Fremantle Stuff > people > John Bowra (1823-1898)
John Bowra was a soldier and watchmaker. He came to Australia with the 96th regiment of foot, and arrived in the colony from Hobart in 1847 via Java. He married Ann Eliza Rewell in 1849; they had ten children. He had been trained as a watchmaker in London and set up in that trade, quickly becoming the government horologist.
'Dryblower's story in the Sunday Times (1934, below) tells how he lit the clocktower in the Perth Town Hall.
One of his family was part of the funeral direction firm of Bowra & O'Dea.
Obituary in the West Australian, Monday 2 May 1898, p 7.
THE LATE MR. JOHN BOWRA. On Saturday last there died at his residence in Shearer-street, Highgate, Mr. John Bowra, an old and highly-respected citizen of Perth, and a colonist of nearly fifty years' standing. Mr. Bowra first arrived in Western Australia in 1842 with Her Majesty's 96th Regiment (foot) under Major Bush, father of Mr. R. E. Bush, now of Clifton Downes, Western Australia. In this regiment Mr. Bowra served for some years as a non-commissioned officer. From Western Australia at the end of the forties he proceeded with his regiment to India, and later accompanied it to the Eastern colonies, including Tasmania, when he purchased his discharge and came on to Swan River, the name by which this colony was then best known. Here Mr. Bowra established himself in business, following his calling as a watchmaker and jeweller. He was almost immediately on his arrival appointed horologist to the Government, which position he held up to within a few weeks of his death. The deceased married a daughter of the late Mr. George Rewell, another well-known Western Australian colonist. Mrs. Bowra predeceased her husband by about eighteen months. Mr. and Mrs. Bowra were well known for the wide hospitality which their home afforded and for their extreme good nature, which won for them a wide circle of fast friends not only in Perth but the more remote districts of the colony. Mr. Bowra was 75 years of age. The funeral of the late Mr. J. W. A. Bowra took place yesterday afternoon, and was largely attended. The cortège left his late residence, Shearer-street, Highgate, at 4.15 for St. Alban's Anglican Church, Beaufort-street, where the Rev. F. J. Price conducted a special service over the remains. The pall-bearers were Mesara. G. Randell, M.L.C. (Colonial Secretary), J. J. Holmes, M.L.A., H. Strickland, sen., B. Ranford, sen., Albert Liddelow, and R. Buck-a comrade of the deceased in the 96th Regiment (foot). The chief mourners were Mrs. W. H. McGlew, Mrs. S. Nugent, and Mrs. J. B. Keaughran (daughters), Messrs. J. S. Bowra, W. C. Bowra, F. J. Bowra and H. Bowra (sons of the deceased), Mrs. W. C. Bowra, Mrs. F. J. Bowra and Mrs. H. Bowra (daughters-in-law), and Messrs. W. H. M'Glaw and J. B. Keaughran (sons-in law), and Mr. W. Rewell, senr. (brother-in law). The deceased leaves 41 grandchildren and nine great-grand-children. A large number of wreaths, crosses and flowers were placed on the coffin, which was made of polished jarrah with black mountings. The Rev. F. J. Price, assisted by St. Alban's choir, officiated at the grave. The arrangements were carried out under the personal supervision of Mr. M. O'Dea, of the firm of Bowra and O'Dea, Mackie-street.
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THE TOWN CLOCK AND PORPOISE OIL
One of the most interesting notes of the way-back seventies was contained in an extract from a diary of John William Atlee Bowra. a forebear of the present Bowra clan, of whom there are still numerous descendants In Western Australia.
The Bowras were the pioneer clock and watchmakers of the early times, the above named coming to the Swan River Settlement in the early 40s, setting up at his London trade on arrival.
He was Government expert from the time of his starting to his death, one of his duties being to instal the present clock in the Perth Town Hall tower, and to regularly care for it and the other timepieces.
Mr Bowra often told with delight his experience on the first occasion of the lighting of the town clock.
It had been determined to try and Illuminate it, but as no satisfactory kerosene burner could be made, another novel and effective way was evolved.
While down at the Causeway, Mr Bowra and his son saw a school of porpoises, and mistaking them for sharks, fired several musket shots into them.
The result was a huge cow porpoise and her half-grown calf.
Bringing them ashore, they were carted to the township, where an old whaler rendered the blubber down to a fine sample of lighting oil. This was tried in a new lamp made by the whaler, and installed behind the faces of the Town Hall clock. The effect was magical - the time on a non-foggy night being discernible fully 300 yards away.
The clock was not immediately illuminated, as a big and important event was about to happen - the arrival of the Duke of Edinburgh in the man-o‘-war Galatea! [in 1869]
The oil lamp was left ready, and as the Duke’s vessel was reported to have dropped her anchor in Western Australian waters, a gun was fired on Mt Eliza, Mr Bowra applying a fusee to the porpoise oil wicks of the lamp behind the Town Hall clock.
The cheering in the street was terrific, the military band, drums and fifes, playing patriotic airs, and generally adding melodious lustre to the proceedings.
One of the functions of Mr Bowra was to see the bell of the clock was always in perfect order, as the bush and river birds, having access to the tower, often got in and became wedged in the moving works, thus stopping the clock. Mr. Bowra’s duty then being to climb the ladders and release the wheels, weights, etc.
Later on a separate rope and hammer was installed, so that in case of a fire occurring anywhere, any passer by could get hold of the rope and pull it vigorously, and thus wake the inhabitants
When the birds stopped the clock, and it was noticed, the Bowra home would be invaded. Mr Bowra was roused, and if he were at home would come around and clear the clocks.
Part of an article by 'Dryblower' (Edwin Greenslade Murphy) from Sunday Times, 29 April 1934.
Redcoat Settlers page for John Bowra.
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