The Bowles in England and Ireland

The Bowles may have come from Lincolnshire. But this is not where you would find them today or even a century ago. The table below show the three main areas where Bowles were to be found in England in 1891.

Bowles: Leading Name Distribution in England in 1891
London 17
Kent 10
Norfolk 6

Lincolnshire accounted for less than one percent of the Bowles in England. Instead, the name was more to be found in London and Kent.

London.  The political and commercial importance of London drew the Bowles landed gentry and Bowles workers and artisans as well.

Kent.  And also Kent as well. The Bowles here were spread over the county. One family history records Bowles who were yeomen farmers in the Weald of Kent in the 17th and 18th centuries and blacksmiths in the nineteenth. There were a number of Bowles to be found in the coastal towns of Deal and Dover. Many were seafarers. Others were local tradesmen. Today the name Bowles is associated with an outdoor recreation centre near Tunbridge Wells.

Norfolk.  A significant number of Bowles remained in Norfolk. The early spelling, according to the parish records, was Bowls. They were to be found in the 1680’s in Depwade, just across the border from Suffolk, and, later on, in the market town of Aylsham. The Rev. Bowles ran a private school on Queen's Street in the seaside town of Great Yarmouth in the 1840's. Other Bowles were publicans and rope makers there. And the town has a number of Bowles today.


Cromwell’s subjugation of Ireland had established the Irish constabulary to keep the country under control. Later, settlers were enticed. These settlers became known as the “adventurers for land in Ireland.” They undertook to keep the Protestant faith; in return they were granted lands that were confiscated from Irish owners.

Thomas Bowles, who had set up a malt business in Cork, had been instrumental in securing the city for Cromwell in 1649. He was suitably rewarded. It is said that three Bowles brothers and one sister arrived from England soon after. They became major landowners in county Cork and over time and several generations spread the family name across southern Ireland.

Bowles in Laios, Carlow, and Tipperary date from the early 1700’s. Later, other Bowles were to be found in Sligo, Cavan, Fermanagh, and Antrim in the north. Perhaps the longest-lasting Bowles presence has been in the city of Limerick. Henry Bowles was a respected clothier on Catherine Street in the early 1800’s; the Rev. Frances Bowles preached to the faithful in the 1850’s; George Bowles was the city’s Chief Air Warden during World War Two; and Richard Bowles was, until recently, Limerick City’s goalkeeper.

Sectarian Tensions.  In the late 1700’s, the tensions between the Catholics and the landowning Protestants were rising. The Protestants formed their Orange Order in 1795. Three years later, the Irish rebellion broke out and, in the uneasy aftermath, society became increasingly polarized. Most Bowles were in the Protestant camp and a number signed the anti-Catholic petition in 1827.

The following atrocity may or may not have been true; but was believed by many Protestants:

"A Catholic group attacked the home of Thomas Boles when he was away. They killed his entire family with the exception for one young child who had been put in a sack, hung on a peg on the wall, and covered with coats and wraps. When the father came home, he took his daughter and straight away departed for Canada."

Many other Protestants decided to leave as well. And Canada could provide a British New World option for them.

The Rev. Richard Bowles, a descendent in Canada of these emigrants, looked back on the times with a certain even-handedness.

"Tradition has it that these Bowles had served in the Irish Constabulary by which England had made effective her will on that green, rebellious, and freedom‑loving island. But it seems probable that, by the time of the fourth or fifth generation of them, their English blood had become at least eighty percent Irish. They were no longer cold‑blooded, calculating, rational and highly reasonable folk. Rather, they had become warm‑hearted, hospitable, sociable, highly emotionalized, a bit irresponsible, impetuous, hilarious and blessed with a high disregard of consequences."

That may be stretching it. But there was evidence in Bowles families over time of inter-marriage and some Bowles becoming Catholic.

Some Bowles also departed for Australia. A Bowles family was onboard the Diamond as early bounty emigrants. Not all Bowles went there willingly. George Bowles was transported there for life for deserting his sentry post (his previous offence had brought him 300 lashes).