Hunter Valley Colonial Medical Practitioners

Richard Rythe Steer Bowker

Richard Ryther Steer Bowker was born in 1815 in Lincolnshire, England.

He made several voyages to Australia. On 23 February 1841 he arrived in Port Phillip as ship's surgeon on immigrant ship Georgiana. While on board the 'Georgiana' he kept a journal of his voyage.

Richard Bowker lived in Bolton Street, Newcastle in the 1840's and was called on at all hours of the night for emergencies. In November 1843 he was disturbed at ten o'clock at night to attend a man named Morgan - a 'deformed and exceedingly harmless man' who resided in King Street and lay dangerously ill after being beaten and stabbed with a bayonet by two soldiers from the 99th regiment. When Dr. Bowker arrived he found Morgan seriously wounded with the stab being about three inches depth between the third and fourth ribs.

He was often required to attend inquests in Newcastle. In April 1844, Coroner J.S. Parker held an inquest at Newcastle on the body of 18month old Rebecca Dunn who had supposedly died through the injudicious medical treatment of a man named Peter Rosario At the inquest it was discovered that the child had been ill for four months and attended by Dr. Bowker who had told the mother that he entertained no hope of recovery due to her liver complaint. He recommended oatmeal, arrowroot and beef tea which the child refused. Her mother then called the assistance of Peter Rozario who ordered the flannels in which the child was wrapped to be removed. He mixed some aloes in a table spoon of water with some lump sugar, a teaspoonful of which he gave the child. After giving this medicine he cut up a white onion which he bruised with half a teaspoonful of salt and rubbed the child all over, when he prescribed a teaspoonful of castor oil to be given. He then ordered her to be laid to sleep. The next day to recommended more castor oil and rubbed the child all over again with onion and salt and ordered her to be fed with chicken broth boiled with whole pepper. The mother and child returned to their residence a short distance from Newcastle five days later. On their next visit to Newcastle the child became ill again and Peter Rozario was again consulted when he advised that she had a cold on the stomach and would not live. He again gave the child aloes to cut the phlegm and chicken broth however she died an hour later.

Richard Bowker and George Brooks performed a post mortem on the body and it was found that Bowker's diagnosis of liver disease was correct. The liver was enlarged to double its size and contained several abscesses. At the inquest Dr. Bowker stated that although Rozario's treatment was not directly injurious it was indirectly so by hindering efficient remedies from being employed. Two men John Barker and David Robertson spoke in Court in Rozario's favour stating they had received relief from his treatments, however the jury found that Rebecca Dunn had died by the visitation of God, and they recommended that Peter Rozario be cautioned by the coroner from practicing as a quack doctor.

Richard Bowker's attendance at some inquests must have been merely a formality. He attended the inquest of Thomas Pender in July 1844. Pender who arrived on the Bengal Merchant in 1838 was a convict at the stockade employed as a government stock keeper. He drowned off Throsby's Creek after his boat capsized. Unable to swim and dressed in a heavy watch cloak he soon disappeared. His body was later found on the opposite side of the channel.

On a winter's night in 1844 Dr. Bowker was called out at midnight when the lockup keeper Thomas Harrison was viciously assaulted and stabbed by two men. On arrival at the Court House where Harrison resided he found the stab wound had passed completely through Harrison's cheek and that he was in a very dangerous state.

In August 1848, he treated Miss Humphrey, the eldest daughter of Thomas Bott Humphrey of Newcastle. Her dress had caught fire and she was seriously burned before a ticket of leave holder John Brown managed to extinguish the flames. She remained in a dangerous state under the constant medical treatment of Dr. Bowker for some time.

Richard Bowker worked for some time in the East Indies however returned to Newcastle and settled in a house overlooking the harbour and sea. This was possibly situated in Watt Street next to the California Hotel established by Morris Magney. From his house he could no doubt observe any of his vessels entering and leaving the harbour. He owned five vessels in partnership with George Tully by 1853. One of his small trading vessels was the 'Lavinnia'.

He contributed to the educational entertainment in the township and in September 1844 gave an introductory lecture on Chemistry at the Mechanics Institute.

He was highly regarded by the inhabitants of Newcastle as in 1848 on his return to the township after a long absence residents contributed to purchase a piece of plate and fifty sovereigns to thank him for his previous and continuing service as a doctor

In 1858 he married Lydia Phillips in Paterson. Lydia was the daughter of Peninsula war veteran Captain James Phillips. She had probably grown up on the family estate 'Bona Vista' at Paterson. (Lydia's older sister Isabella married David Sloan in 1840.) Richard Bowker later purchased the Bona Vista property from the Estate.

Richard and Lydia soon started a family - Isabel was born in 1859, Robert in 1861, Elizabeth in 1862, Charles in 1864, Richard in 1867, Arthur 1869, Harold 1870, Edward 1872 were all born in Newcastle. Cedric was born in 1876 in Paddington, Sydney and a year later Richard was elected member for Newcastle in the Legislative Assembly.

Lydia died in Paddington in 1878. Richard lived until 1903. He was buried at Paterson


Notes & Links:

Australian Dictionary of Biography Online

Parliament of New South Wales


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