Owen, William Fitzwilliam (DNB00)

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OWEN, WILLIAM FITZWILLIAM (1774–1857), vice-admiral, born in 1774, younger brother of Sir Edward Campbell Rich Owen [q. v.], entered the navy in June 1788 and served in different ships on the home and West Indian stations. He was midshipman of the Culloden in the battle of 1 June 1794, and of the London, bearing the flag of Vice-admiral Colpoys, at the time of the great mutiny. On 12 June 1797 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant, and appointed to command the Flamer gun-vessel. He continued serving in the Channel during the war, and in July 1803 was appointed to command the Seaflower brig, in which he went to the East Indies. In September 1806 he explored the Maldive Islands, then very imperfectly known, and on 10 Nov. discovered the Seaflower Channel between Si-biru and Si-pora on the west coast of Sumatra. On 27 Nov. he piloted the squadron under Sir Edward Pellew (afterwards Viscount Exmouth) [q. v.] into Batavia roads, and afterwards shared in the operations which resulted in the total destruction of the Dutch men-of-war. In September 1808 he was taken by the French and detained in Mauritius till June 1810, when he was exchanged. He had meantime been promoted, on 20 May 1809, to be commander, and was now employed at Madras as superintendent of the transports fitting out for Mauritius. In November he was appointed to the Barracouta, which, in 1811, formed part of the force at the reduction of Java. In May 1811 he was promoted to the rank of captain, and was posted in December to the Cornelia frigate. He returned to England with a convoy in 1813, and in March 1815 was appointed to the survey of the lakes of Canada, from which he came home in May 1816.

In August 1821 Owen was appointed to the Leven, in which, for upwards of four years, he was employed in the survey of the coast of Africa, and in February 1826 in supporting the troops in the war with Ashanti. In 1827 he returned, in the Eden, to the coast of Africa, where he settled the colony at Fernando Po. After some time on the coast of South America, the Eden returned to England in the end of 1831, and was paid off. In 1847 he commanded the Columbia surveying-ship on the coast of North America, but returned to England on his promotion to flag rank on 21 Dec. 1847. He had no further service, but became a vice-admiral on 27 Oct. 1854, accepted a pension on the reserved list on 6 Feb. 1855, and died at St. John's, N.B., on 3 Nov. 1857.

In 1833 Owen published a ‘Narrative of Voyages to explore the Shores of Africa, Arabia, and Madagascar in H.M. Ships Leven and Barracouta’ (2 vols. 8vo). It is, however, by his accurate surveys of coasts, till then only explored, that Owen is best known. The charts of the west and east coasts of Africa, of Madagascar, Mauritius, and of Asia, from Aden to Cape Comorin, drawn under his superintendence, are very numerous, and form the basis of those still in use.

[Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biogr. vi. (supplement, pt. ii.), 378; O'Byrne's Nav. Biogr. Dict.; Gent. Mag. 1858, i. 112.]

J. K. L.