The Contessa Diamantina di Roma was born in 1832 or 1833 on the Ionian Islands, Greece. Some sources attribute her birth to 1832 but others to 1833. Similarly, some sources put her birth on the island of Zante (Zakynthos while others say the island of Corfu or Ithaca. Regardless of the specifics, both islands were part of the United States of the Ionian Islands, a British Protectorates at that time.
Her parents were Conte Giorgio-Candiano Roma and his wife Contessa Orsola, née di Balsamo. Diamantina was the tenth of their eleven children. Her aristocratic family were descended from the Venetians who had occupied the Ionian Islands for centuries as part of the Republic of Venice. Her father was the President of the Ionian Senate (1850-1856), titular head of the Ionian Islands. He was also appointed a Poet Laureate by Queen Victoria.
With such a family, Diamantina had a privileged well-educated upbringing and was familiar with the workings of government, politics and diplomacy.
Their first two children were born in the Ionian Islands. Their first child, a son, died twelve days old. Their second child, a daughter, was born on 17 August 1858 and was called Adelaide Diamantina Bowen, but was known as Nina.
- Zoe Caroline Bowen, born 28 August 1860 at Adelaide House (the temporary Government House)
- Agnes Herbert Bowen, born 26 July 1862 at Government House
- George William Howard Bowen, born 9 April 1864 at Government House
Diamantina was described as "pretty" but tempered perhaps by the remark "her beauty being in her expression rather than her features". She was described as "slender but graceful".
She could play the piano and sing well, even with previously unseen pieces of music.
Living most of her life in English-speaking countries, Diamantina spoke English well but with a slight accent. Although she spoke in English in public, it was claimed she spoke with her husband at home in Italian. Diamantina was frequently described as "softly spoken".
Her husband's career took the family all over the world, as governor postings were typically for five years. We do not know how Diamantina felt about this frequent upheaval, but she cried copiously as the family departed from Brisbane, suggesting that she had had many close personal connections while there.
Diamantina worshipped in the Greek Orthodox church during retirement in London, suggesting she maintained her connection to her religious roots throughout her life, despite so many years spent in British colonies.
Her son George William Howard Bowen married Gertrude Chamberlain (niece of Joseph Chamberlain, Colonial Secretary) on 16 January 1896 in Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Street, London, England. His sister Alfreda was a bridesmaid.
Her daughter Alfreda married Robert Lydston Newman in October 1899 at St George's Church, Hanover Square, London, England. Her brother George gave Alfreda away (her father having died earlier that year).
A sculpture of Diamantina was created by sculptor Phillip Piperides in 1989 for the Greek Community Centre, South Brisbane, Queensland. In June 2009, it was moved to Old Government House at Queensland University of Technology.
Public Life in Queensland
George, Diamantina and their sixteen-month-old daughter Nina arrived in Brisbane on Saturday 10 December 1859 on board The Cordelia. As they stepped off their vessel at a landing stage at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens near Gardens Point, they were welcomed by a huge crowd of over 4000 people waving flags, both the British Union Jack and the Greek flag. The arrival of the first governor and his family had been eagerly expected a few days earlier, but adverse winds had delayed their trip up from Sydney and so when the news came late on Friday that their vessel was seen entering Moreton Bay, the excitement reached enormous heights. As well as residents of Brisbane, many of those present had travelled from other parts of Queensland to welcome the incoming governor. There was a 21-gun salute as they landed, there was a triumphal arch, fireworks and all manner of proclamations, speeches and celebrations, over a number of days.
Being the first Governor, there was not yet an official residence for the Governor and so they lived in Adelaide House (now The Deanery of St John's Cathedral) which was leased for three years.
Diamantina participated in the public life in Queensland in a number of ways:
- as wife of the Governor
- to the social tone of Brisbane through her sense of style, education and accomplishments
- to charity through her active patronage
Being still very much a prosperous but pioneer community on her arrival, Diamantina's dinner parties soon became the highlight of the social scene and she is credited with raising the tone of Brisbane society.
Meanwhile, the official residence (now Old Government House) was being constructed and the family moved into the house in April 1862. It was an elegant and spacious building, constructed of sandstone and Brisbane porphyry, in the Classic Revival style. Its grounds were surrounded by thirty acres (twelve hectares) of riverbank land, including the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens which were commenced at the same time under the supervision of Walter Hill. Diamantina personally supervised the layout of the gardens of the house, which included lawns, tennis courts as well as flower and vegetable gardens. On 16 June 1862, the couple hosted the first ball in the new building, celebrating Queen Victoria's birthday.
In 1864 at Ipswich, Queensland, Diamantina turned the first sod for Queensland's first railway-line between Ipswich and Bigge's Camp (later Grandchester) using with a silver spade and a cedar wheelbarrow.
Diamantina was involved in establishing the first Sunday School for children.
Diamantina was concerned about social welfare in Brisbane and was an active patroness of a group of local ladies who established the Lady Bowen Lying-In Hospital, Brisbane's first maternity hospital, the fore-runner of the present Royal Brisbane Women's Hospital.
Named in her honour
Diamantina was very popular in Queensland and many places were named after her:
- The town of Roma, Queensland
- Roma Street, Brisbane and its Roma Street railway station and Roma Street Busway Station
- Diamantina River, Queensland
- Diamantina Shire Council, a Local Government Area in Queensland
- Diamantina Island near Gladstone, Queensland
- the iron paddle-wheeler Diamantina built for the A.S.N. company
- Diamantina Orphanage, established in 1883 in Brisbane
- Diamantina Hospital for Chronic Diseases, which was established in 1901 on the site of the Diamantina Orphanage and was later replaced by the Princess Alexandra Hospital
- The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute, the sixth research Institute of the University of Queensland, based at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane
- Diamantina Healthcare Museum, established 2004 in the only remaining building of the Diamantina Hospital
- Lady Bowen Lying-In Hospital, Brisbane's first maternity hospital, the fore-runner of the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital
- Lady Bowen Falls, at Milford Sound in Fiordland, New Zealand
- Ithaca Creek intended to be named after her birthplace, one of the Ionian islands.
A statue of Lady Bowen was commissioned for the Greek Community Centre in South Brisbane in 1989. When Old Government House was re-opened after restoration by Queensland University of Technology, the statue was relocated to the southern lawn of Old Government House (the southern side of the house being the "female" side).
Much of Diamantina's life was dictated by the career of her husband Sir George Ferguson Bowen as a colonial administrator and a more complete understanding of her life can be obtained by reading about his life.
- Contessa Diamantina di Roma, Lady Bowen, by Dr Owen Harris, Chairman, Diamantina Health Care Museum Association Inc
- Diamantina Bowen, Australian Dictionary of Biography
- Lady Diamantina Bowen, Brisbane Memories
- Picture: Diamantina Roma - First Governor of Queenslands' wife - A biographical note by the current appointed Governor of Queensland, Ms Quentin Bryce, AC.
- The Arrival & Reception of His Excellency Sir G.F. Bowen, First Governor of Queensland, Moreton Bay Courier, Tuesday 13 December 1859, page 2
- Departure of Governor Sir G.F. Bowen, The Brisbane Courier, Monday 6 January 1868, page 2
- Reception of Sir G.F. Bowen in New Zealand, The Brisbane Courier, Tuesday 3 March 1868, page 3
- Death of Lady Bowen, The Brisbane Courier, Monday 20 November 1893, page 5
- The Late Lady Bowen, The Brisbane Courier, Monday 27 November 1893, page 6
- A history of Queensland, Raymond Evans, Cambridge University Press, 2008
- Queensland Registrar-General of Births, Deaths, and Marriages
- Birth notice, Moreton Bay Courier, Saturday 25 August 1860, page 2
- Birth notice, The Courier, Tuesday 29 July 1862, page 2
- Birth notice, The Brisbane Courier, Monday 11 April 1864, page 2
- Birth, Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXV, Issue 3660, 12 April 1869, Page 3
- Index to "The History of Coryton"
- Australian, Wanganui Herald, Volume XII, Issue 9361, 5 March 1879, Page 2
- Contessa Diamantina Roma, Lady Bowen, by Dr Owen Harris, Chairman, Diamantina Health Care Museum Association Inc
- Marriage of Mr. Bowen and Miss Chamberlain, Brisbane Courier, Thursday 27 February 1896, page 7
- Anglo-Colonial Notes, Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand), 24 November 1899, page 5
- Gladstone, The Courier, Monday 6 January 1862, page 3
- Shipping Intelligence, The Moreton Bay Courier, Tuesday 26 February 1861, page 2