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Owen, Percy (1828–1915)

from Illawarra Mercury (Wollongong, NSW)

On Friday last Colonel Percy Owen passed away at his residence, Bellambi, aged 87 years, and thus another link between the early days of Illawarra and the present has been severed. The late Colonel Owen arrived in Australia when 13 years of age, having been born in England. Colonel Owen's father, who was a barrister, decided to try his fortune in Australia, and in order to convey his family across the many thousands of miles that separated the two countries, he purchased a small schooner, which successfully braved the dangers of the deep, and the family party arrived in Melbourne, where they remained for some months, eventually removing to Sydney. The late Colonel Owen attended the Sydney Grammar School, then called the Sydney College, where he succeeded in obtaining a silver medal as a result of a successful pass in an examination. One of his contemporaries at the Grammar School was Sir Matthew Henry Stephen. His father at this time was interested in pastoral properties on the Murrumbidgee, and the late Colonel Owen told some interesting reminiscences of his visits in those early days to his father's station on the Murrumbidgee. He was articled as a solicitor and completed his articles when he was 22 years of age and was the oldest solicitor practising in New South Wales at the time of his death. In the fifties he came to Wollongong, opening a branch office in Kiama with his brother Robert in charge. The latter was subsequently appointed Prothonatory, and the Kiama office was closed. The late Colonel Owen continued to practice his profession in Wollongong until 1880, when he retired, and handed over his practice to Mr F. Woodward. In 1884 he went to England and remained there for two years and on returning to Wollongong resumed practice in partnership with Mr A.H. Grace, his son, the late William Hall Owen, having been just admitted to practice as a solicitor. He remained in touch with the office up to the time of his death, the firm being carried on under the title of Owen and Ewing.

The late Colonel Owen was of a kind and gentle disposition and beloved by all who knew him. Sketching and literature were his hobbies, and in addition he made military matters a life-long study. He was practically the father of the volunteer movement on the South Coast having been a member of the first volunteer company that was formed in the Illawarra district, and when it was disbanded he was presented by the members with a gold watch, suitably inscribed. Of the officers that attended the first encampment of the volunteers with the late Colonel Owen, two gentlemen still survive in our midst, viz., Major Robertson and Mr W. J. Wiseman. The latter gentleman in speaking yesterday to a 'Mercury' representative stated that as an officer the late Colonel Owen was always kind, courteous, and considerate. He next joined the 6th Company of the Garrison Artillery being in charge of the battery. He retired with rank of Colonel, and was awarded the long service medal. So keen an interest did he take in his military duties that whilst in England he underwent a course of instruction for officers at Shoeburyness.

Perhaps it is only fair to say that no man worked harder for the interests of the district than the late Colonel Owen did. In conjunction with his father, who had been elevated to the Bench, he put up a strenuous fight to break down the prejudice which at that time existed in connection with coal from the Illawarra district. Not only had public prejudice to be broken down, but the Newcastle influence had to be fought. Colonel Owen, and his father, at that time desired to see some Illawarra coal used on the New South Wales railways, and to demonstrate that it was suitable for the purpose, these gentlemen went to the expense of providing the coal necessary for such an experiment, Not only that, but Judge Owen, himself stipulated that he should be allowed to travel on the engine on which the trial was made. He did so, and so successful was the result that Illawarra coal has been used on the Government railways in large quantities ever since.

The deceased was chairman of the Railway League that fought so strenuously to have the Illawarra railway constructed, and was associated with such good old workers for the district as W. S. Thompson (treasurer), John Payne, John Biggar (secretary), F. Woodward, A. Campbell, and W. J. Wiseman. It is needless to add that success eventually crowned their efforts. In fact, in his early days he was associated with every progressive movement in the district, and was at one time trustee of the old Wollongong School of Arts in Smith-street. He also took an active part in Church matters, and was one of the early Synod representatives for Illawarra.

The deceased was first married to Miss Eleanor Haylock, a daughter of the late Dr. Haylock, who died about forty years ago. In 1886 he married Miss Katherine Hervey, daughter of James Hervey, Esq., Lougholm, Scotland, who survives him. The issue of the first marriage was five sons and two daughters, viz., Lieutenant Colonel Owen, now in command of the 3rd Battalion of the Australian Expeditionary Forces at the Dardanelles; Lieutenant Colonel Percy Owen, Director General of the Commonwealth Works, and who also holds a seat on the Commonwealth Council of Defence; the late Captain C. A. Owen, who held a commission in the R.A. Artillery until he was forced to retire on account of ill health; Mr E. Owen of the firm of Owen and Ewing Solicitors, Wollongong; and the late W. H. Owen, Solicitor. The two daughters reside, in England—Julia being the wife of Major Sparrow, and Maude, the wife of Mr. C. W. Dixon.

The mortal remains of the fine old man were interred in the local cemetery on Sunday afternoon, being followed from St. Michael's Church, from whence the funeral started, to the graveside by a long cortege, which included many prominent residents of the town and district, and many old residents who remembered the good work of the deceased in the days of his prime, and had a kindly word to say in remembrance of his good qualities. Amongst the mourners were Mr. H. P. Owen (Master in Equity, Sydney), brother; Mr A. H. Owen (brother); Colonel Percy Owen (Melbourne), Mr E. Owen, Sir William McMillan (Mr: E. Owen's father in law), Mr. Harold Cox, and Major Robertson. The Rev. King-Brown (Corrimal) officiated at the Church and the graveside.

The late Colonel Owen was never very talkative in regard to the old times, but he often stated that he did not escape the gold fever, and, in company with his brother Robert, he journeyed to the Turon at the time of the gold rush. Their mode of travelling was a cart. Fortune, however, did not smile on them at the Turon district, and they returned to the Illawarra district with a lot of experience, but minus any nuggets of gold.

Before the business of the Licensing Court was proceeded with this morning, his Worship (Mr A. Elliott) referred to the death of Colonel Owen. The late Colonel Owen was the oldest advocate in the State, and was a man of integrity, honour and uprightness. Colonel Owen's death was a severe loss to the district. On behalf of the legal profession, Mr. J. W. Russell said he had known the late Colonel Owen for 30 years, and a better man one could not meet. In fact, he was one of nature's gentlemen. The remarks of the two speakers were supplemented by Inspector Anderson, on behalf of the police. The sympathy of the bench was extended to the relatives of the deceased.

Original publication

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Citation details

'Owen, Percy (1828–1915)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/owen-percy-28956/text36258, accessed 18 August 2019.

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