01 October 2022

The Donegal-born academic and
colonial governor who married
a Greek countess in Corfu

Sir George Ferguson Bowen (1821-1899), a Donegal-born author, academic and colonial governor … he was first married in Corfu, and later in Chelsea

Patrick Comerford

During a holiday in Corfu some years ago (2019), I wrote a series of postings on Irish politicians who were involved in the political life of Corfu and played roles in the events that eventually led to the unification of Cork and the Ionian islands with the modern Greek state.

Those four Irish-born politicians and administrators who played key roles in shaping 19th century political life in Corfu are: Sir Richard Church (1784-1873) from Cork; Sir Charles Napier (1782-1853) from Celbridge, Co Kildare; George Nugent-Grenville (1789-1850) from Co Westmeath, 2nd Baron Nugent of Carlanstown; and Sir John Young (1807-1876) from Balieborough, Co Cavan, later Lord Lisgar.

But during my visit to Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square, last week, I heard a wedding story that reminded of a fifth Irish politician, academic and administrator who played a key role in the cultural, intellectual, political and social life of Corfu in the mid-19th century.

George William Howard Bowen married Gertrude Chamberlain in Holy Trinity Sloane Square on 16 January 1896 the marriage of The bride was a niece of Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914), and a first cousin of the future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940). The groom was a son of Sir George Ferguson Bowen (1821-1899), a Donegal-born author, academic and colonial governor, and Contessa Diamantina di Roma (1832-1893), a Greek-born aristocrat, who were married in Corfu.

During his career, Sir George Bowen held colonial appointments and postings in the Ionian Islands, Queensland, New Zealand, Victoria, Mauritius and Hong Kong. He was born on 2 November 1821, the eldest son of the Revd Edward Bowen (1779-1867), Church of Ireland Rector of Taughboyne (Churchtown), a parish near Lifford and St Johnston in Co Donegal. The Revd Edward Bowen later became Rector of All Saints’ Church, Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal, and the Bowen family lived at Bogay Glebe.

George Bowen was educated at Charterhouse School and studied classics at Trinity College, Oxford (BA 1844; MA 1847). He was twice President of the Oxford Union, was elected a fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1844, entered Lincoln’s Inn and received some naval training on HMS Victory.

The Ionian Academy in Corfu … Sir George Bowen was president from 1847 to 1851 (Photograph: MrPanyGoff/Wikipedia/CCL)

Bowen moved to Greece in 1847 when he was appointed president of the Ionian Academy (Ιόνιος Ακαδημία) in Corfu. The academy was founded by Frederick North (1766-1827), 5th Earl of Guilford, in 1824 when he moved to Corfu, then under British administration as part of the United States of the Ionian Islands. This became the first university in modern Greece, but has since closed.

As he was setting out on his academic career in Corfu, Bowen met the artist, writer and poet Edward Lear (1812-1888) in Rome in 1847. Lear accepted Bowen’s invitation to visit Corfu, and even considered the possibility of taking a post at the University of Corfu. In a letter during his first visit to Corfu, he described ‘my very good friend Mr Bowen.’

Bowen remained president of the Ionian Academy until 1851, when he was elected to a fellowship at Brasenose College, Oxford, which he held until 1854. During the 1852 elections, he campaigned vigorously for WE Gladstone.

The Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George, Corfu … Countess Diamantina di Roma and Sir George Bowen were married in Corfu in the palace chapel in 1856 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

He returned to Corfu in 1854 when he became the Chief Secretary to Sir John Young, the Cavan-born Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands. He was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1855.

Perhaps Bowen had returned from Oxford to Corfu for love. While he was chief secretary in Corfu, Bowen married the Contessa Diamantina di Roma (1833-1893) on 28 April 1856; he was 34 and she was 22. Diamantina was the tenth of 11 children of Conte Giorgio-Candiano Roma (1798-1860) and his wife his wife, the former Contessa Orsola di Balsama.

The Roma family were local aristocracy of Venetian descent who had lived on the Ionian islands for many generations. They were originally named Regolo and had origins in 13th-century Rome. Count Giorgio-Candiano Roma, who was born on Zakynthos in 1833, was the President of the Ionian Senate (1850-1856), and titular head of the Islands, from 1850 to 1856. He was also the Poet Laureate of the Ionian Islands.

Countess Diamantina was born on Zakynthos in 1833. She had a privileged, well-educated upbringing and was familiar with the workings of government, politics and diplomacy. She was described as ‘pretty’ and ‘slender but graceful’.

Diamantina and George were married in the chapel of the Palace of Saint Michael and Saint George in Corfu. The ceremony was conducted by his brother, the Revd Edward Bowen, then the Rector of Lower Wigborow, Essex. A witness was Sir John Young, the Cavan-born Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands, and later Governor of New South Wales. Twelve days later, Bowen was knighted (KCMG).

Diamantina and George were the parents of six children, including two children who were born in Corfu: a son Edward George Bowen, born 15 January 1857 and died 12 days later; and a daughter, Adelaide Diamantina (Nina) Bowen, born on 17 August 1858.

By the time he left Corfu, Bowen had fallen dramatically in Edward Lear’s esteem. In Lear’s diaries, Bowen had become ‘a beast’, ‘a brute,’ and as ‘Sir Gorgeous Figginson Blowing’, perhaps because of Bowen’s scheming against Lear’s friend Sir Franklin Lushington, a Supreme Court judge in the Ionian Islands.

Diamantina and George Bowen left Corfu for Australia in 1859

The couple left Corfu in 1859 when Bowen was appointed the first Governor of Queensland, a colony that had just been separated from New South Wales. On their arrival in Brisbane, they were welcomed by a crowd of over 4,000 people waving flags, both the British Union Jack and the Greek flag.

The Bowens remained in Queensland until 1868, and it is said Bowen’s influence there was greater than that of the governors in other Australian colonies.

Meanwhile, Bowen’s father, the Revd Edward Bowen, died in Newtowncunningham, Co Donegal, on 18 August 1867, and is buried in All Saints’ Churchyard, Newtowncunningham. That year, Bowen was appointed Governor of New Zealand. There he was successful in reconciling the Māori reaction to the British rule and saw the end of the New Zealand Wars, and he also approved the flag of New Zealand, designed by Albert Hastings Markham.

Bowen became Governor of Victoria in 1873 and then moved to Mauritius in 1879 as 13th Governor of the colony. He was the Governor of Hong Kong from 1883 until he retired due to ill health in 1887.

George and Diamantina were the parents of six children. Two of those children were born in Corfu, and the other children included George William Howard Bowen, who was born in Brisbane in 1864 and who was married in Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square in 1896.

Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square … George Bowen, father and son, were married in Chelsea in 1896 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Diamantina Lady Bowen died in London in 1893 at the age of 60. George married his second wife, the widowed Letitia Florence White, in Chelsea on 17 October 1896, nine months after his son was married in Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square. Sir George Bowen died from bronchitis on 21 February 1899 in Brighton, after a short two-day illness. He was 77.

George Bowen recalled his career in Thirty Years of Colonial Government (London, 1889). But three other books were based on his academic and administrative experiences in Greece: Ithaca in 1850 (London 1851, translated into Greek 1859), Mount Athos, Thessaly and Epirus (London, 1852), and Handbook for Travellers in Greece (London, 1854).

Bowen’s background in the Church of Ireland is typical of many of the Irish Philhellenes. His brother, the Very Revd Edward Bowen (1828-1897), who was also born in Taughboyne, Co Donegal, and educated in Oxford, and conducted the wedding of George and Diamantina in Corfu, later became Rector of Taughboyne and then Dean of Raphoe (1882-1897). The present Rector of Taughboyne is the Revd Canon David Crooks.

Countess Diamantina Bowen was described as ‘pretty’ and ‘slender but graceful’

Further reading:

RB Joyce, ‘Bowen, Sir George Ferguson (1821–1899)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bowen-sir-george-ferguson-3032/text4451, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 29 September 2022.

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Saturday 1 October 2022

Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate is a hidden treasure in the centre of York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

In the Calendar in Common Worship, the Church of England today (1 October 2022) commemorates both Remigius (533), Bishop of Rheims, Apostle of the Franks, and Anthony Ashley Cooper (1885), Earl of Shaftesbury, Social Reformer. Today is also an Ember Day.

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This morning, and throughout this week and next, I am reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in York, where I stayed in mid-September.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in York;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate is lit only by candles and light filtered through the stained glass windows (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Anthony Ashley Cooper (1801-1885) was first elected to the House of Commons in 1826. In 1851, he succeeded his father as the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury and sat in the House of Lords. His service in parliament was marked from the beginning by a desire to reform social abuses, an impulse which derived from his strong Evangelical Anglican piety. He campaigned successfully for measures to improve housing and to create schools for the poor. He pioneered legislation on conditions of employment, for example, in mines and factories, particularly with respect to the protection of children. He became the epitome of the Victorian Christian philanthropist, working within the political system to redress social evils. He died on this day in 1885.

Luke 10: 17-24 (NRSVA):

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’

18 He replied, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’

21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

22 ‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’

23 Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.’

The irregular and rare 17th century box pews are unique in York and the only remaining box pews in the city (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate, York:

Holy Trinity Church, on Goodramgate in York, is a Grade I listed former parish church in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.

Walking into Holy Trinity, the church has the air of a hidden treasure. It stands in a small, secluded, leafy churchyard, with the Minster towering behind, tucked away behind Goodramgate – one of York’s busiest shopping streets.

Two of us found our way into the church through an 18th century archway tacked on to buildings that served as artisans’ workshops in the 14th century.

Inside, the church is full of character. The interior is lit only by light filtered through the stained glass windows and by candlelight. There is no electricity or gas in the church, nor running water, with candles offering a soft golden glow. Light filters through the windows, illuminating honey-coloured stone. The floors and arcades are charmingly uneven.

There was a church on this site at the time of the Domesday Book, and Holy Trinity includes features from the 12th century. However, most of the building today dates from the 15th century, most of the exterior dates from the 17th and 18th centuries, and there are right up to the 19th century.

There are two mediaeval altar stones, one set in the chancel floor and one in the north chancel aisle. In the south-east chapel is a 1452 brass to a former Mayor of York, Thomas Danby.

The mediaeval features include the late 15th century east window, donated by the Revd John Walker, rector in 1471. Walker was not averse to a degree of self-aggrandisement, and inserted an image of himself, kneeling in prayer, below a depiction of the Holy Trinity.

The unusual inner Chantry Chapel of Saint James was separated from the south aisle and main body of the church, and dates from the 13th century. A hagioscope or angled window was built into the the chapel wall and allowed the chantry priest to say Mass simultaneously with the priest celebrating at the High Altar. This is a rare feature and the only one of its type in York. However, local lore continues to claim the hagioscope was a ‘leper squint’ that allowed people with leprosy to keep at a distance yet still take part in church services.

The south aisle and south arcade date from the 14th century, the font dates from the late 15th century with an oak cover is made from oak and dates from 1787, the reredos boards were installed in 1691, the double-decker oak pulpit is dated 1695, and the oak Communion rails and Altar or Communion table date from the late 18th century.

The irregular and rare 17th century box pews are unique in York and the only remaining box pews in the city. The high-sided pews gave churchgoers a degree of privacy but also helped to keep out drafts on a chilly day.

The monuments and memorials paint a picture of life in York through the ages. Two boards, with heads shaped like grandfather clocks, record the names of the Lords Mayors of York, including George Hudson, who made York a major railway centre in the 19th century.

The church was enlarged in 1823 when the north side was rebuilt. The south porch was added in 1849.

The church was in a poor state of maintenance by 1882 and regular worship was suspended for over half a century until 1937, when restoration work was completed. The oak rafters were renewed and the unusual saddleback roof was restored. The pier supporting the arches between the nave and north aisle were underpinned with concrete, and the decaying stonework on the south aisle walls was renewed.

Outdoor benches make the churchyard an inviting place for reflection, offering a welcome retreat from the hectic world outside.

A blue plaque marks the occasion when Anne Lister and Ann Walker took Holy Communion together at the church at Easter 1834 as an affirmation of their relationship. After that they considering themselves married.

The church was declared redundant in 1971, and has been in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust since 1972. Restoration was carried out between 1973 and 1974. Holy Trinity Church is used for services on at least two days a year and is open to visitors on most days.

Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate should not be confused with the similarly-named Priory Church of Holy Trinity, Micklegate, the only pre-Reformation monastic building still in use in York.

Holy Trinity Micklegate is on the west bank of the River Ouse inside the walled city. The church building is a complex structure incorporating parts of the fabric of a mediaeval priory church dedicated to Holy Trinity and a mediaeval parish church dedicated to Saint Nicholas.

Holy Trinity is listed in the Domesday Book in 1086 as one of five great northern churches, alongside York Minster.

The church was re-founded ca 1089 as a Benedictine priory. It may be that a ‘double church’ was built at that date, with one half, Holy Trinity, providing a place of worship for the monastic community and a second, dedicated to Saint Nicholas, used by the parish.

Today, the parish includes the former parishes of two neighbouring churches, Saint John and Saint Martin in Micklegate, which are now redundant and have other uses. Holy Trinity is a living, inclusive church and is open every day for prayer and meditation.

The unusual inner chapel was separated from the main body of the church in the 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Saturday 1 October 2022, Saint Jerome):

The Collect:

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit
upon your Church in the burning fire of your love:
grant that your people may be fervent
in the fellowship of the gospel
that, always abiding in you,
they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Keep, O Lord, your Church, with your perpetual mercy;
and, because without you our human frailty cannot but fall,
keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful,
and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Celebrating 75 Years,’ which was introduced on Sunday by the Revd Davidson Solanki, USPG’s Regional Manager for Asia and the Middle East.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today (International Day of Older Persons) in these words:

Let us pray for the elderly. May their dignity be upheld and their contribution to society recognised.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The 15th century east window shows the donor, the Revd John Walker, kneeling in prayer below a depiction of the Holy Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Priory Church of Holy Trinity, Micklegate … not to be confused with the similarly-named Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)