George Augustus ROWELL (1804–1892)
His wife Mrs Maria ROWELL, née Barrett (1807/8–1864)
St Giles section: Row 3, Grave B42

George Augustus Rowell



BORN MAY 16, 1804
DIED JAN. 24, 1892




M. R.
1 8 6 4

G. A. R.
1 8 9 2



For more information, see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for George Augustus Rowell, meteorologist

On the St Sepulchre’s website, see also these three separate graves of members of his family:

His son George Joseph Rowell

His sisters Miss Sarah Anne Rowell and Mrs Mary Cripps née Rowell

His nephew’s wife Mrs Maria Rowell, with information about the Rowell jewellery business

George Augustus Rowell

George Augustus Rowell (right) was born in All Saints’ parish, Oxford on 16 May 1804 in a house on the site of the present Lincoln College Gardens. His parents were George Rowell and Mary Rouse, who were both described as lodgers in All Saints’ parish when they were married at North Hinksey on 31 March 1793. They had the following children:

  • Hester Rowell (born in All Saints’ parish, Oxford in 1793/4 and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 3 January 1794)
  • Sarah Ann Rowell (born in Oxford in 1796/7, no baptism found)
  • Thomas Rowell (born in All Saints’ parish, Oxford and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 12 April 1797;
    died aged one, buried at All Saints’ Church on 15 April 1798)
  • Mary Rowell (born in All Saints’ parish, Oxford and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 6 March 1799)
  • Thomas Rowell (born in All Saints’ parish, Oxford and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 9 October 1801)
  • George Augustus Rowell (born in All Saints’ parish, Oxford and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 5 June 1804)
  • Elizabeth Rowell (born in All Saints’ parish, Oxford on 21 February 1806 and baptised at All Saints’ Church on 9 March)
  • Richard Rouse Rowell (born at 36 Broad Street, Oxford and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 8 June 1808)
  • John Graham Rowell (born at 36 Broad Street, Oxford and baptised at St Mary Magdalen Church on 19 July 1810).

George’s father was a watch & clock maker, who had been matriculated at the University of Oxford as a privileged Automatarius, on 3 March 1803.

In 1807 when George was aged three his parents moved to 36 Broad Street (demolished to make way for the New Bodleian Library) in St Mary Magdalen parish: his father is listed as a clockmaker there in Pigot’s Directory for 1823, Robson’s Directory for 1839, and Gardner’s Directory for 1852.

George first attended two dame schools, and then Nixon’s School in the Town Hall yard. In about 1813 when he was nine, he went to live with his grandfather, a cabinet maker who kept the Jericho House pub at 57 Walton Street (now part of the Jericho Tavern). He left school the following year when he reached the age of ten, and for the next two years assisted his grandfather at the pub, with his principal task being raising the skittles in the pub’s popular skittle alley.

George was apprenticed to the cabinet maker Robert Rouse on 12 June 1826, and Pigot’s Directory of 1830 lists him as a cabinet maker and upholsterer in Alfred Street (now renamed Pusey Street) in St Giles’s parish.

On 9 August 1829 at St Giles’s Church, Oxford, George Augustus Rowell married Maria Barrett (born in Cookham, Dorset in 1807/8): her father was then the head gamekeeper at Wytham Abbey. They had two children:

  • Elizabeth Rowell (born at Pusey Street , Oxford on 4 May 1830 and baptised at St Giles’s Church on 6 June)
  • George Joseph Rowell (born at Pusey Street, Oxford in 1843 and baptised at St Giles’s Church on 15 September).

In 1830 George Augustus Rowell found his paper-hanging and cabinet-making business at 3 Alfred (now Pusey) Street. When his father George Rowell died in February 1834, George Augustus's brother Richard Rouse Rowell continued the watch, clock, and jewellery business that survives in Oxford to the present day.

Rowell advert 1846

On 15 March 1834 G. A. Rowell announced in Jackson's Oxford Journal that he had declined the cabinet-making business and intended to follow the paper-hanging only.

On 20 July 1838, when he took on Thomas Nunney as an apprentice, George Augustus Rowell was still described as a cabinet-maker; but Robson’s Directory of 1839 lists him as a paper-hanger at 3 Alfred [Pusey] Street in St Giles’s parish.

Left: Advertisement in Hunt’s Oxford Directory of 1846

At the time of the 1841 census George (35), duly described as a paper-hanger, was living with his wife Maria (30) and daughter Elizabeth (11) at 3 Pusey Street..

In 1851 census, George (46) and Maria (43) were at the same address with their two children Elizabeth (20) and George Joseph (7). George’s unmarried sister Sarah Ann Rowell (54) was also living in a separate portion of their house and working as a dressmaker. George now employed two men, which must have given him more time to pursue his real interest, meteorology, and in the 1850s he was appointed Assistant Keeper at the Ashmolean Museum, transferring to the University Museum when that opened in 1860.

On 6 November 1854 during the cholera epidemic, a long letter from Rowell was published in Jackson's Oxford Journal in which he argued that outdoor open privies could be safer than indoor water closets.

He still described himself as a paper hanger rather than a meteorologist in the 1861 census, but as well as two men he now employed a boy (namely his son George Joseph Rowell, aged 17) who probably did most of the work.

His daughter Elizabeth was married in 1862:

  • On 11 September 1862 at St Giles’s Church, Oxford, Elizabeth Rowell (31) married her cousin, William Joseph Brown (28), a commercial clerk of Stanhope House, Park-road, Wandsworth, the son of the commercial clerk William Brown.

Her father's occupation was still simply given as “paper-hanger” in the marriage register.

George Augustus Rowell's wife Maria died in 1864:

† Mrs Maria Rowell died at 3 Pusey Street at the age of 57 on 3 March 1864 and was buried at St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 7 March (burial recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s Church).

Her death notice in Jackson’s Oxford Journal and in the Oxford Times read: “March 3, at 3, Alfred Street, St. Giles’, deeply lamented, Maria, wife of Mr. G. A. Rowell, aged 57.”

Their son was married the following year:

  • On 11 March 1865 at Wytham (which was then in Berkshire), George Joseph Rowell (21), described as a paperhanger of Alfred [Pusey] Street in Oxford, married Emily Sarah Barrett (20) of Wytham, the daughter of the gamekeeper William Barrett.

Once again occupation of George Augustus Rowell was simply given as “paperhanger”.The couple continued to live with George Augustus Rowell at 3 Pusey Street where the family business was based.

It was probably soon after his wife’s death in 1864 that George Augustus Rowell began to immerse himself fully into meteorology. By the time of the 1871 census, when he was a widower of 66, he had completely relinquished his paperhanging business to his son and was able to do the work he really enjoyed: he now described himself as an assistant at the University Museum and an author on mineralogy. The house at 3 Pusey Street was now split into two households: in one was George senior and his sister Miss Sarah Ann Rowell (74); and in the other was his son George junior (27), described as a paper-hanger, with his wife.

By 1876 his son George Joseph Rowell had moved his family into the house next door, No. 4.

In 1878 G. A. Rowell & Son, “paper hangers, decorators, plumbers, glaziers &c. to H.R.H. Prince Leopold” were still advertising their show rooms at 3 Alfred (Pusey) Street in Jackson's Oxford Journal. But on 1 December 1879 the partnership between George August Rowell (aged 75) and his son was dissolved, and henceforth George Joseph Rowell ran it on his own.

By the time of the 1881 census George Augustus Rowell (76), still Deputy Keeper of the University Museum, was just a lodger at his former home at 3 Pusey Street, which Mrs Keturah Ponsford (57), the head of the household, was running as a lodging house. His son was now living next door at No. 4 with his family, and was prospering far more than his father ever had, as he was employing thirty men in his decorating business.

By 1891 George Augustus Rowell (86), now retired, was boarding with Miss Ponsford at 2 Pusey Street next door, and his son George Joseph Rowell was occupying both 3 & 4 Pusey Street. At the end of that year the latter died, and was buried in a separate grave in St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 17 December.

George Augustus Rowell moved to lodgings in Juxon Street, and died just a month after his son:

† George Augustus Rowell died at 8 Juxon Street at the age of 86 on 24 January 1892 and was buried with his wife in St Sepulchre’s Cemetery on 28 January (burial recorded in the parish register of St Giles’s Church).

His funeral was described thus in Jackson’s Oxford Journal on 30 January 1892:

The remains of the deceased gentleman were laid to rest, with every mark of respect, in Jericho Cemetery, on Wednesday last. Among those who attended were Mr. Sydenham Rowell, Mr. Rouse, and Mr. Charles Cripps (nephews), Mr. Baker (manager to the late Mr. S. J. Rowell), Dr. Tyler, Mr. George Simms, Mr. Charles Robertson, Mr. Thomas Lucas, and several members of the museum staff.

George Augustus Rowell’s children
  • Elizabeth Rowell (born 1830) married William Joseph Brown on 11 September 1862 at St Giles’s Church, Oxford. She was aged 40 and living at 439 Fulham, Road, Chelsea in 1871 with her husband William (36), who was an accountant, and her children Bessie Georgina Brown (7), Mary Louise Brown (6), Emily Rowell Brown (2), and Edith Brown (five months), plus a servant. In 1881 they were living at 13 Park Road, Battersea, and William was now described as a civil engineer, and they had a cook as well as a general servant. Emily Brown died in Battersea near the beginning of 1895.
  • George Joseph Rowell (born 1843): see separate grave

Full obituary of George Augustus Rowell in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 30 January 1892



It is with great regret that we announce the death in his eighty-seventh year of Mr. George Augustus Rowell, who passed peacefully away on Sunday last, Jan. 24th. Born in 1804, in one of the two houses which then stood where is now Lincoln College Gardens, on the line of a thoroughfare extending from St. Mary’s Entry at the backs of the houses in High-street to Shoe-lane in New Inn Hall-street, in 1807 his father, a watchmaker, removed to 36, Broad-street, near Holywell-street, and George attended a dame’s school where now stands the Martyrs’ Memorial; he afterwards attended another dame’s school in St. Helen’s passage, thence to Nixon’s School, where the master’s principal qualification was a strong right arm and a fondness for using it. At ten years of age his school education ended, but having a goodly number of books at home, seldom a meal passed without a book in one hand and some bread and salt, of which he was always very fond, in the other, and when young disliked animal food; thus he would sit for hours totally unmindful of all that was passing around. With a large family (8 children) and limited means (the quartern loaf costing one shilling and fivepence, other commodities in proportion), neither father nor mother could give much time to their education though anxious to do so. The reading of their son embraced a strange mixture of subjects. What he looked upon as the first epoch of his life was the appearance of the great comet of 1811. His father, who was an accomplished astronomer, would take him to the corner of Holywell-street or to the front of Wadham College to witness the change in its appearance, chiefly with regard to its position amongst the stars; and this lesson was continued until he was well grounded in the subject. His mother taught him chiefly from the celestial and terrestrial globes. He would take a pocket globe of three inch diameter with him into the fields and ponder on as he chose, referring to a larger one at home, and with a knotted string measure the degree of distance from star to star. He had a good knowledge of such of the constellations as are visible from this latitude, and would point out any star named on the globe. He also acquired a good knowledge of the solar system, signs, distances, and times of the planets; their motion in the plane of the ecliptic; ordinary astronomical terms, and the subjects to which they applied. His greatest aspiration was a knowledge of the cause of thunderstorms. As a child he would watch for hours flash after flash of lightning, frightened but fascinated. He heard of Franklin’s experiment, which puzzled, rather than explained his difficulty; he wondered how the electricity got into the clouds, and why the surcharge did not come off at once, instead of flash after flash. His next difficulty was, how water, being so much heavier than air, could rise and be suspended in it. The vesicular theory did not afford him a sufficient explanation. A thunderstorm would set him thinking and moping for days. Thus Ferguson learnt astronomy whilst keeping sheep in the Highlands, Stone mathematics while working as a gardener, Drew the highest philosophy whilst cobbling shoes, and Hugh Miller taught himself geology labouring in a quarry, verifying the characteristic expression of Chatterton “that God had sent His creatures into the world with arms of sufficient length for anything if they chose to be at the trouble.”

In his tenth year he left home to live with his grandfather, who kept a public house known as “Jericho House,” then quite a rural district about a quarter of a mile from the present Clarendon Press, very few houses then existing from Worcester College to Walton Well. The house was small, with extensive farm buildings and ricks, the roads grass grown, any man’s land in fact, and chiefly used by a knackerman for grazing his horses whilst awaiting slaughter. The chief attractions of “Jericho House” were its rurality, its skittle alley, and its beer. For three years his chief occupation was “raising fallen timber,” or setting up of the skittles. This was never intended by his parents, but arose from a wish on the part of his mother that he should help his grandfather, his grandmother having died suddenly, and the arrangement once made could not be easily broken.

His amusements and propensities were peculiar; he cared nothing for cricket, boating, or skating, but in swimming and diving it would have been difficult to drown him. Of flowers cultivated or wild he was passionately fond, as also of shells, insects, and the like, but never from any scientific point of view did he attempt a collection. His love of pets was very great and his selection at times peculiar; the writer of this remembers once sitting down to supper with him, his wife, and daughter, and nine rats, all of which were upon the table except the old grandfather rat, which took up a position upon the daughter’s head, and with his paws carefully arranged the parting of her hair. Toads, snakes, and birds of all kinds would he take home and tend, keeping them out of sight as much as possible, but an unfortunate family of young rats, taken from a stubble field where now stands Keble College, got him into sad trouble that was intensified by a flower pot full of snails being knocked over and its occupants crawling over a newly-papered wall and whitened ceiling leaving the usual trail behind. This novel form of decoration was a standing joke among his friends for many years.

Although of a genial disposition, he was fond of solitary rambles. His only two companions were, first, a lad who tended sheep in the large field then unenclosed from the Park to Summertown, and a mason’s labourer named Tom Crapper. The acquaintance began from a fellow feeling; both would help to find from the shallow pools on the Banbury-road newts and other aquatic forms of life suited to his aquarium, a large earthen pot which he had set up. The forked end of a stout thorny stick was pushed into the weeds, twisted around and drawn ashore, when the mass was carefully looked over, the result sometimes being a greater variety than could have been obtained by a hand-net in a month. Wasps’ nests and those of field mice they would go any distance to obtain, in fact all three were case-hardened to the bites of one and stings of the other. During school holidays he would roam the fields from morn till night with his favourite food, bread and salt, with occasionally a feast of blackberries, dewberries, mushrooms, or now and then a yellow swede. Rarely did he take a bird’s nest, except for some special reason; but, with a pocket glass, he would watch by the hour a bird building her nest, or feeding her young, or his attention would be given to other creatures in a free and natural condition. His favourite observatory was a thick double hedge running to the water’s edge in what is now the Park. Here he would hide and watch the moorhens and rats, then plentiful upon the banks of the Cherwell. His aquarium and field ramblings were summer amusements; in winter he indulged in reading and star-gazing. These, however, had to be given up when he left home to live with his grandfather. Now he indulged his taste for toads, snakes, spiders, and still “smaller deer.” Jericho fields, rick yards, and thatched cow houses were his private preserves. The ditch in the lane was full of aquatic life; a plank across afforded good opportunity for watching and feeding the fishes; but his favourite spot for musing upon the smaller animals was by the side of a narrow and offensive ditch that ran in front of the house, and here he would lay [sic] for hours, if permitted. From these observations the thoughts to which they gave rise, and by chance seeing a horse slain in the neighbouring lane, he was led to write his “Essay on the Beneficent Distribution of the Sense of Pain”….

In summer he had plenty of employment, but in winter the house was not much patronised, except in the skating season — it being so far from the city — when a few workmen would drop in of an evening, and the conversation was principally of prize fights and dog fights, then much in fashion. Dutch concerts were also in great fashion, each person singing as he pleased and at his loudest — perhaps a dozen at one time — each in a different song and tune, with an accompaniment of tea trays played as tambourines, or the rattling of knife handles upon the deal tables. Thus passed three years, during which but little scientific progress was made. A keen observer with an extraordinarily retentive memory, nothing in the shape of natural phenomena escaped his notice; every sunset if more than usually beautiful was observed with admiration. About this time he was apprenticed to a cabinet maker; his shopmates were not those from whom he was likely to obtain much information, scientific or otherwise, and in reply to his questions he was oftener than not told to “shut up.” He therefore again turned to his books and stars. A neighbour, Mr. Thomas Cripps, knowing of his fondness for study, offered him the use of a parcel of books that he had recently become possessed of; amongst them was “Lovett’s Philosophical Essays,” which gave him at once a fair knowledge of frictional electricity, of which previously he knew but little. He had previously thought from its presence in thunderstorms that it might be a leading cause in meteorological phenomena; but he could not make anything out of it as to the cause of rain. In this book there was much that he could not understand. It did not treat on evaporation, rain, or its allied phenomena, but gave so clear a knowledge of frictional or free electricity, and such enlarged views upon its diffusion and general presence, that he at once adopted the idea of its being the principal agent in the formation of rain and the phenomena therewith connected. He then adopted the theory that particles of water are buoyed in the atmosphere by the coating of electricity they take up in accordance with their temperature, by degrees every phenomenon connected with rain, hail, and the thunderstorm seemed to be fairly in accordance with it. The theory once formed led to and simply explained other phenomena, particularly storms. He had read that all winds arose from the expansion of the air on its becoming heated — the rush of colder and heavier air into the rarified of air thus produced, as doubtless the trade winds are. In 1844 he advanced the opinion that the rarefaction of the air from the collapse of vapour in the formation of excessive rains is the cause of storms and other winds, and the cyclone at Madras in May, 1877, goes far to prove his theory. Space forbids me from entering at large upon his various contributions upon his favourite subjects, but he was much gratified by the approval of Sir John Franklin and Sir John Richardson of his proposed experiments for producing the “aurora polaris,” an experiment carried out (I believe in Norway) within the last two years; that was a great success. For some considerable time he steadfastly advocated the drainage of Oxford and an improvement of its supply of water, and it was mainly to his exertions that those desirable measures were carried out. Amongst his various contributions may be named his “Essay on the Beneficent Distribution of the Sense of Pain,” “The Cause of Rain and its Allied Phenomena,” “The Cause of Storms,” “The Nature and Cause of Cyclones,” “Electricity as the Expansive Force of Steam”, and many other meteorological and scientific subjects.

Mr. Rowell occupied the position of deputy keeper of the Ashmolean Museum for many years, and the University as some recognition of his contributions to science awarded him a handsome pension. He was much hurt and annoyed that he could not move any public body to investigate by experiments his favourite subjects, and being under the impression that the pension, though kindly meant, was a salve for his feelings, he drew, I believe, one quarter’s pay and then requested the authorities to relieve him of it. In a letter to the writer Dr. Samuel Smiles says “From his writings he appears to be a marvel of a cabinet maker It would be well worth while to give to the world a narrative of his adventures and researches.” From a passage in one of his pamphlets he “regrets the utter waste of a long life.” It is a great pity he should feel his life to be wasted, et he must have had many moments of pleasure in following up his researches. In another letter he says “Mr. Rowell seems to be a man of very original character: and he has certainly done a great deal for science. I think an account of what he has been able to accomplish might be very useful to others. It is always a great hope, sometimes a great help.”

About sixty-two years ago Mr. Rowell married Miss Maria Barrett, daughter of the head gamekeeper at Wytham Abbey, by whom he had two children, a son and a daughter — the late Mr. G. J. Rowell, house decorator, of Alfred-street, St Giles’s, whose death took place only a few weeks ago, and Elizabeth, married to Mr. Brown, of Stanhope House, Park-road, Wandsworth. Mrs. Rowell predeceased her husband by about twenty years. For the past fifty years Mr. Rowell was a frequent contributor to the columns of the Oxford Journal on various subjects connected with the welfare of the citizens. Mr. Rowell was a Liberal, but took no active part in politics, and more than once refused invitations to stand for the North Ward. Many learned societies both at home and abroad have elected Mr. Rowell as an hon. member, in recognition of his services to science.

Some contributions to this page were made by George Augustus Rowell’s
great-great-grandson, Rowell Bell of Ipswich, Suffolk



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