Surveyor and engineer. John Bower was born at Downpatrick, Co. Down, on 8 December 1818, the son of WILLIAM BOWER , a native of Banffshire, who had come to Ireland in 1809, had settled in Downpatrick and had married in 1814 Sarah, daughter of John Graham, an eminent mathematician and diocesan schoomaster for the diocese of Down. John Bower was educated by his grandfather and served his pupilage under his father. He soon, according to his obituary in the Minutes of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 'became wonderfully proficient - a providential thing for him; for, having in 1839 lost his father by sudden death, he had at a very early age to take on himself the sole whole charge of his mother and her large young family - his father, through some unsuccessful mining speculations, having been unable to leave sufficient provision for them'. He was appointed assistant to JOHN FRASER , county surveyor of Down, and then joined the staff of Sir JOHN MACNEILL , being the youngest of his assistants. He was sent to Donegal in 1841, where he made a complete survey, valuation and rearrangement of the Earl of Leitrim's estates. He remained in Donegal and the neighbouring counties for several years, working for the Board of Works, Poor Law Board, and other employers until 1848. He was working in the Glasgow area in 1849 but had returned to Ireland by 1851, when,after a visit to London, he set up an office in Dublin. In December 1851 he sat and passed the county surveyorship qualifying examination. The following year, with ARTHUR WILLIAM FORDE , he surveyed the country between Enniskillen to Sligo for the Londonderry and Enniskillen Railway Co. Besides surveys and valuations for various Poor Law Unions, he was involved with several railway lines, 'all involving severe Parliamentary contests, and with them, intense anxiety and great expense'. He was acting engineer on the St Johnston-Letterkenny railway line, 1859, and resident engineer on the Ballybofey-Strabane line (Finn Valley Railway) 1859-1863. He was also engineer to the Dublin & Antrim and Letterkenny Railways, 1864-1875 and was involved with the Belfast Central Railways, the Northern Union and other extensions of the latter line. According to his obituarist, 'The Letterkenny Railway was the cause of much trouble, expense and legal complexity to him. After piloting through rocks and shoals - getting new Acts of Parliament, and re-establishing it after a collapse - the Directors refused to carry out the required conditions which finally wrecked it and almost wrecked him.'
In December 1860 Bower was appointed county surveyor for Co. Carlow. He resigned from the post in 1877, in response to a vote of censure passed unanimously by the Grand Jury arising from his absence in order to attend as a witness before the House of Commons committee on the Belfast, Holywood and Bangor Extension Railway Bill. In 1874 he was appointed Treasury Inspector for the Board of Works. He was subsequently engaged in the Downpatrick and Warrenpoint water supply.
Bower retired to Scotland for his health in 1884; he settled in Edinburgh, where he died on 31 December 1886. 'Few could have recognized in the gaunt old man - old before his time - who daily was to be seen reading in the Philosophical Institution, the strong, ardent, energetic, and successful engineer of some years back.' He never married, in order that he might better support his widowed mother and sisters, his devotion to whom was 'one of the strongest traits in his fine character'. 'The testimony of one who knew him best was that he was widely acquainted with current literature; a man of great poetical gifts, having left several unpublished works; wonderfully beloved by his friends and relatives; of a most generous and noble nature, a sanguine and enthusiastic temperament, and a helper - far beyond prudence sometimes - to any brother in need.' His pupils and assistants included ROBERT INKERMAN CALWELL , JAMES OTWAY and JOHN HARRIS HAZLETT SWINEY.
Bower was one of the architects, surveyors and engineers who produced drawings, plans and maps to illustrate the Incumbenred Estate Rentals. Lithographs from his drawings of Barkston Lodge, Co.Down (sold 25 Nov 1855) and Monknewton Mills, Co. Meath (sold 1856) are reproduced in Mary Cecilia Lyons, Illustrated Incumbered Estates Ireland, 1850-1905 (1993), 154,168.
In 1855 or 1856 Bower and W.G. Plunkett, of Boyle, obtained a patent for making paper and textiles from plants 'including the yellow iris, the burdock, the coltsfoot, and from the leaves and stems of red and white beet, mangolds, turnips, &c.'. Nothing seems to have come of this initiative.
ICEI: delivers paper, 'A method of setting out Curves with Theodolite and Chain', 1846; associate by 1849; delivers paper, 'Single and Double Lines of Railways', 1855; council member, 1857-1862; delivers paper, 'The Monster Contract System', 1857; vice-president, 1859.
Inst.CE: elected member 4 February 1879.
RSAI (Kilkenny and South East of Ireland Archaeological Society): elected member 9 Jul 1862.
Addresses: Partick, Glasgow, 1849; 11 Ormond Quay Lower, 1853-10 Frederick Street South, <=1857-1867; 60 Sackville Street Upper, 1868-1873; 6 Stephen's Green North, 1874-1883.
Home: 28 Leinster Square, Rathmines, 1883.
See WORKS and BIBLIOGRAPHY.
All information in this entry not otherwise accounted for are from the obituary of Bower in Min.Proc.Inst.CE 92 (1887-8), 379-81, and Brendan O'Donoghue, The Irish County Surveyors 1834-1944 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007), 105-107, which gives the fullest account of Bower's career.
According to the obituary in Min.Proc.Inst.CE he was in partnership with a 'Charles Swirey[Swiney?]'.
DB 1, 1 Dec 1859, 165; DB 4, 15 May 1862, 127; DB 5, 1 May 1863, ?; for a court case regarding a dispute with the contractors of the Finn Valley Railway (Edward, John and Patrick Moore), see Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal 29, 1 Jun 1866, 184.
Thom's Directory 1864-1875.
IB 19, 15 Aug 1877, 246.
Boyle Gazette, reprinted in The Engineer, 25 Jan 1856 (B.O'D.).
TICEI 2 (1846), 49.
TICEI 3 (1847-49), list of members.
TICEI 5 (1855), 11.
Thom's Directory, 1857-1862.
TICEI 5 (1857), 65.
DB 1, 1 Dec 1859, 165.
JRSAI 7 (1862), 141.
From TICEI 3 (1847-49), list of members, Thom's Directory and Post Office Dublin Directory.