Date of birth: 16 October 1859 Place of birth: The Cottage, West Gate, Southampton, Hampshire Marital status: Married Spouse: Emma Hill (1860–1944) Crew position: Trinity House Pilot (Southampton) Date of death: 21 June 1945
Established in 1514 by Royal Charter granted by Henry VIII, Trinity House is the official authority for lighthouses in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. Trinity House is also responsible for the provision and maintenance of other navigational aids, such as lightvessels, buoys, and maritime radio/satellite communication systems. It is also an official deep sea pilotage authority, providing expert navigators for ships trading in Northern European waters. Trinity House is also a maritime charity, disbursing funds for the welfare of retired seamen, the training of young cadets and the promotion of safety at sea.
Harbour Pilot: George William Bowyer
1. Early Life
George William Bowyer was born on the 16th of October 1859 at The Cottage, West Gate, Southampton, Hampshire. His father, Richard Tubb Bowyer, was 28 and his mother, Sarah (née Cue), was 27. He was baptised on the 4th December 1859 at St. Michael's, Southampton. He was one of mime children.
At age 11 he was listed as living at St Mary, Hampshire. He married Emma Hill (1860–1944) on the 23rd December 1882, at St Matthew's Church, Hampshire. They had nine children in 16 years between 1884 and 1900 (check the FamilySearch tree below - it lists 8 of the known children, as well as his siblings). By 1891 he was listed as residing at 77 Derby Road, St Mary, Hampshire, with a wife and three children plus one servant. His occupation is listed as: "pilot".
2. Trinity House Pilots
A Daily Echo newspaper article of 27th July 2015 stated that the Bowyer family "for long years, had been associated with the uprising of Southampton the port – a family which for generations followed the same course of professional employment. Nearly all of them were Trinity House pilots." (27th July 2015, Southern Daily Echo)
It seems George Bowyer was destined to become a pilot. George's father Richard was a Southampton pilot. His uncle, James Bowyer, was also a pilot and lived at Bugle House in Bugle Street, Southampton.
According to research by Richard North "George joined the pilot service in 1871 as an apprentice, crewing the sailing pilot cutter Lively, and his first trip was to ferry his uncle James (yes, the Jas Snr pictured here) to his ship. As a youngster he also crewed what he described as “William C Bowyer’s” racing yachts (presumably the boats belonged to his older cousin, the “Will” in the photograph). (http://richarddnorth.com/). He went on to be a distinguished big-ship pilot.
3. 1907 White Star Football team
One of George Bowyer's son's, Stanley George Hill Bowyer, was born in 1889, when George was 29, and was pictured as part of the 1907 "White Star team" playing football. At the time Stanley was aged about 18.
Stanley died when he was 44 and is buried next to his parents in All Saints Churchyard, Milford-on-Sea, New Forest District . The gravestone notes that he was a "Master Mariner" and "Deeply Mourned." (See photograph further down of the Bowyer family grave).
4. 1908 St Paul - Gladiator collision
On the afternoon of the 25th of April 1908, during a blizzard off the coast of the Isle of Wight, the HMS Gladiator was rammed by a large American liner, the St Paul, which resulted in the capsizing of the Royal Navy cruiser and the deaths of 28 sailors, only three of whom had their bodies recovered.
The St Paul, bound for New York via Cherbourg, had Captain Frederick Passow as its captain, and also onboard was Trinity House pilot George Bowyer, whose job it was to see the vessel safely through the Western Solent. Gale force winds meant that Bowyer maintained reasonable speed to aid manoeuvrability but when a collision seemed possible with the Gladiator, Bowyer first ordered all engines stopped to reduce the closing speed, as well as attempting to pass to the port side of the cruiser, as was standard practice. However Captain Lumsden of the Gladiator chose to turn in the opposite direction, and although Passow ordered engines full astern it was not enough and it resulted in a collision, at a relatively slow speed of 3 knots.
Salvage of the Gladiator was hugely expensive (£65,000) and ultimately ended in her being scrapped. The St Paul spent several weeks in dry dock for repairs and later returned to service, only to founder ten years to the day in the Hudson River whilst approaching Pier 61 in New York.
In June 1908 Captain Lumsden faced a court martial, which reprimanded the Navy captain for not following International Regulations, but also held the St Paul responsible for the collision, as it was thought to have been travelling too fast for the narrow seaway. However, when the Admiralty sued the owners of the St Paul, a high court held the Gladiator responsible.
Bowyer wrote about the incident in his memoirs entitled "Lively Ahoy" published in 1930:
During the whole of my career I have met with two mishaps, namely, the "St. Paul" - "Gladiator" collision on April 25th, 1908... Only those who have passed through an ordeal of this kind can appreciate the worry at the time. In the first case I had to attend, with Capt. Passow and officers, the inquest on the poor souls who lost their lives from the "Gladiator." The inquest was held at Godden Hill Fort, Isle of Wight, and, soon afterwards, the civil trail was heard at the Law Courts, London. Again, after the civil trail, the court-martial was held on board H.M.S. "Victory" moored in Portsmouth Harbour. I cannot express my feeling in writing, when I stepped from the top of the "Victory" gangway on her deck. Then, through the three days that it lasted, expecting at any moment to be called to the board room, it was even worst than waiting in the Law Courts in London.
It is all very well for people who are not concerned in this case kindly to tell you not to worry; this is impossible, however much you feel that you are in the right. I had a clear conscience in both cases that I was right, and still hold a clear conscience, which nothing on earth can alter.("Lively Ahoy - Reminiscences Of 58 Years In The Trinity House Pilotage Service" by George W. Bowyer, Page 37.)
5. 1911 Olympic - Hawke collision
In 1911 Bowyer was listed as living at 119 Alma Road, Southampton, with 3 daughters and 3 sons living with them.
Bowyer was on the RMS Olympic's bridge, navigating the ship, during the HMS Hawke collision of 12.46 p.m., September 20th 1911. With Captain Smith and the mandatory Pilot George Bowyer on the bridge, Olympic departed Southampton at 11.25 a.m. and began to increase speed. The Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke, under the command of Commander William Blunt, was sailing towards the same channel in the Solent. She altered course to overtake on Olympic’s starboard side but was irresistibly drawn towards the giant liner, probably by a combination of water displacement and propeller suction.
According to later testimony, here is the exact exchange of words between Smith and Bowyer in the seconds before Hawke struck Olympic:
Captain Smith: “I do not believe he will go under our stern Bowyer.” Bowyer: “If she is going to strike let me know in time to put our helm hard-aport.” Smith did not reply immediately, and a few seconds later Bowyer asks: “Is she going to strike us or not, sir?” Smith: “Yes Bowyer, she is going to strike us in the stern.” Bowyer calls out: “Hard-aport!” and helmsman QM Albert Haines just manages to get Olympic’s wheel over hard to his right when Hawke struck.
Bowyer was up before the court and questioned over his seamanship of navigating Olympic in those waters. While he agreed that these new vessels were getting too big he, along with the Royal Navy, were found guilty of the incident.
Boywer kept a photograph of the Olympic post collision. In handwritten notation he wrote below the photograph: "Olympic entering the new dock, day after collision Sept 21st 10.30am draft of water 35ft. 3ins." Bowyer also wrote about the Olympic collision in his memoirs:
Through the "Olympic" - "Hawke" case, the late Capt. E. J. Smith, the officers, and I told the truth and nothing but the truth. It was taken to the House of Lords, but the verdict was not altered, the "Olympic" losing the case. However, the company thought we were right, and I have piloted the "Olympic," the "Homeric," and the "Majestic," hundreds of times, up to my retirement on December 31st, 1929. ("Lively Ahoy - Reminiscences Of 58 Years In The Trinity House Pilotage Service" by George W. Bowyer, Page 37.)
Captain Arthur Rostron, of the Titanic rescue ship the Carpathia, commented on the tenuous dance of authority between a harbour pilot and a ship's master:
Many people think, for instance,
that when a pilot comes aboard the captain’s authority
and responsibility are superseded. Not at all. The
captain is still the captain—even over the pilot. I
have known a pilot run a ship aground because, poor
fellow, he was on the verge of a seizure and was not
responsible for what he was doing at the time. The
captain of that vessel would have been blamed if he
had not been at the man’s side and was instantly
ready to rectify the mistake he made.
(“Home from the Sea” by Arthur Rostron).
6. 1912 Titanic near collision
On the 3rd of April 1912 Bowyer was involved in both taking out the Olympic and subsequently docking the Titanic at midnight on its arrival from Belfast. He noted this occasion in his handwritten parchment bound log books that documented his career.
At 11am on the morning of the 10th of April, 1912, George Bowyer arrived aboard Titanic at Berth 44 and spent some time discussing with Smith and the officers the draft of water and other considerations for the maiden voyage of Titanic. Technically speaking, Bowyer was in charge of Titanic until it reached the Nab lightship, southeast of Bembridge, at which point he would disembark.
At noon, tugs eased Titanic away from her berth and under Bowyer, pilotage the Titanic began her journey down the River Test, passing Berth 38 and too close to the moored R.M.S. Oceanic (quayside) and S.S. New York (moored to the Oceanic outboard in the river). Titanic’s increased displacement of tonnage caused the New York to be dragged in towards Titanic.
Captain Edward John Smith was on the bridge and stepped in to give a new order in manoeuvring Titanic, thus preventing an actual collision. After an hour's delay and assistance from tugboats, Titanic finally departed Southampton and slowly wound her way though the Solent.
Titanic stopped briefly at the St Helen Pilot Boarding Area and Bowyer disembarked from Titanic's starboard side into a rowing boat, which was photographed by Father Browne as it is picked up by by the Ketch pilot vessel heading back to Southampton. If you look carefully, you will see on the sail "I.W. No. 1" which means it is the pilot boat No. 1 from the Isle of Wight.
Although Bowyer deliberately neglected mention of Titanic in his memiors, he did own several first generation photographs of Titanic along with his handwritten captions that add extra hand written information, such as a photograph of Titanic captioned "April 10th Off Fawley Beacon."
According to some descendants of George Bowyer, as referenced in the book "On a Sea of Glass", Bowyer did not leave the Titanic in the Solent via a pilot boat but instead sailed on to Cherbourg. The reason proposed that it could save time lost from leaving Southampton on account of the New York incident.
But this is not supported by a photograph that went to auction in October 2019 from George Bowyer's own personal collection. It shows the famous Father Brown photograph along with Bowyer's own handwritten caption, written within a week of the near collision: "The Titanic dropping the Southampton Pilot last Wednesday (April 10th, 1912) outside "Warner Light Ship". Pilot boat No.1 "Vigalent" [sic] & Norman Fort in the distance. " This indicates the pilot was indeed dropped outside the Warner Light Ship as planned.
In a caption added five years later, Bowyer goes onto mention that the Vigilant was blown up by a mine in 1917 with the loss of six of its crew and "eight pilots killed".
7. Henry Bowyer: Mayor of Southampton
At the time of the sinking of Titanic, Alderman Henry Bowyer, J.P. was Mayor of Southampton and a relative of George Bowyer - it seems they were cousins. They are photographed together in the 1896 Bowyer pilots photograph earlier in this article.
Alderman Bowyer became Mayor in 1911 after only four years working as a member of the council. Alderman Bowyer "had also occupied many notable other positions in the town, including Lieutenant-Commander of the Royal Naval Reserve, a magistrate for the borough, and a Trinity House Pilot... it was by no means an exaggeration to suggest that Henry Bowyer was one of the best known pilots along the coast... In the aftermath of grief that consumed the town following the White Star liner’s sinking, Alderman Bowyer orchestrated a Mayor’s Appeal which raised £41,000 towards a fund for the relief of the sufferers. " (27th July 2015, Southern Daily Echo)
Alderman Henry Bowyer died, aged 48, on the 11th of July, 1915. On his gravestone it is written: "To the Loved Memory of Henry Bowyer, J.P. Lieut. Commander R.N.R and Trinity House Pilot of this Port, Mayor of Southampton 1911 - 13. Who died suddenly on Sunday Morning July 11th, 1915, aged 48 years.""
Above: Henry Bowyer's grave is located in Southampton Old Cemetery. (Click to enlarge)
8. Prominent Port Personality
George Bowyer remained at Southampton and piloted the Olympic (II), Majestic (II) and Homeric (I) among others during the 1920s.
He even went on to become something of a "prominent port personality". In one tribute to him printed in 1923 it stated:
"One of the world's greatest pilots - Mr George Bowyer of Southampton. Mr Bowyer can do almost inconceivable things with giant liners and I believe he could steer the Majestic through the Bargate without mishap!
A figure without which Dockland would be incomplete. Mr George W Bowyer, one of Southampton's Senior Trinity House pilots, is universally loved for his sunny and amiable disposition and admired for his skill."
9. 1930 Book: "Lively Ahoy"
A year after retiring in 1929, George Bowyer wrote and published a book entitled "Lively Ahoy - Reminiscences of 58 years in the Trinity House Pilotage Service (1930). The book has become a rare and expensive item but disappointingly, his memoirs, although mentioning the St. Paul and Olmypic collisions in passing, omitted the Titanic near collision with the SS New York. Titanic had become a taboo subject in the offices of its owner, the White Star Line, and was spoken of discreetly, if at all, on Southampton’s streets, few of which escaped association with the most infamous disaster in maritime history. It seems that Bowyer bowed to this pressure and did not include it.
George retired to Barton-on-Sea, a coastline area almost directly opposite the Isle of Wight. George knew every inch of this coastline and his father and mother are both buried at Southampton's Old Cemetery on The Common.
George died on 21 June 1945 at Landemer, West Road, Milford on Sea, Hampshire, at the age of 85. His probate went to Maude Eveline w/o Percy Rashley and Norman Hill Bowyer, a licensed victualler.
He was buried at Barton-on-Sea and his grave can be seen at All Saints Churchyard, Milford-on-Sea, New Forest District in a plot with his wife Emma, who died a year before him on the 15th of February 1944 aged 84. The grave reads: "George William Bowyer, Trinity House Pilot, retired. Died 21 June 1945, aged 85. A devoted husband and father.
In recent years, plans were made to place a plaque on George Bowyer's house in Alma Road, however the owner of the property ultimately refused permission.
Pilot George Bowyer, although playing a critical role in Titanic's story, is conspicuously absent in almost all film and television portrayals - except for two: "A Night to Remember" (1958) and "S.O.S. Titanic" (1979) in which in both cases he is played by an uncredited actor in a brief scene on the bridge. In the case of "A Night to Rember" Bowyer is portrayed as asking Captain Smith if the engines had been tested before he is rudely interrupted by Ismay. Smith replies they have. Although a speaking part, it is an uncredited role played by actor Richard Beale (1920 - 2017), listed on IMDB as "harbour pilot".