As a teenager, Charles Bowen found himself rubbing shoulders with worldly wisdom and business knowledge in the shape of John Robert Godley, James Edward Fitzgerald and Lord Lyttelton. He was a budding Irish law student absorbing all he could amongst the upper class ranks of the Canterbury Association in which he had taken a keen interest. So much in fact that he boarded the ‘Charlotte Jane’ with such faith in this new colony, he took his parents, aunt and siblings with him – he didn’t even put the voyage out on hold to seal his career in law by taking his final exams. It seemed he had to seize this opportunity at all costs and he was richly rewarded and so was the city of Christchurch eventually.
You further get the feeling that the Bowen’s had dropped everything at a moment’s notice to go aboard the ‘Charlotte Jane’. They hadn’t even organised land orders with the Canterbury Association and sailed into Lyttelton with everything they owned literally strapped to their backs. Charles Bowen Sr purchased his land from ‘Sir George Seymour’ passenger, Walpole Fendall who had begun to subdivide his land almost upon arrival – this subdivision now the suburb of Fendalton. Charles Sr was in fact the first to build a house in that area. He made his living as a farmer.
20 year old Charles chose to make his own way in the new world straight off the ship. In what Charlotte Godley liked to refer to as the ‘Singleton House’, Charles boarded in Lyttelton with fellow ‘Charlotte Jane’ passenger [Hon] Stuart Wortley , surveyor Thomas Hanmer (remembered in the naming of Hanmer Springs)and fellow Association member Charles Maunsell. They were four young bachelors ready to take on the world.
Charles’ first 2 years in New Zealand had him travelling all over the place as John Robert Godley’s private secretary. When he settled back down in Lyttelton, he became a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council along with his Dad and took the position of Secretary of Police. He was involved with the infamous tale and arrest of James MacKenzie at Lyttelton, the Scottish sheep rustler in 1855. It was also around this time he purchased The Lyttelton Times with Crosbie Ward, whose brothers ( Edward, Henry and Hamilton) had been Charles’ fellow passengers on the ‘Charlotte Jane’.
Bitten by the travelling bug in 1859, Charles sold out of his Christchurch interests and left to see the world. With well known explorer Clements Markham, Charles explored the Andes and then fell in love with Clements’ sister Georgina whom he married in 1861. The pair would go on and have 7 children. The Bowens’ spent some time in America and Charles would go on in his later years to say that he was present when American President Abraham Lincoln declared war on the Confederacy.
Charles returned to Christchurch in 1864 as a powerhouse as he had finally finished getting his law degree and began a political career that I had to give up reading about, it was too huge! I can safely say that there isn’t a stitch of the foundation of this city without the touch of Charles in it. In a whirlwind career that spanned the rest of his life, there were a few outstanding highlights that I’m sure brought him great pride:
- 1866/68 – Served as Deputy Superintendent under William Sefton Moorhouse.
- 1867 – Delivered speech and unveiled the Godley Statue in Cathedral Square.
- 1877 – Was directly behind the Education Act 1877 which provided compulsory free secular primary school education.
- 1910 – Knighted.