The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Bowen, Right Hon. Sir George Ferguson
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Bowen, Right Hon. Sir George Ferguson
Bowen, Right Hon. Sir George Ferguson, G.C.M.G., D.C.L., LL.D., successively Governor of Queensland, N.Z., and Victoria, is the eldest son of the late Rev. Edward Bowen, rector of Taughboyne, county Donegal, and was born in 1821. He was educated at the Charterhouse and at Trinity College, Oxford, where he obtained a scholarship in 1840, and graduated B.A. as first class in classics in 1844. In the same year he was elected to a fellowship at Brasenose College, and became a member of Lincoln's Inn, In 1847 he was appointed President of the University of Corfu, and in 1854 became Chief Secretary of the Government of the Ionian Islands, in which post he remained till 1859, when he was appointed the first Governor of the new colony of Queensland. Taking with him Mr. (now Sir Robert) Herbert as Colonial Secretary, he successfully organised the government of the infant colony, and presided over the inauguration of responsible institutions, Mr. Herbert becoming the first Premier. His term of Office expiring in Jan. 1868, he became Governor of New Zealand, where he had the difficult task of bringing the Maori War to an end. His rule gave entire satisfaction to the Colonial Office, and when in March 1873 he was transferred to Victoria, the official intimation of his promotion was couched in very complimentary terms. From Jan. 1875 to Jan. 1876 he was at home on his first leave of absence. On his return to Melbourne his troubles began. Sir William Stawell, who had held the reins in the interim, had shown somewhat too little flexibility in the exercise of his temporary powers, with the result that a constitutional struggle of unparalleled bitterness had been commenced between the supporters of Sir James MᶜCulloch on the one hand and those of the Liberal party, under Mr. (now Sir Graham) Berry, on the other. At the general election in May 1877 the latter swept the country, and Mr. Berry formed an administration, which in the course of a lengthened struggle with the Upper House on the question of payment of members, and ultimately of the reform of the latter body itself, resorted to measures which were denounced by its opponents as unconstitutional and cruel, the latter term being applied to what were known as the "Black Wednesday" dismissals of civil servants in Dec. 1878. Throughout the whole of the struggle Sir George Bowen acted on the constitutional principle of accepting the advice of his Ministers when not illegal. He was thus exposed to some personal animadversion from the Council and its organs in the press. On the whole, however, the Colonial Office justified his attitude, which was also approved by Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Childers, the late Earl of Carnarvon, and the late Mr. W. E. Forster. Sir George Bowen quitted the government of Victoria in Feb. 1879, on the expiry of the usual term of office, and was Governor of Mauritius till 1883 and of Hong Kong from that year till 1887, when he retired on a pension, having declined the offer made to him of continuing at Hong Kong. In 1886 he was appointed to the Privy Council, having been created C.M.G. in 1855; K.C.M.G. in 1856; and G.C.M.G. in 1860. In 1888 Sir George Bowen was appointed Royal Commissioner at Malta to make arrangements respecting the new constitution granted to that island. He is the author of "A Handbook for Travellers in Greece," in Murray's Series; "Mount Athos, Thessaly, and Epirus: a Diary of a Journey from Constantinople to Corfu" (1852); "Ithaca in 1850"; and "Imperial Federation" (1886). A full account of his public services will be found in "Thirty Years of Colonial Government," which comprises a selection from his despatches and letters whilst in the service of the Colonial Office, and was edited by Mr. Stanley Lane Poole. Sir George Bowen, besides being an honorary D.C.L. of Oxford and an honorary LL.D. of Cambridge, is a member of the governing bodies of the Imperial Institute and of Charterhouse School. He married in 1856 the Countess Roma, only surviving daughter of Count Roma, G.C.M.G., then President of the Senate of the Ionian Islands.