Bowman Family Recollections
Contributed by Andrew Scott Bowman

We are pleased to report that Andrew Scott Bowman of Carnamah, Western Australia, has contacted us with some very interesting historical information on his ancestors who were amongst the first of the pioneering coal-masters in Fife during the 19th century.
Andrew has supplied us with information on his great-great-grandfather, David Bowman, and his brother John Bowman.
Where there are references to specific pits or mines, we will include these in individual site entries. What follows, is our attempt to summarise much of the information supplied by Andrew in several e-mails to us.

M Martin & Webmasters

David and John Bowman were both sons of William Bowman and Grace MacLean. William Bowman (and his father and grandfather) was a coal miner/worker or coalhewer and Grace's father and grandfather were the same.
John was born around 1821, in Dunfermline, and David, on 15 March 1833, in Dunfermline. Their elder brother, Archibald, was an underground manager at Donibristle Colliery and got David a job there when he was aged 8 years! John was already working there.
In 1854, John, and three months later, David, went to Victoria, Australia, to find gold. They obviously found some as when they returned for good they were no longer workers in mines, but establishers and coal masters of them.
David died aged "100" years on 4 June, 1931, (actually only 98, but said to have been 100). I do not know when John died, but it was sometime after the 1891 census. Their brother Archibald Bowman died in 1896.
David married Violet Nasmyth, grand-daughter of Alexander Nasmyth who initially took out the lease on Donibristle. It was Violet's brother, Alexander, who was Coal Master at Donibistle for his uncle, James Armstrong Nasmyth. Violet's father, also Alexander, had something to do with Dundonald Colliery. Also, if there was their a colliery at Cardenbank, I think Violet's brother, James Craig Nasmyth, was manager of that coal-work.
David and Violet had four children, including a son named John (named after David's brother). In 1891, John was a coal and farm labourer. By 1895, he was said to have been the manager of a colliery. He managed collieries in Fife and then went to Labaun Island near Borneo where he also managed coal mines. He returned to Scotland around 1911 or 1912 and settled in Uddingston where he managed a group of mines in the Glasgow area. In 1915 he left Scotland and moved to the small rural town of Carnamah in Western Australia.
David and John were in Victoria, Australia, looking for gold on and off from 1854 until about 1868 or 1869. I am interested though about the Archibald who was manager for some years. Could this be the same Archibald Bowman shown in the1881 census household (which is David and John's elder brother)?
David was living at Crosshill, Fife, when he married in 1871 and he was living at Kirkness House, to the east of Ballingry, in 1872, when his twin sons were born. After Kirkness, David and family were living in Manorleys Farmhouse on Manorleys Farm. When the 1891 census was taken, David and his brother John were living at Kinninmonth Farm House, near Kinglassie.
I believe that David Bowman was Coal Master of Crosshill Colliery in 1871, of Kirkness Pit in 1872, and of Kinninmonth Colliery in 1891. David Bowman retired around 1902 and in another article it states that he managed three Fifeshire collieries on retirement.

Andrew has also supplied some information in the form of newspaper articles, including one about John Bowman (David's son) who was the colliery manager of Bowhill Colliery for six years, and who had previously held positions of charge at Fordell Colliery, Donibristle Coal Company and Buckhaven Collieries.
You should find these newspaper articles of great interest!

M Martin

(ca January 1908)
Re-written by Andrew Scott Bowman

Mr John Bowman, late manager of Bowhill and Cluny Collieries, under the Bowhill Coal Company (Fife) Ltd., Cardenden, has received the appointment of general manager to the Labuan Coal Company, Ltd., Labuan, near the Borneo Island, in the East Indies.

Commencing his mining career in Fordell Colliery, Mr Bowman subsequently held positions of charge under the Donibristle Coal Company, and also at Buckhaven Collieries thereafter becoming manager of Bowhill Colliery six years ago, a post he occupied with much acceptance until his retiral last week, preparatory to take up new duties.

He has throughout his career as colliery manager shown that he had a thorough grasp of practical mining, as was disclosed during his term as teacher of the Fife Mining School at Cowdenbeath for the period of four years. He displayed great enthusiasm in the endeavour to rescue the entombed miners at the unfortunate disaster which occurred some years ago at Moss Morran, Donibristle. It was largely due to his efforts that those rescued at that time were bought to the surface alive. Genial in manner, Mr Bowman had great supporters among his workmen wherever he was engaged. Grievances voiced by them to him were given the utmost consideration. This resulted in his obtaining efficiency not often enjoyed by managers of the present day. The good wishes of his colleagues go with him to the sphere of his new duties.


With the view of showing their gratitude to their late overseer, the workmen of Bowhill and Cluny Collieries met in the Auchterderran Public School on Saturday evening and presented him with a dining suite, a gold watch and chain, and a silver service for Mrs Bowman.

Mr R. A. Muir, J P, General Manager of Bowhill Colliery, occupied the chair, and was accompanied by the following gentlemen:- Mr McLaren, H.M. Chief Inspector of mines; Rev. A. McNeill Houston; Dr Bowman; Mr C Hunter, Strathore House; Mr W. B. Street, Cowdenbeath; Mr R. Brown, manager, Bowhill; Mr Jamieson, surveyor; Mr D. S. Muir, head engineer; Mr Wm. Simpson, and other prominent officials connected with the colliery. All the available space was taken up by the audience.

Mr Watters, in making the presentation, referred to the friendly feeling that had existed between Mr Bowman and those under his charge.

Mr Bowman briefly replied.

Mr McLaren alluded to the high state of efficiency existing at Bowhill Colliery, and said that any suggestion advanced by him for the safety of the men was put into operation irrespective of cost. He said if Mr Bowman in his new position of labour, devoted even half of the time and energy he displayed at Bowhill, he had no doubt, whatever the concern would pose, if that were possible.

The Rev. A. McNeill Houston also spoke in glowing terms of Mr Bowman who was afterwards entertained at the local Gothenburg.

90-Year-Old Adventurer Enjoys Aerial Trip

An intrepid Fifer, Mr David Bowman, Dundruid, Lundin Links, has had an experience which few men of his years would dare to undertake.

During the past week an enterprising firm, the Kingwell & Jones Flying Company, have had an aeroplane stationed in the Leven district, and have been catering to the adventurous curiosity of visitors and inhabitants by giving short aerial journeys for the normal charge of 5s.

Mr Bowman, despite his 90 years, set off the other morning for the purpose of witnessing the flight. He had no intention, as he told an "Advertiser" representative yesterday, of sampling the joys of aerial travel.

The desire to fly, however, quickly asserted itself when Mr Bowman reached the station and saw the machine perform its graceful evolutions, and he resolved on knowing the actual experience of flying.

In all, he was five minutes in the air. He felt no unpleasantness, he said. In fact the whole thing was eminently enjoyable. He had no feeling of sickness or dizziness.

Mr Bowman has had a life of adventure. He emigrated to Australia when only 21 years of age, and for ten years was a gold digger. He returned home, but again set out in search of fortune to the Antipodes, spending 15 years as a gold miner.

When Mr Bowman settled in Fifeshire he became a mine manager, and during the years before his retiral he had under his own personal control no less than three Fifeshire collieries.

Mr Bowman is still hale and hearty, and keenly alive to the interests of his every day life. He prides himself on the fact that he can travel into Leven from Lundin Links and back, a distance of some seven miles, without being fatigued.

Mr Bowman's grandfather, who was all his life a miner in the Halbeath district, died at the age of 103 years.


(Mr David Bowman's Story)






Beside the quiet ingle of Dundruid, Lundin Links, Mr David Bowman, surprisingly brisk and alert despite the passage of 94 years, lives again the stirring scenes and incidents of a strenuous career. The casual visitor would never dream that he had long turned the four score and ten.

Up till a couple of years ago it was a common thing to see Mr Bowman engaged in boring for coal. He has carefully proved the strata between the Mile Dyke and Strathairlie, and no man has a more intimate record of the minerals as they lie two hundred fathoms deep on this lower fall of Largo Law to the sea. Most people are familiar with the reserved, finely built veteran, who for nearly a score of years has made the highly practical work of boring his hobby, of which he never tired.

Numerous efforts to engage Mr Bowman in conversation on his discoveries have been in vain, and he has on this topic all the reticence which is inseparable to the borer. But Mr Bowman does not mind saying that he believes there is a future for Largo in the mining world in the not remote days.

Mining has proved the very breath of his nostrils from the most tender years. His father was a miner working at the face at the period when the collier was almost a serf, when the conditions were so bad that few miners lived to fifty years; they were done men at forty. But his grand-parents, Mr and Mrs Chas. McLean, were the West Fife patriarchs, living to be 103 and 97 years respectively, Mrs Bowman was a woman of grand type, and she became lessee of a tollhouse, and for forty years tended for her children and herself.

David Bowman was introduced to the pit at the age of eight. His brother was an under-manager and found an opening for the child. He knew many women who had worked underground; and the barbarous practice was not long stopped when he started. Education and all the privileges of youth were denied him, but he was of the typical Scottish race; he knew the value of education, and as he grew up he attended the evening classes. Penmanship, with a graceful easy flourish, came naturally to him. Even to-day he writes his name in a bold half text, but little marred by the shakiness, and he can throw a monogram with a neatness which yet bespeaks the beauty of his writing in his former days. The old teacher at Crossgates was eager that his pupil would try for a situation as writing master in Edinburgh, and he felt it would be a strong recommendation to himself.

In mathematics and the other subjects David was a diligent, progressive student. He triumphed over the economic conditions. He was working for 1s 6½d per day. Away from daylight till dark, in the winter they never saw the sun except for on a Sunday.

One of the veteran's happiest recollections is the passage of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on their first visit to Balmoral after the marriage. He recalls the roads lined with soldiers, the embargo placed on all traffic, and the persistence of a dignified old laird in trying to force his way. An officer turned him back. The laird again passed the cordon, when the officer drawing his sword, made it swish round the fellow's ears, and sent the crown on his lum hat skimming in the air. "Come back again and the sword falls lower" was the stern warning as down the road the cheers told of the coming cavalcade. Over eighty years ago - he sees it yet; the advance guard of mounted horse, the postilions, and the carriage with its royal occupants.

In honour of the occasion all the women of over 60 were presented with blankets.


(Mr David Bowman's Story continued)




Early in 1854, John Bowman set out for Australia; three months later, David embarked for the same destination. How different from the luxurious travelling of to-day!

In '54, the voyage was in a lumbering sailing craft, and lasted for fourteen weeks. Naturally, the family in Fife had no tidings of John. When Mrs Bowman said farewell to her second son, there was a ring of faith in her voice as she said, "David, I pray every night that you may be able to join your brother John." Mark the sequel.

On the dreary voyage, David chummed up with another young Scot who, like himself, was making for the gold diggings.

Arriving at Melbourne, then a most unpretentious town, the couple made their few purchases for the 115 miles' walk to Bendigo, decided to act on the advice of old timers and do their marching in the early hours - youth and hope had no fears of the road. But David Bowman had made a fatal mistake. He was wearing a pair of new boots, and in the first few miles the heat and ghastly track had his feet raw flesh. They had given themselves a week; by the end of that time they were only half way. They chanced upon a little store, where after purchasing a half-loaf, David asked for a piece of cloth for his feet. In the bush was a woman with a heart of gold. When she saw the condition of his feet, she insisted on the two young men staying there till he was better fitted for the track. Later, along came the teamster returning to Bendigo. Approached for a lift, he drove a hard bargain - £3 per head; but David had the money, and off they set. Outside the famous mining township they got down from the cart, where with Colonial freeness, a stone-breaker hailed them. He needed two men; he would give them 15s a day if they cared to try his work. With no better plans, they felt this was a good start till they saw about them. The stone-breaker directed them to the store for hammers.

As they returned, they passed a tall man, who stared hard at David. "Funny," thought the Fifer, "But that man's face is familiar." He walked on with his friend, talking about the stranger. He would be about a hundred yards past, when he made up his mind to go and speak to the man. The latter, too, had stopped.

Going forward to him, David said, "Excuse me, but is your name Thomson?"


"Do you come from Fife?"


"And are you the Crossgates toll wife's son?"

"Aye," replied David.

"Well," replied Mr Thomson, "I have your brother John staying at my house."

Home they went together; for the first time for weeks, David and his friend were seated at a comfortable table at dinner. The door opened, and there stood John, struck dumb at the sight of his brother.

"Oh! John," cried the delighted David, "this is our mother's prayer answered."

There was no stone-breaking for the two; they were next day included in the company working an inviting reef.

Moderate luck attended the brothers, who soon began their long partnership. The life was rough, the company was rougher, toughs from all the ends of the earth were there, each man was armed. The bush-rangers swarmed along each track; one day they shot down an armed convoy of fourteen men, who were taking gold to Melbourne. At the end of ten years, the brothers had a longing for the homeland; they wanted again to see their mother, they had great plans for her comfort. In 1854, mails were few and far between, railways were just pushing out their links across the country; letters were months on the way. Deep was the grief of the brothers to find that Mrs Bowman had died some time before they landed.


(Mr David Bowman's Story continued)





It was a great grief to the brothers to find a stranger in the old home, to think that all they held dear was beyond reach of their care. Active men and ready for any business proposition, they were before long in touch with mining friends in West Fife. They were within an ace of becoming partners in the scheme of opening up the Pittenweem coalfields. Round these seams lingered many stories of the quality of the coal - the East Fife wives declared it was a splint which they could lift with a cambric handkerchief without soiling the fabric. Thus it chanced how that sixty years ago the district lost the enterprise of these practical miners.

Mr Baird of Elie had, in deference to a petition by the Town Councils in East Fife, agreed to give two Edinburgh lawyers and a mining engineer a lease of the field. The trio elected to sell out their right to the Townhill Company, which included the brothers Bowman. Mr Baird, disgusted at the idea of any speculators thus trading on his concession, cancelled the lease. Thus befell one of the backsets to the opening of the seams east of St Monans.

Fife for the Bowmans had lost its charm, soon the brothers were booked up again for the gold diggings. They had numerous adventures, and their dogged perseverance had its reward. In another ten years they were again in the grip of the nostalgia - they must have a sight of the Benarty Hills.

We pass over the adventures which were inseparable from life in a countryside infested by men of all characters and nations. One incident speaks for itself. David had noticed that the pans where the main washing proceeded at the stamping machines were being tampered with. He decided to watch for the thief. Most of the diggers were away for the night to the town, but his vigil was not in vain. He could hear a stealthy step, then he made out a dark figure and with a rush he made to seize the visitor. David Bowman's life wavered in the balance. He did not get his hands on the man in the first dash, and the fellow, seeing a chance to make good his escape, threw down a knife and darted down the bank. After a tense chase David tripped him up and got on the top of him, holding him till other assistance came. The prisoner proved to be a Chinaman. Next day the miners found the knife, an ugly blade a foot long.

Eventually the brothers made up their minds to try their fortunes in New Zealand. That colony was also in a primitive stage; law and order was maintained with difficulty. The Bowmans travelled in the same boat as one of the bushrangers who was clearing out after giving Queen's evidence against the notorious Kelly. They were in New Zealand for five years.

Fortune in a measured way attended them. But who can control the desires of man? Once again they felt the call of the Homeland, they could not resist the longing to hear the Fife tongue, to see the Sidlaws, the Ochils, and the straths, after twenty-five years they turned their faces to Scotland. Both were still in the prime of life, back to the their "calf ground" with capital in their pockets they began to look round them for fresh outlets. Two highly practical men, they decided there was no field more promising then that in their native country.


(Mr David Bowman's Story continued)





The homing instinct - who can measure it - made the brothers pull up the stakes in New Zealand. They hungered for home and, once more back in Fife, they began to cast round for an outlet to their energy. Behind them was a store of capital, hard won on the verge of civilisation; they were eager to usefully employ it. None knew better than they that the mineral wealth of Fife had merely been "scarted." They were practical men, ready to explore any possibilities of further 'scarting' the surface. Near their 'calf ground' at Crosshill they opened up a mine which panned out better than gold digging; they were able to sell it at a fair figure to the Lochore Coal Co.

Going on with their enterprises, they were soon busy at Kirkness, and here they had tapped the soil no less wisely. Their little venture came under the observation of Mr Carlow, and eventually it was acquired by the Fife Coal Co.

Yet a third time they broke the crust; the lie of the minerals from Kinninmonth was rightly gauged, and a prosperous mine was opened out, to be sold to a leading county concern.

For the brothers the were passing and, no longer young, Mr David Bowman with his helpmate - the family being all up - decided to retire to the quiet of Lundin Links. He found Dundruid to his mind, and a succession of happy, uneventful years have sped for the loyal couple, who the other winter celebrated their golden wedding in the pretty villa.

An active man all his days, Mr Bowman could not be idle. Mining had been his work for over sixty years; boring now became his hobby. A new interest this became; he plumbed the minerals to a hundred or more fathoms all over Largo parish. He has a coveted storehouse of the lie of the metals; many a man would give a pile for a study of his journals. Mr Bowman has faith in the future of Largo as a mining area, thus much he does not mind saying.

We hint at a link with the Mossmoren [Mossmorran] disaster of fully a score of years ago. Mr Bowman had a son, John, who won distinction in the bold scheme to rescue the eight men. With Mr Birrell, the brothers Sheddon, and Mr A. C. Carlow, he was foremost in the rigging up of the aerial way from which the rescue was finally effected.

Mr Bowman and his good lady enjoy health to a wonderful extent. The sturdy veteran shows no trace of the hardships of his early life or the roughing of it in Australia. His hand is steady, his writing is marvellous in one of his years, and, with the sincere wish that happiness and health will long dwell with them in Dundruid, we take our farewell of a G.O.M.