Thomas Edward Bowdich

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Thomas Edward Bowdich, after William Derby.

Thomas Edward Bowdich (20 June 1791 – 10 January 1824) was an English traveller and author.[1]


Bowdich was born at Bristol and educated at Bristol Grammar School. In 1813, he married Sarah Wallis, who shared his subsequent career. In 1814, through his uncle, John Hope Smith, governor of the British Gold Coast settlements, he obtained a writership in the service of the African Company of Merchants and was sent to Cape Coast. In 1817, he was sent, with two companions, William Hutchison and Henry Tedlie, to Kumasi on a mission to Osei Bonsu, the King of Asante, and chiefly through his skillful diplomacy the mission succeeded in its object of securing British control over the coast natives.

In 1818, Bowdich returned to England, and in 1819 published an account of his mission and of the study he had made of the court of Kumasi, entitled Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee, &c. (London, 1819). He donated his Ashanti collection to the British Museum on his return, although the items would not receive the attention of the museum's trustees until after his death.[2][3] His collection was an attempt to acquire items that depicted local crafts at the time. The collection remains the earliest documented one of Ashanti material, some of them the oldest surviving from that time, such as the oldest-known surviving adinkra cloth.[3]

Bowdich publicly attacked the management of the African committee who ran the African Company of Merchants. His strictures were instrumental in leading the British government to dissolve the African Company and assume direct control over the Gold Coast.[4]

From 1820 to 1822, Bowdich lived in Paris, studying mathematics and the natural sciences, and was on intimate terms with Georges Cuvier, Alexander von Humboldt and other savants. During his stay in France he edited several works on Africa, and also wrote scientific works. In 1822, accompanied by his wife, he went to Lisbon, where, from a study of historic MSS., he published An Account of the Discoveries of the Portuguese in . . . Angola and Mozambique (London, 1824).[5] In 1823, Bowdich and his wife, after some months spent in Madeira and Cape Verde Islands, arrived at Bathurst (now Banjul) at the mouth of the Gambia, intending to go to Sierra Leone and thence explore the interior.[4] However, Bowdich died from malaria while in Bathurst on 10 January 1824, leaving his widow Sarah with three children.[citation needed]

His widow, Sarah (Wallis) Bowdich Lee, published an account of his last journey, entitled Excursions in Madeira and Porto Santo . . . to which is added A Narrative of the Continuance of the Voyage to its Completion, &c (London, 1825). Bowdich's daughter, Mrs Tedlie Hutchison Hale, republished in 1873, with an introductory preface, her father's Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee.[4]


Title page


  1. ^ Gibson 1886, pp. 41, 42.
  2. ^ British Museum Collection
  3. ^ a b "Collections Online | British Museum". Retrieved 2 September 2021.
  4. ^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
  5. ^ Bowdich, Thomas Edward (1824). An account of the discoveries of the Portuguese in the interior of Angola and Mozambique. London: John Booth, Duke Street, Portland Place. Retrieved 21 January 2015.
  6. ^ International Plant Names Index.  T.E.Bowdich.


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