Mowll Family Website

 

THE MARITIME MOWLLS / MOWLES

 

Researched and documented by Dr. Richard Mowll, assisted by Roger Mowll ( Final Issue dated December 2000 )

If you care to visit the Historic Naval Dockyard at Victory Gate, Portsmouth, in the south of England, you will see three of the four definitive types of battleship in the history of naval warfare. They are the remains of the Tudor warship Mary Rose (c.1510), Nelson's Trafalgar flagship HMS Victory (1760) and the Royal Navy's first true ironclad battleship HMS Warrior (1860). To see the fourth of these types, which originated in Portsmouth with HMS Dreadnought (1906), you must go to the United States where you will find examples of 20th Century battleships such as the USS Iowa, all others from Britain, France, Germany, Japan and the USSR having been scrapped. For the devotee, Portsmouth is the Mecca of naval history and in the reception area of the Historic Dockyard there is a large fully-working model of the Warrior, built by the Revd. William Mowll. It took William 16 years to complete the model, finishing in 1997 in time for the millennium. During the necessary researches to build this replica, it was discovered that a relation common to both Dr. Richard Mowll and the Revd. William served on board this famously preserved all-iron battleship as Assistant Surgeon in 1869. She would then have been the world's supreme warship in terms of firepower, armour and speed, possibly the reason why she never was engaged in actual combat.This chance discovery of a common relative by Richard Mowll set in train a number of further enquiries about the Mowll family maritime history. What follows is a record of a maritime heritage which goes well beyond the shores of Great Britain, a record which future Mowlls and Mowles may want to look back on, and that is why we are sending this account to any members of our family who might wish to know more and perhaps contribute further information. A copy is also being posted on the Internet (Mowll/Turpen web-site). Our Family has spread across the globe and it will always be of interest to know how they got there and what may have been their links with the sea.

Travel east from Portsmouth some 100 miles along the English Channel coast and you will come to Dover, one of the five historic Cinque Ports of South-east England. This is where the Family had its recorded beginnings and, since so many of the male family members were ship's pilots, we must start our story with an understanding both of The Fellowship of Cinque Port Pilots and of the Family tree** so that it will be clear where everybody fits in.The Fellowship of Cinque Port Pilots originated in the late 15th Century and regulated all affairs to do with pilotage on the south-east corner of England. They appointed wardens at the ports of Dover and Deal, and a senior pilot to be Master of the Fellowship. Mariners who wished to become pilots (minimum age 25 years) had to be examined by two officials of the "Court of Lodemenage", normally the Wardens of Dover and Deal, whose signatures appear on the competency certificates. The approved pilots' names were entered in the "Lower Book", and there were restrictions on the type and size of ships that Lower Book pilots could handle. After seven years' service, a pilot could be re-examined and his name transferred to the "Upper Book". We have had access to the archives of the Fellowship of Cinque Port Pilots going back to the 16th Century, which are kept at Maidstone in the County of Kent and contain the minute book of the Court of Lodemenage and the certificate books of examinations. These records show that, between 1700 and 1840, no less than ten members of the Family became Cinque Port pilots.The first of these, and the earliest member of the Family of whose descent we can be certain, was William Mowll, who appeared in Dover somewhere about 1660, the date of the great fire of London when the plague was rife throught the Land. We know that William received the Freedom of the City of Dover by decree, and that this freedom was passed on to his descendants provided that they were born within the limits of Dover. He was also a Freeman of the City of Caen in Normandy, Northern France, and we may suppose that he needed these freedoms to give him the rights to use these ports for shipping which he may well have owned or part-owned himself.

Quite by chance, baptismal records for a family of Mowlls have been discovered in St. Mary's Church in Sandwich in Kent. These date from 1547, more than 100 years before William Mowll of Dover appeared on the scene, and they record the baptism of a different William Mowll whose father's name was Thomas, with brothers Thomas and John and with sisters called Alice and Jane, all names which appear later in our family tree. Although we cannot prove our descent from this family, it is highly probable that, with a name like Mowll in common, we are related. St Mary's records commenced in 1538, and surrounding parishes' records did not start for at least another 20 years, so the chances of picking up a marriage record for one or more of these children would be small unless they moved some way from home. As to whence these English Mowlls came we can only speculate that a likely origin would have been Huguenot migration from Northern France at a time of religious persecution in the 15th or 16th Century. The name Mowll may have been a corruption of some similar French name, and the Huguenot connection may bear upon our seafaring characteristics. All this is no more than guesswork, and likely to remain so in the absence of hard evidence.

What we do know for certain is that the recorded Mowlls and Mowles descendants over the last 300 years, and there have been many more than 400 of them, are all descended from the William Mowll of Dover who died in 1701. Only the last of William's eight recorded offspring, Richard(1), is listed as having children, and of the four, only one was a boy, Jeremiah also known as James, born in 1714. These were times when many died in infancy, and it is a sobering thought to realise that,upon this slender thread through three generations, depended the survival of the Mowll name.Two of the three sons of Jeremiah(1) continued the family line, and it was the two sons of Richard(2) who brought about the split between Mowll and Mowle. The Cinque Port records describe the examinations of Richard(1) and Jeremiah Mowll to become pilots, both for the Lower and the Upper Books, but nothing more is known about their lives. However, Richard(2) became a senior pilot and we have information about him from the minute book of the Court of Lodemenage. In 1795 he was suspended for refusing to take out a man-of-war. Why he refused we do not know, but he was reinstated on condition that he took charge of a ship of at least the size of a frigate. Perhaps this incident showed his character in a good light because he went on to become the Master of the Fellowship, having served in all its official capacities at one time or another. He asked to be allowed to retire in 1812, at the age of 78, and permission was granted on a pension of 60pa.!

The two sons of Richard(2) were Jeremiah(2) and Richard(3). The elder, Jeremiah, was the one who changed his name to Mowle. Whether this change was by intent or accident we cannot be sure, but the story in the Family is that the two brothers had some difference of opinion and the name change followed. Whatever the truth, it was Jeremiah who moved to Deal, a short distance away from Dover, where he became a Cinque Port pilot based on Deal. Richard(3) remained at Dover and interestingly it was he, the younger son, who inherited the right from his father to be a Freeman of the City.We know from the Freeman's Roll that Richard(3) was a mariner but we have no record of him ever becoming a pilot. There is a record in the Deal courts of Jeremiah being indicted and fined for fighting with one James Russell in 1795, so perhaps he had a wayward streak that led him to stray from the Family roots. He had nine sons but only the eldest, another Richard, became a Cinque Port pilot. William emigrated to Canada, possibly the first of the Mowles to cross the Atlantic. John born in 1798 became a sea Captain and the fourth, Stephen Sayer Mowle, a resident of Cork in Ireland, was for a time the regular Captain of the paddle-steamer Sirius.

The Sirius made history when she arrived in New York on the 22nd of April,1838 and became the first vessel to make the Atlantic crossing under continuous steam power albeit with her sails set throughout the voyage. This was the beginning of the story of the Blue Riband Trans-Atlantic Trophy which started in earnest in 1838 between two rival shipping lines. The Great Western Shipping Company in Bristol saw themselves as a "railway across the Atlantic", and the British and American Steamship Company had their eyes on the lucrative trans-Atlantic mails contract. At the very last minute, the B&ASC found themselves without a vessel to compete with the planned launch of the "Great Western", so they entered a little Scottish schooner-rigged paddle-ship called "Sirius 1837", whose Captain was the afore-mentioned Stephen Mowle. For the race, the Sirius was commanded by a Lt. Richard Roberts RN who, after winning the Blue Riband, handed the Sirius back to Capt. Stephen Mowle to resume coastal duties. The Atlantic crossing was completed in 18 days at an average speed of 13.5 knots, and her coal fuel supply just sufficed to complete the voyage. The Revd. William Mowll has built a model of the Sirius which was sold to the Sirius Brokerage Inc. in New York and is probably on display in their offices.

Jeremiah(2) and Richard(3) each had sons whom they christened Richard, without any second names, which might induce the reader to wonder what was so special about the name Richard in the families of the Mowlls and Mowles. To add to the potential for confusion, Jeremiah's Richard(4), born in 1783, married a Sarah,nee Ralphs, and Richard's Richard(5), born eight years later, married another Sarah (Millen) when he was but 19 years old. And they all lived together, well not quite together but within 20 miles or so of one another, and finally to cap it all both these Richards were Cinque Port pilots. Thank goodness there was a third line of descent through Isaac Mowll, but he was a Cinque Port pilot too and he also continued to live in Dover. When you consider that these pilots would normally compete fiercely for whatever shipping came up the English Channel bound for London and Tilbury on the River Thames estuary, you might imagine that the scope for inter-family strife would have made good 19th Century television soap opera. As far as we can tell, none of Isaac's descendents were pilots but, as we shall see later, some of them were ship-owners.

The descendant lines of Richard(5) of Dover, and of Jeremiah(2) who lived in Deal, gave rise to considerable emmigration from an England whose empire straddled the globe and whose Navy ruled the seas. They must have been adventurous people. Dare one speculate that they were getting a bit fed up with all these Mowlls and Mowles cheek by jowl in the South-east corner of a rather small island. Almost certainly not, since this was the era of European emigration when men and women dreamed of getting away from the smoky factories and the sweated labour of the world's first industrial society. Not that Dover was particularly industrial, but anyone with a visionary streak would have easily been caught up in the spirit of the age. The reality was often different, for life could be exceedingly hard in the outposts of empire. Some returned, disillusioned, but those that stuck it out put succeeding generations in an ever stronger position to make the best of their lives. Australia and North America were the favoured destinations for the Family, and there are Mowles in Australia today who are descended from Jeremiah(2). Some have had eminent careers, notably Stuart Marjoribanks Mowle who was Usher Black Rod of the NSW Legislative Assembly. His father had served as a surgeon on the convict ships to Australia. Another was Percival Conrad Mowle (1872-1951)who was a member of the Marine Board of New South Wales and an authority on the Customs Service, and also the editor of "A Genealogical History of Pioneer Families of Australia" (1939).

Richard(3)'s eldest son, William Johnson Mowll, was a baker to start with, but then a mariner and later he became a pilot. He seemed to be a pilot on rather a part-time basis. His descendents numbered one family that went to Australia (William John) and one that went to the United States (George William). A third son John remained in England and none of his descendents appear to have had maritime careers. John himself was a toy-maker. However one of his grandsons, Walter John Mowll was a Congregational Church minister, later employed by the then-named British and Foreign Bible Society, in the service of which he travelled extensively, by ship of course since at that time aircraft were in their infancy (early 1900s). He was based first in South Africa, then in India and finally in the Americas where he made his home in Trinidad. His first wife, Marion Collingwood Hay, took ship on her own to Cape Town where they were married in 1907. She was a descendent of Cuthbert Collingwood whose man-of-war "Royal Sovereign" was the first vessel to engage the combined French and Spanish fleets at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Collingwood took command of the English fleet after the death of Lord Nelson.

Walter John's only grandson, Roger Mowll, who was born in Trinidad in 1936, was at one time involved with drilling and production systems for oil and gas in the North Sea between the United Kingdom and Scandinavia. Classed as ships under maritime law, accommodation was generally unsuited for women and it was on the Buchan Field in about 1984 during which time Roger was the shore-based management representative that the first female was assigned to offshore duty. Women have of course been seafarers since time immemorial, but we have no record of any Mowll or Mowle women becoming mariners. Very probably there would have been many who undertook lengthy sea voyages in the course of emmigration or other journeys before commercial aviation became the common mode of travel. In 1992, Roger sailed the Atlantic by yacht in a six-week crossing from Poole in England to Barbados, retracing in part the route of Columbus' third voyage which led to the "discovery" of Trinidad exactly 500 years earlier. We can guess that the first of the Family to cross the Atlantic might have been William, son of Jeremiah(2) or perhaps Charles Wills, second son of Richard(6). And who would have been the first to sail to Australia? Quite possibly Edward Boxer Mowle, followed by Stuart Marjoribanks who evidently went in 1836 at the tender age of 14 and was later the author of "The Last of the Luggers". Roger Mowll was a keen racing yachtsman and his boat "Petal" was winner of the famous Britannia Cup in 1990. His son Jonathan was a member of the winning crew, and the name Mowll can be found inscribed on the walls of the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes in the Isle of Wight. In the course of his work, Roger met a Texan by the name of Roger W Mowell, after whom an off-shore drilling rig had been named. Interestingly, there was a striking facial resemblance between the two Rogers, yet there was no way of tracing a Family relationship.

Richard(5), born in 1791, became a pilot at the age of 25 in 1815, the year of the battle of Waterloo. Presumably because his wife Sarah was a Deal girl, he went to live there and thus became ineligible to inherit the Freedom of Dover from his father. This was a period when England was at war with France and pilots were very much in short supply. Naval Captains would come into a port with the intention of press-ganging young and not-so-young and they were not averse to grabbing anyone capable of piloting. Richard was one of these, and since the Navy's ships had no means of paying at the rates demanded by pilots, he would be given a certificate redeemable (hopefully?) on submission to the Board of the Admiralty. The actual piloting was done mainly along the southern shores of the English Channel, La Manche, and into the Netherlands. We have six of these certificates, each given to Richard by an RN ship's captain, commending him for excellent service and attention to duty and for giving his services when nobody else was available to do so.(Did he have a choice and was he ever paid?) On one occasion he got the ship Antelope, a famous Royal Navy frigate, off the mud where she had been stuck in the River Scheldt and at risk from enemy action, and piloted her to safety.

Richard(5)'s eldest son, yet another Richard(6), went into the Royal Navy and became a sailing master. He had a distinguished career which ended with the command of the training ship, HMS Conway. He was given the rank of Commander, although the Navy now seems to have no record of such. Training ships had a tradition of harsh discipline which hardly fits with the Family character, so hopefully he was an exception to the rule. His brother, Charles Wills Mowll, was born in Dover and hence able to become a Freeman of the City. He served as a paymaster in the Navy, and on one occasion in about 1830 was transferred aboard a slave-ship which had been captured in mid-Atlantic. While on board, he contracted yellow fever and was put ashore at Rio de Janiero, whence he wrote to his father in England a letter which we have retained. Charles survived the yellow fever and went to live in Mass. USA (after retirement from the Navy) where he married and had American descendants. Only a few years previously, the American and English Fleets had been at war, so his evident welcome in the States provides an interesting commentary on prevailing attitudes of the time.

Richard(6) had only one son, Richard Alfred Mowll, who became a doctor and joined the Navy somewhere about 1865. He also married a Sarah (Rothwell). He was the grandfather of the Dr Richard Mowll who is the author of this Family record. Although none of his descendents were mariners by trade, there has been a strong family interest in recreational sailing which continues to this day in his great-grandson Nick and his sons, Stephen and Andrew. Another son of Richard(5) was John George who served in the Royal Navy in the mid-1800s. One of his grandsons, Louvain, today resides in Liverpool in England, the other grandson Frank having emigrated to Canada after the second World War. Both were in the Merchant Marine for a combined total of more than 50 years, including RN service during the war. In all that time they only twice served on the same vessels, the SS Bosnia in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Ashantian on the South African run. Louvain spent much of his time up and down the east coast of the American continent, including trips up the Amazon River. One voyage in 1934 lasted 10 months, and the news of his mother's death did not reach him until the end of the voyage. What a contrast with the communications we have come to expect in today's journeys. After WW2 Louvain was on the cruise ship "Queen of Bermuda". Both his sons served in rthe Royal Marines.

Of William Johnson Mowll's three sons, the first, William Tonbridge, became a tailor and his son William John left for Australia in about 1855. We think he became a pilot on the Australian east-coast rivers. Richard(7) became a Cinque Port pilot, based at Dover. He was eventually lost at sea and we have no record of the circumstances. His son George William emigrated to the USA. One of his sons Waller Usher, who had worked for Cunard, was a keen model-boat builder and one of his great-grandsons Lawry served in the US Navy after WW2. One of Jeremiah(2)'s grandsons, Thomas Ralphs Mowle, became a Cinque Port pilot out of Deal, at which time (1840's) there would have been three pilot members of the Family in Dover and Deal. Thomas' son Richard(8) served in the Royal Navy and was subsequently a Bengal river pilot on the Hougli near Calcutta.

Amongst the descendants of Isaac Mowll, we find Charles Havelock who was a ship-owner and whose son Harold went into the Royal Navy and was lost in the First World War. His grandson Garforth served in the Second World War, retired as a Captain RN and lives now in Florida. According to Lloyds Register of shipping, Charles' father, William Rutley Mowll appears to have started business as a ship-owner in1870 with a single vessel, the "Lucy", built at Sandwich and launched in 1855. Her length is listed as 86 ft. and tonnage 163, this being a measure of her carrying capacity. By 1876 Mowll and Co. owned two more vessels, the "Star"(77 ft. and 136 tons) and the "Lewes Lass"(90 ft. and 183 tons). Both these ships were built in Sunderland and were launched respectively in 1835 and 1850. All three ships had been disposed of by 1884 when the Company evidently chose to quit the coastal shipping business. There is an uncorroberated story that William Rutley did not insure his ships, preferring instead to give money equivalent to the premia to the Church. Is it possible that one of his ships was lost at sea?

In 1887 Charles acquired a famous ship, the "City of Adelaide", so named because like many other clippers of those times she was employed on the England-Australia run, out by the Cape of Good Hope and the Roaring Forties and back round Cape Horn. Built by William Pile and Co.for Devitt and Moore and launched in 1864, she was 176 ft. in length with a gross tonnage of 791 tons, much larger than any of the vessels previously owned by Mowll and Co. When Charles sold her to T.Dixon and Sons of Belfast in 1889, her tonnage had been reduced to 784. By then she was 25 years old but she continued in service until at least the turn of the century. Like the more famous "Cutty Sark"she is of composite construction, iron framed with wooden keel, stem, sternpost and planking. Today the hulk of the "City of Adelaide" lies rotting on the Clyde in Scotland, about to be finally broken up. She and the Cutty Sark are the only true 19th Century clipper ships remaining, both listed in the Register of Historic Ships at Greenwich. How many Australians must have ancestors who first set foot in their new Land when they stepped ashore from her gangway.

The Family's story in Australia cannot be complete without mention of Howard, a grandson of William Rutley. Although never a professional mariner, Howard was one of the two great Mowll travellers in the service of the Church, the other being Walter John who knew of and admired Howard (they were contemporaries although they probably never met on the face of this globe). Howard's distinguished career led him via the Anglican Bishopric of China to become Archbishop of Sydney and Primate of Australia. On the south wall of St. Andrews Cathederal in Sydney there is a memorial plaque recording the love and affection felt for him and his wife Dorothy after their deaths in 1958. The Mowll / Mowle connection with Australia is very strong; a relatively high proportion of the family are to be found living there, as is also the case in North America, whereas only one or two appear to live in continental Europe and at least one family in New Zealand. Throughout the generations, a sense of adventure and a willingness to travel, perhaps coupled with a tolerance towards other peoples and lack of fear for the unfamiliar, seem to have been Family characteristics.

So ends our tale for now. Of course there is more, perhaps much more, which remains unrecorded but as we draw the strands together it becomes ever more apparent that the sea runs in our veins.After all, our likely Huguenot ancestors were among the most intrepid and resourceful mariners of the 15th and 16th Centuries, true adventurers in the spirit of all ages. Cinque Port pilots established a reputation for skill and devotion to duty on one of the most treacherous stretches of water, where tidal currents combine with variable winds and not infrequent storms to test any mariners resolve. All done without engines or radio communications, without modern navigational aids and weather forecasts. Some courage, some character. _____________________________________________

** This reference is to the "MOWLL FAMILY TREE", dated September 1986, and compiled by Dr. Richard Finch Mowll of Tanners, Turners Green Road, Wadhurst, Sussex, TN5 6EA, based on the research of Archbishop Howard Mowll earlier last century, with encouragement from Christopher Mowll of 15 West Hill, Sanderstead, South Croyden, Surrey, CR2 0SB. Contributions from other Family sources toward the information in this Record are gratefully acknowledged. The "MOWLE" contact is with Coll Macdonald of Morville Farmhouse, Morville, nr. Bridgnorth, Shropshire (son of Hilary Constance nee Mowle). Return correspondence please to the above-noted or to: Roger Mowll, Old School Cottage, Rogate, Petersfield, W. Sussex, GU31 5BH. - r.mowll@btinternet.com