18] Findmypast, Melbourne Directories, 1876, Image No. 891, Accessed 17 September 2018

[19] ‘News of the Day’, The Melbourne Age, 12 September 1877, p. 2.

[20] Hotham History Project, “West Melbourne Literacy Institute – A history” https://www.hothamhistory.org.au/product/west-melbourne-literary-institute-a-history/.  Accessed 27 September 2018

[21] Findmypast, Melbourne Directories, 1879, Image No. 829, Accessed 17 September 2018

[22] Findmypast, Victorian Government Gazettes (Sands & McCougall), 1879, Image No. 663, Accessed 17 September 2018

[23] Royal Exhibition Building, “From Federation to Fashion, Fire and Ferraris the Royal Exhibition Building has many stories to share” https://museumsvictoria.com.au/reb/stories/ Accessed 27 September 2018

[24] Tim Flannery, The Birth of Melbourne, pp. 18 – 21.

[25] Findmypast, Melbourne Directories, 1899, Image No. 1578, Accessed 17 September 2018

[26] Death Certificate, Richard Bowen, died 2 August 1904.

[27] Will of Richard Bowen, died 2 August 1904, Public Record Office Victoria; North Melbourne, Victoria; Victorian Wills, Probate and Administration Records 1841-1925; Series: VPRS 7591, 92/028

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