Extract from 'The
Bowker of Tharfield' by Ivan Mitford-Barberton:
The following memorandum of Col. James Henry Bowker was
written at the request of the Malvern and Escombe local Administrative
Board. The had come across Col. Bowker's tomb in the bush and had
written to the Historical Monuments Commission requesting that the grave
be declared a national monument.
However, this could not be done as
the Commission do not recognize graves as national monuments.
Kellie Campbell prepared the memorandum for the Malvern and Escombe
Administrative Board, and as it is very complete and well written we are
reproducing it here.
COLONEL JAMES HENRY BOWKER
Col. James Henry
Bowker, J.P., F.L.S., F.R.G.S., F.S.S., was the ninth some of Miles and
Anna Maria Bowker who came out to South Africa as 1820 Settlers in the
good ship Weymouth.
Colonel Bowker was born in 1822, at Oliveburn,
Eastern Province, and died at his home Malvern, Natal, on October 29th,
Each of Miles Bowker's nine sons had distinguished records as
soldiers, agriculturists, diplomats, scholars and politicians-but
chiefly as soldiers. Miles Bowker, the father, was the first
breeder of woolled sheep in the Eastern Province and some of the women
members of his party brought their spinning jennies from England and the
yarn was woven into blankets by one of the settlers. Later the
wool was sold in Grahamstown and made into felt hats.
then a lad of 13, was at Tharfield during the Kaffir War of 1855 when
they received an urgent warning that they must take refuge immediately
at Bathurst Church. Oxen were hurriedly inspanned. The sons
gathered the family silver and other valuables and tied them in an old
tablecloth and buried them in the grounds of Tharfield. Although
several attempts were made later to locate the spot, the treasure has
never been found. The laarger at Bathurst was fiercely attacked
and numerous attempts were made to fire the thatch on the church roof.
Miles Bowker and his sons fought courageously with other Settlers.
After the Native attacks were eventually beaten off the party took
refuge in Grahamstown.
In 1846, J. Henry Bowker was at Thornkloof
Farm where the Bowker laager was attacked by 300 Natives. Henry
Bowker fought in the War of the Axe 1846-7 and later in 1851-2 in the
suppression of the Kat River Settlement Rebellion, where he took part in
the capture of Fort Armstrong, for which he earned a medal and
In 1855 he was appointed Inspector of the Frontier Armed and
Mounted Police, which later developed into the famous Cape Mounted
Rifles, C.M.R. he succeeded Sir Walter Currie as Commandant in
In 1858, Col. Bowker served in the expedition against Kreli
when he was driven across the Bashee. He was associated with Sir
Walter Currie in the settlement of the Fingoes in the Transkei territory
and in the settlement of many boundary disputes. Bowker commanded
the expedition for the annexation of Tembuland and was the founder of
Umtata-the headquarters of the Government Magistracy and later the Bunga-the
Colonel Bowker served also in the expedition to
Basutoland in 1868 and was appointed High Commissioner, or rather Agent
for that territory when it was taken over by Sir Philip Wodehouse in the
state of collapse and disorganisation which it had been brought to by
the war with the Orange Free State. Colonel Bowker also commanded
the expedition when the Diamond Fields were annexed to the Cape Colony.
And in 1872 he planned the expedition which led to the suppression of
the Langalebela Rebellion and the capture of that Chief. As
Commandant of the C.M.R. Col. Bowker submitted a valuable scheme of
Colonial defence before the Colonial Defence Commission which struck at
the root of the old Burgher law and he suggested a Colonial Defence
Force. As a Police Commandant he steadily avoided the introduction
of military innovations. Before the Defence Commission he denounce
in no measure terms the political and intriguing missionaries who were
doing their best to prevent the annexation of territories for the better
government of Natives and in scathing terms he also did not spare the
unscrupulous politicians. He was appointed again Governor's Agent
in 1877 and his work in Bastuoland was noteworthy. With his strong
personality and his keep sense of justice he was able with only a
few C.M.R to keep law and order in Basutoland. In a quick decisive
action he succeeded in crushing the rebellious force of Morosi without
striking a blow. In 1878 he retired with the honorary rank of
colonel and settled in Malvern on a subdivision of the farm Roosefontein
where he bought a small estate surrounded by old bush lands and
inexhaustible paradise for botanists and naturalists.
To us in Natal
Col. Bowker was more widely known as a collector of butterflies and a
nature lover. He had charge of the Natural History department of
the Natal section of the Indian and Colonial Exhibition in 1885.
Specimens of his butterflies are scattered in different museums in S.
Kensington, Cape Town and Durban, etc. He was part author of South
Africa Butterflies with Trimen and collaborated and shared with his
famous sister Mrs Mary Elizabeth Barber a keen interest in botanical
publications and discovered of new species of insects. Mrs Barber
was a constant visitor to her brother's house and her death at
Pietermaritzburg a year before his own was a great shock to him.
He was also a great bird lover and his friend Mr Harold Millar remembers
well seeing him always walking in the street or to the Club with a
butterfly net wound round his hat, the stick part of it being used as a
walking stick. A very charming account of Col. Bowker's love of
wild animals is give by Miss E. Robarts whose father knew him well.
Col. Bowker had a turkey buzzard caught and tamed as a young chicken.
This bird was devoted to him and was intensely jealous of anybody who
came near the Colonel. He slept near him and used to follow him
all over the place. When the Colonel was lying desperately ill in
bed the bird walked distractedly up and down and tried to pull the
sheets with his beak in his efforst to make the Colonel get our of bed.
Finally the bird darted out of the room and returned triumphantly with
an enormous frog and placed it near him. When he found Colonel
Bowker was not interested the bird came back with a lizard in his beak,
and danced up and down at the side of his bed. However, the lizard
proved disappointing. After as absence of a few hours the bird
came back wild with excitement with a wriggling grass snake in his beak
and was most distressed to see the native take it away. Col.
Bowker, relating the episode afterwards to Mr. Roberts said he had never
been so touched in his life with the fidelity, thought and intelligence
of the bird.
Colonel Bowker's tact and outstanding bravery was
special trait in his character. In fierce skirmish with some
rebellious natives he outstripped his men by many yards and single
handed he engaged four natives, shooting with his revolver in a hand he
engaged four natives, shooting with his revolver in a hand t hand fight
until his men succeeded in coming to his aid. Col. Bowker died in
October 1900 and was buried on his estate, as he expressly wished, under
a big pine tree in his garden. The ground was consecrated by
Archdeacon Hammick. A few years later his oldest friends and
executors, David Kon and Ken Hathorn (Judge of the Supreme Court) put up
a simple memorial to his memory. His last will was never found and
the estate was equally divided between his numerous nephews and nieces.
Colonel Bowker was widely loved and respected both by Europeans and
Natives and his name was give to the railways station hear his home,
which was later changed to Escombe as confusion arose from there being
another Bowker Station in the Cape Colony.
Theal's Basutoland Records. Sir Godfrey Lanton, The Basuto.
Theal's S. Africa. Barber of the Peak, I. Mitford-Barberton.
Cory's S. Africa. Arnot and Orpen, Land Question, Griqualand West.
Natal Mercury and Natal Advertiser files, Archives, etc. Private
letter from F. Bowker.
DEATH OF COLONEL BOWKER
There passed away on Saturday at his residence, Malvern, at the ripe age
of 74, Col. James Henry Bowker, J.P., an interesting personality and one
who for many years had taken an active interest in public affairs in the
Cape and Natal. The gallant gentleman had been in indifferent
health for some time and for the past eighteen months he had scarcely
stirred beyond his estate at Malvern Hill-dying of heart weakness,
surrounded by sorrowing relatives and friends.
The late Col. Bowker
was a son of Mr Miles Bowker, head of a family who came out to the Cape
in the Weymouth, a scholar and a good botanist. His first
residence was Oliveburn, near the coast, where James Henry Bowker was
born in August 1822, being the youngest of a family of eleven.
Their names are all well known in the frontier district of the Cape
Colony. They all followed in their father's footsteps as farmers
and agriculturalists, and took and active share in the numerous Kaffir
engagements, giving their service to their country. James Henry
Bowker, the ninth son, served in the war of 1846-7, and in that of
1851-2, was at the suppression of the Kat River Rebellion and the
capture of Fort Armstrong in 1846-7, for which he earned a medal and
clasp. In 1855 he was appointed inspector of the Frontier Armed
and Mounted Police; he served in the Transkei expedition of 1858, and
remained in that territory until the withdrawal in 1865. He was
associated with Sir Walter Currie, the commandant of police, in locating
the Fingoes in the Transkei; he served in the expedition to Basutoland
in 1868, and was appointed High Commissioner's agent for that territory.
He was engaged also in settling the boundaries and the formation of the
different districts. In 1870 he succeeded to the command of the
Frontier Armed and Mounted Police, and commanded the expedition to the
Diamond Fields for their annexation to the Cape Colony. At the
termination of this successful expedition he was appointed one of the
three commissioners, and was for a time Chief Commissioner of the
Diamond Fields. He commanded the expedition for the annexation of
Tembuland, carried it out, and also selected the site for the present
tow of Umtata. He was later appointed Governor's Agent in
Basutoland, and retired in1878 with the honorary rank of Colonel.
He was appointed one of the commissioners for Natal at the Indian and
Colonial Exhibition and was on two separate occasions thanked by the
Secretary of State for services rendered. He was a J.P. for Durban
His connection with natal Began with his retirement on a
pension from the Cape Service. He came here 12 or 13 years ago,
and took up his residence at Dilkoosh, Northdene. He subsequently
removed to the Malvern Hotel and afterwards purchased the Malvern Hill
Estate, where he built a charming residence, and stocked it with
the collection of a lifetime. In the Cape Colony he is known as a
soldier; here his name is more closely associated with that of a
student. As a naturalist he was held in high repute, and perhaps
in the pursuit of nature he has contributed more to current knowledge
than any other man in the country, particularly in regard to butterflies
of which he made an especial study, and was instrumental in discovering
more than 40 new specimens formerly unknown to science. He was a
Fellow of the Linnean Society, Fellow of the Zoological Society, Fellow
of the Royal Geographical Society, and F.S.S. Gold Medallist.
Commandant of the F.A.M. Police, the late Colonel submitted a scheme of
Colonial Defence to the Government, which struck at the root of the
long-cherished idea of Burgher Law. He maintained that to anyone
who had had experience of the wars in 1846, and 1851, it was obvious
that some other plan than a Burgher Law was absolutely necessary.
While every effort was then being made by the Government to encourage
volunteering, he argued that they could not expect volunteers, as
they stood, to leave their occupations in the towns or villages to take
the field for any length of time, and he suggested a permanent addition
to the armed police force, and that while on a war footing a deferred
war tax on all owners or occupiers of fixed property should be raised by
the Civil Commissioners of the districts not under martial law. On
this subject he gave evidence before the Colonial Defence Commission in
September 1876 and defended the Border Mounted Police against the
charges of deterioration that had been made against them. He
had very strong ideas on the training of young men. He considered
that in every Government aided school the pupils should be put through a
course of drill instruction and that riding and shooting should be
followed up in after life. As Police Commandant, he steadily
avoided the introductions of military innovations, but he sought to make
the force useful and popular. When asked in an official capacity
to give his opinion on any suggestion by the Defence Dept., he did not
scruple to stat plainly his vies. he denounced in no measure
language political and intriguing missionaries, who in the Cape were
doing their best to prevent the annexation of territory and referred in
scathing terms to unscrupulous politicians and scare-bitten officials.
His task at the head of the police was no bed of roses.
Collectively the farmers looked upon the natives as their bitterest
enemies, while the natives again hated the white man; with the result
that troubles were frequent, and the Colonists, getting tired of paying
the heavy cost of the necessary punitive expeditions, were ready to fix
the blame anywhere, and were not about saying the police were anxious to
create wars and foster panics in the hopes of getting distinction.
However Commandant Bowker managed well to hold the balance of good
opinion, and to gain the respect of all classes.
After his retirement
and settlement in Natal, the Cape government on one occasion
communicated with him with a view to his proceeding to Basutoland as
successor of Colonel Griffith the Governor's agent. Of singularly
calm and reliable judgement, Colonel Bowker had an intimate knowledge of
the native character, combined with a reputation for well-regulated
firmness. He had charge of Basutoland when it was taken over by
Sir Philip Wodehouse in the state of collapse and disorganisation to
which it had been brought by the war with the Free State. he
became very much respected at that time, which respect was not found to
be diminished when he returned in 1877, and then managed to get over
some very troublesome business which threatened to bring about a rupture
with Morosi. He went down to the old chief's mountain with an army
of loyals at his back, and succeeded in crushing the incipient rebellion
with striking a single blow.
But it was as a naturalist and an
observer of men and things that Colonel Bowker was known more intimately
in natal. There are few spots where the pursuit of the naturalist
can be carried on with greater variety or pleasure than at and in the
neighbourhood of Durban. The surrounding woods afford an
inexhaustible field for the collector, and it is his own fault if he
fails to meet with objects of interest. Every glade swarms with
butterflies, while a step can hardly be taken without disturbing a
gorgeous moth, which could put even Solomon in all his glory to the
blush. He had charge of the Natural History department of the
Natal section of the Indian and Colonial Exhibition of 1886, and
gathered together collections of butterflies and birds of unique
interest. The Durban Museum has many specimens which, but for his
observation, would not lie within its walls, and even the South Kingston
Museum is indebted to him for a collection of butterflies. His
residence has for many years been the Mecca of the naturalist and the
hunter and he had one of the most valuable collection of horns in the
country. In his garden there was also everything of interest, very
few specimens of plant life being absent.
The removal of such an
eminently interesting character from our midst cannot but have its
effect on the life of the colony and his death will be mourned by a
large circle of friends and admirers.
The funeral, which took place
yesterday afternoon was attended by a goodly number of neighbours and
friends. The Ven. Archdeacon Hammick conducted the service and
consecrated the ground, the coffin being borne to the graveside by the
deceased's four servants who had been his personal attendants for the
past 13 years.
(The Natal Mercury,
Monday, 29th October 1900.)
IN MOMORY OF
COLONEL JAMES HENRY BOWKER, F.L.S.,
An ardent naturalist, especially in the
department of bonany
At one time
(1868-1871) H.E. The High Commissioners' Agent in
And thereafter for many years Commandant of the Frontier Armed
and Mounted Police.
Lower Albany, Cape Colony, 1822.
Died Malvern, Natal. October
Erected by his Executors, 1904.
Railway Station, Natal, South Africa
named after Col. James Henry Bowker, it was called Bowker
Station, but due to confusing with another station in the Cape
Colony the name was changed to Escombe Station.