Sir George Bowyer

1740-1800. He was born at Denham, Buckinghamshire, the third son of Sir William Bowyer 3rd 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

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 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 the Downs with a convoy of forty merchantmen from Jamaica in November 1781 the Albion 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 March 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 the M.P. for Queenborough. After leaving the Irresistible in the summer of 1785 he served upon a parliamentary committee investigating the state of the Portsmouth and Plymouth harbour defences, and in September 1787 he was appointed a colonel of marines. However, bar a short period in command of the Bellona 74 during the Dutch Armament in the autumn of 1787, and a few months during the Spanish Armament 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, raising his flag at Portsmouth on 12 June aboard the Boyne 98, Captain William Albany Otway, and shifting it on 15 July from the Vanguard 74, Captain John Stanhope, to the dull-sailing Prince 98, Captain Cuthbert Collingwood, with the intention that he command a reserve division to the Channel Fleet. In early August he sailed from Portsmouth to join Admiral Lord Howe who was already at sea, and he participated in the Channel fleet’s autumn cruise and the chase of Rear-Admiral Vanstabel’s squadron on 18 November. From December he flew his flag aboard the Barfleur 98, Captain Cuthbert Collingwood, and in the following March he took a squadron of eight sail of the line and a frigate to sea from St. Helens on a cruise off the Scilly Islands with instructions to see the West Indies and Mediterranean convoys to safety on their outward voyages.

Whilst leading the centre division of the Channel fleet at the Battle of the Glorious First of June in 1794 Bowyer had his leg shot from under him. Although his flagship suffered nine men killed and twenty-five wounded she was considered to have engaged from too far to windward, but nonetheless Bowyer was promoted vice-admiral on 4 July, created a baronet on 16 August, awarded the gold medal for his part in the battle, and granted a pension of one thousand guineas.

Later in 1794 he inherited his mother’s family seat at Radley Hall, Berkshire, and having spent a long time recuperating on the Isle of Wight he was given a tour around the captured French vessels at Portsmouth by the commissioner, Captain Sir Charles Saxton, prior to visiting Radley Hall to be welcomed by a parade of the local gentry on 1 November. He did not see any further service but inherited his father’s baronetcy on the death of his brother in April 1797, and became an admiral on 14 February 1799.

Admiral Bowyer died after a short illness at Radley Hall on 6 December 1800.

He was married firstly on 11 November 1768 to Lady Downing, widow of Sir Jacob Gerrard Downing, by whom he had no issue, and secondly on 4 June 1782 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 Vice-Admiral Lord Collingwood’s career. He was the M.P. for Queenborough in the Admiralty interest from 1784-90, and was a supporter of William Pitt, making nine speeches which were 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. He also owned an estate at Warfield Grove, Berkshire.