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Robert Bowles and his Agricultural Equipment Company

In the 1820's Robert Bowles Jr. arrived in Dublin, the teenage son of a recently deceased Protestant shoemaker and a disowned-Quaker mother. He found acceptance and a wife in the Society of Friends community in the 1830's and from the 1840's developed a farm implement manufacturing, rental and sales business in Dublin with a demonstration farm at Cloghran-Huddart, a showroom, offices and warehouses on Carter's Lane, Smithfield and a manufacturing facility and residence on Blackhall Place.  In 1872 he built a fine new residence in Kingstown where he retired but continued as an Elder of the Dublin Meeting until his death in 1887.

See also The Robert Bowles Family of Ballickmoyler, co. Laois and Dublin for more information on Robert's parents and siblings.

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Robert Bowles (Jr.) was born in 1811, the eldest son of Robert Bowles, a shoemaker of Ballickmoyler, co. Laois, and Anne Baker  (née Waring), a widowed Quaker woman with four children who was then disowned by the Carlow Meeting for marrying outside her faith.  The couple's own three children were baptized in the Church of Ireland but, following Robert Sr.'s death, the family moved to Dublin in the 1820's where all three children were accepted by the Friends Meeting in Dublin and married back into the Quaker faith.  It would seem that despite being barred from her faith Anne and her four Baker children had remained true to her religion and she brought up her Bowles children in that belief.  In 1833 Anne successfully appealed the disownment order and was welcomed into the Dublin Friends Meeting.

in September 1832, just after his 21st birthday, Robert Jr requested and was granted admission to the Friends.  The report on Robert stated that "it appears he was born of parents one of whom had been a member of our society, has been brought up in profession with Friends (i.e. he had been brought up in close association and according to the customs of Friends) and has been accustomed for several years to attend our religious meetings".  Every member of the Friend's faith was expected to make a semi-annual (in January and July) contribution to their Meeting's funds which were used to support other less fortunate members through financial assistance, education etc.  The Friend's Subscription Book for Dublin, sometimes called a Poor Book, shows that Robert made his first contribution (5s) 'For the use of the Monthly Mens Meeting of Dublin' in January 1833. 

Robert (Jr.) started his working life with a shoemaking shop on Upper Dorset Street.   In 1833, he married Hannah Wardell.  This marriage is recorded in the Friends' Dublin Monthly Meeting Minutes.   His acceptance into the Faith must have been closely linked to his mother's re-admission that same year.

Robert's first role within the Friend's structure was as a member of the Library Committee for 2 years until he and several other members of the group asked for release from the committee in February 1835.  Their report to the Men's Meeting gives an interesting view of the role of the committee.

Consistent with his Faith, Robert was active in the Temperance Movement.  In 1838 he was one of the ticket sellers when John Hockings, the Birmingham Blacksmith, spoke in Dublin.  Hockings was famous as one of the few working class temperance speakers who connected well with his working class audience. 
When the family first arrived in Dublin they probably lived above their shoe shop on Upper Dorset Street.  Possibly Robert and Hannah moved to their own home in Dublin after their marriage in 1833 where they had 3 daughters between 1834 and 1839.  However, by June 1840 Robert had moved his family to Leixlip.  Griffith's Valuation Field Book for 1841, shows that when the assessment team visited Leixlip in June 1840, Robert held a lease on the house, offices and yard known as Lot 6 on Pound Street which was valued at 20£.  In July the valuators set detailed values on the buildings on the Leixlip properties by measuring each building and judging its quality. 

The loss of their next 2 infants in 1841 and 1844 is recorded in the Dublin Mens Meeting Minute books along with the birth of their daughter Margaret at Leixlip in April 1847.

 

 

  Robert the Farmer

By 1840 Robert had acquired a farm at Cloghranhuddard, co. Dublin adjacent to a large farm owned by James Doyle Penrose who would later marry Robert's daughter Anne in 1854.    ref.

Cloghran-Huddart consisted of the combined townlands of Cloghran,  Ballycoolen and Grange and is today the site of the Rosemount Business Park to the NW of Dublin.  The townland map shows several large farms in that area which could have been Robert's but, as Robert's daughter, Anne, gave Mitchelstown as her residence when she married in 1854 and when one of her children was baptized in 1870, and we also know that Robert's farm was adjacent to James Penrose's farm, it must have been one to the north where it borders on Mitchelstown townland, possibly Cloghran House itself.

The Home Farm Business

In November 1850 Robert moved with his wife and his youngest daughter Margaret (age 3) to Ballindrum, Athy, co. Kildare which is near the Quaker village of Ballitore, the location of the Shackleton School.  Their daughters Anne (16), Hannah (14) and Lucy (11) The minutes of the Carlow Womens Meeting of Jan. 12, 1851 records that   ref. 

In February 1855 Robert advertised his spring wheat was available for sale at a seed store in Dublin but he soon went into the retail business himself.  This was a period of innovative new farming techniques and equipment development in England and America.  In Ireland, in the period following the Great Famine and the resulting Irish Diaspora to other lands, the need for automated farming equipment was driven by a scarcity of the labourers needed for the old spade-and-fork ground and crop working methods used for the last hundreds of years.  As Robert stated in a discussion at the monthly meeting of the Dublin Chemical Society in 1860, the use of such labor saving equipment was necessary as "he did not think there was any danger in our time of ever seeing hand labour superabundant." (see full reference below)

Later that year he started to advertise that the state-of-the-art equipment in use at his farm was available for demonstrations and to be let out on hire.

In December he advertised that his prize thrashing machine was available for rent by the day.

Over the next 5 years he acquired more state-of-the-art farming machines, used them on his own farm and made them available for rental.  His advertisements stressed "as a practical farmer, I can offer peculiar advantages to my Customers in the selection of Machines and implements." His next offer was for his Hanson's Patent Potato Digging Machines and for Ransome's Prize Portable Threshing Machine.  In June 1857 his Eight Horse Portable Steam Engine and Patent Combined Threshing, Straw Shaking and Corn Dressing Machine was available for hire.  In November that same year his Steam Thresher was working in the neighbourhood of Swords and Malahide along with a Patent Steam-threshing and Finishing machine and a second such machine was working in Maynooth and Leixlip.  In December he advertised a price reduction due to the short days.  In 1858 he had three steam threshers working in the Castlewarden, Swords and Cooper Hill (near Drogheda) areas.  In 1859 he placed machines in Louth, Meath, Kildare, Westmeath, Longford and Dublin.

               

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According to a report in The Farmers Magazine published in London in 1860, new deep-ploughing equipment which turned up the rich virgin soil which was deep under the worked out topsoil had been developed by the Marquis of Tweeddale on his estate in England and had been demonstrated in Ireland.  The magazine printed a paper which had been read at the monthly meeting of the Dublin Chemical Society, chaired by Robert Bowles, about the use of the new artificial manures and deep ploughing techniques which together could greatly increase the annual yield of cereal crops as had been demonstrated by Robert Bowles using a Tweeddale plough on his farm at Cloughranhuddart.

That year he described himself as an "Agricultural Machinist of Cloughranhudard established for hiring out best portable steam engines, thrashing machines, and circular saws, corn drilling, grass mowing, and other improved machines and implements; also ploughing & pumping by steam power."


Robert the Manufacturer

Undoubtedly he would have lost several of his rental customers once his modern equipment proved itself and they went and bought their own. Most of the best equipment had to be imported from other countries.  In early 1860 he opened his own factory on Blackhall Place and started to produce equipment of his own design.

Not missing the opportunity to capitalize on the other new farming practice mentioned in the above paper, the use of artificial manures, Robert was one of the founders of the National Manure Company of Ireland in December 1861.  He is listed in a newspaper notice as living in Cloughranhuddard and being on the Board of Directors of the new company.  The National Manure Company of Ringsend Docks, Dublin was around for a while as it is mentioned as an exhibitor at the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland's exhibition in Dublin in 1871 as was a Bowles of Bleikhillplace, Dublin.  That would have been Robert at Blackhall Place.  (The Farmer's Magazine, Vol. 40, 1871 p. 233)

The Retail Merchant With a Shop

The farm on the outskirts of Dublin would have been ideal to demonstrate his products but he would have wanted a more central and convenient site to display his wares. In May 1861, he announced the June opening of his New Agricultural Implement Warehouse in Carter's Lane, Smithfield, Dublin.  He offered his customers the opportunity to view his products there, to test their new implement at his farm at Cloughranhudart prior to acceptance and offered to send out postage free catalogues. His May and June advertisements included extensive lists of the equipment which he could now offer for sale or rent.

 


He promised delivery anywhere in Ireland served by a railroad. 

That Fall he introduced Hanson's Patent Potato-Digging Machine  which could take out 5 acres of potatoes in a day.  

In addition to equipment Robert's warehouse store supplied all a farmer's needs. In 1861 he advertised under the heading 'Giant Wheat' that he had available a few barrels of "the most prolific Wheat known, a single grain having produced 72 ears, containing 6,480 grains".

In 1862 his warehouse was renting out Wood's American Mowing and Reaping Machines as well as "Haymaker's Rakes, Steel Forks, Turnip and Mangold Sowers, Grubbers, Double Ploughs, Metal Rollers, Lawn Mowers, Garden Seats and almost every metal agricultural implement".

 

Robert advertised his booth in the Dublin Agricultural Show of 1862 in papers throughout the country.

 

Robert's Own Line of Farm Equipment

In 1863 Robert acquired J. Huggan Co.'s manufacturing facilities on Blackhall Place (where Ireland's Supreme Court stands today).  See The Agricultural Equipment Works at 22 Blackhall Place.

Initially Robert's company was a distributor of other company's farm machinery which he brought in from England and the U.S. but in 1864 he took a huge step by getting into manufacturing products of his own design with the introduction of his New Pattern Harrow built at his plant at 22 Blackhall Place.
 

His harrow received rave customer endorsements which Robert solicited by writing to each customer about their experience with his new harrow.


One of Robert's harrows is on display at the Irish Agricultural Museum at Johnstown Castle Gardens in co. Wexford.  Both their web site and their pamphlet feature a picture of it (in 2014, I couldn't find it on their web site in 2016).  

Unfortunately, the item is described as B. Bowles' Harrow as, unfortunately, when someone painted in the stamped maker's name for the display they mistook the 'R' stamped into the metal to be a 'B'.

     Robert's harrow in the Irish Agricultural Museum

 

 


In 1864 Robert exhibited his stock in the Implements Department of the Royal Dublin Society's Spring Cattle Show.  The Freeman's Journal of March 30, 1864 reported "Mr. Robert Bowles of Carter's Lane had a large and highly creditable display of machines and implements.  The collection of ploughs and harrows embraced every variety suited to husbandry and all seemed to be of first-class construction.  Mr. Bowles also exhibited a flax scutching machine, made on the Ulster plan, intended to produce good flax with little waste, and capable of being worked by horse, water, or steam power, or to be made portable."  The Ulster Flax Scutching Machine was also of Robert's own manufacture.

That October, Robert organized a 3-day working trial of four different flax scutching machines judged by an panel of experts.  His machine naturally came out on top, received a rave review from the judges ("the judges declare they have not yet seen a machine to exceed the Ulster machine, known as the Stocks and Handles, made by Robert Bowles, Dublin") and it was also the least expensive and easiest to use ("they are so simple that any intelligent person can quickly comprehend their working").

Robert's Side Interests, New Product Development and later Newspaper Ads

In 1864 Robert made an innovative departure from his agricultural field when he applied for and received a patent with Richard Donovan of Castleknock for "improvements in the means for the prevention of fraud by altering cheques, drafts, bills, i.o.u.'s, and documents of any description relating to the payment and receipts of money."  Possibly, Robert had experienced some such fraud himself and worked with Donovan to develop a system to prevent it happening again.

 

 


A notice in the Feb. 4, 1865 Freeman's Journal headed 'The Gas Question' includes a list of prominent Dublin businesses including Robert's, his relations at Baker, Wardell and Co., grocers, and his brother Thomas' print shop.

Robert's notices that spring state that, as well as his extensive line of high quality equipment for sale, he also repaired 'engines and all kinds of machinery' and was the manufacturer of Metal Rollers, Clod Crushers, Steel Forks and Spades (in addition to his own line of harrows and the Aungier sheep rack which were featured in separate ads).

Robert's Aungier Sheep Rack, designed by Mark Aungier of Dublin was touted as "really useful, simple and economical".

His line of harrows now included special steeled, chain and moss models. 


Robert exhibited at the Royal Dublin Society's Spring Cattle Show again that year (1865).  An article in the Freeman's Journal remarking on the increased number of Irish implement manufacturers exhibiting that year, listed first:

"Robert Bowles, Blackhall Place, Dublin - Specimen cart axle, ditto corn rick stand pillar, field gates, steel forks, stable fittings, turnip slicer, root pulper, oat bruiser, winnowing machine, horse rakes, Lothian harrows, rollers, cattle troughs, clod crushers, turnip drills, a fire-proof flax scutching mill, with four sets of handles; a set of new patent flax breaking rollers, and numerous other implements, which will be found most useful to the agriculturist."

Robert's advertisements in 1867 and 1868 contained glowing customer references for his harrow: 

"my new Steel Harrows, now acknowledged to be unequalled"

"it is infinitely superior to any implement of the kind yet brought before the public"

"I never saw a perfect working Harrow until I got it"

"think them the most powerful I have yet tried"

  In 1862 Robert had proudly announced that he could now offer the Woods American Mowing and Reaping Machine.

In 1867 Robert imported the Hornsby Paragon mower and organized a field test to test its quality.

 

 

It proved so much better than the Woods mower from America he had previously sold that he then placed a notice "To the Nobility and Landed Gentry of Ireland" announcing that while he would still stock the Woods machine for those customers who still preferred it, he could not recommend it.

 

That year he also entered some of his equipment in the Royal Exhibition in England and proudly announced that one of his turnip cutters had been awarded a First Prize.  Perhaps reacting to a comment made in another paper, this notice also stated "although I may not yet have the LARGEST, yet I think I have the BEST SELECTED STOCK of farm implements and machines to be found in Dublin."

In May 1869 Robert announced a major expansion in display space with additional warehouses in Blackhall Place and on Hendrick's Lane (which runs into Blackhall Place).

The coverage of the 1871 Dublin Royal Agricultural Society's Spring Cattle Show and Exhibition in the Farmer's Magazine (London) described him as "an extensive manufacturer, and maker of steel harrows, as also an agent for several English houses".  Robert exhibited "patent grinding and disintegrating mills for bruising furze and grinding corn, beans, bones, buck nuts, and other substances; digging ploughs, land rollers, drills and grubbers; haymakers and some samples of portable threshing machines".

 

 

 

By 1871 Robert's harrow was being copied by other manufacturers.  Robert warned his customers about the inferior quality of the copies and that his could be identified by the 'R. Bowles, Dublin' stamped on each set (as we can see in the pictures of his harrow in the museum above).


  

That same year, at age 60, he may have experienced a downturn in his health as, soon after this rapid period of expansion and just one month before the August exhibition, Robert announced the sale of the hay and equipment used for his farm equipment demonstrations at his farm at Cloghran Huddart "in consequence of his inability to give needful attention to this part of his business.""

Less than a year later he announced his retirement from manufacturing and the sale of his buildings and stock at Blackhall Place.  The auction announcements give a comprehensive list of his stock and manufacturing equipment.

 

He may have actually lived at Blackhall Place which would be common for small shop owners who often lived over their shop but it seems unusual for a large manufacturer.  We have no other indication of any other residence he may have had before he moved to a house in Kingstown shortly after the sale. 

The membership list of the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland gives his address as 22 Blackhall Place from 1869 (his first year of membership) until 1871.  I haven't found the lists for 1872-73 but in 1874 he is listed as living at 40 York Road, Kingstown.  In 1875 he is no longer listed as a member but on Aug. 30 of that year R. Bowles of 40 York Road presented a hedgehog to the zoo.  A hedgehog would have been a rather common animal in Ireland so it may have been more of a symbolic contribution to mark his retirement from the society.

In 1877 Robert participated in the Dublin Yearly Meeting as an Elder.  During a discussion about members who became attached to other bodies (i.e. religions) and whether they should be disowned, Robert commented that it would be a great disadvantage to disown them; he knew of some who had come back to us.  He would have been referring to his mother who had been disowned for "being married by a priest" to his Church of Ireland father but who had returned to the Friends faith along with their children.  He may have also been referring to his brother Thomas who baptized several of his children Roman Catholic but who must have returned to the faith as he was buried in the Friends Burial Ground at Temple Hill.

His daughter Margaret's marriage announcement in 1879 mention her parents living at Air Hill, Kingstown.  Air Hill House is at #39&40 York Road in Kingstown (which has now returned to its original name Dun Laoghaire or the anglicized name Dunleary).  It is two houses joined together and was under renovation when I was there in 2010.  I believe Robert lived in the residence to the right (the yellow side) and his sister Lucy lived in the left half (blue section).

For another few years he, or other members of his family, may have continued to sell agricultural equipment from what was now called the Smithfield Agricultural Warehouse as is shown in the 1881 notice on the right but later that year that location was also sold off. 

His wife, Hannah, died in November of that year.

 

 In Nov. 1883, at age 72, he is mentioned as attending the founding meeting of the Dublin Peace Society, a Quaker initiative to promote arbitration instead of war to settle international disputes and to promote the reduction of national armaments, at the Friends Meeting House on Eustace Street in Dublin. 

Robert Bowles of Kingstown died in 1887 and was buried in the Friends Burial Place at Temple Hill, Dublin.

He had 6 children but only one was a son and he died as an infant so this was the end of this branch of the Bowles of Ballickmoyler line.  There are several Penrose and Neale descendants of Robert's surviving today.

See Robert Bowles of Ballickmoyler and Dublin's Family Tree for more information on Robert's family members.

 

There is one further reference in 1886, an advertisement by his son-in-law, Francis Neale, who had a Bowles harrow for sale.

In 1889 a Robert Bowles of Lower Camden Street, Dublin advertised a harrow for sale.   Robert's brother Thomas had a son Robert so this would be the original Robert's nephew.

   

Note: there was an advertisement by another Robert Bowles in the Dublin papers in 1861 which complicated this study.  That Robert Bowles advertised in July 1861 that his residence, workshop, warehouse and shop in Redgrave, co. Suffolk were now for sale as he had moved his stock fully to his new larger business location and would be moving his residence as well at Michaelmas (September 29th).  Since 'our Robert' had acquired his new warehouse at Smithfield in May 1861 it seemed possible that they were the same Robert and that for some reason, the Robert Bowles from Carlow had operated a business in Suffolk before opening the Smithfield warehouse in 1861.  However, we know from advertisements that 'our Robert' had operated an agricultural business from his farm at Cloghran-Huddart from 1856 to 1858.  He could have moved to Suffolk for just 3 years I suppose (1858-61), however, research in Suffolk papers and English census records show that the Robert Bowles of Redgrave operated a grocer and draper shop there from at least 1853 to 1861 prior to his acquisition of a larger business in Norfolk where he remained until his death in 1912. 

It's dangerous to jump to conclusions while doing family history research.


This site was last updated 10/19/18