BOWRING, CHARLES R. (his middle name may have been Rennie), merchant, politician, and officeholder; b. 1840 in St John’s, Nfld, grandson of Benjamin Bowring* and second son of Charles Tricks Bowring and Harriet Harvey; m. Laura, daughter of John Henry Warren, probably c. 1869, and they had six sons and one daughter; d. 31 Jan. 1890 in St John’s.
In 1841 Charles R. Bowring’s family moved to Liverpool, England, where he was educated and raised as a Unitarian. On the completion of his formal education, Charles entered the Liverpool office which his father ran for the family firm (after 1839 called Bowring Brothers). He received a commercial training and in 1864 was sent to St John’s as a junior partner to his uncle, John, who administered the office there. When John retired to England in 1869, Charles became the manager and senior partner in Newfoundland and remained so until his death. In 1875 his cousin, Edgar Rennie Bowring*, joined the St John’s office as his junior partner.
Under Charles, the St John’s operation became one of the leading firms in the seal- and cod-fisheries and in the transportation of foodstuff to the coastal communities. In 1876 the company was awarded the Newfoundland government’s mail contract, which required the addition of two more ships to its already extensive fleet, by this time numbering 57 sailing and steam vessels. By the 1880s the firm had established clear primacy in the seal-fishery and in the middle of the decade was also making its mark in whaling. It had diversified as well by acting as Newfoundland agent for several shipping and insurance companies, including Lloyd’s of London from 1866. In 1884 the firm established the Red Cross Line, a passenger and freight service.
In 1873 Bowring had been elected as a Conservative to the House of Assembly for the district of Bonavista Bay, and was re-elected the next year following the defeat of the anti-confederate government led by Charles James Fox Bennett. After the 1874 election, protests were lodged against Bowring’s appointment as a non-official member of the Board of Revenue and an action against him was taken to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland. The case was dismissed. He again offered himself as a candidate in Fortune Bay in the election of 1882, but was defeated.
In 1886 Bowring was appointed to the Legislative Council by Prime Minister Robert Thorburn*, succeeding his father-in-law, John Henry Warren. Bowring served on the council until his death and he was apparently an active and able legislator. He consistently opposed the incorporation of the city of St John’s when it came before the council and in 1886 he refused to support a bill to provide a sewage system for the city proposed by the government. Yet his father, a few years before, as chairman of the Liverpool Corporation Health Committee, had instigated some of the more advanced social reforms and sanitary improvements of 19th-century England. Although the father had fought valiantly against the property holders in Liverpool to effect his reforms, the son closed ranks with his fellow property owners to stifle, for a time, necessary social change.
For several years Bowring was a director of the Commercial Bank in St John’s. By 1885 the economies of both Great Britain and Newfoundland were in the grip of a trade recession and it was possibly this situation which motivated him in the same year to resign in protest against the bank’s extravagant loan policy. When the bank refused to accept his resignation, he sold his holdings and thus became ineligible to serve on the board. His foresight was justified because in 1894 the bank was compelled to suspend payments, and economic chaos ensued for many Newfoundland firms and employees. The Bowring company escaped.
Charles was also a member of the St John’s Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the St John’s Gas Light Company, and one of the largest shareholders in the Atlantic Hotel. As a prominent member and president of the Athenæum Society, he was closely involved in the cultural and intellectual life of the city. It is probable that he converted to the Church of England, since their orphanage benefited from his largesse and he was actively involved in the completion of the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, a project undertaken in 1880.
Wilcox v. Bowring (1864–74), 5 Nfld. R. 403. Greene v. Bowring; Pinsent v. Ayre (1874–84), 6 Nfld. R. 6. Pinsent v. Ayre; Greene v. Bowring (1874–84), 6 Nfld. R. 82. Noseworthy v. Bowring (1884–96), 7 Nfld. R. 78. Murray v. Bowring (1884–96), 7 Nfld. R. 143. Daily Colonist (St John’s), 31 Jan. 1890. Evening Herald (St John’s), 3 Feb. 1890. Evening Telegram (St John’s), 4 Oct. 1883; 13 Oct., 3, 15 Nov. 1884. Royal Gazette (St John’s), 4, 11 Feb. 1890.
Business and general directory of Nfld., 1877. Directory for the towns of St. John’s, Harbor Grace, and Carbonear, Newfoundland, for 1885–86, comp. John Sharpe (St John’s, 1885). Newfoundland men; a collection of biographical sketches . . . , ed. H. Y. Mott (Concord, N.H., 1894), 41. Melvin Baker, “The government of St. John’s, Newfoundland, 1888–1902” (ma thesis, Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland, St John’s, 1975); “Origins of St. John’s municipal council, 1880–1888” (unpublished graduate paper, Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland, December 1974), 2, 7, 10–15. Thomas Land, “Bowring Brothers Limited,” Book of Nfld. (Smallwood), IV (advertisement section). David Keir, The Bowring story (London, 1962). A. C. Wardle, Benjamin Bowring and his descendants; a record of mercantile achievement (London, 1938). Edward Morris, “The growth of municipal government in St. John’s,” Newfoundland Quarterly ([St John’s]), 7 (1907–8), no.1: 5–8.