Charles Bowen, Baron Bowen

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The Lord Bowen
Charles Bowen Vanity Fair 12 March 1892.jpg
"Judicial Politeness", Bowen as caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward) in Vanity Fair, March 1892
Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
In office
23 September 1893 – 10 April 1894
Lord Justice of Appeal
In office
2 June 1882 – 23 September 1893
Justice of the High Court
In office
16 June 1879 – 2 June 1882
Personal details
Charles Synge Christopher Bowen

Woolaston, Gloucestershire, England
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford

Memorial to Baron Bowen, Lincoln's Inn Chapel, London
Arms as displayed at Lincoln's Inn[1]

Charles Synge Christopher Bowen, Baron Bowen, PC, FRS (1 January 1835 – 10 April 1894) was an English judge.

Early life[edit]

Bowen was born at Woolaston in Gloucestershire – his father, Rev. Christopher Bowen, originally of Hollymount, County Mayo, being then curate of the parish and his mother, Catherine Steele (1807/8–1902);[2] his younger brother was Edward Ernest Bowen, a long-serving Harrow schoolmaster. He was educated at Lille in France, Blackheath and Rugby schools, leaving the latter in 1853 having won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford.[3] There he made good his earlier academic promise, winning the principal classical scholarships and prizes of his time. He was elected a Fellow of Balliol in 1857 while an undergraduate and became President of the Oxford Union in 1858.


From Oxford, Bowen went to London, where he was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1861, and while studying law he wrote regularly for the Saturday Review, and also later for The Spectator. In 1861, he also played a single first-class match for Hampshire against the Marylebone Cricket Club: in Hampshire's first innings he was dismissed for a duck by Caleb Robinson and in their second innings he scored 30*.[4] His brother, Edward Ernest Bowen also played first-class cricket for Hampshire County Cricket Club.

For a time he had little success at the bar, and came near to exchanging it for the career of a college tutor, but he was persuaded by his friends to persevere. Soon after he had begun to make his mark he was briefed against the claimant in the famous Tichborne Case. Bowen's services to his leader, Sir John Coleridge, helped to procure for him the appointment of junior counsel to the Treasury when Sir John had died, as he did while the trial proceeded, from the office of Solicitor General to that of Attorney-General; and from this time his practice became a very large one.[5]

The strain, however, of the Tichborne trials was great, and his physical health became unequal to the tasks which his zeal for work imposed upon it. In 1879 his acceptance of a position as a High Court judge in the Queen's Bench division, on the retirement of Mr Justice John Mellor, gave him the opportunity of comparative rest. He was knighted in June 1879.[6]

The character of Charles Bowen's intellect hardly qualified him for some of the duties of a puisne judge; but it was otherwise when, in 1882, in succession to Lord Justice John Holker, he was raised to the Court of Appeal. As a Lord Justice of Appeal, he was conspicuous for his learning, his industry and his courtesy to all who appeared before him; and in spite of his failing health, he sat regularly until August 1893, when, on the retirement of Lord Hannen, he was made a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, and a life peer with the title Baron Bowen, of Colwood in the County of Sussex.[7] By this time, however, his health had finally broken down; he never sat as a law lord to hear appeals, and he gave but one vote as a peer, while his last public service consisted in presiding over the commission which sat in October 1893 to inquire into the Featherstone riots.[5]

Lord Bowen was regarded with great affection by all who knew him professionally or privately. He had a polished and graceful wit, of which many instances might be given, although such anecdotes lose force in print. For example, when it was suggested on the occasion of an address to Queen Victoria, to be presented by her judges, that a passage in it, "conscious as we are of our shortcomings," suggested too great humility, he proposed the emendation "conscious as we are of one another's shortcomings"; and on another occasion he defined a jurist as "a person who knows a little about the laws of every country except his own". Lord Bowen's judicial reputation will rest upon the series of judgments delivered by him in the court of appeal, which are remarkable for their lucid interpretation of legal principles as applied to the facts and business of life.[5]

Literary work[edit]

Of Lord Bowen's literary works besides those already indicated may be mentioned his translation of Virgil's Eclogues, and Aeneid, books i.-vi.[8] and his pamphlet, The Alabama Claim and Arbitration considered from a Legal Point of View.

Some of the quotations attributed to him[9] include

The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.


When I hear of an 'equity' in a case like this, I am reminded of a blind man in a dark room - looking for a black hat - which isn't there.


Personal life[edit]

In 1862, he married Emily Frances, eldest daughter of the engineer James Meadows Rendel, by whom he had two sons and a daughter. His daughter, Ethel Kate Bowen, married Josiah Wedgwood IV (later 1st Baron Wedgwood) of the pottery dynasty.


He is credited with coining the phrase "the man on the Clapham omnibus", which was quoted by Sir Richard Henn Collins MR many years after his death in the case of McQuire v. Western Morning News ([1903] 2 KB 100). Amongst his judgement are:


  1. ^ "Bowen CSC". Baz Manning. 26 May 2011. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  2. ^ "Bowen, Charles Synge Christopher, Baron Bowen". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/3034. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Cunningham, Henry Stewart (1897). Lord Bowen: A Biographical Sketch with a Selection from His Verses. John Murray. Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  4. ^ "The Home of CricketArchive". Retrieved 15 October 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
  6. ^ "No. 24739". The London Gazette. 1 July 1879. p. 4206.
  7. ^ "No. 26444". The London Gazette. 26 September 1893. p. 5431.
  8. ^ Barnhart, Clarence L., ed. (1954). "Bowen, Charles Synge Christopher". New Century Cyclopedia of Names, Volume One, A – Emin Pasha. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts. p. 606.
  9. ^ Brandreth, Gyles (17 October 2013). Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations. OUP Oxford. p. 314. ISBN 9780199681365.
  10. ^ John Alderson Foote, Pie-Powder": being dust from the law courts (1911)
  11. ^ (1883) LR 23 Ch D 1
  12. ^ (1883) 23 Ch D 14
  13. ^ (1883) 23 Ch D 654
  14. ^ [1883] UKHL 1, (1883-84) LR 9 App Cas 1; [1883] EWCA Civ 1, (1883) 22 Ch D 727
  15. ^ 7 QBD 440
  16. ^ 18 QBD 685
  17. ^ (1884) LR 28 Ch D 7
  18. ^ (1885) 29 Ch D 459
  19. ^ Quoted in at least four US Federal Court securities judgments, Arave v. Creech, 507 U.S. 463, 473 (1993), United States Postal Service Bd. of Governors v. Aikens, 460 U.S. 711, 716-717 (1983), Blue Chip Stamps v. Manor Drug Stores 421 U.S. 723, 744 (1975), Comm'r v. Culbertson, 337 U.S. 733, 743 n.12 (1949) (same).
  20. ^ (1886) 34 Ch 234
  21. ^ "In the Arbitration between Secretary of State for Home Department and Fletcher". The Law Reports, Queens Bench Division (Vol XVIII): 340–346. 1887.
  22. ^ (1889) 14 PD 64
  23. ^ [1892] EWCA Civ 1, [1893] 1 QB 256
  24. ^ 23 QBD 243
  25. ^ [1892] AC 25, (1889) 23 QBD 598, (1888) LR 21 QBD 544
  26. ^ 6 App Cas 740

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