Life. It isn’t like the old days.

I get curious, when I’m listing books. Some of them seem so utterly obscure and yet there they are, somebody took the trouble to write them. Why? Who?

This book was a case in point:

Bowen, Robert George Incidental Memoirs; or, Poetical Musings on Passing Events (London: Alfred Boot: 1855) First Edition. Decorated cloth (that is, hard covers) pp. 98. Judith added this commentary: These ‘scattered thoughts, on various matters wrought From time to time; now in one compass brought’ reflect the beliefs and preoccupations of an early pioneer who was, as Depasquale points out, one of the evangelically-minded minority in a settlement in which ‘intense religious conviction was not widespread’. Bowen writes of personal sorrows, early deaths of offspring and of his first wife, and public celebrations, hymns for the opening of Sabbath School building; of the Russian war and its implications for the Australian colonies; of Gold rushes; all recounted in terms of his religious convictions; a sequence of eight poems written in 1854 ‘on Board the Royal Shepherdess, while on a Voyage from South Australia to England’ sees Madagascar in terms of ‘martyrs of Jesus’ and St Helena as a lesson in the limitations of temporal power. A gift inscription dated 1941 from one descendant to another on front free endpaper.

And if you are an Adelaide person thinking ‘huh? What’s this got to do with me?’…the answer is ‘You might not know the name, but you undoubtedly know his work.’

With an appetite whetted for more information, I discovered that Bowen was an important early SA builder, responsible for some of the most notable landmarks in the city.

From My Pioneer Ancestors I found out more. I quote:

Robert George Bowen, born and raised in Great Torrington, Devon, was trained as a CARPENTER. He was married to Mary Ann Frost in St Andrew, Holborn, London. Their first child, Robert George, was born in London but died almost 12 months later in Devon. Three more children were born in Devon, then a fourth in London.

On 19 February 1839, Robert George, Mary Ann and four children departed London on the sailing ship ‘HOOGHLY’ with Captain G Bayley,bound for Australia. The ship arrived in Port Adelaide, South Australia  on 17 June 1839.

Daughter Ann died not quite a month after their arrival and another son Henry was born to them in Adelaide.

Robert George’s occupation is listed as a BUILDER & GRAIN MERCHANT. He had a wheat and grain store in Waymouth Street, Adelaide which was taken over in 1867 by John Darling, a grain exporter.

In 1844, the Holy Trinity Church on North Terrace, which had been enlarged, was declared unsafe and closed for repairs. It was then partially rebuilt by R G Bowen – the building was modified with higher walls, a new octagonal church turret and with a colonial slate face for the clock.

One of the earliest Roman Catholic buildings to survive in South Australia is the Bishop’s Palace, the most historical association of this building being with the initiation and consolidation of the Catholic Church. R G Bowen was the builder and construction began on 30 March 1845 and was finished on 19 December 1845. It is situated at 91-100 West Terrace, Adelaide.

In August of 1847 the first suggestion to build an imposing Supreme Court was heralded, as up until that time these activities had taken place in private residences or in the New Queen’s Theatre in Gilles Arcade. Tenders were called and on 17 September 1847 a contract was signed by Mr R G Bowen to build what eventually became the Adelaide Magistrates Court in Victoria Square. Construction began on 10 November 1847. He soon encountered difficulties and delays due to deviations from the original design and the problem of obtaining a sufficient number of large blocks of stone. He proposed to substitute stuccoed brickwork, but was held to his contract, and, it appears, obtained the stone from several quarries including one at Beaumont which was opened in about 1838. Other building stones which may have contributed to the impressive facade include Mitcham, Finniss River or Stirling sandstones. R G Bowen’s problems did not end there, as by mid 1850 when the building was nearly complete, the government’s lease on the Queen’s Theatre expired and officials forcibly occupied the unfinished courthouse. There was public outrage at this act of official burglary. However, building was properly completed in February 1851 and the grand structure became one of the sights of the city.

It was also in that year that a contract was signed for the erection of the General Post Office and a police courthouse opposite the government office in King William Street. Another of his buildings was the first Bank of South Australia in North Terrace.

He had residences in North Terrace & Franklin Street, Adelaide.

His religion was Congregational.

After the early death of his wife Mary Ann, he was re-married in 1849 to 23 year old Harriet Elizabeth Poole and produced a second family of seven children…

After only a few hours’ illness, Robert George Bowen died at his residence at the age of 65 years and is buried in the West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide. [end of quote]

So, yes. Obscure book, maybe, and yet his influence is all around us in Adelaide.

And as for the title of this entry: life really isn’t what it used to be, is it?

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