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BOWLES, GEORGE JOHN, administrator and entomologist; b. 14 June 1837 at Quebec City, the eldest son of John Bowles, a shoemaker, and Margaret Cochrane; m. there 31 Oct. 1861 Isabella Patterson, the daughter of a British army officer, and they had one son and two daughters; d. 16 June 1887 at Montreal, Que.

Having spent his early childhood at Quebec, George John Bowles went with his family to Trois-Rivières in 1844. He began formal studies in a school there, but lacking the financial means to continue them had to acquire a knowledge of literature and science on his own. In 1851 his family returned to Quebec, and the following year he took a job as a clerk in the Quebec Provident and Savings Bank. He remained with this establishment for nearly 20 years, during which he rose to the position of assistant cashier (assistant general manager). In 1872 Bowles left Quebec to settle in Montreal, joining the British American Bank Note Company as secretary treasurer, a post he retained for the rest of his life.

At Quebec, some time around 1863, Bowles developed a liking for natural history, and began to interest himself in entomology. In 1864, with William couper (then assistant secretary of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec) and Abbé Louis-Ovide Brunet* (a professor of natural history at Université Laval), he organized the Quebec City branch of the Entomological Society of Canada, which had been founded at Toronto the previous year. The Quebec branch remained active until about 1872, meeting in the rooms of the Literary and Historical Society whose small natural history museum it used.

One of the most active members of the little society from 1864 to 1872, Bowles collected and studied the insects of the Quebec region, especially lepidoptera. He also showed particular interest in species harmful to crops and gardens, as his articles in the Canadian Naturalist and Geologist and the Canadian Entomologist indicate. The first of these, which appeared in the former journal in 1864, marks an important step in the development of applied entomology in Canada. In this article Bowles noted the arrival in North America of the cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapæ), a European species especially harmful to market garden crops. Probably brought by ocean liners docking at the port of Quebec, the first specimens had found the environment suitable and had greatly multiplied. Bowles predicted that unless steps were taken to destroy the caterpillars each season the species, which was still confined to the Quebec region, would soon spread throughout Canada and cause extensive crop damage.

Settling at Montreal in 1872, Bowles retained his interest in entomology. The following year he helped found the Montreal branch of the Entomological Society of Ontario, which in 1871 had replaced the Entomological Society of Canada [see William Couper]. He was to remain a principal figure in this branch, serving as president from 1875 to 1881 and again from 1884 to 1887. In 1875 he took advantage of his first election to the presidency to try to guide the development of the little Montreal society and raise the scientific standards of its work. Its members were amateurs, mainly engaged in collecting lepidoptera and coleoptera on Montreal Island. Bowles urged them to diversify their interests and broaden their studies, pointing out that entomology was bound to play a part in solving the major problems of biology, especially that of the origin of species. He further reminded them that entomology was a practical science of considerable importance to agriculture, forestry, and medicine. Consequently he advised the members of the Montreal branch to collect all categories of insects, and to study not only the forms but also the stages of their individual development, the influence of environment and food, the role of instinct, the behaviour and geographical distribution of the species, indeed, all aspects of the natural history of insects. Practising what he preached, Bowles published in the Canadian Entomologist and in the annual reports of the Montreal Horticultural Society and Fruit Growers’ Association of the Province of Quebec numerous articles on widely diverse questions dealing with taxonomy and systematics, the behaviour of species, and applied entomology.

In addition to being a member of the Entomological Society of Ontario, Bowles belonged to the Natural History Society of Montreal, the New York Entomological Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For several years he held the post of assistant editor of the Canadian Entomologist. His correspondence, still not collected, shows that he maintained close relationships with American entomologists such as John Lawrence LeConte, Samuel Hubbard Scudder, and William Henry Edwards, and with Canadian naturalists, in particular James Fletcher, William Saunders*, and Abbé Léon Provancher*. After his death his impressive entomological collections were placed in the Redpath Museum of McGill University, Montreal.

George John Bowles was no mere collector: a skilled entomologist, he was able to grasp the potential importance of the study of insects for elucidating the great scientific questions of the time, and the practical role that entomology could play in the development of agriculture in Canada through the identification of harmful species. By his contributions to entomological literature and by his efforts to organize learned societies, he earned a place of honour in the small band of naturalists who in the 19th century interested themselves in the flora and in the fauna of Canada.

Raymond Duchesne

[George John Bowles wrote numerous articles as an active member of various scientific associations. These include: “On the occurrence of Pieris rapæ in Canada,” Canadian Naturalist and Geologist, new ser., 1 (1864): 258–62; “Address of the incoming president of the Montreal branch of the Entomological Society of Ontario,” Entomological Soc. of Ontario, Annual report (Toronto), 6 (1875): 10–13; “The importance of practical entomology,” Montreal Horticultural Soc. and Fruit Growers’ Assoc. of the Prov. of Quebec, Report (Montreal), 3 (1877): 95–98. A dozen articles also appeared under his signature in the Canadian Entomologist (London, Ont.) between 1869 and 1887; several of these analyse lepidoptera, migratory insects, and new species of butterflies.  r.d.]

Arch. de la Soc. entomologique du Québec (dép. de biologie, univ. Laval, Québec), Minute books of the Montreal branch of the Entomological Soc. of Ontario, 1873–87. Arch. du séminaire de Chicoutimi (Chicoutimi, Qué.), Fonds Léon Provancher, Letters of G. J. Bowles, 8 Oct. 1867, 17 Dec. 1874, 16 Dec. 1878, 16 Jan. 1882, 14 Aug. 1884. ASQ, mss-m, 474–77; 479; 484. F. W. Goding, “In memoriam: George John Bowles,” Entomological Soc. of Ontario, Annual report, 20 (1889): 20–21. E.-J. Leroux et R.-O. Paradis, “Histoire et perspectives de la protection des plantes au Québec: aspect entomologique,” Phytoprotection (Ottawa), 51 (1970): 99–123. J.-M. Perron, “Histoire des sociétés d’entomologie au Québec,” Soc. entomologique du Québec, Annales (Sainte-Foy), 19 (1974): 18–27.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Raymond Duchesne, “BOWLES, GEORGE JOHN,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 29, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bowles_george_john_11E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/bowles_george_john_11E.html
Author of Article: Raymond Duchesne
Title of Article: BOWLES, GEORGE JOHN
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1982
Year of revision: 1982
Access Date: July 29, 2014