Bowden was born in Stockwell, Surrey, and educated at Dulwich College. Aged 23 years 144 days, he became England's youngest captain on 25 March 1889, when he captained England to victory in the second of his two Tests. Bowden had been deputy to C. Aubrey Smith, but Smith missed the second test through illness.
Bowden stayed in South Africa to participate in the Witwatersrand Gold Rush, went to Rhodesia with the Pioneer Column, and ended up smuggling liquor. In 1892, he died in Umtali Hospital, Umtali, Rhodesia (now Mutare, Zimbabwe). Officially he died of epilepsy, although a fall from his cart, leading him to be trampled under the hooves of his own oxen contributed to his death. Umtali Hospital was nothing more than a glorified mud hut, where his body had to be protected from marauding lions, prior to being interred in a coffin made from whiskey cases.