The Twickenham Museum
People : Watermen and Divers

Richard Bowery
Alexander Pope's Waterman
1677 - 1736

Richard Bowery was baptised on 10 May 1677, the son of Richard senior and Katheren (sic). Katheren died in 1695 and, the following year Richard married again, Tamzin Lambe, a widow. Richard senior was drowned at Cross Deep in 1697. He had been ill and relied on parish charity: the Churchwardens’ Accounts for 1696 and 1697 record payment of hospital charges together with the Coroner’s fees following his drowning. Tamzin, as Thomasin, died in 1715; she, too, had received support from parish funds.

Richard Junior married Mary, the daughter of John Standbricke, at Teddington on 29 Aug 1701. Two children, Katherin and Joseph, born respectively in 1705 and 1713 died within a few days of their birth.

Mary lived to the age of 99, dying in 1776 and was buried on 3 Oct. A stone to her memory was erected in St Mary’s churchyard. It reads: "In memory of Mary Bowry widow/born the 12th of August 1677/died the 29th of September 1776, aged 99 years/honest and humble grateful and pious/with every other Christian virtue/Reader follow her example.”

Employment

Richard became Waterman to Alexander Pope who had a boat of his own which he kept in a boathouse near the Villa. What little is known of his life is recorded in a number of letters between Pope and his correspondents.

The earliest reference to a Bowry (sic) as a waterman in Pope's employ is in a letter placed in August 1723 from Pope to Martha Blount (Sherburn, Correspondence II,191). Next there is a letter perhaps of 1725 (Bowery) from Fortescue to Pope (Sherburn, II, 346). There is a further mention of Bowry in a letter to Fortescue dated 2 April [1726] (Sherburn, II, 373) and again in a letter to Fortescue placed in 1728/9 (Sherburn, II, 11). Swift's reference on 15 October 1726 to "Tom the water fool" has been taken to mean Bowery (Sherburn, II, 407).

John Gay wrote to Swift on 18 February 1726/7 mentioning Bow'ery (sic). See The Letters of John Gay, edited by C F Burgess, Oxford, 1966.

In February 1727/8 Bolingbroke and Pope wrote to Swift: "…The only Courtiers I know, or have the honour to call my friends, are John Gay and Mr Bowry; the latter in the exaltation of his high dignity (that of her Majesty's Waterman)…"

Pope wrote to Fortescue on 28 October (?1730): “I think it very kind of you to acquaint me of your safe arrival in town. I bid my Waterman inquire before, but the man (I find) was drunk two days.”

In February 1731/2 Pope had asked Fortescue to "direct Bowry how to get the Cyder…"

Writing to Mallet, possibly in the spring of 1731, Pope said "Bowry shall wait on you on Munday or Tuesday next, to know your Day…" And to Aaron Hill on 29 October 1729: "I really stayed that Night in Town, upon Bowry's Notice, which he left in Writing,…"

On 20 November 1731 Pope wrote to the Earl of Oxford that "my drunken Sot of a Waterman has thrice told me all your Lordship's Family were well" apparently incorrectly. And again to the Earl of Oxford on 21 July 1735: "my drunken Messenger the Waterman."

In May [1732) Pope wrote to Fortescue: "It was doubly a disappointment to me which I fancy my blundering waterman occasioned: I was near 2 days in town and sent him on the first to know at whatever hour I might best find you at home? He never brought back the answer the first day; & the second said you was gone out."

There are a number of brief references to Bowry (my waterman) carrying messages to and from London throughout 1731 and 1732.

Pope does not mention Richard's death. He was buried on 26 December 1736. An account for his services to Pope, dated 8 June (perhaps 1724, BL Add. MS. 4809, f127v) shows that he had received some education. If he was, indeed, one of the Queen's watermen, in the company of others, he would have had some status and smart livery to wear. His drinking habits may have ben no more excessive than those of many watermen, whose working life included much hazardous drudgery interspersed with boredom.

back to top