OWEN, Sir Edward William Campbell Rich (1771-1849), of Deal, Kent

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1826 - 20 Mar. 1829

Family and Education

b. 19 Feb. 1771 at Campobello, Nova Scotia, 1st illegit. s. of Capt. William Owen, RN, of Shrewsbury and Campobello and Sarah Haslam of Manchester.1 educ. Chelsea. m. (1) 16 Dec. 1802, Elizabeth, da. of John Cannon of Middle Deal, s.p.;2 (2) 28 Feb. 1829, Sarah Selina Elizabeth, da. of Capt. John Baker Hay, RN, s.p. suc. fa. 1778; KCB 2 Jan. 1815; kntd. 14 May 1816; GCH 24 Oct. 1832; GCB 8 May 1845.

Offices Held

Midshipman RN 1786, lt. 1793, cdr. 1796, capt. 1798, r.-adm. 1825, v.-adm. 1837, adm. 1846.

Col. marines 1821; c.-in-c. W.I. 1822-4; surveyor-gen. of ordnance May 1827-Mar. 1828; member, council of lord high admiral Mar.-Sept. 1828; c.-in-c. E.I. 1828-32; clerk of ordnance Dec. 1834-Apr. 1835; c.-in-c. Mediterranean 1841-5.


Owen came from a very old Welsh family. His grandfather, David Owen (1700-77) of Cefnhafodan and Llangurig, Montgomeryshire, had four surviving sons. The eldest, Owen Owen (1723-89), was sheriff of the county in 1766 and founded the Glansevern branch of the family. The third son Edward Owen (?1728-1807) was educated at Oxford (where on his matriculation his father was described as ‘pleb.’), became rector of Warrington, Lancashire and master of the local grammar school and published, among other works, verse translations of Juvenal and Persius.3 David Owen’s youngest son William, the father of this Member, was born in about 1735 and entered the navy. He served at Guinea and in the West Indies, and in 1754 went to India, where he saw much action, was wounded in the body and had his right arm blown off at Pondicherry in 1760. He obtained a small disability pension and lived at various places in England before settling at Shrewsbury. In 1766 he went to Nova Scotia as private secretary to the new governor, his friend Lord William Campbell†, a son of the 4th duke of Argyll. In May 1767 they toured Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island, and Owen visited New York and Boston. On 30 Sept. 1767, the day before he returned to England, he received confirmation of the grant to him and his three nephews (the sons of his eldest brother) of Passamaquoddy Outer Island in the Bay of Fundy. He visited France and Belgium in August 1768 and two months later was blinded in one eye and facially disfigured in an election brawl at Shrewsbury. In August 1769 he formed a company, composed mostly of Liverpool merchants but including his uncle the Reverend Edward Owen, to settle and administer Passamaquoddy. On 7 Apr. 1770 Owen and a party of 38 people sailed from Liverpool, reaching Passamaquoddy, which Owen renamed Campobello in honour of his benefactor, on 4 June 1770. Among the travellers was one Sarah Haslam, Owen’s housekeeper; and with her he had an illegitimate son, who was born in February 1771. He was baptized at Halifax, on Owen’s way back to England, 21 June 1771, and was named after Campbell and Owen’s other close naval friend, Captain Sir Thomas Rich†. Soon afterwards Owen received a grant of three small neighbouring islands.4 He returned to Shrewsbury, where he served as mayor in 1775, but established Sarah and his son in a household near Manchester.5 In his will, dated 6 Aug. 1772, he devised all his property, which included two farms near Llanidloes, Montgomeryshire, and his share in Campobello, to Edward: ‘in consideration of the tender age of my son’ and ‘the unhappy predicament of his illegitimate birth, which deprives him of the comfort, consolation, connections and rights of kindred’, the bequest was entrusted to the Rev. Owen, his nominated guardian and tutor. He was to be trained for the navy, in which his godfathers Campbell and Rich had promised to start him; and his mother was to be given ‘such pecuniary aid’ as the Rev. Owen ‘may from time to time judge she may want or by her conduct deserve’. In September 1774 Sarah Haslam, who was later known as Sarah Bagshaw, gave birth to another son of William Owen, who was christened William Fitzwilliam Owen. In a codicil to his will, 8 July 1776, Owen devised to him purchased property in Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire. Owen, who composed two narratives of his travels and adventures, succeeded in reviving his naval career in 1777, when he was promoted to commander and returned to India. He wrote a second codicil to his will, 9 Aug. 1778, when in command of the Cormorant, with ‘our little squadron in a line and the enemy to windward also formed’. He survived that encounter, but died in an accident at Madras when on his way home with dispatches later in the year.6

Edward Owen was already under the professional care of Rich, and was borne on the books of various ships from 1775 until his actual entry to the navy in 1786. After coming of age he made over his interest in Campobello to his younger brother, who followed him into the service under Rich’s aegis. William Fitzwilliam Owen achieved distinction as a naval surveyor and founded the West African island colony of Fernando Po in 1827. He became sole proprietor of Campobello in 1835, developed quirky religious views, expounded in his Quoddy Hermit (1841), and died at St. John, New Brunswick in 1857.7 Edward Owen was ‘very well spoken of’ in senior naval circles on account of his services during the first phase of the French wars. After his marriage in 1802 he took up residence at Deal. On the renewal of hostilities in 1803 Owen, who was credited by Lord St. Vincent with uncommon ‘intelligence and firmness’, emerged as the most active officer of the Dungeness squadron.8 Commanding the Immortalité, he conducted a series of harassing operations off the French coast: he inflicted heavy losses on part of the invasion flotilla in July 1804 and supervised a rocket attack on Boulogne in 1806.9 He played conspicuous parts in the Walcheren expedition in 1809 and the landing at South Beveland in 1813.10 He was captain of the Royal Sovereign yacht from 1816 until 1822, when he took the naval command in the Caribbean. From Barbados, 23 Mar. 1823, he commented to Sir Thomas Cochrane that ‘the king’s speech is exactly what we had a right to expect, and cannot be disfigured even by all the froth of Mr. Brougham’.11 He received the thanks of the assembly and merchants of Jamaica for his success in curbing piracy. On his return to England in October 1824 he accepted the offer of Lord Melville, first lord of the admiralty in the Liverpool ministry, to keep his ship, the Gloucester, and made himself available for further sea service, though he observed that ‘whether I am likely to be so called on in the few years work which yet remains in me I have not the least idea’.12

Owen was reported to have broken his collar bone in a fall from his gig, 15 Apr. 1826.13 At the general election that year he was invited to stand for Sandwich, where he had taken a ‘warm interest’ in the projected new harbour. His offer to step aside for Melville’s son was turned down and he came in unopposed on the government interest.14 In debates on the navy estimates, 12, 13 Feb. 1827, he argued that impressment and corporal punishment could not safely be abolished. He voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and with the disintegrating ministry for the duke of Clarence’s annuity, 16 Mar. He was appointed surveyor-general of the ordnance in Canning’s administration on the recommendation of Croker, secretary to the admiralty, who rated him ‘a very good man of business’, but considered him ‘removable with very little difficulty, as a professional command would always be an honourable retreat for him’. His re-election for Sandwich was untroubled.15 He defended the grant for Canadian canal communications, 14 May, 1 June, and voted for it, 12 June.16 He presented a petition from Bethnal chapel for repeal of the Test Acts, 7 June, and again upheld impressment and denied the prevalence of ‘arbitrary punishment’ in the navy, 22 June 1827.17

Owen, who remained at the ordnance in the administrations of Lord Goderich and the duke of Wellington, presented more petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 21 Feb., but voted against that measure, 26 Feb. 1828. He presented a Sandwich maltsters’ petition for repeal of the Malt Act, 25 Feb. Soon afterwards Clarence, lord high admiral since May 1827, secured Owen’s appointment as a member of his four-man council (that is, as a lord of the admiralty). There was no problem with his re-election, despite a technical ‘blot’, as Croker noted, whereby it might have seemed to precede his appointment.18 Owen, who admitted he was ‘young in the forms of the House’, fell foul of the Speaker in his attempt to raise objections to new clauses inserted into the Dover and Sandwich harbour bill, 31 Mar., but a compromise was reached. He was of course in the ministerial majorities on chancery delays, 24 Apr., the ordnance estimates, 4 July, when he justified from personal experience the need for a lieutenant-general in peacetime, and the silk duties, 14 July. He voted against Catholic relief, 12 May, and for the usury laws amendment bill, 19 June. In his official capacity, he defended the scale of naval shipbuilding, 16 May, the royal yachts, 19 May, and the pay of colonels of marines, 20 May. He supported the Marylebone vestry bill to ‘restore peace and quiet to the parish’, 6 June; presented a Sandwich petition against the clause of the alehouse licensing bill which permitted outside interference in the jurisdiction of Cinque Ports magistrates, 17 June; carried amendments to exempt the Ports from the measure, 19 June, and presented a Deal petition for the abolition of slavery, 27 June. He justified the grant for military works in Canada as a necessary precaution against American invasion, 7 July 1828.

Wellington ignored Clarence’s request that Owen be made a privy councillor, 11 July 1828, when he also demanded the dismissal of Sir George Cockburn* from his council for writing a letter of remonstrance against his assumption of an unauthorized military command. In the ensuing wrangle, which ended in Clarence’s resignation, Owen was used by him as an intermediary and messenger. He was the only one of the council who would not have resigned had Cockburn been removed: he ‘admitted that the duke was in the wrong’, but thought that Cockburn should have voiced rather than written his protest. At the same time, he conceded that ‘in general, affairs at the admiralty were not conducted as the law and the patent ... required they should be’; and he claimed that he had been about to say as much to Clarence when the argument broke out.19 On the reconstitution of the admiralty board under Melville in September 1828 Owen retired, ostensibly because it would ‘not be convenient to him at present’ to seek re-election at Sandwich, and was appointed to the naval command in India.20 In the House, 9 Feb. 1829, he defended Captain Walpole’s part in the Terceira incident. He married for a second time at St. Martin-in-the-Fields at the end of the month. As the patronage secretary Planta predicted, he voted ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation, 6 Mar., before vacating his seat and sailing for India on 24 Mar. 1829.21

He remained there for three years and returned in time to stand for Sandwich at the 1832 general election. Although the reformed constituency included Deal, he was heavily defeated by the Liberal sitting Members.22 Owen, who acquired and moved to a Surrey property at Windlesham, near Bagshot, was appointed clerk of the ordnance in Peel’s first ministry, even though he made it clear that he had ‘no hope’ of success at Sandwich at the impending general election. Against his better judgement he contested the borough, but finished in third place by 16 votes. Although his initial hopes of securing the seat by petition were dashed, and he remained out of Parliament, he kept his office, at Peel’s request, until the government fell in April 1835.23 Owen’s last command, at the age of 70, was in the Mediterranean, 1841-5. His insistence on having with him his wife, who was widely thought to be insane, caused some disquiet at the admiralty; but he acquitted himself well during the Morocco crisis in 1844.24 On 13 Jan. 1848 he replied in a frail hand to W.R. O’Byrne’s request for details of his career by referring him to the official records, and with the comment that ‘after 60 years of varied service’ he had ‘neither health or memory enough to be the recorder of his own adventures’.25 He died at Windlesham in October 1849.26 By his will, dated 24 May 1839, he devised Windlesham and the two Montgomeryshire farms to his wife, with remainder to his brother William’s ‘acknowledged daughters’ Portia and Cornelia. He left a property at Gravel Walk, Deal, bought from William, to a former servant, Mary Rigden, and disposed of other small properties in the town in accordance with the terms of his first marriage settlement. The residue of his estate was to be divided between his wife and nieces. Codicils of 24 June 1847 and 11 Aug. 1849 dealt with the consequences of his sale of some of his Deal properties to the South Eastern Railway Company, a purchase of land at Ringwould, near Deal and his relinquishment of his claim on the house of his first wife’s brother.27 After his widow’s death Windlesham passed to his niece Cornelia, the wife of Captain John Robinson, who took the additional name of Owen.28

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. PROB 11/1053/213.
  • 2. A.J. Willis, Canterbury Marriage Lics. 1781-1809, p. 262. This marriage is overlooked by Oxford DNB.
  • 3. E. Hamer and H. W. Lloyd, Hist. Llangurig, 81, 100-2; Mont. Colls. iii. 233; Gent. Mag. (1807), i. 488; Oxford DNB sub Edward Owen.
  • 4. Hamer and Lloyd, 103-10; Narrative of American Voyages and Travels of Capt. William Owen ed. V.H. Paltsits, pp. x-xi, 121, 151, 160, 163-5; Mont. Colls. xvi. 239-58; E.H. Burrows, Capt. Owen of African Survey, 1-25.
  • 5. Shrewsbury Burgess Roll ed. H.E. Forrest, 222; H. Owen and J.B. Blakeway, Hist. Shrewsbury, i. 536.
  • 6. PROB 11/1053/213.
  • 7. Oxford DNB sub William Fitzwilliam Owen; Burrows, 217; Owen Narrative, 163-5.
  • 8. St. Vincent Letters (Navy Recs. Soc. lv and lxi), i. 129; ii. 377, 399.
  • 9. Oxford DNB; Add. 41080, f. 94; Keith Pprs. (Navy Recs. Soc. xcvi), iii. 2-3, 16, 37, 41, 57-58, 72-74, 84-85, 110-11, 118-19, 127, 129; Markham Corresp. (Navy Recs. Soc. xxviii), 128-33, 145, 150-2; Barham Pprs. (Navy Recs. Soc. xxxix), iii. 152, 169, 173, 180.
  • 10. Add. 37291, f. 195.
  • 11. NLS mss 2267, f. 177. See also ibid. ff. 181, 193, 195, 215, 231, 245, 247.
  • 12. NLS mss 2268, f. 38.
  • 13. Kentish Gazette, 21 Apr. 1826.
  • 14. Kent Herald, 25 May, 8, 15 June 1826; Keele Univ. Lib. North mss N111/1-5.
  • 15. Canning’s Ministry, 156; Croker Pprs. i. 388; Kent Herald, 10, 17 May 1827.
  • 16. The Times, 15 May, 2 June 1827.
  • 17. Ibid. 8, 23 June 1827.
  • 18. Wellington mss WP1/925/6; Kent Herald, 13, 20 Mar. 1828.
  • 19. Wellington Despatches, iv. 520, 524-5, 528, 537, 622, 628-9; Wellington mss WP1/942/12; 944/18; 945/3; 947/37; 950/29; 951/5; 954/12; 956/23; 958/36.
  • 20. Wellington Despatches, v. 7, 19-20, 65-66, 77; Arbuthnot Corresp. 116.
  • 21. Kent Herald, 19, 26 Mar. 1829.
  • 22. Ibid. 1 Nov., 13 Dec.; Kentish Observer, 13 Dec. 1832.
  • 23. Wellington Pol. Corresp. i. 605; Add. 40407, f. 91; 40408, f. 167; 40409, ff. 196, 256, 258; 40410, f. 246; Kent Herald, 4, 25 Dec, 1834, 8 Jan. 1835.
  • 24. Oxford DNB.
  • 25. Add. 38049, f. 235.
  • 26. Gent. Mag. (1849), ii. 647.
  • 27. PROB 11/2107/144; IR26/1877/48.
  • 28. Owen Narrative, 166.