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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bowden, Matthew (1779–1814)

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Matthew Bowden (1779?-1814), surgeon, served as a surgeon in the Royal Lancashire Regiment before he was commissioned as a civil assistant surgeon on 14 January 1803 to accompany Lieutenant-Governor David Collins's expedition to found a settlement at Port Phillip. He sailed in the Ocean, accompanied Collins when the settlement was transferred to Hobart Town, and was one of the first ashore, landing at Frederick Henry Bay on 12 February 1804 and walking to Risdon on the River Derwent. In the starving years of the new colony, Bowden played a prominent role attending the sick, condemning imported stores as unfit for human consumption and joining the celebrations when each store ship arrived. He was one on the first to equip his assigned servants to hunt kangaroos for meat; one of his men was speared by Aboriginals and left to die in the bush. On his 100 acres (40 ha) at Humphrey's Rivulet, granted in August 1804, Bowden had a vegetable garden and crops, and began to acquire livestock. He also encouraged exploration, himself making a three-day excursion up the Derwent Valley, and by 1809 he was depasturing sheep at New Norfolk.

In May 1809 when William Bligh arrived in the Porpoise, Bowden certified the ill health of some of her crew, but he was credited with leading Hobart's civil officers in opposition to the deposed governor. Next year he attended Collins at his death in March, and in April was appointed first assistant surgeon of the civil medical establishment in Hobart; in October Lachlan Macquarie, impressed by his record, granted him an additional 500 acres (202 ha) on the Derwent and, after the death of I'Anson in November 1811, appointed him principal surgeon at a salary of £182 10s. Soon afterwards, when Macquarie visited Hobart, he was shocked to find the civil hospital in very bad order and Bowden 'a man of dissolute habits, prematurely old'. He instructed the commandant 'not to permit Bowden to presume to molest a marine … on account of him having had his lawful wife restored to him by my orders', and later warned Thomas Davey against him. Nevertheless Robert Knopwood recorded that 'the whole community was plunged into gloom' by Bowden's sudden death on 23 October 1814.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series 1, vols 7-8, series 3, vols 1-2
  • W. H. Hudspeth, Hudspeth Memorial Volume: An Introduction to the Diaries of the Rev. Robert Knopwood, A.M., and G.T.W.B. Boyes (Hob, 1954).

Citation details

'Bowden, Matthew (1779–1814)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

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