Rowell, George Augustus (DNB00)

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ROWELL, GEORGE AUGUSTUS (1804–1892), meteorologist, born at Oxford on 16 May 1804, was son of George Rowell of Newcastle-on-Tyne, who moved to Oxford in 1791, and died there on 14 Feb. 1834. Before his tenth birthday Rowell was taken from school to assist his grandfather in his trade as a cabinet-maker; this trade Rowell himself followed for some years, but subsequently relinquished it for that of a paper-hanger. From his father Rowell inherited a passion for meteorology, and during the appearance of the comet of 1811 nightly lessons on the comet and on the apparent motion of the circumpolar stars were given by father to son. From his mother he received his first lessons on the cause of eclipses and on other astronomical subjects. The thunderstorm and the aurora specially attracted him; these he studied by observation only, as books were difficult of access, although he borrowed and read with eagerness Lovett's ‘Philosophical Essays.’ In 1839 Rowell, taking advantage of an offer made in a lecture by Professor Baden Powell [q. v.] to give advice on scientific subjects to any one who would apply to him, laid before the professor a theory he had worked out as to the cause of rain. In accordance with Powell's suggestion, he wrote out his view, but the paper, when sent to the ‘London and Edinburgh Philosophical Magazine,’ was not accepted for publication. It was, however, read before the Ashmolean Society, and was published in the ‘Proceedings’ for 1839. In the following year a similar paper was read by Rowell before the British Association at Glasgow, and published in their reports. From this date Rowell published many papers and letters on meteorological subjects, and in 1859 he issued by subscription his ‘Essay on the Cause of Rain,’ which was well received. Rowell was appointed assistant in the Ashmolean Museum, and on the opening of the Oxford University Museum in 1860 he was elected to a similar position in that institution. Of a sensitive disposition, he in middle life abandoned his studies and burned his manuscripts, from an unfounded belief that his social position hindered his scientific progress. But when Professor Loomis put forward a theory respecting the aurora which he considered identical with that published by himself in 1839, he issued several pamphlets drawing attention to his past work, and arguing that it was the duty of the university and of Oxford scientific men publicly to recognise his contention. In 1879 he unwisely refused an annuity voted to him by the university in consideration of his services and of his attainments in science. He interested himself in the affairs of his native city, and was regarded as an authority on all questions relating to water-supply and drainage. He died at Oxford on 24 Jan. 1892.

Besides the books above mentioned, he wrote:

  1. ‘An Essay on the Beneficent Distribution of the Sense of Pain,’ 1857; 2nd ed. 1862.
  2. ‘On the Storm in Wiltshire of 30 Dec. 1859,’ 1860.
  3. ‘On the Effects of Elevation and Floods on Health; and the General Health of Oxford compared with that of other Districts,’ 1866.
  4. ‘On the Storm in the Isle of Wight, 28 Sept. 1876,’ 1876.

[Personal knowledge, autobiographical details in the pamphlets mentioned above, and information supplied by Sydenham Rowell, esq. For his principal papers see Roy. Soc. Cat. of Scientific Papers; Athenæum, 6 Feb. 1892.]

J. B. B.