Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bowen, James (1751-1835)

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BOWEN, JAMES (1751–1835), rear-admiral, was born at Ilfracombe. He first went to sea in the merchant service, and in 1776 commanded a ship in the African and West India trade; but shortly after entered the navy as a master, and served in that capacity on board the Artois with Captain Macbride during 1781-2, being present in the battle on the Doggerbank on 5 Aug. 1781, and on many other occasions. He continued with Captain Macbride in different ships till 1789, when he was appointed inspecting agent of transports in the Thames. When the revolutionary war broke out, Bowen quitted this employment at the request of Lord Howe to go with him as master of his flagship, the Queen Charlotte, and he had thus the glorious duty of piloting her into the battle of 1 June. It is told by ancient tradition that on the admiral giving the order 'Starboard!' Bowen ventured to say, 'My lord, you'll be foul of the French ship if you don't take care.' 'What is that to you, sir?' replied Howe sharply; 'starboard!' 'Starboard!' cried Bowen, muttering by no means inaudibly, 'Damned if I care, if you don't. I'll take you near enough to singe your black whiskers.' He did almost literally fulfil this promise, passing so close under the stern of the Montagne, that the French ensign brushed the main and mizen shrouds of the Queen Charlotte as she poured her broadside into the French ship's starboard quarter. For his conduct on this day Bowen was made a lieutenant on 23 June 1794; after the action off L'Orient on 23 June 1795, in which he was first lieutenant of the Queen Charlotte, he was made commander; and on 2 Sept. of the same year was advanced to the rank of captain. During the two following years he commanded the Thunderer in the West Indies. In 1798 he commanded the Argo of 44 guns in the Mediterranean, took part in the reduction of Minorca by Commodore Duckworth, and on 6 Feb. 1799, after a brilliant chase of two Spanish frigates of nearly equal force, succeeded in capturing one of them, the Santa Teresa of 42 guns. For the next three years Bowen was employed in convoy service, in the course of which he was officially thanked by the court of directors of the East India Company, and presented with a piece of plate value 400l. for his 'care and attention' in convoying one of their fleets from England to St. Helena. In 1803 he was appointed to command the Dreadnought of 98 guns, but was shortly afterwards nominated a commissioner of the transport board. In 1805 he had the charge of laying down moorings for the fleet in Falmouth harbour; in 1806 he was for some time captain of the fleet to Lord St. Vincent off Brest; and in January 1809 superintended the re-embarkation of the army at Corunna, for which important service he received the thanks of both houses of parliament. In 1816 he was appointed one of the commissioners of the navy, and continued in that office till July 1825, when he was retired with the rank of rear-admiral. He died on 27 April 1835. Bowen was not the only one of his family who rendered the name illustrious in our naval annals. His brother Richard, captain of the Terpsichore in 1797, fell in the attack on Santa Cruz on 24 July, 'than whom,' wrote Nelson, 'a more enterprising, able, and gallant officer does not grace his majesty's naval service' (Nelson Despatches, ii. 423). Another brother George, also a captain in the navy, died at Torquay in October 1817. His eldest son James died captain of the Phoenix frigate, on the East India station, in 1812; and another son John, also a captain, after serving in that rank through the later years of the war, died in 1828. His youngest son St. Vincent was a clergyman. He had also a daughter Teresa, who died in 1876, bequeathing to the Painted Hall at Greenwich a very pleasing portrait of her father.

[Marshall's Roy. Nav. Biog. iii. (vol. ii.) 94.]

J. K. L.