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Bowerman, Francis Sydney (Frank) (1828–1894)

The Sydney daily papers of Friday last state that on the previous evening the police found a gentleman, known as Mr. Frank S. Bowerman, lying in an unconscious state in the Botanical Gardens. By his side were two bottles, one labelled "Atropine" and the other "Prussic acid," and two letters, one addressed to his sister and the other to the city coroner. The unfortunate gentleman was conveyed to the Sydney Hospital, where he died on Friday evening from the effects of poison, self administered. The deceased was 67 years of age. The city coroner held an inquiry, and in a letter addressed to the Coroner, deceased had written that on the 16th he had taken enough to kill three men, but that it had had no effect on him. On the 22nd he had obtained some stronger prussic acid, and had taken enough to kill three men, but without any result. He had then determined to take atropine, and had purchased a bottle of it for the purpose of making away with himself. It was shown that death was due to atropine poisoning, and a finding of suicide was recorded.

The name of Frank S. Bowerman will be familiar to many of the older residents of the Darling Downs, especially to those who were here in the sixties. For some years following separation Mr. Bowerman was Clerk of Petty Sessions at Dalby, and in that town he was regarded as a clear-headed, efficient officer, and kind-hearted, affable gentleman. He was highly respected among all classes of the community, and his wife, who was a daughter of one of the first and oldest families in the Bathurst district, shared in that respect. Mr. Bowerman had been promised promotion. Of that there was not the slightest doubt. His ambition was to be a police-magistrate, for which he was in a large measure qualified, not only from his knowledge and experience of police court work, but from having in his early days been partly educated for the Bar. In his correspondence with the Colonial Secretary's Department, he was answered by Mr. A. W. Manning, then the Under Colonial Secretary, and he became seized with the idea that Mr. Manning was his enemy, and was blocking his way to promotion. There were circumstances, which need not be mentioned here, which in a measure strengthened that opinion. The correspondence assumed at times an angry tone, and at length Mr. Bowerman, driven to desperation, to use his own words, by the intrigue of his enemy, as he thought, proceeded to Brisbane in November, 1868, and had an interview with Mr. Manning at the Colonial Secretary's Office. The interview was of a stormy character. Mr. Bowerman left the office, went into Queen-street and purchased a tomahawk, returned to the Colonial Secretary's Office, again obtained admission to Mr. Manning's presence, and then, when another altercation took place, struck the Under-Colonial Secretary on the head with the weapon, which he had concealed, inflicting injuries of a serious nature. Bowerman was at once arrested, and the case excited wide-spread interest. He was committed for trial on the serious charge of wounding with intent to murder, and at the March sittings of the Criminal Court at Brisbane in 1869 he was tried before Chief Justice Cockle, was convicted and sentenced to penal servitude for life, the fullest penalty allowed by law. At the time, however, the sentence was generally regarded as very excessive in view of the surrounding circumstances of the case.

In May, 1869, Parliament met for the despatch of business, and one of the first measures brought forward was the Manning Retirement Bill. It was legislation by panic. The most exaggerated statements were made of the effects of the blows inflicted by Bowerman upon Manning, and it was even asserted that medical experts had given it as their opinion that Mr. Manning could not long survive the effects of the injuries. The bill consequently not only provided for a pension of £600 a year–the full salary of an Under-Secretary in 1869–but a pension of £300 a year to the wife after the death of her husband. The latter provision was inserted in view of the alleged opinion of medical experts. Mr. Manning, however, rapidly recovered and his speedy restoration to perfect health proved how fallible occasionally is medical expert evidence, and how extremely careful Parliaments ought to be when legislating in times of panic. From 1869 to 1894–a period of 25 years–Mr. Manning has regularly drawn his £600 a year, and has already received fifteen thousand pounds (£15,000), and has spent the amount out of the colony. He is still in the enjoyment of the best of health, and is living comfortably in Sydney on his pension provided by the taxpayers of Queensland.

In 1874, after the expiration of five years, the wife of Mr. Bowerman, and his numerous friends in Dalby and other places, made efforts to obtain a mitigation of his sentence, but without success. Mr. Manning was asked at the time by Mrs. Bowerman to sign the petition for clemency, but he refused, on the ground that he was afraid that if Bowerman were released he would make another attack on him. For a period of seven years Mrs. Bowerman and her friends continued to work for a mitigation of the life sentence, and in this work they were strongly assisted by the late Sir J. P. Bell, and W. H. Groom, M.L.A. Petition after petition was presented to the Governor–Mr. Manning still refusing to sign any of them–but without avail. At length several members of the Assembly, through the instrumentality of the two gentlemen already named, signed a petition to the Governor praying for the exercise of mercy in Bowerman's case, and the petition was presented by Mrs. Bowerman in person, who at the time was completely worn out by grief and anxiety in working for her husband's release, but made this final effort in his behalf. Her weak emaciated form as she appeared at Government House excited the warmest sympathy of the then Governor. The petition was successful, and a day was named for Bowerman to be released from St. Helena, after twelve years' incarceration. Never, perhaps, was more devotion shown by a wife for a husband than in this painful case. For seven long weary years Mrs. Bowerman never ceased, night or day, early and late, working for her unfortunate husband's release. And when at length her womanly devotion achieved success she was destined not to see him for whom she had risked her life. She was on her deathbed when a telegram reached her announcing her husband's release, but she died before he could reach her. On the day of the release the faithful and devoted wife breathed her last, leaving messages of love for him whom she so lovingly worked and prayed for to be once more by her side.

Poor Bowerman since then has led a chequered life over which we may well draw the veil. Broken in health and spirits; homeless, friendless, and we believe penniless, he has sought a suicide's grave. While his victim and alleged enemy of 1868 was enjoying good health, and living on his pension of £600 a year in Sydney, and receiving the good things of this life at the expense of the Queensland taxpayers, the poor friendless Bowerman lies down on the grass in the Botanic Gardens of the same city, and ends his weary life by poison. The contrast is striking.

The Sydney Press states that by Bowerman's side were two letters. He also wrote a third, which he must have dropped into the Oxford-street Post Office when on his way to the Gardens, for it bears the Oxford-street Post Office stamp, November 30. It was addressed to Mr. W. H. Groom, M.L.A., Toowoomba, and was received by that gentleman on Saturday evening.

Original publication

Citation details

'Bowerman, Francis Sydney (Frank) (1828–1894)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/bowerman-francis-sydney-frank-16616/text28522, accessed 1 May 2017.

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