John Owens (merchant)

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John Owens (1790 – 29 July 1846) was an English merchant and philanthropist, whose bequest helped found part of the University of Manchester.

Life and career[edit]

Owens was born in Manchester, England in 1790, the son of Owen Owens, a prosperous merchant who had come to Manchester from Flintshire, Wales. He was educated at a private school and began work for his father's firm about the age of 14. By 1819 he had become a partner in his father's business and was soon noted for his ability as a cotton buyer. His business prospered, and the firm traded with China, India, South America and the United States, dealing in many other commodities. For a time he was in partnership with Samuel Faulkner whose son George (1790–1860) was his closest friend. The business was carried on at Carpenter's Lane in Manchester while Owens resided at Nelson Street, Chorlton on Medlock. It is recorded[where?] that he was a man of very retiring habits who kept no company, and he spent evenings quietly among his books. He was a Liberal in politics and a Congregationalist by religion though in his later life he stopped worshipping in chapel and attended an Anglican church.


He suggested leaving his large fortune to his friend and partner George Faulkner, But, already a rich man, Faulkner advised him to bequeath it to trustees for the foundation of a college (Owens College, Manchester, opened 1851, now part of the University of Manchester), based upon his own ideas of education. His will was made in May 1845. He died in Manchester unmarried and without issue on 29 July 1846: his bequests to friends and charities amounted to some £52,000, while for the college he left £96,654. Among the conditions for its foundation the most important was that which discountenanced any sort of religious test for students or teachers. He was buried at St John's Church, Manchester: the memorial to him there was subsequently moved into the John Owens Building of the University.


  • Charlton, H. B. (1951) Portrait of a University, 1851-1951. Manchester: Manchester University Press; pp. 22–27
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Owens, John". Encyclopædia Britannica. 20 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 396.