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Webb-Bowen, Edward Mostyn (1851–1879)

We present to our readers in this issue a faithful picture of the dead hero, Edward Mostyn Webb Bowen, whose life was cut short by the ruthless bullet of one of the Wantabadgery bushrangers under the command of the notorious scoundrel A. G. Scott, alias Captain Moonlight. Edward Bowen was the son of the Rev. William Wheeler Webb Bowen, present Vicar of Camerose, Havenford west, Pembrokeshire, Wales. The family consisted of six boys and four girls. Deceased was the third son, and both his father and mother a still alive. Young Bowen was born in 1851, and after receiving the careful attention of his Christian parents, was placed at a public school in the county, and from there removed to Brompton Grammar School, near London; leaving Brompton, he was sent to famed Eton; and during his scholastic career he made himself beloved by his follow pupils for intrepidity and daring in all outdoor exercise. Bowen's father at first intended to bring his boy up to follow the same sacred calling as his own, but the youth giving signs of preference for an active life the vicar decided to place him in the hands of mercantile friends in London, into whose service he entered as clerk. The monotonous life of a city counting-house was, however, not to be the settled existence of Bowen, who, getting sick of the desk, and learning from the works S. W. Silver and Co. that a colonial life was the life for a young man of his active disposition, decided to come to Queensland, and after writing to his parents of his decision of seeking his fortunes in Australia, took passage in a sailing vessel for Queensland, and arrived in Brisbane in July, 1872. A few months were spent in looking around him and visiting the surrounding country of the Darling Downs, and then Bowen returned to Brisbane. At this time the excitement of the Palmer River rush was at its height, and people were flocking in thousands from all parts of the Australias to the newly discovered port of the Endeavour River, the nearest coast approach to the goldfields. Police protection being much required for this new territory, the Government called for the services of picked men, offering special inducements, by liberal pay and allowances, to those of high character for steadiness in habits, and with stout hearts. Bowen, thinking this a splendid opportunity of commencing an active experience of colonial life, made application to the Commissioner of Police, Mr. D. T. Seymour, an officer having had considerable military experience when in the 12th Regiment, of character, who at once accepted Bowen, and after the preliminaries incidental to a police recruit he was sent from Brisbane in the Florence Irving to Cooktown in the second batch of police forwarded up north. On his arrival there, he found that every opportunity was afforded him for exercising his physical powers of endurance. The country had only but very recently been trodden by the foot of white man, and everything was new to Bowen – the scenery, the life, and the heterogenous mass of human beings all congregated in that new place with one object – gold-getting. At the time of Bowen's arrival, the shores of the Endeavour were lined with thick impenetrable mangroves, so that the horses which Bowen and his brother police had brought from Brisbane had to be thrown overboard from the steamer; and during this risky operation, consequent upon the great depth of water, and the large number of alligators and sharks infesting the spot, the subject of this article displayed great courage and daring in saving the lives of several valuable horses, which would otherwise have been drowned, and for this he received the thanks of his superior officer. For some time Bowen was engaged in erecting the temporary barracks to be occupied by the police under the charge of Inspector Morrisett and Senior-sergeants Armstrong and Burnes, all of whom feel deeply the loss of their much-esteemed comrade. During Bowen's stay in the Cooktown Barracks he earned the high esteem of the then Government resident, Mr. Thomas Hamilton, now in England, who invariably entrusted him with any matter that required pluck and coolness, and in those days these occasions were not few and far between. In the early part of 1874 Inspector Clohesy, now dead, called for volunteers for the Palmer, and Bowen at once responded, wishing to still further see colonial inland life. On the Palmer Bowen found the life anything but a pleasant one – the country infested by blood-thirsty cannibals, the common necessaries of life almost unobtainable, the climate anything but salubrious, fever fatally seizing its victims in every direction. During all this portion of Bowen's life he never lost heart, and day after day he was scouring the country avenging the deaths of his fellow countrymen at the hands of the blacks. In one of these expeditions a hand-to-hand enounter took place, and Bowen received a spear wound which, for a time, incapacitated him. Shortly after this the fever prostrated Bowen, and although he tried hard to bear up against it, found he could not do so, and Inspector Clohesy sent him to Cooktown for change of air. On the way from the Palmer to the port the police cavalcade had some very narrow escapes, the rivers being swollen and the country in a frightful state. Eventually, however, it reached Cooktown, and Bowen received every attention at the hands of Dr. Doudney, the then Government medical officer, who had formed a considerable attachment to Bowen. The fever, however, was in the system of Bowen, and nothing, the doctor told him, but a southern clime would eradicate it. Acting on this advice, he applied to his inspector for leave, which Mr. Clohesy, though reluctant at losing such a valuable officer, at once gave him. And at his embarkation, on board the Leichhardt, steamer, for Brisbane, the scene was most touching, officers and men bidding a sorry farewell to him, who had endeared himself to them all.

Leaving the Queensland police force Mr. Bowen came to Sydney, remained here but a short time, when he entered the New South Wales police force as a trooper in March, 1875. Remaining at the depot in Sydney seven months, he was sent to Tenterfield for police duty. At Tenterfield, on the 22nd February, 1876, Mr. Bowen married an Irish lady named Miss Marion Power. Seven months after the marriage, Constable Bowen received promotion, and was transferred to Bendemeer to take charge of tho police station there. Mr. Bowen remained at Bendemeer a little over 12 months. Whilst stationed at Bendemeer Mr. Bowen had a terrible encounter with two bushrangers named Crawley and Weinacotte, shooting Crawley dead, and capturing Weinacotte. Crawley fired three shots at Bowen from a revolver, which fortunately missed their mark. For this brave and meritorious action Mr. Bowen received further promotion to the rank of senior constable, and was placed in charge of the important police station at Murrurundi, where he remained 16 months – till December 4, 1873. Mr. Bowen wishing to enter into commercial pursuits, resigned his situation, left the police force, and resided in Sydney. He next entered the sheriff's office in Sydney, remaining but a short time, as the confinement attendant upon office life disagreed with his health. On the 17th March last Mr. Bowen again became a member of the New South Wales police force, remaining a month in the Inspector-General's office as clerk. The scare of the notorious Kelly gang being great in the Murrumbidgee district, Constable Bowen was ordered to Gundagai, where he remained stationed until his death, his activity, intrepidity, and proved courage causing him to be placed at the point of expected danger. On Monday, November 17, 1879, Constable Bowen was one of a party of police who left Gundagai to arrest the notorious Captain Moonlight (Scott) and his gang. Acting under the orders of Senior-sergeant Carroll, the attack upon Moonlight and his gang proved courage and daring were not deficient; an excess of bravery and exposure to danger making Constable Bowen a particular target for Moonlight to fire upon. A bullet, fired from a small bore Snider rifle by Moonlight as Bowen was approaching the house whore the bushrangers were entrenched, struck Constable Bowen on the left side of the neck, entering the spine, immediately producing paralysis. He was the next day removed in a wagonette into Gundagai, and taken to his private residence adjoining Dr. Marshall's dispensary, where, after lingering in great agony for six days, he succumbed to his wound, death being caused by blood poisoning, the effects from the gun shot. In Gundagai and district Constable Bowen was liked and admired by all. He had no enemies; his kindness of manner, unflinching attention to his duties, and respectful demeanour at all times caused him everywhere to be respected, his untimely death causing the most profound sorrow. All Mr. Bowen's brothers who have reached manhood have attained positions of eminence and trust. One is Inspector of County Post Offices, London, another captain of a merchantman employed in the Chinese trade, a third is in Rothschild's bank, London, as an accountant. Mr. Bowen leaves a widow and one son, Edward Wheeler Webb Bowen, aged three years, to lament their loss. A kinder husband and better father could not be found. The funeral took place on Monday, November 24, just one week after receiving his wound. The body was interred in the Gundagai general cemetery, in the Episcopalian portion of the ground adjoining the grave of Sergeant Parry, who was shot by Ben Hall's gang. The Government intend erecting a suitable monument to honour the remains and memory of a brave and honourable man. The Rev. Mr. Holt, Church of England minister, read the church service, and delivered an oration at the grave. Bowen, as will be seen by his portrait, was a remarkably good-looking young follow, stood 5ft 9in high, jet black hair, and most expressive hazel eyes.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • inquest, Australian Town and Country Journal, 29 November 1879, p 14

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Citation details

'Webb-Bowen, Edward Mostyn (1851–1879)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/webb-bowen-edward-mostyn-23521/text32545, accessed 14 November 2019.

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