The Bowles of Canada and their Roots in Ireland and England 

Back to The Bowles of Carlow, co. Carlow  or  My Bowles Family



by Tom LaPorte

as published in the 2009 Edition of Carloviana, the Journal of the Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society

Introductory comment: 

I continually hear comments that tracing your family back in Ireland is almost impossible as so few records were kept and of those so many records have been lost. That may deter many people from even attempting that quest but in my experience, while it may be difficult, it is not impossible.  It has taken me eight years to get from my first glimmerings that my ancestors had come from Ireland, rather than England as my Grandmother would have had me believe, to being able to tell a fairly continuous story covering almost one hundred years of Ireland’s history.  In the process I have learned about a complex history of struggles and my own family’s role in it.  Perhaps these family historians have not yet searched the deed memorials, the surname indexes, spent hours scanning microfilms of early Irish newspapers, searched the RIC indexes or the discharge papers on file at the National Archives or cultivated friendships with other researchers and scholars in the field who may pass on the occasional nugget of information but they should.  Family history research in Ireland may be harder but it’s not impossible as my story will show.  Without even counting the value of the friendships gained in the process, the success that you will have is well worth the effort. 

My Starting Point in Canadian Records

This is not an article on genealogical research in Canada so I will only state that my first few years of research only established that my earliest Bowles ancestors in Canada were shoemakers, that they had arrived at Quebec City some time before 1820, that they gave their origin as Ireland in their earliest records although they indicated English in latter ones and that the family consisted of John and Ann (nee Mills) Bowles with 7 children. No Irish county was ever stated for the parents but the death record for one child gave a birthplace of Cork while for another it stated Carlow.  I didn’t have a lot to go on.

The Earliest Records of my Bowles Family in Ireland

The very earliest reference for my family in Ireland was actually found in England.  A search in the records of the National Archives at Kew Gardens, London for any Bowles who had a connection to Ireland resulted in the discovery of a February 1792 discharge document for a Michael Bowles, age 47, of Nottingham which gave his place of birth as Killaban parish near Carlow town.  That would place his birth just to the NW of Carlow in about 1744.   Well, Carlow was one of the possible origins for my family.

An examination of the registers for St. Mary’s Carlow didn’t yield Michael as I had hoped but it resulted in the discovery of the 1747 baptism of a son, Joseph, to parents John and Ann Bowles of Killeshin parish.  Again just a couple of miles to the NW of Carlow.  The next major find was at the Land Titles office which has a Memorial filed in 1767 of a Deed dated July 27, 1750 between William Cooper of Shraugh (later called Coopers Hill) and John Bowles of Ballickmoyler, perukemaker (i.e. wig maker), which re-defined the terms of an earlier lease which the Bowles had held under Cooper[1].  The 1750 Deed was for the term of the lives of John Bowles himself, his wife Anne and their eldest son Michael. I couldn’t have hoped for a better document to tie together my previous two finds.  It also referred to John’s mother, Mary, as the last surviving signatory of the previous lease.   That would indicate that the signing of the 1750 agreement had possibly been motivated by John’s father’s death shortly before, or by a sudden decline in his widowed Mother’s health which prompted them to put her affairs in order or merely by John having reached the age at which he was permitted to own land.  The latter is unlikely as in 1750 John already had the two sons, Michael and Joseph.

John’s politics became clear with the discovery of a letter from a concerned resident of Carlow in the Hibernian Magazine of January 1787 which reported an attack on the Rev. Whitty’s party while they attempted to seize some cattle in payment for some overdue church tithes when a “multitude armed with scythes, hangers, bayonets, pitchforks etc.” knocked down his people, struck the Reverend on the head and “swore they would hang his agent John Bowles” who was forced “to swear that he would never intermeddle with tithes there for the future.”

According to another Deed Memorial at Land Titles, William Cooper’s father, Edward Cooper “of Newtown in the county of Catherlogh”, had acquired 600 acres of land including Shraugh and Ballickmoyler in 1714 from Richard Saunders of Saunders Court, Wexford.  Two possibilities arise from that, the first that my Bowles ancestors already lived at Ballickmoyler in 1714 and John’s father had signed the original deed with Edward Cooper shortly after Cooper acquired their land from their previous landlord.  A second possibility would be that the Bowles had arrived there with the Coopers.  The latter will be reinforced later in this paper by the discovery of my Bowles’ connection to Dunleckney quite close to the Cooper’s original landholdings at Newtown.

The question next though is what was John Bowles’ son Michael doing living in Nottingham and what could I learn about his life there?

Michael Bowles of Manchester and Nottingham

Michael Bowles, had been born in Ballickmoyler, Queen’s County, Ireland about five miles NW of Carlow but in about 1766 at the age of twenty he had followed the steady stream of Irish workers heading for Manchester where he found work as a carpenter, got married and settled down.  In 1770, just prior to the birth of his second child and probably finding it difficult to earn enough money to support his family, he had enlisted in the 65th Foot Regiment[2].  His wife died shortly after the birth of his third child and first son, John, in 1773.  He remarried and Joseph was born in 1777 followed by Michael Jr. a year later[3].  During the first years of his married life, Michael’s regiment had been based in England.  He had largely served as a recruiter for the 65th Foot amongst the Irish immigrant population of Manchester.  Later he served in Ireland, then in Canada from 1785-88 and finally in England again until his discharge in 1792[4].   Sometime after the baptism of his youngest child near Manchester in 1779 he settled his family in Nottingham.   He signed his acceptance of his discharge terms there in 1792 and later he served as a recruiter for the Loyal Nottingham Foresters for six months from November 1796 to April 1797[5].  After more than 30 years in England it was probably the events back home in Ireland in 1798 that prompted him to return to Ballickmoyler.

The Bowles of Ballickmoyler and the United Irish Rebellion of 1798

Michael, his wife and their five children were well settled in Nottingham when news would have reached them that his brother's and father's houses back in Ballickmoyler, Queen’s County had been burned to the ground by pikemen of the United Irish Rebellion of 1798.  The rebels had gathered in the town early in the day on May 24, 1798 and then marched on intending to attack Carlow where they were met by troops and two cannons stationed at the Graigue Bridge into Carlow town.  Faced by the daunting force at the narrow bridgehead the rebel forces turned back.  It has been speculated that the element of surprise had been lost due to word being sent on ahead by some unsympathetic residents of Ballickmoyler. When the rebels returned they found that the majority of its Protestant inhabitants, possibly all, had fled the town.  They took out their frustrations and possibly obtained their revenge by burning their houses.  The Protestant population of the village, about ten families, had fled to the Rev. John Whitty’s house, Providence Lodge, just NW of the village on the road to Arles, where they prepared to make a stand. The rebels attacked it but an account from the time reports that he and eleven other Protestants succeeded in its defense.  Based on the list of homes burned in Ballickmoyler that day, I believe that Samuel Allen, John Tomlinson, Abraham May, Daniel Murray, Thomas Smith, Adam Taylor and my own ancestors Joseph and William Bowles would have been in that group.  In support of that we know from the article in The Hibernian referred to above that their father, John Bowles, had been the Reverend Whitty’s father’s land agent in 1787. 

A number of people were killed in the attack, one report from the time says twenty one men died there, and some others were reportedly killed in action in Ballickmoyler[6].  How many of these were rebels and how many were British loyalists remains open to speculation.

Report of Claims for Damages to Houses in Ballickmoyler During the Rebellion[7]



Place where Loss sustained


£.  s.  d.

Allen, Samuel



House, furniture, looms, yarn & timber

40 16  6

Bowles, Joseph



House, furniture, cloaths, cash, books & whiskey

68  13  10½

Bowles, William



House, furniture, cloaths & bacon

40  15   7

James, Eadeth



House, furniture, cloaths and potatoes

22  17   9

May, Abraham



House, oatmeal, corn, cash, furniture, provisions

141   8   5

Murray, Daniel



House, furniture, wheat, straw, potatoes, cloaths

93   1  10

Smith, Thomas



Repairs of house, cash

9   3   4

Stephenson, Laney



House, furniture and timber

71   5   8

Taylor, Adam




36   7  11

Tomlinson, John



House, furniture, potatoes, and house-linen

21  13   1

Whitty, Rev. John



Hay, house and furniture damaged, and sheep

66   4   9

Note: Edith James and Laney Stephenson made their claims as widows but it’s not yet known whether their husbands died as a result of these events or had passed away earlier.

I’m aware that the above account contradicts other versions of these events on various Internet sites.  In the published account which I quote above, it was rebels who were killed at Providence Lodge but another story of these events states that the Rev. Whitty’s house fell to the rebels before morning.  It’s most likely that there were losses on both sides.  In one account it was the English troops which pursued the rebels to Ballickmoyler who were responsible for burning the village.  However it seems to me that once the number of Protestant’s homes which were burned is considered, it seems unlikely that it would have been the troops which did the burning.  The commission which was formed to assess the damages suffered by loyal citizens, assessed their claims to be accurate but only recommended compensating the Bowles family for 50% of the value of their claimed losses.  If it had been the King’s troops which had burned their houses it seems likely to me that they would have received 100% of their damage claim.  I don’t suppose we will ever know for sure.

Shortly after these events Michael Bowles and his family from Nottingham were back in Ballickmoyler helping their family rebuild. 

Ballickmoyler had been significantly damaged in the rebellion; as well as the ten houses which had been burned, the market place and the small chapel at nearby Castletown had also been lost.  One of their first priorities was the construction of a new place of worship.  The vestry minutes of the Castletown Killabban church record that at the first meeting on June 27, 1801, "at a meeting legally called and held at the Church of Castletown area in the parish of Killabban in order to ascertain what sum of money would be necessary to be applotted on said parish for the rebuilding of the parish church", Michael’s brother, Joseph Bowles, was appointed the vestry clerk and Michael’s son John was appointed the first church warden.[8] 

The Next Bowles Generation in Carlow

 The register for the new church included a number of Bowles baptisms, marriages and a few deaths between 1806 and 1846, all but one were for local Bowles who fit nicely into the known family tree.  Strangely enough though, while this register covered the appropriate years, I did not find the entries for the baptism of my ancestor’s six young children who were on record with him in Canada.  I was putting together an interesting story but I had not found a single piece which proved that Michael Bowles’ son John was indeed my ancestor John Bowles.  If he was and the rest of his family’s events were here, then wouldn’t his children have been baptized here as well?  While apparently at a dead end, there was the one register entry which did not fit the known Bowles in Ballickmoyler family.  This was for a William Bowles, age 51, of the parish of Dunleckney who was buried at Castletown in 1816.  That would place his birth in about 1765 and in the same generation as Michael’s children although slightly older.  William did not fit into the known tree anywhere nor did the fact that he was ‘of’ Dunleckney. 

Up to this point, all my research had been conducted on the Internet from Canada through online databases and with the help of friends made on several Irish forums and mailing lists.  Then two summers ago we made a family trip to Ireland and with so much to see, I was only able to fit in two full days of family research in Dublin.  With so many possible places to visit, the first day was spent at the National Archives where I came up empty but then on the second day the possibilities of that one strange entry in the Castletown register led me to the Representative Church Body Library on a search for Bowles entries in the parish register for Dunleckney.  Within minutes of arriving there, on the first few pages I examined, I found the baptism of my direct Bowles ancestor’s two older brothers and then my ancestor himself, Robert Bowles, son of John and Ann Bowles, with the correct birth date and with his two elder brothers with the correct birth dates.  Just a few pages later I found the baptism of his younger sister.  There it was; the proof that this was my own family.  Three sons and a daughter of John Bowles of Ballickmoyler had been born here in Dunleckney shortly before the family left Ireland for a new life in Canada.  These few pages were the highlight of my trip to Ireland.  That evening I hardly even noticed the mound of shopping my wife and two daughters had managed to collect when left on their own while I had been occupied with the dusty old books.

The discovery of the Bowles of Ballickmoyler’s connection to Dunleckney including the presence there of a William Bowles who lived there prior to my ancestor’s arrival also adds credence to the theory that my Bowles had been connected to the Cooper family of Newtown, near Dunleckney, prior to that family’s acquisition of the land at Ballickmoyler.

While Michael had been a carpenter and a soldier during his time in England, his sons Joseph and John had apparently carried on the family trade of shoemaking.  In the 1750 deed memorial for the land in Ballickmoyler, their grandfather, John Bowles, was described as a perukemaker.  Probably finding very little market in a small country town for those flowing white wigs of the nobility, he had turned his leather-working skills to shoe making.  While John Sr. had died by the time Michael returned to Ballickmoyler with his family, his  brother Joseph was carrying on the family trade there so to find a market for their products Michael’s sons had to move on to larger centers. 

His son Joseph moved to Carlow town by about 1803 where he set up shop as a shoemaker on Burrin Street.  Michael Purcell believes this shop was at the present site of Jones Business Systems.   In 1808 Joseph married Jane Feltus in the St. Mary’s Carlow Church and they raised five children between 1810 and 1827: Eliza, John, Joseph and twins William and James[9]

I now knew that Michael’s son, John, had left Ballickmoyler and settled in Dunleckney where three sons and a daughter had been born between 1808 and 1817.  Likely he carried on his shoemaker trade there but I have not yet found any proof of that.  I had earlier found a reference for a John Bowles, a party of nine, in a list of applicants from the counties of Carlow and Wexford who had been accepted by Canadian immigration officers in Ireland to emigrate the following Spring[10].  The family would have sailed from the port of New Ross in 1818.  That fit in very well with their first reference in Canada, the signing of a lease in 1820 for a house on St. John Street within the stone walls of the old Citadel of Quebec City where John would operate his shoemaker shop and where the family would live for the next 25 years.  The daughter Anne, born in Dunleckney in 1817 would be buried in Quebec City in 1821 but the other six children would marry and go on to raise families in their new country but that’s leading into several other stories.

Joseph Bowles’ Line in Canada

John Bowles’ line has too long a history to be included here but his brother Joseph’s line has no surviving male-line descendants so I will include a short summary of their story.

In 1829 Joseph visited John in Canada and, providentially for my research, signed the St. Andrew’s Church register as a witness to the baptism of one of John’s grandchildren.  Apparently he liked what he saw during his visit.  He returned to Ireland, sold off all of his belongings by auction in May 1831 including his shop and residence on Burrin, all his furniture including a Piano Forte, pew 23 at “the Carlow Church”, the lease forever on a house in Bridewell Lane and also an excellent cow[11] and moved his family to Quebec City.  By 1834 he was operating his new shoe store on John Street not far from his brother John’s shop. 

The Bowles had been Wesleyan Methodists in Ireland but when they first arrived in Quebec City a Methodist church had not yet been built.  The family was actively involved in planning for the new church and when the Wesleyan Methodist Church was completed in 1831, the second baby baptized there was John Bowles grandson, William.  Joseph Bowles Sr. was buried there in 1843.

Joseph’s daughter Eliza married a watchmaker, William Learmont, in Quebec City in 1837 and their son Joseph Bowles Learmont went on to found a long lasting firm of wholesale hardware merchants in Montreal.  He later acquired Quebec House, the former residence of General Wolfe near Westerham, Kent, England, "to secure the property for the Canadian people" and "so that it may be open to visitors and free to all that are interested in Canada".   His wife would later leave the house to the National Trust in her Will.

However, it was his son Joseph (1817 Carlow – 1901 Kent, England) who was the most successful.  Joseph Jr. was 14 when his family arrived in Canada.  He had been apprenticed to an apothecary named Sims in Quebec City in the late 1830’s.  By 1841 they were business partners operating Sims and Bowles Apothecary Shop at the corner of Fabrique and St. Famille Streets, on the Market Square of what is now the Old Town of Quebec City and perhaps two blocks from his father’s shoe store on St. John Street.  The 1844 Quebec City Directory lists the Joseph Bowles Medical Hall at 2 Fabrique Street.   In October 1845 he was one of the “leading citizens” who signed a petition in support of a railroad to be built between Halifax and Quebec City.  From 1847, the coffin ships, carrying the survivors of Ireland’s potato famine, started to arrive in great numbers at Quebec City.  The Canadian Government was overwhelmed with the numbers and condition of the new arrivals and set up a number of hospitals and quarantine facilities along the St. Lawrence River.  As reported in the local papers, some of the government tenders for the medical supplies needed to meet this great demand were awarded to Joseph[12]

In 1853, Joseph was a trustee of the Wesleyan Church when the inquiry into the Gavazzi riots in Quebec City and Montreal summoned him to testify regarding Gavazzi’s initial speech at the Wesleyan Church and why the church trustees had them denied him permission to conduct a second meeting at their church.  In 1862 he was elected to the City Council of Quebec on which he served as an Alderman until his retirement in 1873. 

His success can best be measured by the fact that we next find Joseph in the 1881 Census of England living on Crystal Palace Road in Sydenham, Kent, England.  This was an extremely prestigious address, consisting of a string of mansions which backed onto Queen Victoria’s Crystal Palace and gardens with neighbours like Major Samuel Page, the general manager of the Crystal Palace living just a few mansions away.  Joseph Bowles Jr. died in Bromley, Kent in March 1897.  He had come a long way from the shoemaker’s son born on Burrin Street in Carlow in 1817.


The pieces of the puzzle did not come together as easily as it might sound in this account.  There were a great many false leads and ideas and suggestions which resulted in dead ends and the pieces which did fit where not found in exactly the order given above.  Some pieces which apparently did not fit were set aside only to be brought out again later when their part in the larger picture was finally understood.  I hope this might persuade at least one discouraged researcher to persevere until their story comes together as well as this one has ….. so far.  There is still a lot more to discover yet.

[1] Deed memorial book 262, page 115, # 168056 registered Nov. 18, 1767 Cooper to Bowles; a memorial of a deed dated July 27, 1750 whereby William Cooper of Shraugh, Queen’s county, Gent demised unto John Bowles of Ballickmoyler Perrukemaker all that part and parcel of the Town and Lands of Ballickmoyler aforesaid then in possession of said Bowles … <detailed land description> …., to Hold / Except as therein excepted / for the Lives of John Bowles the lessee, Anne Bowles his wife and Michael Bowles his Eldest son and the survivor and survivors of them … <payment terms> … which indenture is witnessed by Jonathan Strettell formerly of the City of Dublin gent and Thomas Russell formerly of Cappalug in the Queen’s county farmer both deceased and this Memorial is witnessed by William Walsh of Ballickmoyler aforesaid farmer  and William Fitzgerald of the City of Dublin, Gent.  Signed and Sealed in the presence of us.  Signed: Wm. Walsh, Wm. Fitzgerald, John Bowles.

[2] National Archives, Kew Gardens, London; WO 121/13 War Office, Records of the Royal Chelsea and Kilmainham Hospitals, Certificates of Service; # 168 Michael Bowles born Killabin, Leix near the market town of Carlow; cabinet maker; Sergeant; served in 65th Foot Regiment; 29th Foot Regiment; discharged aged 47 after 21 years 6 months of service.  Discharged acceptance signed Feb. 17, 1792 Nottingham.

[3] Michael Bowles marriage to Alice Fletcher and the baptism of his five children Ann, Elizabeth, John, Joseph and Michael Jr. are from the Register of the Manchester Cathedral.  The last two children were by his second wife Jane Dyson.  That second marriage is from the Register of Prestwich, Lancashire.

[4] National Archives, Kew Gardens, London; WO 12/8812 War Office, General Muster Books and Pay Lists, 85th Foot 1st Battalion 1780-83; WO 12/7378 General Muster Books and Pay Lists, 85th Foot 1st Battalion 1783-1797; WO 12/4494 General Muster Books and Pay Lists, 29th Foot 1st and 2nd Battalions 1784-1797.

[5] National Archives, Kew Gardens, London; WO 121/146 War Office, Records of the Royal Chelsea and Kilmainham Hospitals, Certificates of Service and related correspondence; # 77 Michael Bowles born Ireland; served in 29th Foot regiment, Loyal Nottingham Foresters; discharged aged 48 in 1797.

[6] Memoirs of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Richard Musgrave, published 1802.

[7] List of Persons who have Suffered Losses in their Property in the Queen’s County and who have given in their Claims on or before the 6th of April, 1799, to the Commissioners for enquiring into the Losses sustained by his Majesty’s Loyal Subjects, as have suffered in their Property by the Rebellion.  Chancellor of the Exchequer, Parliament House, Dublin.

[8] Vestry Minute Book of the Castletown Killabban Church, Representative Church Body Library, Dublin.

[9] St. Mary’s Carlow Church Register, Carlow Library, Carlow

[10] Entry number 569 in a list of 709 families compiled for the Governor of Canada and published in "Return of Protestant Families preparing to emigrate from the Counties of Carlow and Wexford in the ensuing Spring. Refs November. 1817. Ottawa Branch News, Ontario Genealogical Society, Vol. XXIX, No. 5 (September-October, 1996), pp. 162/78".

[11] Auction Notice, The Carlow Morning Post, Thursday, April 28, 1831, page 1.

[12] A Statement of Sums Paid on Account of Emigration Services in Canada from 17 June to 25 August 1847:

Aug. 13, 1847 Station: Quebec, paid to J. Bowles, Amount: £13 s6, Articles: medicine, Services: hospitals

Aug. 25, 1847 Station: Quebec, paid to J. Bowles,  Amount: £54 s2 p10, Articles: medicine, Services: hospitals

     Source: The Enhanced Parliamentary Papers of Ireland Online


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This page was last updated 12/21/18