Geoffrey and Richard Gowlland Correspondence.


Letters from 1941 to 1942 between Geoffrey Gowlland (b. 1903), grandson of George Gowlland, and Richard Gowlland (b. 1877), grandson of Richard Sankey Gowlland.

For biographical information on Richard Gowlland, click here.



Richard Gowlland's first letter to Geoff


Geoff to Richard Gowlland  -  29th August 1941


Dear Mr Gowlland

Some while ago you were kind enough to say that you would let me have a copy or loan of your extensive chart of the family tree.

When you have an opportunity of sending this along, I would be very grateful indeed for a sight of it, not only for passing it on to my own children later on if they are interested, but also, and chiefly, for my cousin in Canada.

Needless to say I would treasure the results of your hard work and send them back to you very quickly.

My father sends his very kind regards with mine, and we hope to meet you when times are easier after the War.


Yours sincerely



Richard Gowlland to Geoffry  -  1st September 1941


Dear Geoffrey (being a cousin I allow myself this privilege),

Enclosed you will find what documents I have relating to the family.  I thought actually there were more, but this was all my Mother was able to unearth before she died.

You will notice that my records go back to 1750 or thereabouts, and before I go any further I would like to say that in all probability it will be quite easy to go further back; but in starting with Richard Symons Gowlland we hit upon the individual who had quarrelled with the rest of the family and had the extra “L” added to the name by deed poll.  Anyhow, so the story goes. 

This in effect brings you and I into relationship because we must have had the common ancestor probably from that date, and perhaps the information I am showing on the very rough tree, details of which were accumulated by my Mother, will enable you to find where your branch of the family comes in.  You will follow my line on the left-hand side.

I am afraid I cannot give you any more information, but I hope it will be sufficient for you and your cousin.  If you are able to make contact on this list, perhaps you would let me know.  It would be very interesting to have this information.  I am sorry I have not had time to have the thing typed out properly for you, but perhaps you will be able to get this done.  When you have finished with the doings, I shall be glad to have them back.

I shall be very pleased to see you one of these days.  Perhaps we may make contact in due course.

Yours sincerely

 Geoff's transcription, in his inimitable handwriting, of Richard Gowlland's Tree.


Geoff to Richard Gowlland  -  5th September 1941


Dear Richard

Your letter of the 1st inst. and the enclosures were extraordinarily interesting.

I had no idea your records were so comprehensive and I have studied them very carefully and copied them out.  I am returning them to you straight away as I am sure you must value them very much, and I do hope Hitler does not intervene with their safe transit back to you.

At the moment the only source of information about my section of the family is my father who is very indisposed to waste time in busy days discussing unfruitful matters such as this, and it is with the greatest difficulty that I have managed to worm any information out of him.  He always insists that there is so much to discuss about the factory that we should not waste time on these matters.

Our section of the Gowlland family can only, via father’s memory, be traced as far back as his great grandfather who was presumably born around 1820.  His name was George and he lived at Deptford.  He was a nautical instrument maker, chiefly of sextants, as was his son George Gowlland, who was also born in Deptford around 1850.  He married a Jane Orford who lived at Greenwich, and, of our family, my cousin in Canada is said to have a comprehensive tree.  There were nine children of this marriage including my father and a number of uncles and aunts.

I suppose you have not about the equivalent pages from the Family Bible at the beginning of the Old Testament and at the beginning of the Apocrypha as these are mentioned in the front piece which you sent. [This is an accurate transcription of this paragraph  -  Neil, Richard's grandson, explains that "the two pages (Old Testament and Apocrypha) must have been lost at an early time"].

Seeing that the last two entries on the New Testament frontspiece were both in Deptford, it does very much look as though the connection between your section of the family and my own should be at this time, and I am rather intrigued to know whether there are any entries of the birth of the George Gowlland who would therefore be my great grandfather.  Do you remember any gossip about nautical instruments makers?

To your remarks about the family, I can only add that there is a strong tradition that they were of Huguenot extraction and came to this country (we think to Canterbury) at the time when the Edict of Nantes was withdrawn in France.  They were said to be silk weavers; but their children were makers of instruments and, so far as we are concerned, this is the dominant family characteristic.  The majority of my uncles are in one section of another of the instrument making business and certainly I myself, from a very early age, had the strongest inclination towards light engineering and also instruments and clocks.  [See Neil's biographical notes in the Glossary]

It will be interesting to see whether my children, and my cousins’ children in Canada, have any similar leaning.  Father says that the four generations before him always sent at least one member to the Navy, and there was a strong Navy tradition.

At Lord Howe’s victory over the French, four members of the family were lost in one battle, and it was the custom to drink a toast to Lord Howe in the family on the first day of every June.  My wife and I always intend to revive this custom, but somehow never think about it at the right time.  One day perhaps we will remember.

My Canadian cousins have traced some of the small geographical features in Western Canada called Gowlland, e.g. Gowlland Junction on the C.P.R., Gowlland Sound by Vancouver Island, etc. 

The story is that some of the four Gowllands mentioned above sailed with Captain Vancouver in his voyage of exploration of Western Canada and presumably provided names for features which they were charting when other inspiration failed.

It has always seemed to me that, at a loss for names, the Surveyors might merely have copied names engraved on their instruments.

I think that is all I can usefully record about our own section of the family.  It would be very interesting to know whether you have heard similar stories.  You will see that none of them appear to go back very far.

Father’s latest great thought is that one of my uncles has, or had, our Family Bible, but I am trying to get my cousin to get hold of it.  We are not on very good terms with this UncIe. [This was Charles Septimus Gowlland: for the background to this family rift, see the Egbert Gowlland biography - click here]. I am certain he would not lend it to us.

Once again could I say how very grateful I am to have had the privilege of looking at your documents which I carefully copied out and will put away in case my own children are interested in years to come, when it might be difficult to trace back far.

Yours sincerely



Richard Gowlland to Geoff -  8th September 1941 


Dear Geoffrey

Thanks very much for returning the documents.  I was not in any hurry for them.  You could have kept them for longer; however, they have come safely to hand, for which many thanks.

 As I, I believe, pointed out in my previous letter, I cannot trace further back than 1750, for the simple reason that my Great, Great, Great-Grandfather quarrelled with the rest of the family and had the name changed by adding the extra “L”.  I suppose that anybody in the family previous to that date was taboo as far as our side was concerned.

Now, I do know that you and I come of common stock because this progenitor of ours was a fiery individual and started a fresh family – ours, spelt with two “L’s” – so that whenever you see this name we may take it definitively as a fact that we come from that particular stock.

I also know that in the old days we always had somebody in the Navy.  Some years ago I was in Vancouver and I contacted somebody there who knew all about the early history of the colony, and he knew about the Gowlland from whom Gowlland Sound got its name.  There is also an Island in the North West Passage called Gowlland Island, but whether this was during Franklin’s expedition I do not know; but I do remember in my early days my Father had an Admiralty map showing these two places named after us, to which I did not pay any particular attention being too young.

Now, this Gowlland was on one of the earliest surveys of the Admiralty in those parts of the world.  What his rank was, I do not know; but I think that he was either first or second in command.  From there, I believe, he went to Australia, and his family went with him.  This is, I believe, John Erring Gowlland.  There was a yacht race in Sydney Harbour and his boat capsized and he was drowned; he left a wife and several children, and I met one of the descendants, Constance Gowlland from Sydney, in the course of business.  The extraordinary thing about her is that she resembles very much other members of our family – my direct aunts.

I am sorry that George Gowlland is not mentioned, but where he comes in I do not know; but I do know that we had something to do with the instrument maker of Deptford.

With regard to our earlier origin, I also know that we are of Huguenot descent, and that a husband and wife escaped from Paris just before the massacre, and settled in Canterbury, and I believe the records are in the French Chapel there.  I tried to get particulars of these but I had not time when I was last in that town.  They were closely related and intermarried with the Sankeys, who were also Huguenots.

 So you see your stories are very similar to mine and it would certainly be intensely interesting to be able to get these threads unravelled and, where broken, tied together; but it would take a long time and I am sure neither you nor I have any of that to spare at the moment: but the fact remains that we are related.  I hope you appreciate this very wonderful discovery in your life as I do, and we must make closer contact.  There are other little things I could tell you which would be of interest, but are not sufficiently important to put into this letter, which is merely more or less reiteration of what you have told me.

Please give my kind regards to your Father and tell him not to worry too much, but to allow a little interest to enter his orbit in other things than business: it helps beneficent reaction against present-day troubles.   

All the best   . . .


 Geoff to Richard Gowlland  -  2nd February 1942


Dear Richard

Enclosed is the most complete Tree of our bit of the family that I have been able to piece together.  Perhaps it might strike a chord in respect of some of the older members, as it is by no means obvious to me how it connects up with your own. 

For about eighty years back I have, by tapping living memory, managed to collect quite a lot of information.  Further back than this, however, there is a complete blank.

I have twice written to the Secretary of the French Chapel at Canterbury.  His name is Mr H Ovenden of 1 Burgate Street; but neither of my letters, one of which included a stamped addressed envelope, have been answered.  Actually the first letter also included a modest cheque towards the Chapel Funds, which I thought might inspire him to great efforts.  Although sent four months ago, this cheque has never been presented, nor has it been acknowledged.  The Chapter at Canterbury has verified that Mr Ovenden is still the Acting Secretary of the French Chapel.

When I wrote, I also enquired about your forebears, i.e. Richard Symons Gowlland and Thomas Sankey Gowlland.

If ever you do any travelling, a thing which I do not seem to be able to do, perhaps you could find time to call and interview this dilatory gentleman.

My cousin in Canada has produced the following comments about the Gowlland features there:

“One tremendous range of mountains running from just North of Vancouver and extending for many hundreds of miles towards Alaska was called The Gowlland Range.  It was shown on an old survey map, but seems to have changed as it does not appear on current maps.  (Shame!  GPG).  Gowlland Harbour B.C. still bears that name.  It is a small village miles from anywhere else, largely inhabited by Indians, West Coast Tribes (men engaged in the Canonry [not sure what that means – was “Cannery” intended] and Lumber business).  An unprogressive backwater”.

I have read the biographies of Vancouver giving full details of his expedition and have looked up the crews.  No Gowlland appears amongst them.  In the libraries available, there is no information about the Franklin Expedition, and I have written out to my cousin asking her to consult Montreal Library on that point.

I have got in touch with Colonel Gowlland (he is very seriously ill in bed) and am going to make an effort to call on him at an early opportunity.

I have checked up on the crest which seems to belong to Gowllands in general.  One section of my uncle’s has a representation of it as a seal, and my father remembers it on china when he was a small boy. I understand from a cousin that Colonel Gowlland has exactly the same crest and it is given in Fairburn’s book of crests, although I cannot get hold of a copy of this at the moment.

The name seems definitely to come from the North of England and is apparently given in one reference, a book of surnames as being Scandinavian in origin, meaning “dwellers in Gillis Land”.

There, for the time being, I am completely stuck.  If any recollections of the past do occur to you, perhaps you would jot them down and let me have them some time

I am still hoping that affairs will allow us to meet one day, but Heaven knows when this will be.


With very best wishes   . . . .


Evidently this was not the last contact between Richard and GPG because on a scrap of paper has appeared (February 2008) the following:-


Note of letter to Richard 23.5.42.


Richard Symons G described as a Mercer of Mercery Lane when he got his freedom.


Can you help?:

Richard Gowlland  born about Dec 1851 in Holborn

Louisa (?) Gowlland born Feb 1876 in Mile End


Richard Gowlland buried 22.6.1865

Louisa Mary Gowlland    16.7.1867

Vault 38 Spaces A B Catacombs near Chapel, Norwood Cemetery.


John George Blantyre Gowllands LRCS (Edin)  LSEP (Glas)  Red??? Died 1905


RA Gowlland of Nanaimo B C Canadian Wounded 1917


Rex [sic] Blantyre Gowlland married Florence who obtained a divorce.  Rex was left a lot of money by his ??northern?? sister.


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