Sir George Bowyer

1740-1800. He was born at Denham, Buckinghamshire, the third son of Sir William Bowyer 5th Baronet, and of his wife Anne Stonehouse, who was also the daughter of a baronet.

On 13 February 1758 Bowyer was commissioned lieutenant, and on 4 May 1761 was promoted commander of the French-built cutter Swift 10, cruising in home waters before she was retaken by the French privateer Manley 22 off Ushant on 30 June 1761. On 28 October 1762 he was posted captain, all of these ranks being achieved with the benefit of his family’s ‘interest’, and for a brief period prior to the peace of 1763 he commanded the Sheerness 20.

In October 1776 he recommissioned the Burford 70, serving off Ireland, and with which he was engaged with American privateers off Brittany in July 1777. He recommissioned the Albion 74 in May 1778, sailing for North America under the orders of Vice-Admiral Hon. John Byron on 9 June, but parting from his commander in the storms that badly affected their passage. Following the fleet’s transfer to the Caribbean at the end of the year he fought at the Battle of Grenada on 6 July 1779, and gave vital support to the Conqueror in the engagement with the French fleet under La Motte-Picquet on 18 December 1779.

The Albion fought at the Battle of Martinique on 17 April 1780 as second to Rear-Admiral Hyde Parker, and Bowyer was one of five officers specifically complimented for their conduct by Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney. She remained in the Leeward Islands for the remainder of the campaign from May to July but was severely handled in the week of fleet skirmishes during May, when she led the British van and fought alone until relieved by Rear-Admiral Joshua Rowley. During these engagements she lost twenty-four men killed and over one hundred and twenty wounded, and such was her damage that the Albion was forced to repair to Jamaica. Upon returning to England in convoy in 1781 she was condemned and paid off in December.

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The Battle of the Gorious First of June saw the end of Bowyer’s career.

In 1783 Bowyer, with the rank of commodore, joined the newly launched Irresistible 74, Captain Hon. George Murray, which served as a guard ship in the Medway, and a year into this appointment he was elected M.P. for Queenborough and nominated a colonel of marines. After leaving the Irresistible in 1785 he served upon a parliamentary committee investigating the state of the Portsmouth and Plymouth harbour defences, but bar a short period in command of the Bellona 74 during the Dutch dispute in the autumn of 1787, and a few months during the Nookta Sound dispute of 1790 when he commissioned the newly built Boyne 98 at Woolwich, he remained out of active service for a further eight years.

On 1 February 1793 he was promoted rear-admiral, and flying his flag from June in the dull-sailing Prince 98, Captain Cuthbert Collingwood, he participated in the Channel fleet’s autumn cruise and the chase of Rear-Admiral Vanstabel’s squadron on 18 November. From December 1793 he flew his flag aboard the Barfleur 98, Captain Cuthbert Collingwood, and in the following summer, whilst leading the centre division of the Channel fleet, he had his leg shot from under him at the Battle of the Glorious First of June. Although his flagship suffered nine men killed and twenty-five wounded, she was considered to have engaged from too far to windward. Bowyer was created a baronet on 16 August, awarded the gold medal for the battle, and granted a pension of one thousand guineas.

Retiring to his estate at Warfield Grove, Berkshire, he saw no further service but was promoted vice-admiral on 4 July 1794. Later in the same year he inherited his mothers’ family seat at Radley Hall, Berkshire, he further inherited his father’s baronetcy on the death of his brother in April 1797, he became an admiral on 14 February 1799, and died at Radley Hall on 6 December 1800.

Bowyer was married firstly to Lady Downing, widow of Sir Jacob Downing, by whom he had no issue, and secondly to Henrietta, daughter of Admiral Sir Piercy Brett, by whom he had three sons and two daughters. His nephew was Captain Edward Cooke, and he used his influence to advance Cuthbert Collingwood’s career. He was MP for Queenborough in the Admiralty interest from 1784-90, and was a supporter of William Pitt, making some nine speeches relative to naval issues only

To this day Radley College flies the Union flag on 1 June in his honour, and his ghost is said to haunt the main staircase.