Thomas William Bowler

Last updated
Thomas Bowler (1844) Thomas Bowler08.jpg
Thomas Bowler (1844)

Thomas William Bowler (9 December 1812 Tring, Hertfordshire – 24 October 1869 London), was a self-taught British landscape painter who lived for some years at the Cape of Good Hope, and published a series of views of Cape Town and its neighbourhood. He is notable for having depicted some 35 years of the Cape's history in landscapes and seascapes.

Tring market town and civil parish in the Borough of Dacorum Hertfordshire, England

Tring is a small market town and civil parish in the Borough of Dacorum, Hertfordshire, England. It is situated in a gap passing through the Chiltern Hills, classed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 30 miles (48 km) north-west of London, and linked to London by the old Roman road of Akeman Street, by the modern A41, by the Grand Union Canal and by the West Coast Main Line to London Euston. As of 2013 Tring has a population of 11,730.

Cape of Good Hope Headland of Cape Peninsula, South Africa

The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula in South Africa.

Cape Town Capital city of the Western Cape province and legislative capital of South Africa

Cape Town is the oldest city in South Africa, colloquially named the Mother City. It is the legislative capital of South Africa and primate city of the Western Cape province. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality.



Bowler was born in Tring, Hertfordshire in 1812, the son of William Bowler and his wife Sarah Butterfield, [1]

He landed at the Cape on 5 January 1834 as a servant to Thomas Maclear, the new Astronomer Royal, whose service he left in July 1835, taking employment with Capt. Richard Wolfe, Commandant of Robben Island, and remaining until the end of 1838.

Thomas Maclear South African astronomer

Sir Thomas Maclear was an Irish-born South African astronomer who became Her Majesty's astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope.

Robben Island Place in Western Cape, South Africa

Robben Island is an island in Table Bay, 6.9 kilometres (4.3 mi) west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa. The name is Dutch for "seal island." Robben Island is roughly oval in shape, 3.3 km (2.1 mi) long north-south, and 1.9 km (1.2 mi) wide, with an area of 5.08 km2 (1.96 sq mi). It is flat and only a few metres above sea level, as a result of an ancient erosion event. Nobel Laureate and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. To date, three former inmates of Robben Island have gone on to become President of South Africa: Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe, and Jacob Zuma.

Bowler then started offering his services in Cape Town as a "drawing master and landscape painter". He took up a position as drawing master at the Diocesan College, and from 1842 at the South African College. In the same year that he published his first lithograph, The Landing of Troops at Port Natal being covered by H.M.S. Southampton. This was followed by Four Views of Cape Town in 1844. He also planned an 1845 portfolio of prints Five Views of Natal, but failed to find sufficient subscribers. The originals were returned to South Africa in 1960 by Lord de Saumarez.

Diocesan College South African secondary school

The Diocesan College, or Bishops as it is more commonly known, is an independent day and boarding all-boys school situated in the suburb of Rondebosch in Cape Town, South Africa. The school was established in 1849 by Robert Gray, Bishop of Cape Town.

The South African College was an educational institution in Cape Town, South Africa, which developed into the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the South African College Schools (SACS).

Baron de Saumarez

Baron de Saumarez, in the Island of Guernsey, is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. It was created on 15 September 1831 for the prominent naval commander Admiral Sir James Saumarez, 1st Baronet. He had already been created a Baronet, of Guernsey, on 13 June 1801. Lord de Saumarez was succeeded by his eldest son James, the second Baron, a clergyman. James was succeeded by his younger brother, John, the third Baron, whose son, the fourth Baron, was a career diplomat who bought the family estate at Castel, Guernsey, from his father, the third Baron, who wished to sell it. However, by marrying an heiress, the fourth Baron also brought estates in Suffolk into the family.

In 1850 he published The Anti-convict Agitation, a print of the large gathering held in Cape Town on 4 July 1849, objecting to the landing of convicts from the penal transportation ship Neptune. [2]

Penal transportation

Penal transportation or transportation was the relocation of convicted criminals, or other persons regarded as undesirable, to a distant place, often a colony for a specified term; later, specifically established penal colonies became their destination. While the prisoners may have been released once the sentence was served, they generally did not have the resources to get themselves back home.

In May 1854 he returned to England, where he received tuition from the artist James Duffield Harding, and was back in Cape Town in March 1855. He painted two historically important pictures of the start of the 1859 Cape Town to Wellington railway line, the first in South Africa; and another two of its opening in November 1863. Three of these paintings were published as engravings in the Illustrated London News.

James Duffield Harding British artist

James Duffield Harding was an English landscape painter, lithographer and author of drawing manuals. His use of tinted papers and opaque paints in watercolour proved influential.

Wellington, Western Cape Place in Western Cape, South Africa

Wellington is a town in the Western Cape Winelands, a 45-minute drive from Cape Town, in South Africa with a population of approximately 62,000. Wellington's economy is centered on agriculture such as wine, table grapes, deciduous fruit and a brandy industry. The town is located 75 km north-east of Cape Town, reached by the N1 motorway and R44. Due to the growth of the Mbekweni township south of the town, it now forms a de facto urban unit with Paarl, just 10 km to the south. Wellington now officially falls under the Drakenstein Local Municipality, which also covers Saron and Paarl.

Burns' Hill Mission Station on the Keiskamma River Thomas Bowler05.jpg
Burns' Hill Mission Station on the Keiskamma River

During his time in South Africa, Bowler travelled widely in the Cape Colony, and visited Knysna and Port Elizabeth along the Garden Route. His journeys produced a large number of paintings and sketches such as The Kaffir Wars and the British Settlers in South Africa (1865), and the Pictorial album of Cape Town, with views of Simonstown, Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown (1866).

Also in 1866 was Bowler's voyage to Mauritius. He planned to publish a portfolio of 20 lithographs of views on the island, but support was not forthcoming. Seven of the original watercolours are in South Africa, while at least three are in Mauritius.

Bowler played a leading role in the founding and legalising of Art Unions at the Cape. Being of a quarrelsome nature, his frequent disagreements were regularly aired in the local press.

In August 1868 he travelled to England via Mauritius and Egypt to arrange the production of his portfolio Twenty Views of Mauritius, but died soon after arrival. Bowler produced some 540 watercolours, oil paintings and sketches of which 64 were published as lithographs. Two of his works were published as engravings, not counting his illustrations for books and magazines. His works are held in the African Homes Trust Collection, the Cape Archives, and the Mendelssohn Collection in the Library of Parliament.

He was married twice, to Jane Hawthorne and Maria Jolly, the marriages producing ten children. [3]


Related Research Articles

David Roberts (painter) Scottish painter

David Roberts RA was a Scottish painter. He is especially known for a prolific series of detailed lithograph prints of Egypt and the Near East that he produced from sketches he made during long tours of the region (1838–1840). These and his large oil paintings of similar subjects made him a prominent Orientalist painter. He was elected as a Royal Academician in 1841.

Paul Sandby British artist

Paul Sandby was an English map-maker turned landscape painter in watercolours, who, along with his older brother Thomas, became one of the founding members of the Royal Academy in 1768.

George French Angas English explorer, naturalist and painter who emigrated to Australia

George French Angas was an English explorer, naturalist, painter and poet who emigrated to Australia. His paintings are held in a number of important Australian public art collections.

John Robert Cozens British artist

John Robert Cozens was a British draftsman and painter of romantic watercolour landscapes.

George Clausen British artist

Sir George Clausen, was an English artist working in oil and watercolour, etching, mezzotint, dry point and occasionally lithographs. He was knighted in 1927.

Augustus Earle British artist

Augustus Earle was born in London on 1 June 1793. Unlike earlier artists who worked outside Europe and were employed on voyages of exploration or worked abroad for wealthy, often aristocratic patrons, Earle was able to operate quite independently - able to combine his lust for travel with an ability to earn a living through art. The body of work he produced during his travels comprises a significant documentary record of the effects of European contact and colonisation during the early nineteenth century.

Events from the year 1798 in art.

Thomas Watling Australian bird artist

Thomas Watling, was an early Australian painter and illustrator, notable for his natural history drawings and landscapes.

Thomas Charles Leeson Rowbotham Irish artist

Thomas Charles Leeson Rowbotham, Irish watercolour landscape and marine artist and lithographer, was the son of the watercolour artist, Thomas Leeson Scrase Rowbotham (1783–1853). He was trained by his father and first did serious work in 1847 on a sketching trip to Wales. His work was exhibited at the Royal Academy and Suffolk Street Gallery and other prestigious galleries of the time and he was elected an associate of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours in 1848 and a full member in 1851. He succeeded his father as Professor of Drawing at the Royal Naval School, New Cross in Greenwich. They collaborated on The Art of Painting in Watercolours, and he provided the illustrations for his father's work, The Art of Sketching from Nature.

William Havell British artist

William Havell was an English landscape painter, one of the Havell family of artists, and a founding member of the Society of Painters in Watercolours.

Thomas Shotter Boys British artist

Thomas Shotter Boys (1803–1874) was an English watercolour painter and lithographer.

Giles Firman Phillips British artist

Giles Firmin Phillips (1780–1867) was an English artist and author. He painted landscapes and river scenes, primarily of the river Thames. His paintings were exhibited, among other venues, at the Royal Academy from 1836 - 1858. He is the author of several books on painting and lithography.

Frans Oerder Dutch painter

Frans David Oerder was a Dutch-born South African landscape, still-life and portrait painter, etcher and lithographer.

Cathcart William Methven British artist

Cathcart William Methven FRSE was Engineer-in-Chief at Greenock on the Clyde, and appointed in 1888 as Harbour Engineer in Durban. Besides being an architect and able musician, he was, unusually, a gifted landscape artist and produced many fine paintings of Natal scenery. He founded the Durban Art Gallery in 1892.

Frederick Timpson IOns South African painter

Frederick Timpson I'Ons was an English-born South African painter, one of the eight children of John I'Ons, who was master of a riding school in Islington.

Hendrik Claudius German painter and apothecary

Hendrik Claudius aka Heinrich Claudius was a German painter and apothecary or physician, noted for his 17th-century watercolours of South African plants and animals.

Wilhelm Langschmidt South African painter, draftsman, and lithographer

Wilhelm Heinrich Franz Ludwig Langschmidt, or Willem Langschmidt, was a German-born South African painter and drawing master of 59 Long Street, Cape Town.

Gabriel de Jongh Dutch painter

Gabriel Cornelis de Jongh, was the only son of landscape artist, Tinus de Jongh. After a very close relationship with his father, Gabriel decided to pursue the same career, his father being both tutor and critic. Working in oil, watercolour, ink and pencil, he painted landscapes, still lifes, seascapes, wildlife, and depicted religious themes.

Charles Ernest Peers was a South African artist.

Henry William Burgess English landscape painter

Henry William Burgess was an English artist known particularly for his drawings of trees and landscapes. His medium was graphite and watercolour.


  1. "Bowler, Thomas William". Ancestry 24.
  2. "The Neptune, with 288* convicts on board, enters Simon's Bay, with strong resistance from Cape inhabitants". South African History Online.
  3. Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa (Edna & Frank Bradlow)