Thomas William Bowlby

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Thomas William Bowlby
Bowlby China.jpg
Born 7 January 1818
Died 22 September 1860(1860-09-22) (aged 42)
Tungchow, Chihli, Qing Empire
Resting place
Anting gate of Peking
Occupation Journalist

Thomas William Bowlby (7 January 1818 – 22 September 1860) was a British correspondent for The Times in Germany and China.

Early life[edit]

Born in Gibraltar, he was the son of Thomas Bowlby, a Captain in the Royal Artillery, and Williamina Martha Arnold Balfour, daughter of Major-General William Balfour, a former Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick. Bowlby's parents moved while he was young to Sunderland, where his father became a timber merchant. Bowlby was educated by Dr Cowan, a Scottish school teacher living in Sunderland.

After finishing his schooling he trained as a solicitor under his cousin Russell Bowlby of Sunderland and on completion of his training he moved to London where spent some years as a salaried clerk to a law firm in The Temple. In 1846 he became junior partner to the firm of Lawrence, Crowdy and Bowlby. However, Bowlby found the law uncongenial and felt drawn to a career in writing.


Although remaining a member of the firm of Lawrence, Crowdy and Bowlby until 1854, Bowlby went to Berlin as special correspondent to The Times in 1848 to report on the revolutions then occurring in Europe.

In 1860 he was engaged to travel to China as the special correspondent of The Times to cover the Second Opium War. Lord Elgin and Baron Gros were his fellow passengers in the steamship SS Malabar, which sank in Galle harbor on 22 May 1860 after being beached in a severe storm; his report of the shipwreck was considered one of his best pieces of work.

Bowlby's reports from China were informative and popular with readers of The Times. After the capture of Tientsin on 23 August 1860, Bowlby accompanied Admiral Sir James Hope and four others to Tungchow to arrange a peace treaty. However the Tartar general, San-kolin-sin (Senggelinqin) took some of the delegation prisoner. Bowlby and the other captives were held at Tungchow and tortured to death over a several days. Constricting ligatures were applied to their bodies, as they dried they tightened. Those who cried out for water had dirt poured into their mouths. Bowlby died on 22 September.[1] In retaliation the Anglo-French force burned down the Chinese Emperor's Yuan Ming Yuan in Beijing.

Afterwards his mangled body was surrendered by the Chinese. It was buried in the Russian Cemetery outside the Anting gate of Peking on 17 October 1860; he left a widow and five young children, among them the future surgeon Sir Anthony Alfred Bowlby, Bt.

See also[edit]