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Victorian Naval Forces Muster

for the Colony of Victoria. (muster range 1853-1910)*


Last Name:Bowden
First Name:James Charles
Rank:Second Gunner
Birth Date: 29-09-1844
Branch:Victorian Navy

James Charles Bowden

Second Gunner on the Delivery Voyage

by Keith Powerlett


James Charles Bowden was born on 29-9-1844 (Dublin, Ireland) and died 24-8-1925 (Melbourne) aged 81.

James Bowden was born in Ireland 2 years before the potato blight famine. Millions of people moved from Ireland. My grandfather seemed to follow historic things by going to England, became a merchant seaman, and somehow unsuccessfully searched for Dr. Livingston in Africa. Then in 1870 aged 26 was second gunner on HMVS Cerberus delivery voyage to Australia. He said it was a rough trip. They ran into a bad storm near the Bay of Biscay, making a life or death struggle. For 12 hours the Cerberus was on a 45 degree angle at times. Lieutenant Panter and crew battled for two days without making any progress with steam and sail. Daily consumption of coal an average of 40 tons a day. When they reached Gibraltar there was 6 tons left in the bunker. Soon after she was the second warship through the newly opened Suez Canal in 1870. Continuing on through the heat in the tropics and on to Melbourne 9th April 1871. Cerberus was the pride of the Victorian Navy for 40 years and other duties until sold to Melbourne Salvage Company for £450. She was too big to break up and was sold to the Sandringham Council for £150 for a breakwater for the Yacht Club.

James married in Melbourne, had children and when his first wife died he re-married in the late 1800's. His youngest daughter, Marjory Eve was born 17-6-1895. James was made Chief Warder of the, now historic, Castlemaine Gaol. Marjory, my mother, passed on the stories of the delivery voyage to me (Kieth Powerlett born 12-4-1933) part of the growing Cerberus family. Marjory stayed with James and Jane till they both passed away in 1925. James saw the ship's finish from start to finish. It must have been a proud moment for all when, (from the Cerberus Log) Sunday April 9th 3.00 am Cape Schank Light sighted from the foreyard. 5.15 am Pilot came on board 10.15 am passed West Channel Light 2.33 pm passed Gellibrand Light 3.00 pm brought up single anchor off Melbourne Pier.

I asked what James Charles Bowden said about the trip out, he said it was very rough. The winds near Gibraltar put the Cerberus on a 45 degree angle. Lt. Panter should have cut the masts, he and the crew were un-noticed heros. They were proud to be the second ship through the new Suez Canal. Later going through the tropics the heat from the steam engines reached 40 degrees and turned the paint brown, he (my grandfather) blamed this for his going bald and gained permission to wear a hat in church. He said the ship was pointed one way and would want to go another. He said he would never go on her again, a ship built like a fort, without a true keel and delivered half way around the world.

written by Keith Powerlett (grandson of James Bowden)

James Bowden was paid £21.12.4 wages for the 123 day delivery voyage from the UK to Victoria.
Valerie Weber (Great Grand Daughter of James Bowden)

An entry in the Cerberus Log Book indicates that James Bowden was still serving on Cerberus in 1872.

On 21 September 1873 the Cerberus logbook recorded that J. Bowden had been rated as a Leading Seaman.


* 1853 is given as the commencement date for the Victorian Navy as this is the year that Commander Lockyer (RN) went to Britain to superintend the building of HMCS Victoria.
Although the Victorian Navy ended in 1901 the career of Cerbeus etc continued. In 1910 the new ships started arriving & manning levels increased.

Information & photographs of men who served in the Victorian Naval Forces is eagerly sought. Please contact the webmaster.