Geoffrey and Brig. Geoffrey C Gowlland Correspondence.


Letters of 1951 between Geoffrey Gowlland (b. 1903), grandson of George Gowlland, and Brig. Geoffrey Cathcart Gowlland (b.1887), grandson of Thomas Sankey Gowlland. 

Brig. Geoffrey Cathcart Gowlland's reply to Geoff's first letter


Geoff to Brig. Geoffrey Cathcart Gowlland  -  12th March 1951


Dear Sir

 By a rather extraordinary coincidence my wife got in touch with your daughter at a Bridge Party at a mutual friend’s house just before Christmas.  From her I have obtained your name and address, and am writing to ask whether you could, perhaps, add anything to the Gowlland Tree which I have, on and off, been getting together for the last eight years. 

A rough transcription of that part of it which concerns yourself is enclosed and, on the back page, an indication of where I myself fit on to it. 

You will see that we last had a common ancestor at the end of the eighteenth century, just about at the end of the Tree I have compiled.  At this period the name was usually spelt with one “L”, and the first consistent use of the form with the two “L’s” was the Stephen Gowlland. 

There must, it is clear, be something of a story behind this: on [the morning of] his wedding day this Stephen Gowlland signed his name with one “L”, but he then journeyed from Canterbury to Sandgate and was married early in the afternoon, signing the register with two “L’s”.  The story, however, about the second “L” being added as a result of a family quarrel really cannot be substantiated because, throughout his life, he sometimes used one, and sometimes two “L’s”. 

There are isolated records of his brothers also using two “L’s”, e.g. there are two Leases witnessed by Joseph Gowlland using two “L’s”. 

In about 1941 I had the pleasure of calling on your brother at Richmond, but, unfortunately, picked an afternoon when he was not very well, and I did not like to stay too long.  Owing to the War I was unable to meet him again before his death, as I had been very much hoping to hear more from him of the Gowlland gossip handed down in your branch of the family.

 As luck would have it, my other three sources of information have all petered out.  The church in Canterbury, where there were most of the records, was blitzed in the Baedeker raid [Hitler had ordered Goering to instruct his bombers to raid English towns and cities featured in the Baedeker Guide for Tourists – these were, of course, in no way to be considered as military targets].  , and since that time the ruins have been bulldozered [Sic] flat to make a car park, and I cannot find out what happened to the gravestones. 

Records were stored in another church and this, unfortunately, was also hit. 

In between your section of the Tree and my own was a Stephen Gowlland, to whom about half the entries on the whole Tree (which number about 180) are due.  He was particularly well up in Heraldry, and had made a study of the family for many years.  Unfortunately he too died rather unexpectedly about two years ago. 

My last informant was a Richard Gowlland, to the extreme left of the Tree, and, again, he died, as a result of excess work during the war, before anybody expected it. 

To both branches of the Australian Gowllands, that is to say, immediately to the left and right of your own entries, I have written; but the results have been disappointing.  The Australians do not seem very interested in family history! 

If you could add any further entries to the Tree, or correct some of the mistakes which I believe have occurred in your area, I would be most sincerely grateful. 

If at any time you should be near Croydon I would be very delighted to meet you, while if I have an opportunity of going near Bournemouth I will perhaps telephone and see if it would be convenient for me to call upon you. 

Your Brother started to tell me a story about a Gowlland’s part which seemed to have figured in a lurid naval incident, but as he was obviously tired I did not wait for the end of it. 

In our part of the family it is customary to drink a toast in Port to the “Glorious First of June” on that date, but I have had no success I finding out which Gowlland it was, or what he did, and none of the entries on the Tree look very suitable by reason of it.  Do you know anything about it? 

If it would interest you to have a copy of the whole Tree, which is quite a voluminous affair, I would endeavour to get one made out later on. 

Sincerely yours


Brig. Geoffrey Cathcart Gowlland to Geoff  -  13th March 1951


My dear Gowlland

It was very good of you to write such a long and interesting letter, and to send me the extracts from the Gowlland family tree. 

When I retired from the Army, I made rather feeble efforts to find out about my family, but could find very little about it as far as Gowllands are concerned and got stuck at my grandfather Thomas Sankey Gowlland who was in the Navy and who on returning took a shore job as head of the Kent Coast Guard.  Beyond him I could get nothing. 

We got his wife’s pedigree MARY EWING back to 1650 when her forefathers went to Londonderry [?] from Scotland.

 It is therefore very interesting to find out that after all I really have a great-, and even great-great-grandfather, on the Gowlland side. 

My nephew Geoffrey Gowlland, who is a Capt. R.N., now in Madras, is very interested in the family but he couldn’t find out any more than I. 

He did get on to some evidence that the clan came from the North and had roots on the Border or Durham.  This might well be so as Gower, Gowenlock, Gowers, Gow are all border names.  Gow I think compares to Smith in England. 

I have written out all I know about my corner of the Tree.  I have missed out a lot of dates and names, but could get most of them if you want any to incorporate in your Tree.  Will you let me know what dates etc you would like? 

There is a mix-up over the parentage of Maude Gowlland.  My information is that she was my Uncle Fred’s daughter but I do not know if this is correct. 

I’ve nothing on my list about John Vancouver Gowlland (left hand bottom of the Tree) who was John Gowlland’s son.  I did know there were a lot of Gowllands in Australia but could not get them linked up to the right people. 

It is far more likely that your information about Fred and Jack Gowlland is better than mine.  I have seen none of the Australian Gowllands except Maude, and that was a long time ago.   

Celia Gowlland’s children the Olivers used to come to England and years ago I knew two of them quite well.

 If and when I come to London I do hope we may be able to meet as there are many things I would like to talk about.  Similarly if you are in these parts do let me know. 

The double “L” in the name has always puzzled me as I was told as a boy that there had been a family squabble and one lot had put in an extra “L” out of spite or superiority complex.  Your reading of it is far more likely and it is probable that our forefathers didn’t bother but put in the “L” or “LL” to suit their mood. 

My brother Edward did not know much about the family and I don’t think was very interested. 

It is rather hard that your 3 sources of information have petered out. 

I got to Canterbury by a different route.  My mother’s people the LAKES have roots in those parts and I think about 1650 a Lake is reputed to have been Mayor of the City. I missed the Gowllands there. 

The Toast that you drink to the “Glorious 1st of June” is most interesting.  I’ve not heard of it on our side, but will enquire from my nephews.  I wonder whether it is in any way connected with the siege of Gibraltar.  Somewhere on the Rock (I’ve not seen it but I did not look as I heard of it later) is a spot on the old fortifications called “Gowlland’s Bastion”.  We don’t know whether a Gowlland built it, or defended it in some gallant manner.  If he did it on 1st June, it might be the origin of your toast. 

I would of course love to have a copy of your Tree but hesitate very much about asking for it as I know a voluminous thing of that sort is the very devil to copy.  Perhaps, instead of this, could you give me any information about Joseph, Stephen and Richard, my great-, great-great-, and great- great - [?] grandfathers.  Do you know what they did for a living and where they lived? 

Another bit of family past is a silver teapot that I inherited, on the base of which is written “A gift of Anne Gibbons to her Granddaughter Sarah Chapman 1782”.  It is just possible that one of these could appear in your Tree as being married to a Gowlland. 

I enclose one of my father’s book plates which shews [Sic] the Gowlland Coat of Arms.  The motto is “FRANGAS NIL FLECTES”.  How we (I mean our branch) came by it I do not know.  If yours is the same it would show it was granted some time before 1746. 

Finally, does a Charles S Gowlland appear on your Tree?  He is not on our branch but lives somewhere in these parts. 

Again, very many thanks for your letter and for all the information.

It is encouraging to see that there is a young Geoffrey and a young George Gowlland coming along.  Our lot has had nothing but girls, and the name on our branch will die out when my nephews cease to exist.


Yrs very sincerely




Geoff to Brig. Geoffrey Cathcart Gowlland  -  16th March 1951


Dear Brig. Gowlland

It was with particular pleasure that I received your interesting and cordial letter of the 13th March, because my previous approaches to other members of the Gowlland family had produced very little reaction.

The Tree you have sent is most interesting: about three-quarters of the entries are new to me, and I had no idea you had more than two brothers.

The chief thing that strikes me is how very curious it is that there are hardly any boy Gowlland children coming along on your part of the Tree. This also applies to the Australian branches, where I believe there is only one young Gowlland boy growing up.

I myself have two boys.  A first cousin who lives in Lethbridge, Western Canada, also has two boys; and I believe there is a nephew of Stephen Gowlland about my own age, and a son of the Richard Gowlland who died a few years ago, also of my own age.

Clearly, therefore, as has happened with so many other families, the name will be relatively rare in the next 50 years or so. 

Perhaps I should explain that I am dictating this letter to one of my typists as my writing is so notoriously bad that it is a real affliction to receive a long letter from me.  

With regard to the early part of the Tree which I sent to you, I limited the entries to those which could be double checked.  There are a great many unverifiable relations who could, perhaps, be added with dotted lines. 

The first, Joseph, who was born, I believe, in 1710, is the earliest direct and traceable descendant [presumably Geoff here means “ancestor”].  About the same time there was a Daniel, married in 1713, and a James, elected a Freeman of Canterbury in 1709.  A Daniel deposited a Will in 1715, leaving his estate to his sons, Francis and Thomas, who died without issue. 

A little earlier there was a Thomas, described as a Yeoman of Luddenham, who was godfather to his brother Humphrey’s son, Thomas, and who, I believe, was married in 1625. 

There was a Stephen at Ospring in 1601: a Stephen at Tunstall who married in 1613 and die without issue. 

A John married in 1624, and [there is] a complicated Will of 1540 in which John, Richard, Robert and Richard are mentioned. 

There was a Richard living at Dottingdon, whose Will was deposited in 1522. 

The earliest record that has come to light has been a Robert, who held Godmersham Manor.  (Are you familier with Jane Austin’s history? If so, the name will be familiar), which he left in 1529 to his son, Richard, who dies without issue, and then to his daughter Ann, who married John Pordage, from whom the estate has been handed on.  

The point which emerges from all this is that the vast majority of the entries are within an area some 15 miles across to the north and west of Canterbury. 

Tabulating the place names mentioned, we find that:








    Eastwell  **








all appear on innumerable occasions.  In short, we may reluctantly conclude that the origin of our family were [Sic] chiefly yeomen, farmers and rural craftsmen who increased and multiplied in this limited area.

[**   GPG's spelling of two of these has been altered, Ospring to Ospringe, and Basham to Barham - his writing was notoriously difficult to decipher.   John has prepared a map with these place names marked on it.  It is too large (nearly 4 megabytes) to incorporate in the tree, but, if you would like a copy, send an email, please, and it can be emailed back to you].

Unfortunately in the 16th and 17th century ordinary writing made little distinction between capital “G” and capital “C”, and any given person would sometimes be found amongst the “Cs” and sometimes amongst the “Gs”, making searching rather laborious. 

It is therefore clear that our family has no real connection between the Gowllands of Durham.  The origin of their surname appears in one or two standard textbooks, and it is to this family that the grant of Arms was made. 

Unfortunately I have to tell you that the Coat of Arms and Crest do not really belong to Richard Gowlland.  The Stephen Gowlland I have previously mentioned has not only inspected the Grants at the College of Heraldry, but has also produced the Tree of the Gowlands right up to date.  They do not seem to have used their Coat of Arms since about 1850.  I believe they mostly live in the Argentine, and have not visited England for many years, and probably are unaware they are entitled to bear these Arms. 

The first grant was to a Ralph Gowland on the 20th July 1749 at Little Eppleton, near Seaham, in the country of Durham.  The Coat of Arms on the book-plate is the grant to Thomas, son of the above, in 1803; and the original patent is in the possession of Stephen Gowlland’s heir. 

With regard to occupations, I had previously noted that your section seems to be very distinguished by a strong naval tradition. 

The Richard Sankey Gowlland, who was born in 1795, was apparently in the navy and was married in the Embassy in Paris. 

His father, Richard Symond Gowlland, is sometimes described as a mercer (draper) and sometimes as a miller.  He lived in Mercery Lane, Canterbury, became a Freeman by marriage (Stephen Gowlland has this Deed), and married by licence a young girl Sarah Sankey, who was from a most important family, well connected and wealthy, whose descendants are living today, and who published a Tree of their family about twenty years ago.  She was of Huguenot descent, and the little French chapel in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral has a good many Sankey connections. 

Stephen Gowlland had handed on to him the legend that Richard Symond Gowlland was originally a wealthy man but lost nearly all his money in some protracted litigation about alleged election irregularities, described in Halsted’s “History of Canterbury”.  He was buried at St Mary Bredon’s in Canterbury, which was destroyed in the blitz of 1942.  It is believed that he was living at Hackington Mill, north of Canterbury, when he died.  (See “Kentish Gazette 16/6/1807”). 

The Gibraltar names are very much a surprise to me.  I had never heard of them before. 

You will probably have heard about the Vancouver names, and I am enclosing a copy of a letter received on this subject by my Canadian cousin. 

The John (Vancouver) Gowlland you mention died on 28th May 1948, aged 82, at Penant Hills, in South Australia.  He apparently had eight children, including two boys. 

The Charles you mention is my uncle, and lives at 46, Elgin Road, Bournemouth; but, although he possesses our family Bible, is distinctly uncooperative in matters of family history. 

Coming back to occupations, my own Tree is largely connected with engineering of some form or another.  I am a Surgical Instrument maker (started as a Physicist, but now chiefly a filler-in of forms).  My Father, who is still at work, is an Optician.  His father was a Microscope maker; and his father a Nautical Instrument maker.   His father again was a Cooper, who came from Canterbury to the Mile End Road to be near the breweries of East London; and he was the brother of the Richard Symond in your Tree. 

I have a cousin, William, at Brighton who is an Instrument Engineer, but so far as I know he has no children.  I also have another cousin who is a Structural Engineer at Lethbridge, Western Canada. 

Instrument making comes fairly easily to me, and I think I enjoy it as much as anything else.  Naturally I am hoping that my two sons, both of whom are at school, will eventually join me in the business. 

Later on I will try to produce a copy of the whole Tree, and will certainly send it to you. 

It is very pleasant to meet at last a Gowlland who is interested in these not very vital matters, and I shall be glad to keep you informed when I obtain any additional information. 

Yours sincerely



Brig. Geoffrey Cathcart Gowlland’s letter to Geoff -  1st April 1951


My dear Gowlland

I have not written earlier to thank you for your very interesting letter of 16th March as I was not sure when I was next coming to London. 

I have to come up for a night in the middle of April and wondered if you would care to have lunch with me. 

If this can be arranged, I suggest we meet at the Army and Navy Club (Pall Mall, St James’ Street entrance) at 12:30 on 13th April.  I’m only up for a very short time, and this is the only time I can fix.  The time of 12:30 is to avoid the rush of people from the War Office that starts at about 1. 

If the date is no good, we must try and fix up something in June when I hope to be in London again. 

It was very good of you to write so fully.  Practically all you tell me is new. 

For many years my elder brother lived at Faversham, which is right in the middle of the Gowlland country, but though I was often there I never realised that there were records of the family almost at our doorstep. 

I was a whip for the Bodlesmen (?) Foot Harriers for two or three years and we used to hunt round all the villages you tabulate as old Gowlland habitations. 

There is a most complete family Tree of my maternal Grandmother who was a Neame.  They go back to 14-something in direct male descent and of these males only one has ever married a woman who did not come from Kent. 

It is rather remarkable in looking at the Neame Tree no one even tumbled on to the Gowllands but I’m delighted now to know where they did come from, and that they are of Kent and not of Durham. 

I rather suspected that the Coat of Arms might not belong to us as no one could tell me about it or where we got it from. 

My sister tells me (she is older than I am) that she remembers in her youth some aged aunt or great-aunt (who presumably was rather a snob) and she did not like being reminded that her grandfather was a miller, and that she was furious when the children sent her Christmas cards with wind mills on it [Sic].  This looks as if Richard Symond Gowllands was a miller rather than a mercer, though perhaps he was both. 

I have been told, as a boy, that some Gowlland in the 1700s was a rich man who lost or spent all his money.  This rather confirms Stephen Gowlland’s legend that there was a Gowlland with money.   

No answer has come from Gibraltar.  I wrote to the Chief Engineer there who ought to have the records, and asked him for any information he might have of “Gowlland’s Bastion”. 

It may be of interest to you to know that when doing a trip in one of the destroyers at Hong Kong about 1939, I came on an instrument with “Gowlland” either stamped on it or on its case, and thought it must have been the property of one of my nephews. The owner said it wasn’t but that he had acquired it somewhere and that Gowlland was the maker.  This must have been a link with your great grandfather. 

If we do manage to meet some time this year, there are all sorts of questions I should like to ask, but I will not enlarge upon these in this letter. 

Thanks again for the information.


Yours sincerely



Geoff to Brig. Geoffrey Cathcart Gowlland  -  4th April 1951


Dear Brig. Gowlland

In thanking you for your letter of the 1st April, I have to explain with very great regret that I am not able to accept your most kind invitation. 

I do regret this very much, because I would like to have met you, and it is most unusual for me to be unavailable.  The fact is that tomorrow evening I am going to Holland on business for a week, and am afraid simply shall not be back in time for your suggested meeting, particularly as I have to time my calls to meet overseas representatives not only from Holland, but also from France and the U.S.A. 

With regard to the status of Richard Symond Gowlland, I would perhaps add that Stephen Gowlland went on a great deal about this, but I was not really sure he had any solid ground. 

In the early 18th century there was apparently a most hectic parliamentary election in Canterbury, and the ramifications of, and lawsuits about, this election dragged on for fifteen or more years.  Stephen Gowlland alleged that Richard Symond Gowlland had financed most of these expensive affairs, and was apparently deeply involved as a matter of principle.  Certainly his name is mentioned in connection with this election in the histories of Canterbury and of Kent, and it may well be true, particularly as you have the same story. 

Stephen Gowlland thought that Richard Symond Gowlland, like most of the Gowllands in between him and my own grandfather, was a very rabid low churchman, particularly hot on moral issues.  He was buried in St Mary Bredon’s, which not only was badly blitzed, but the ruins, including Richard Symond Gowlland’s tomb, have been bulldozed flat, and are now part of the municipal car park. 

His son, on coming to London, became People’s Warden at St Nicholas Cole’s, just south of St Paul’s, and curiously enough these two churches, before Hitler intervened, were almost exactly the same shape, furnishing and so on. 

With regard to the Gowlland brand instruments, I think there is little doubt that these would have been a product of my firm.  I can, without unnecessary modesty, record that many thousands of ear, eye, nose and throat instruments marked “Gowllands” and “Made in England” have been sent by us all over the world throughout the last fifteen years. 

You may be interested in one of the more popular of our Lists, a Canadian advertisement and a Swiss-German advertisement.  To doctors, dentists, surgeons and opticians in pretty well every part of the world where export business is possible, the name “Gowllands”, if they ever bother to look at the name on their instruments, is quite well known. 

Once again may I say how much I regret missing the opportunity of meeting you, but sincerely hope it will be possible for us to meet later on in the year. 

Yours sincerely



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