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BOWEN, EDWARD, lawyer, judge, and politician; b. 1 Dec. 1780 at Kinsale (Republic of Ireland); m. in 1807 Eliza, daughter of James Davidson, a doctor in the Royal Canadian Volunteers; they had eight girls and eight boys including Edward Henry who became a judge; d. 11 April 1866 at Quebec.

Edward Bowen came to Lower Canada in 1797, after finishing his secondary education at Drogheda Academy (Republic of Ireland). His great-aunt, the wife of receiver general Henry Caldwell*, brought him to Quebec City. Bowen studied law, probably in the offices of Jonathan Sewell* and John Caldwell*, and in 1803 was authorized to practise. Through influential connections, he enjoyed government patronage (posts as clerk and assistant clerk of various courts, 1801–5, lieutenant of militia, 1804–12, and then captain, 1812–27). In 1808, at the request of Governor Sir James Henry Craig* and on condition that he leave private practice, he acceded to the post of attorney general of Lower Canada. But London had already chosen Norman Fitzgerald Uniacke* for this post. Although he had to withdraw, Bowen found solace in becoming the first king’s counsel in 1809; in this capacity and that of attorney general pro tempore during Uniacke’s absence (summer 1810 – January 1812), he drew attractive emoluments (more than £600 for 1811 alone). In 1812, thanks to Sir George Prevost*, he became, at the age of 39, judge of the Court of King’s Bench at Quebec. At that time he declined the Colonial Office’s offer of the post of attorney general of Upper Canada. He also held other well-paid offices: French translator for the Executive Council (1816–17), and French secretary of the province (1816–24/26?). He received a total stipend that usually exceeded £1,000 a year, especially after 1817 when the salary of judges rose to £900 a year (£2,500 in 1864). He sat as president of the Court of Appeal in certain cases (1839–43), and was promoted chief justice of the Superior Court in 1849. In earlier days he had advocated a reform of the judicial system (1815), and had shown his impatience at the delays in court when several judges sat together (1820). In 1818 he had heard a case involving the conflicts between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company at Red River [see Thomas Douglas*, Lord Selkirk].

Politically, and again at Craig’s request, Bowen represented the county of William Henry (Sorel) in the assembly from 1809 to 1812. He campaigned as a member of the British party. He looked after the interests of his county by trying to persuade the government to build a post office and roads there, to improve its school, and to change its seigneurial tenure into free and common socage tenure (a question still unresolved in 1829). In 1813 he signed a congratulatory address to Prevost. He took part in 1822–23 in drafting and presenting the Quebec petition against a projected union of the two Canadas which the signatories thought would only arouse fears and jealousies. Entering the Legislative Council in 1824, he was even its president pro tempore in 1834, and supervised the renovation of the council rooms in 1828. Bowen had in no way drawn closer to the Parti Canadien. He had sought Sewell’s opinion, in 1814, about the advisability of imprisoning the staff of Le Spectateur for libel. In 1825, like other British judges, he took it upon himself to refuse a writ of summons drawn up in French. Augustin-Norbert Morin, under the pseudonym of a “law student,” replied in a letter which was soon made public reminding him of French language rights in Lower Canadian courts. In 1835–36 an uncompleted inquiry by the assembly challenged his conduct as a judge. And in 1839 he termed Sir John Colborne’s recall to England a mistake.

From 1814 on, Bowen complained continually about his financial difficulties and the ruin threatening him. In fact, he was involved in disputes with some of his creditors, including a J. Davidson (probably his brother-in-law John) who sold 9,700 acres of his lands between 1818 and 1821, and the Bank of Montreal (1826). He none the less managed to get his numerous children educated, and he took advantage of generous land concessions from a government favourably disposed towards him. Some pieces of land were also acquired by purchase. Only part of his holdings are known: six lots in the township of Melbourne (1802–5), six in the township of Tewkesbury (1807), lots at Sorel (1812) and Laprairie (LaPrairie), 5,351 acres in the township of Jersey (1823–29), with the promise of a second concession he was seeking (1828–29), and 540 acres on the Kennebec highway (1837). In 1863 in an endeavour to hasten the passage of a bill to increase judges’ pensions he got John Sandfield Macdonald* to intercede with Louis-Victor Sicotte*, attorney general of Canada East.

Bowen’s financial embarrassment did not prevent his being active in various movements, such as the Incorporated Church Society in the diocese of Quebec, of which he was vice-president from at least 1849 to 1854, the Quebec Fire Society in 1805, 1815, and 1819, and Quebec Emigrant Society in 1821, and the Ladies Compassionate Society in 1821. He also contributed to subscriptions for the victims of Waterloo in 1815, an Anglican girls’ school in 1816, poor relief in the district of Quebec in 1818, and the erection of a monument to Wolfe* and Montcalm* in 1828.

Family relationships, social connections, his numerous offices, and obvious ability all ensured Edward Bowen a place in the élite of important colonial officials who, together with the British commercial bourgeoisie, monopolized the executive power and state patronage (positions, land speculation, contracts), and controlled much of the legislative power. Unlike many of this group, Bowen had a good knowledge of French and of French laws.

Jean-Pierre Wallot

BUM, Coll. Baby, Corr. générale, Edward Bowen to Judge Pyke, 5 May 1820; lettre de Guérout et Lemesurier à Louis Gareau, 20 déc. 1820; lettre de l’abbé Joyer à Mlle de Lavaltrie, 19 déc. 1820. PAC, MG 23, GII, 10, pp.2343–44, 2382–91, 2394–97, 2426–29, 2449–60, 2469–77, 2482–85, 2511–14, 2537–48, 2991–93, 3156–59, 3195–98; GIII, 3, 1, pp.132, 146; 13, p.143; MG 24, B1, 183, pp.700–1; B3, 1, pp.50–51, 53ff.; 3, pp.289ff.; B14, 8, pp.1778–83, 1789–91; B30, 2, pp.1016–17; K11, p.81; MG 27, II, D10, 12, pp.1930–36; MG 30, D62, 6, pp.61–112; RG 1, L3L, 4, pp.1213–16, 1299, 1531, 1568; 7, pp.2107, 2148; 8, pp.2387–99, 2449, 2494–95; 13, pp.5115–18; 14, pp.5224–27, 5250, 5344; 19, p.8706; 46, pp.23629ff., 23647–49, 23656ff., 23664–69, 23674–81, 23683–86, 23697, 23712, 23749, 23753–54; 52, p.26790; 53, pp.26826–30; RG 4, A1, S (32 letters and documents concerning Edward Bowen from 1802 to 1840); B8, 18, pp.6453–57; B28, 135, no.1581; B46, 3, p.1342; RG 8, I (C series), 30, pp.69–72; 113, p.70; 115, pp.78, 88–89; 246, p.62; 278, pp.149, 158, 160; 279, pp.22, 38, 269; 386, pp.11–12; 509, p.141; 599, pp.100, 102; 601, p.55; 603, pp.116, 118, 120, 123, 126, 134, 176; 634, pp.28, 253, 307, 356; 688A, pp.13–14, 20, 22; 833, pp.19, 21–23; 1218, pp.31, 34, 44, 50, 106, 137; 1695, p.3; RG 68, 1, General index, 1651–1841; 1841–67. Private archives, J. E. Colborne (Mackrell, Eng.), Sir John Colborne papers (copies in PAC, MG 24, A40, 24, 2 Nov. 1839). PRO, CO 42/107, p.337; 42/109, p.128; 42/110, p.2; 42/112, pp.224, 311; 42/117, pt.1, p.25; 42/117, pt.2, p.246; 42/122, p.243; 42/130, pt.2, pp.321, 324 (transcripts at PAC).

Bas-Canada, chambre d’Assemblée, Journaux, 1800–37; Conseil spécial, Journaux, 1838–41. Can., prov. du, Assemblée législative, Journaux, 1841–61. Quebec Gazette, 1800–20, 1837–40. Le Jeune, Dictionnaire, I, 238. P.-G. Roy, Les juges de la prov. de Québec, 75. G. Turcotte, Cons. législatif de Québec, 97. Chapais, Hist. du Canada, III, 123, 192; IV, 74, 91, 114–15. Christie, History of L.C., IV, 208–10.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Jean-Pierre Wallot, “BOWEN, EDWARD,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 23, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bowen_edward_9E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bowen_edward_9E.html
Author of Article: Jean-Pierre Wallot
Title of Article: BOWEN, EDWARD
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1976
Year of revision: 1976
Access Date: November 23, 2014