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GB 133 Eng MSS 1228-1234 - Bowring Papers

Bowring Papers

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This material is held atThe University of Manchester Library
Reference Number(s)GB 133 GB 133 Eng MSS 1228-1234
Dates of Creation 1822-1905
Name of CreatorName of Creator: Bowring family
Language of Material English.
Physical Description 7 subfonds

Scope and Content

Personal and political correspondence of Sir John Bowring and his family. There are letters from Sir John Bowring to his son Edgar Alfred Bowring at the Board of Trade, mainly concerning political and commercial affairs in the Far East at the time when Sir John was Consul at Canton, Plenipotentiary to China and, from 1854, Governor of Hong Kong and Chief Superintendent of Trade. These are an important source for studies of Anglo-Chinese relations and the opening of Japan. Earlier letters and papers date from Sir John's term as MP for Bolton and his activities in the Anti-Corn Law League. There also papers and diaries of Sir John's son Frederick Hermann Bowring, Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge, and of Bowring's other son, Lewin, some of which relate to India.

Biographical History of Sir John Bowring

The collection consists of the papers of the Bowring family, whose best-known member was Sir John Bowring (1792-1872), politician, administrator and traveller. The Bowrings originated from Devon, where they were engaged in the woollen trade. John Bowring began his career in a merchant's office, where he acquired a working knowledge of a number of European languages. In 1811 he became a clerk in the London house of Milford and Co. who sent him to the Iberian peninsula. He subsequently set up his own merchant's business and travelled widely on the Continent. In 1822 he was arrested by the French authorities in connection with their proposed invasion of Portugal, and was accused of aiding domestic opponents of the Bourbon regime. He later published an account of his imprisonment, Details of the Imprisonment and Liberation of an Englishman by the Bourbon Government of France (1828).

In the 1820s Bowring had become friendly with the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, and was appointed by the latter to edit the Westminster Review . Bowring wrote not only on political subjects, but also on European languages, Magyar poetry and other literary topics. He later edited a collection of the works of Bentham, which ran to eleven volumes, including a biography written by Bowring. Bowring strongly sympathised with Bentham's utilitarian political philosophy. In 1828 Bowring was made a commissioner for reforming public accounts; the appointment was then cancelled because of Bowring's radical political views. However he did travel to Europe in succeeding years to report on the public finance systems of other countries, and his findings led to reforms in the British system of public accounts.

After failing to be elected to parliament for Blackburn in 1832, Bowring threw his energies into studying economic conditions on the Continent. After briefly sitting as MP for Clyde burghs between 1835 and 1837, he turned his expertise to studying commercial conditions in the Near East. He also became active in the Anti-Corn Law League, and from 1841 was MP for Bolton. He frequently spoke on commercial and fiscal questions, factory laws and education.

In 1847, his parliamentary career came to an end, when he was threatened by the collapse of his businesses. He obtained the post of consul at Canton, through Lord Palmerston, at a time of considerable commercial tension between Britain and China. In 1854 Bowring was made plenipotentiary to China, and governor of Hong Kong, as well as chief superintendent of trade. At the same time he was knighted. Soon after these appointments, Bowring was involved in putting down the Taiping revolt. In 1855, he successfully concluded a treaty with Siam establishing diplomatic and commercial relations. In 1856 he was involved in the 'Arrow' incident, when Chinese authorities violated a ship flying the British flag, which had political repercussions back in Britain. Partly in response to this the Chinese mandarins put a price on Bowring's head and he narrowly escaped assassination by poisoning in 1857. As a diplomat, Bowring strongly advocated that Britain develop a more commercially-oriented consular service.

In 1859, Bowring retired from all his posts. He continued to work on commercial missions in Europe and Asia, and became an active member of many learned bodies including the Social Science Association. Bowring also wrote a number of poems and hymns, and wrote an unfinished work on popular poetry in European and Oriental languages. He died in 1872 at Exeter. Bowring was twice married and had four sons. His eldest son, J.C. Bowring was a well-known coleopterist; Lewin Bowring served as private secretary during the Indian Mutiny, 1857; Edgar Bowring was a civil servant at the Board of Trade, MP for Exeter, 1868-1874, and a translator of literature, while Frederick Bowring was a Cambridge don and lawyer.

Source: Gerald Stone, 'Bowring, Sir John (1792-1872)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/3087.

Access Restrictions

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased by the John Rylands Library at auction in 1958 from the former owner, Mrs N.A.H. Taylor (great grand-daughter of John Bowring).

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1952-1970 (English MSS 1228-1234). See also note in the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 41 (1958-9), pp. 269-71.

Separated Material

Sir John Bowring's papers have been widely dispersed. Repositories holding collections of his papers include:

  • University of California Library, Los Angeles: Special Collections Department, (reference: NUC MS 71-842);
  • University of California Library, Berkeley, California, (reference: NUC MS 65-1777);
  • Harvard University: Houghton Library, Cambridge, Mass., (reference: bMS Eng 1247);
  • London University: University College Manuscripts Room, (reference: MS Ogden 62);
  • Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London, (reference: MS 6128);
  • University of Kentucky Library, Lexington, Kentucky; Duke University: William R Perkins Library, Durham, North Carolina (reference: Guide 1980, p. 56).

Bibliography

The Bowring collection has been used in the following articles: G.F. Bartle, 'Sir John Bowring and the Arrow war', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 43 (1960-1), pp. 293-316, and 'Sir John Bowring and the Chinese and Siamese commercial treaties', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 44 (1961-2), pp. 286-308; J.Y. Wong, 'Sir John Bowring and the Canton city question', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 56 (1973-4), pp. 219-45, and 'Sir John Bowring and the question of treaty revision in China', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 58 (1975-6), pp. 216-37. For further biographical information, see Sir John Bowring, Autobiographical recollections of Sir John Bowring (London: H.S. King & Co., 1877).

Preferred Citation

The collection should be cited as: Bowring Papers, The University of Manchester.

Individual items should be cited as: English MS 1228 (etc.), The University of Manchester Library.

Control Access Terms

Personal Names

Bowring Sir John 1792-1872 Knight, MP, diplomat, colonial governor, author, traveller
Bowring Edgar Alfred 1826-1911 MP Civil Servant
Bowring Frederick Hermann 1823-1917 Barrister Classical Scholar
Hume Joseph 1777-1855 Politician

Family Names

Bowring family

Geographical Names

Shanghai (China)
China History 19th century

Cataloguing Info

TitleBowring Papers
CreationFinding aid encoded in EAD 2002 by Jo Klett, project archivist, using Epic Editor v.4.1, 24 May 2005.
Descriptive RulesFinding aid compiled according to UML's Guide to the listing of archives (3rd edition, 2004), which is based on the General International Standard Archival Description (ISAD(G)), second edition.
Language UsageFinding aid written in English.

Letters of Sir John Bowring to Edgar A. Bowring

Reference Number(s)GB 133 Eng MS 1228
Dates of CreationFebruary 1849-May 1859
Name of Creator Name of Author: Sir John Bowring
Physical Description 239 items; various sizes

Scope and Content

Letters of Sir John Bowring to his son Edgar Alfred Bowring at the Board of Trade, mainly concerning political and commercial affairs in the Far East at the time when Sir John was Consul at Canton, Plenipotentiary to China and, from 1854, Governor of Hong Kong and Chief Superintendent of Trade.


Correspondence of Sir John Bowring and Frederick H. Bowring

Reference Number(s)GB 133 Eng MS 1229
Dates of Creation1837-1864
Name of Creator Name of Author: Sir John Bowring and Frederick H. Bowring
Physical Description 295 items; various sizes.

Scope and Content

Correspondence between Sir John Bowring and his son Frederick Hermann Bowring at Cambridge (where he was a Fellow of Trinity College) as follows:

  • (a) Letters from Sir John Bowring to his son Frederick (numbers 1-230, January 1837-June 1858); numbers 157-230 were written from the Far East;
  • (b) Letters to Sir John Bowring from his son Frederick (numbers 231-295, December 1837-January 1864).


Miscellaneous Letters and Papers

Reference Number(s)GB 133 Eng MS 1230
Dates of Creation1822-1877
Name of Creator Name of Author: Sir John Bowring
Physical Description 264 items (including 1 volume); various sizes.

Scope and Content

Miscellaneous letters and papers, manuscript and printed, of Sir John Bowring, as follows:

  • (a) Letters to his wife Maria and family (numbers 1-11, December 1828-September 1843);
  • (b) Letters and papers addressed to Sir John Bowring, the bulk relating to his Governorship of Hong Kong (numbers 12-234, September 1822-March 1864); numbers 12-181 are bound in one volume;
  • (c) Miscellaneous printed papers and biographical materials (numbers 235-264, 1844-1877 [sic]).


Correspondence of Frederick H. Bowring

Reference Number(s)GB 133 Eng MS 1231
Dates of Creation1828-1894
Name of Creator Name of Author: Frederick H. Bowring
Physical Description 262 items Various sizes

Scope and Content

Material comprises:

(a) numbers 1-212, letters from Frederick Bowring (1828-1894) to:

  • his grandmother Mrs Lewin (number 1, 1830);
  • his parents, mainly his mother Maria (numbers 2-164, 1828-1856);
  • his sister Maria and brothers Charles, Edgar Alfred and Lewin (numbers 165-173, 1831-1860);
  • his aunts Anne and Lucy Jane Bowring (numbers 174-211, 1845 and 1853, 3 items only);
  • J.W. Robinson (number 212, 1894).

(b) numbers 213-262, letters to Frederick Bowring (1849-1890) from:

  • his mother Maria Bowring (numbers 213-219, 1849);
  • his brother John (numbers 220-222, 1887);
  • his sister-in-law Mary Laura, wife of Lewin Bowring (number 223, 1859);
  • his aunts Anne and Lucy Jane Bowring (numbers 224-244, 1849-1850);
  • his uncle Charles (numbers 245-252, 1848-1858);
  • Mrs Bontor (numbers 253-258, 1887-1888);
  • J.W. Delamain (number 259, 1843);
  • J.L.I. Warden Page (numbers 260-261, 1890);
  • J. Sykes (number 262, 1888).


Diaries of Frederick H. Bowring

Reference Number(s)GB 133 Eng MS 1232
Dates of Creation1845-1874
Name of Creator Name of Author: Frederick H. Bowring
Physical Description 118 folios; various sizes

Scope and Content

Diaries of Frederick Hermann Bowring, as follows:

  • January 1845-August 1846, April-December 1847 (all abridged);
  • 10 January-25 December 1848 (44 folios);
  • 1-26 January, 31 January-7 February, 10-13 March, 30 April-5 May, 12 May 1853 (26 folios);
  • 1-4 January, 13 January-6 February, 10-12, 17-18, 21-22 February, 13 April 1854 (21 folios);

There is also a journal of a walking tour in Switzerland, August-September 1874 (20 folios). With these came translations made by Frederick Bowring from Hebrew, Greek and other languages and various mathematical and other works in his hand.


Letters and Papers of Lewin B. Bowring and Katherine Bowring

Reference Number(s)GB 133 Eng MS 1233
Dates of Creation1858-1905
Name of Creator Name of Author: Various
Physical Description 132 items; various sizes

Scope and Content

Material comprises:

  • (a) numbers 1-37, letters to Lewin Bentham Bowring from his wife Katherine and family (numbers 1-11, February 1868-November 1904), and from miscellaneous correspondents (numbers 12-37, June 1858-February 1905), including Field Marshal Lord Roberts (numbers 23-35, February 1893-November 1901);
  • (b) numbers 38-47, miscellaneous papers of Lewin Bentham Bowring relating to India (1868-1904);
  • (c) numbers 48-126, letters to Katherine Bowring from her husband Lewin (numbers 48-49, 1868 and 1890) and her mother Eliza Jane Bellasis (numbers 50-126, October 1867-November 1869);
  • (d) numbers 127, fragments of a journal of Katherine Bowring of tours abroad, 1864 and 1865 (57 folios).
For convenience of reference five Bellasis items (numbers 128-132) are included here, one (number 132) being a printed pedigree of the family.


Letters to Edgar A. Bowring

Reference Number(s)GB 133 Eng MS 1234
Dates of Creation1854-1858
Name of Creator Name of Author: Various
Physical Description 18 items; various sizes

Scope and Content

Miscellaneous letters to Edgar Alfred Bowring, mainly concerning the Shanghai Duty Question, from various correspondents, including five (numbers 10-14, December 1854-January 1855) from the radical politician Joseph Hume (1777-1855).