Bowra Family Papers

Scope and Content

The collection comprises the diaries, correspondence, genealogical papers, photographs and press cuttings of Edward Charles Mackintosh Bowra and Cecil Arthur Verner Bowra.

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Charles MacIntosh Bowra was born in 1841. He was educated at the City of London College before entering the Civil Service and gaining a position in the London Customs House. However, in July 1860 he gave this up to join the British Legion of Garibaldi's Red Shirts in Italy, where his exploits included fighting a duel over the honour of the British contingent. Returning to England he worked briefly for the 1861 census whilst trying unsuccessfully to join the Chinese Consular service. In 1862 he became Private Secretary to Sir William Verner, MP for Armagh and the following year was appointed clerk in the Chinese Maritime Customs, journeying out to China on the same boat as J. D. Campbell. After an initial spell in Tientsin he was sent to Shanghai in August 1863. From 1864 he served as a student interpreter in Peking, and in September 1865 he was appointed interpreter in Canton. When the Chinese Secretary of Customs, Pin Chun, was sent on a European tour Bowra was appointed to organise the trip. In March 1866 they set off for Europe visiting London, Paris, The Hague, Copenhagen, Stockholm, St. Petersburg and Berlin. Whilst in England Bowra became re-acquainted with a family friend, Thirza Woodward, whom he married on 15 August. On his return to China he was sent to Ningo and his children Ethel and Cecil were born there. Following a transfer to Canton in 1870 he worked on a history of the province which was published in the China Review . He was promoted to Deputy Commissioner in 1872 and was made responsible for the collection and transportation of objects to be exhibited at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873, following which the Austrian Emperor gave him the Order of the Iron Crown. His youngest son, also called Edward, was born in May 1874 whilst the Bowras were still on leave in England. On 15 October Bowra died at the age of thirty-two after complaining of ill health for a number of months.

Cecil Arthur Verner Bowra, eldest son of Edward Charles MacIntosh Bowra was born on 22 August 1869. His father's early death caused the family some financial hardship but Cecil was educated at Park House School, Gravesend and then at St. Paul's. Although he matriculated from London University his mother, now married to George Mackie, insisted he should leave school at sixteen. He thus applied to the Chinese Maritime Customs with the recommendation of Sir Robert Hart. In 1886 he arrived in China, firstly living in Peking as a language student and then moving to Tientsin. He then worked in Chefoo (1888- 1890), Canton (1890) and Amoy (1891). On home leave he met Ethel Fleay and they were married in 1896 returning to Chefoo where two years later Bowra was appointed to Second Assistant. In 1899 he was made Assistant-in-Charge at Newchwang, Southern Manchuria, where he had to maintain relations between the large Russian presence and his Chinese employers. As the Boxer Rebellion took hold in 1900 Cecil Bowra was made Commander of the Combined defence Force, however it was the Russian forces who took control when Newchwang was attacked and in 1903 he was replaced by a Russian Commissioner. Following further periods of employment in Soochow and Amoy and a period of home leave, Bowra became Senior Commissioner in Manchuria, and Advisor to the Viceroy in 1908. With the appointment of Sir Francis Aglen as Inspector-General Bowra was made Chief Secretary in Peking (1910-1923). The post meant that he became Acting Inspector-General when Aglen was on leave in 1911 and 1917. Bowra retired in 1923 having received such honours as the Order of the Rising Sun from the Japanese government, the Norwegian Order of St. Olaf and the Chinese awards of the Red Button and the Second Class of the Striped Tiger. He died in 1947.

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Donated in 1967.

Other Finding Aids

Published Guide, Papers Relating to the Chinese Maritime Customs 1860- 1943 , (SOAS, 1993).

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, please contact Archives & Special Collections, SOAS Library in the first instance