FOWELL, WILLIAM NEWTON, naval officer; b. 5 June 1803 probably at Torbryan, Devon, England, third son of the Reverend John Digby Fowell, rector of Torbryan, and Sarah Knowling, an heiress; m. 29 May 1841 Theana Holland, daughter of John Holland, of Clapham, Surrey, by whom he had three daughters during his residence in Canada; d. at Leycroft, Taunton, Somerset, on 17 June 1868.
William Newton Fowell joined the Royal Navy on 26 March 1819 and won commendation as a midshipman on the schooner Lion for services against pirates in the West Indies in 1822–23. He served with distinction as mate on the small schooner Pickle in the capture on 6 June 1829 of the powerful and notorious West Indian slaver, the Boladora, and was wounded while serving as mate of the Gambia during the so-called “Barra War” of 1831–32, a minor West African campaign mounted to extend British interests inland along the Gambia River. He won his lieutenant’s commission on 12 Aug. 1834, and during the next three years served successively on Sir George Cockburn’s flagship President in North American and West Indian waters, on Comus in the same area, and on Inconstant from 15 July 1836. From the Inconstant he was posted on 17 Aug. 1838 to be 1st lieutenant at Kingston on the Niagara, the headquarters of Captain Williams Sandom*, commander on the lakes of Canada.
Sandom commanded an improvised flotilla of civilian steamers which had been hastily acquired and lightly armed by the government to protect the border against possible incursions by Canadian rebels who had fled to the United States in 1837 and their American sympathizers organized into militant Hunters’ Lodges. On 12 Nov. 1838 Lieutenant Fowell, in command of the 150-ton war steamer Experiment, prevented a landing of such an invading force at Prescott, forcing the large “pirate” steamer United States and its satellites, the Paul Pry and two schooners, to abandon their enterprise. Nonetheless, one of the invading flotilla succeeded in landing a force of Americans and a few Canadians commanded by Nils von Schoultz* a few miles below the town, where they occupied a six-storey stone windmill and a number of adjacent stone buildings. After a bloody, three-day battle, Schoultz was forced on 16 November to surrender to a strong force of British regulars and Canadian militia commanded by Major Plomer Young and Lieutenant-Colonel the Honourable Henry Dundas. Meanwhile, Fowell had used the Experiment effectively to prevent reinforcements from reaching the windmill. For his zeal and gallantry in this battle Fowell was commended by the magistrates and citizens of Prescott, his commanding officer, and the lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, Sir George Arthur*. A more tangible recognition of his services was his promotion to the rank of commander on 4 July 1839.
Fowell succeeded Sandom in mid-summer 1843, and commanded the Montreal on Lake Erie from 3 April 1843 until 26 July 1844 when he assumed command, successively, of the ironclad Mohawk (150 tons) and the Cherokee (750 tons) on Lake Ontario with headquarters at Kingston. He was then posted to the United Kingdom at his own request, and left Kingston on 26 July 1848.
Fowell retired in 1853 having been promoted captain with seniority from 6 Aug. 1852. His final promotion, to rear-admiral, took place in 1867.
Chronicle & Gazette (Kingston, [Ont.]), 1838–47. Gentleman’s Magazine, CCXXIV (January–May 1868), 397. G.B., Adm., Navy list, 1819–68. O’Byrne, Naval biographical dictionary (1849), 374. W. L. Clowes et al., The Royal Navy, a history from the earliest times to the present (7v., London, 1897–1903), VI, 268. G. F. G. Stanley, “Invasion: 1838,” OH, LIV (1962), 237–52.