Geoffrey and Bruce Berckelman correspondence.


Letters of 1947 - 1951 between Geoffrey Gowlland (b. 1903) and Bruce Berckelman, Australian Representative of Gowllands Limited


Geoff to Bruce Berckelman  -  21st October 1947


[This correspondence arose because Bruce Berckelman, a newly appointed factory representative for Gowllands Limited in Australia, had evidently commented to Geoff that one of his own Company’s representatives in a different State in Australia (Queensland) was married to a lady whose name before marriage was Gowlland]  The original letter turned up in Australia in March 2016 and is shown below.  Note that Bruce numbered all his letters sequentially – this was not unusual in the early days of Air Mail post when losses were not unusual]





(Transcription of above)

Dear Sir 

The latter part of your letter number 134 [Bruce numbered all his letters sequentially – this was not unusual in the early days of Air Mail post when losses were not unusual] was of particular interest as, during the last eight years, I must have written a couple of dozen letters on this subject, and I have certainly asked most Australian visitors. 

To think that after all this the information, which I was seeking, is gratuitously given, is a bit astonishing! 

Frankly, I did not know that your firm had representatives in other areas. 

The family history, on and off, during the last eight years, has occupied quite a part of my time, and this interest arose from a Canadian cousin right at the beginning of the War; that as much as possible of the family history as at present known should be pieced together, as it was then expected that a lot of it would be lost during the War. 

As it turned out, this was only too correct.  The three churches, one at Canterbury and two in London, where there is most information about my forebears to be obtained, unfortunately had their records destroyed in various air-raids, and two of them are just ruins. 

During the War there were three members of other branches of the generation before me – alive – who had various stories and information about the family. 

Owing to the difficulties of travel, the prior claims of War-work and other reasons, in no case did I manage more than short interviews with these three Gowllands and, unfortunately, all three of them have died now! 

I have been in touch with their children, but in each case they do not seem to have left very much written matter or by way of documents. 

For the last four generations, my own section of the family has had a healthy mistrust of these matters and we have absolutely nothing in the way of heirlooms or relics. 

Last night I sketched out, very roughly, two bits of the Tree which I have been preparing [one survives – see below], and which contains about a hundred and fifty Gowlland entries now. 

You will see that I have got two Australian branches, but these, I believe, are not very up-to-date, and where your representative’s wife occurs, I do not know. 

Do you think you could send this letter, when you have read it, on to her, and ask her to fill in as much as she can, because I would like to bring the Tree up-to-date? 

As a matter of interest, I myself am shown on the right-hand side, going back to the Stephen Gowlland who is our first common ancestor. 

If your Miss Gowlland is interested, I can prepare a copy of the whole Tree, which is quite a substantial document, and, in my unsatisfactory hand-writing, makes considerable strains on the reader.

I have reason to believe that the whole of the family at present is covered, although there was an odd branch alive in Canada during the 1914-18 War and which has died out, and which I cannot at present fit in. 

A regular series of entries going back to about 1500, but these are not entirely continuous, although the same Christian names and the same addresses occur frequently, appear regularly in the [registers of] Births, Marriages and Deaths – just Northwest of Canterbury – throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 

There are various stories which probably are known to the Australian branch and which, unfortunately, are not correct. 

Firstly, some of the descendants of this branch (e.g. the famous Colonel E. L. Gowlland) were in the habit of wearing a Gowlland Crest; but unfortunately this Coat of Arms belongs to the family whose name is spelt with a single “L” (Gowland) and who come from Durham and who mostly live in the Argentine; but who are no connection at all with us. 

Similarly, there is a persistent tradition, both in my own and other branches of the family, that we were originally Huguenot mechanics [sic] who came over during the religious persecutions on the continent.  This, too, is without foundation because unmistakable traces of the same family are plentiful long before the Huguenot exodus occurred. 

Your Miss Gowlland’s John Essing Gowlland, before he went to Australia, was Second Mate of a Royal Navy Survey ship H.M.S. “Plumper” during 1857 to 1860, and in the sister ship H.M.S. “Hecte” from 1861 to 1862.

He surveyed the West Coast of Canada and no fewer than eight geographical features around Vancouver are named “Gowlland”.  I have a list and details of these from the Provincial Library of British Columbia.  Probably your Miss Gowlland would be interested; and two charts showing Vancouver Island by the Geographical Surveyor 

This John Gowlland was attached to the Australian Section on Survey duty from 1862 to 1863, and became Station Commander in 1874.  I was given to understand that he was drowned during a yacht race in Sydney Harbour but would be glad to be able to check this. 

Family histories in themselves are of very minor importance; but it does seem such a pity that very few people make any effort to record them since, if anyone is interested in them at a later date, it is a matter of extraordinary difficulty to piece them together. 

The three Gowllands who died during the last four or five years all had a great deal of knowledge passed on to them by their fathers and grandfathers, and I do feel it is most disappointing that they did not take any trouble to preserve this. 

The only other passing item of interest is that, myself, am the fourth instrument maker in direct line, and before that were Coopers, Millers, and various later lines in which clock-makers, opticians and the like figure widely. 

I am naturally hoping that my two sons will similarly take up something of the same sort. 

I do hope that some of this will be interesting to your representative’s wife and I would very much like to hear anything more from the Australian Branch. 

The only trace of this I have been able to find is that one of the Miss Gowllands – about fifteen years ago – was a buyer for a big Australian department store and was in London, but I cannot find anyone who met her.

 Yours faithfully, 




Bruce Berckelman to Geoff  -  29th October 1947


Dear Sir

Your personal letter of the 21st October re various Gowlland antecedents in Australia has just been received by me, and I am so pleased to know that you are interested in what I wrote to you. 

I shall get in touch with Miss Gowlland’s Mother who lives near me in Sydney, as one evening some time back she told me quite a lot re her family history, and showed to me also some very interesting newspaper cuttings dealing with the early Gowllands in Australia. 

Mrs Gowlland Senior is away from Sydney at the moment, but is due back in a few weeks I believe, so it may be a few weeks before you hear from me again on the subject; but when I do write, I think I can assure you of some very interesting information and shall also endeavour to get on loan for you some of the old newspaper extracts. 

Yours faithfully


Copy of letter from Ruth Harrison to Bruce Berckelman – 9th December 1947


Dear Bruce

Many thanks for the copy of the letter from Geoffrey Gowlland, and I was very interested in it.  I will tell you all I know and send the letter to Sydney for Mother and the boys to read and add what they know. 

You may tell Mr Gowlland that I would be very interested in the Family Tree he has compiled, and would also like to hear from him. 

My Grandfather, John Thomas Gowlland, was the one who surveyed the West Coast of Canada, also Sydney Harbour.  He had two sons and one daughter, and was drowned off Dobroyd Point at the age of 36.  His brother Frederick Gowlland also came to Australia, and it was his daughter Constance Gowlland who went to London as buyer for David Jones Ltd (Sydney). 

My Aunt Maude, (Mrs H Chance) my father’s sister, has a lot of silver (crested), but has not given any to either of her brothers’ sons.  Mrs Chance lived in England for many years prior to the 1914-18 War, in fact only came back to Australia about 1922.  Harold Chance was a Commander in the Royal Navy.  Mr Gowlland may have met or heard of the Chances, they were healthy at one time, and were manufacturers of some kind.  I do not know if old Mrs Chance would know anything, should he get in touch with her, however, I will endeavour to find out more as my brother Dick met some Gowllands in the Mediterranean during the War, and Don met a Canadian who told him a lot, and Aunt Maude, after reading that letter, may be interested enough to tell us more, and Mother can add quite a lot. 

I shall post the letter to Sydney straight away.

With best seasonal wishes   . . . .


Bruce Berckelman to Geoff -  4th November 1948

Dear Sirs

Your letters of the 9th and 16th September came to hand last week [evidently having been sent by Surface Mail], together with photographs of Mr E Gowlland and Mr G P Gowlland [see below]

We are indeed glad to have these photographs, and think it was an excellent idea on your part to distribute them to your many Agents throughout the World. 

As it may be a few years before the Writer will be able to find time to visit England and have the great pleasure of meeting you both personally, at least in the meantime the photographs will help us to visualise what you look like. The nice thought in sending the special photograph of Mr G P Gowlland wading through some of Wynyard’s letters [Bruce’s company was called Wynyard Trading Company Ltd] is greatly appreciated and certainly amuses us. 

The Writer has not faxed the camera for many years, but feels the time is now opportune; so do not be surprised to receive shortly something to add to your “Rogues’ Gallery”. 

PS   Have you received any correspondence from your relative in Australia, Mrs G Simpson?  My Wife and I both see a decided resemblance between Mr Gowlland Snr and Mrs Simpson.  Her brother Mr Richard Gowlland, who served in the Australian Navy during the War, also has a strong resemblance.

The 1948 photograph of the joint managing directors to which Bruce referred


Geoff to Bruce Berckelman  -  8th March 1949

Dear Sirs

For nearly four months the Writer has been carrying about your letter number 225 in his despatch case, waiting for an opportunity to reply to it. 

In the meanwhile, he seems to have lost some assorted information and, on going back to your letter, cannot quite remember the origin of your postcript [regarding the apparent likeness of Geoff’s Australian relative Mrs G Simpson to Geoff’s father, Egbert: but evidently Geoff could not remember the antecedents of Mrs Simpson]. The correspondent with whom we got in touch through you in December 1947 was Mrs Ruth Harrison and we last wrote to her on the 12th January last year but have not had an answer. 

We notice that we promised a copy of the full Tree for her, but unfortunately the quite considerable number of hours required to get this out has not been available for some while because of the large amount of redesigning which is being done by the Writer in the evening with a view to tightening up the production of our instruments [buyers were adversely comparing the old-fashioned Gowllands Limited instruments with the much more up-to-date American equivalents].  

What now puzzles us is your reference on the 4th November to Mrs G Simpson. 

Could this be a mistake on your part, or is there yet another Gowlland of which we have no trace? 

Miss Constance Gowlland, who is the Perfumery Buyer for David Jones Ltd of Sydney, is in London, and we managed to contact her on the telephone last week. 

Yours sincerely


 Bruce Berckelman to Geoff -  28th April 1949


Dear Sirs

Your letter of the 23rd February has just come in enclosing photographs featuring the three generations of Gowlland. 

This is most interesting and nice to receive from you. 

We are afraid the Writer has been a little bit lax as regards photographs but one of these days in the near future something will be managed, and we hope to then be able to reciprocate by forwarding you a photograph of yours truly. 

Dealing with your letter of the 8th March, we must say we are very disappointed that the Australian family of Gowllands has not shown a little more enthusiasm. 

The Mrs G Simpson mentioned by us in our letter of the 4th November is the married sister of Mrs Ruth Harrison of Brisbane, and we did think that she intended gathering certain information and passing it along to you, but apparently this has not been done. 

As regards the Miss Constance Gowlland who was in London recently on behalf of David Jones Ltd (Sydney)  . . .  strange to say we happen to know another buyer from Messrs David Jones, a Miss McInnes, who was with Miss Constance Gowlland in London and Paris, but has now returned to Sydney by Air.  When talking to her the other day we casually mentioned that you were endeavouring to contact Miss Constance Gowlland, and she replied that Miss Gowlland mentioned to her when in London that she intended looking up a relative, and no doubt you were the relative she had in mind.

We do hope she manage to contact you and was able to provide you with some interesting information regarding the Australian branch of your family.

Yours faithfully,



Bruce Berckelman to Geoff -  16th February 1951


Dear Mr Gowlland

I was very interested, and so was my wife, in receiving the two very nice photos of your family taken last Christmas.  You have certainly got a very nice little group to be proud of. 

I have been promising to send you some snaps or something of the Berckelman clan for quite some time; but really, after I have had a week’s work in town, all I want to do in the week-ends is relax and it is very hard then to get me to do any posing for photographs.  Really I must get down to it soon as I would like you to see what your famous Agent looks like. 

Receiving little bits of gossip now and then away from business interests we always like hearing about. 

I am sorry to say that Mrs Simpson died the other day.  She had been very ill for a long time.  At one time I think she wrote to you re the Gowlland family.  For your interest, I am enclosing the Death Notice showing the other members of her family. 

Also, although not from a point of view of rubbing it in, I am enclosing a cutting [below] showing the variety of foodstuffs available out here and the prices.  This cutting features the average café bill of fare and, whilst I have heard that you can get anything in England if you like to pay for it through the nose, would like to know how the prices compare.  We don’t do too badly, do we? 

England has certainly had a very nasty ‘flu epidemic but I am glad to read lately that it is now diminishing.  Apparently your family did not escape it, from your accounts, and I do hope that you are all now feeling in the best of health again.  Wait until my parcels arrive, they will help to build you up again and with kiddies this is always very necessary after an illness. 

With kind regards    . . . .  Yours sincerely



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