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BOWMAN, JAMES, doctor and surgeon-major; b. probably in Ireland, son of Whitney Bowman; d. 1787 at Quebec.

James Bowman is thought to have come to Quebec as surgeon-major to the British forces, apparently shortly after the conquest. On his discharge from the army, he decided to set up an office in that town. In the spring of 1784 he began to work as a doctor at the Hôtel-Dieu, where he and another Quebec doctor, Joseph Détailleur, had been accepted in recognition of their selfless and unremitting care of smallpox victims during the epidemic of the previous winter. Since the conquest the wards of the Hôtel-Dieu had been reserved for military patients, but the epidemic had produced so many more sick persons than hospital facilities in Quebec could accommodate that early in 1784 the government had decided to return the wards to the hospital nuns [see Marie-Louise Curot, dite de Saint-Martin]. Not only had Bowman and Détailleur provided constant care for all smallpox victims in the town, but they now volunteered to treat free of charge all those infected with the disease who were brought to the nuns’ hospital.

On 18 April 1785 Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton, faced with another widespread infectious disease, appointed Bowman official investigator of the Baie Saint-Paul malady. As far back as 1773 this strange disease, which was spreading through the villages along the St Lawrence, had come to the attention of Governor Guy Carleton*. The government had launched an enquiry but had abandoned it in 1775 because of the American invasion. In September 1782 a group of highly respected physicians in Quebec and Montreal, including Philippe-Louis-François Badelart*, James Davidson, Charles Blake*, Robert Sym, George Selby*, and Jean-Baptiste Jobert, had issued a warning to the authorities in a petition to the grand jury in Montreal. During 1785 and 1786 Bowman was given the responsibility of visiting all the regions to which the infection had spread. He examined 5,801 sick persons in 1785 and 4,606 the next year.

In contemporary medical circles there was prolonged discussion about the source of this disease. Its symptoms and developmental cycle, and the success of treatment with mercury-based medicine, convinced Blake, Davidson, Sym, Selby, and Bowman that it was syphilis. Two Montreal doctors, Robert Jones* and Jobert, were certain, however, that syphilis was not involved. Nevertheless all the physicians treated their patients with medicine containing mercury and expressed satisfaction with the results.

Bowman presented a documented report to the government and a claim for £2,500 for two years of study and travel. The claim was not honoured, and instead he was offered 100 guineas for expenses and 200 guineas as his fee. By the time of his death in 1787, however, the government had decided to accord him £825. Since Bowman had already received £500, the remainder was paid to his estate.

Édouard Desjardins

PAC, RG 4, B43. [P.-L.-F. Badelard], Direction pour la guérison du mal de la baie St-Paul (Québec, 1785); “Observations sur la maladie de la Baye . . . données au public par ordre de son excellence le gouverneur,” Quebec Gazette, 29 July 1784. Robert Jones, Remarks on the distemper generally known by the name of Molbay disease, including a description of its symptoms and method of cure chiefly intended for the use of the clerical and other gentlemen residing in the country (Montreal, 1786). “Une correspondance médicale: Blake à Davidson,” P.-A. Fiset, édit., Laval médical (Québec), 23 (1957), 419–48. Abbott, History of medicine. M.-J. et G. Ahem, Notes pour lhist. de la médecine, 73–83. Heagerty, Four centuries of medical history in Canada, I, 131–60. A. W. Cochrane, “Notes on the measures adopted by government, between 1775 and 1786, to check the St. Paul’s Bay disease,” Literary and Hist. Soc. of Quebec, Trans., IV (1854), 139–52. Émile Gaumond, “La syphilis au Canada français, hier et aujourd’hui,” Laval médical, 7 (1942), 25–65. J.-E. Roy, “Maladie de la baie,” BRH, I (1895), 138–41. Benjamin Sulte, “Le mal de la baie Saint-Paul,” BRH, XXII (1916), 36–39.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Édouard Desjardins, “BOWMAN, JAMES (d. 1787),” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 20, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bowman_james_1787_4E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bowman_james_1787_4E.html
Author of Article: Édouard Desjardins
Title of Article: BOWMAN, JAMES (d. 1787)
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1979
Year of revision: 1979
Access Date: April 20, 2014