Bowring, John



Sir John Bowring, KCB (Chinese translated name: 寶寧,寶靈 or 包令) (17 October 1792 – 23 November 1872) was an English political economist, traveller, miscellaneous writer, polyglot, and the 4th Governor of Hong Kong.  Autograph Slip Signed, n.d. 2 x 1/2 mounted and written in blk ink overall, fine condition.  

"Sir John Bowring (October 17, 1792-November 23, 1872), a man of amazing energy and a polymath, was a linguist, political economist, reformer, hymnist, writer and editor, Member of Parliament, and controversial Governor of Hong Kong. He was among the most famous Unitarians of his time.

Born into a Unitarian family at Exeter and educated in a Unitarian school, Bowring at one stage wished to become a minister. He was however destined by his family for a commercial career. He left school in 1805 to work with his father, a cloth merchant. In 1810 he began work in a London office where he was encouraged to develop his natural linguistic talents. His company sent him to represent them in Spain, 1813-16. On his return he set up his own business and married Mary Lewin, from a Unitarian family in Hackney. He was an active member of the Unitarian church at Hackney, led by Robert Aspland. Later he joined the circle around William J. Fox, who ministered in Finsbury. Bowring early travelled extensively on business; then, as his commercial activities failed, he concentrated on writing.

Bowring later boasted that he could speak one hundred languages and knew two hundred. At the time of his death a more detached estimate placed him at the head of the world's linguists, with a speaking knowledge of eight languages, reading and writing knowledge of seven, and working understanding of a further twenty-five dialects.

Bowring translated a vast amount of poetry, and the folklore of almost every European country. Among many other works he published Specimens of Russian Poets, 1820; Ancient Poetry and the Romance of Spain, 1824; Sketch of the Language and Literature of Holland, 1829; Poetry of the Magyars, 1830; and Cheskian Czech Anthology, 1832. In 1829 he was awarded an LL.D. by the University of Groningen.

In 1821 Bowring met the philosopher Jeremy Bentham and became his chief disciple. In 1824 when Bentham set up the radical journal Westminster Review, Bowring was political affairs editor. He later edited the first collection of Bentham's works and wrote his biography. Bentham died in Bowring's arms.

Bowring's influence was wide. Although Lord Byron and he never met, through correspondence he influenced Byron to go fight for the liberation of Greece. When Byron died his body was consigned to Bowring in a cask of rum.

He became Member of Parliament for Kilmarnock, Scotland in 1835. It is probable that in this Calvinistic setting, Bowring's Unitarianism contributed to his 1837 electoral defeat. He was MP for Bolton, 1841-49, a time when he records that Unitarians were the largest body of dissenters from the Church of England in the House of Commons. A forceful proponent of liberalism and free trade, he was seen as an extreme radical. He was chiefly responsible for introducing the first British decimal coin, the florin (1/10 of a pound sterling).

Bowring's personal finances grew worse. The failure of an investment virtually ruined him in 1848. Because of his impending bankruptcy and his controversial views, the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, wished to get Bowring as far away from Britain as possible. Accordingly Palmerston appointed him Consul in Canton, 1849-53. Bowring was knighted in 1854. From that time until 1859, the most controversial period in his life, he was Governor of Hong Kong.

From the 1820s onwards Bowring wrote hymns in large numbers, many of which were published. His most well known, 'In the Cross of Christ I glory' is in most Christian hymnbooks in the English-speaking world, though not in modern Unitarian collections.

Sir John Bowring died at his home, Claremont, Exeter, only a short distance from the house where he was born. None of his children followed his Unitarian faith."