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George Poulos

Contessa Diamantina Roma

Contessa Diamantina Roma - Contessa Diamantina Roma
Pastel painting of Lady Bowen; 1867, by (?) Allen.
On fine paper marouflaged to linen.
Kindly made available by the Principal, All Hallow's School, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Compiled by
Dr Owen Harris
Chairman, History and Archives Committee, PA Hospital
201 Wickham Tce, Brisbane Q 4000
Email: [email protected]

Dr Owen Harris is a Gatroenterologist, in Brisbane.

We thank Dr Owen very much for permission to re-print his article.

The Contessa was born on a neighbouring Ionian "efta-nissi".

I regard her as important because her life and influence, indicates how early Ionians fashioned and altered the course of Australian history. Hers is very much a 19th century "Ionian island girl makes good" story. [An Ionian girl as the first Governess of Queensland - go figure?]

She features heavily in Gilchrist's, Australians and Greeks Vol 1.

This essay, can also be downloaded in PDF format at


[George C Poulos.]

Contessa Diamantina Roma

Dr Owen Harris


Contessa Diamantina Roma married Sir George Bowen on the 28th of April 1856 at Corfu, Ionian Islands. He was appointed first Governor of Queensland and they arrived in Brisbane on December 10, 1859 and declared Queensland a separate state. Lady Bowen was a beautiful, caring, conscientious lady who stimulated the formation of benevolent and charitable organizations in Queensland (eg Lady Bowen Lying In Hospital, Diamantina Orphanage). The Orphanage became run-down and a new one opened at Woolloongabba, Brisbane.

Then in 1901, it was translated into the Diamantina Hospital for Chronic Disease, 1943 the South Brisbane Auxillary Hospital and ultimately the new Princess Alexandra Hospital in 1956. On her departure in 1868 she was given a very special and exuberant farewell.

Contessa Diamantina Roma

Lady Bowen was born in Zante (Zakynthos), Ionian Islands, Greece in 1833, 10th of 11 children and the only surviving daughter of Count Giorgio-Candiano Roma and his wife (the former Contessa Orsola di Balsama, daughter of another Zantiot nobleman).(Ref 1). Count Roma was President of the Ionian Senate (1850-6) and titular head of the Ionian Islands Republic, and Queen Victoria appointed him the Island's Poet Laureate. Premarriage she led a gracious, civilized and highly privileged life, like all leading Ionian families, when Ionian Islands was a British Protectorate from 1815-1864. According to descendants, the young Diamantina was beautiful in appearance.

On 28.04.1856 Contessa Diamantina Roma married George Bowen in the chapel of the Palace of St Michael and St George in Corfu (two years after his appointment as Government Chief Secretary, Ionian Islands). The ceremony was conducted by his brother the Rev. Edward Bowen, Rector of Lower Wigborow, Essex. A signatory was Sir John Young, Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands (and later Governor of N.S.W.). Twelve days later Bowen was knighted; the elaborate ceremony in the Palace culminated in his investiture by the Lord High Commissioner (Sir John Young). Honeymoon was in England. As the Ionian Islands question was temporarily solved in 1859, Bowen was appointed Queensland's first Governor ("Captain-General, Vice-Admiral and Governor-in-Chief" of the new Colony of Queensland).(Ref 1,2). They sailed (with daughter Nina) via Sydney on the sloop H.M.S. Cordelia. During the voyage both Sir George and Lady Bowen suffered severe and prolonged sea sickness, but they arrived in Moreton Bay at sunset, Friday December 9, fired a gun and dropped anchor. They were met at the mouth of the Brisbane River by a small welcoming party in a small RN paddle-wheel steamer, Breadalbane; the Bowens then travelled on that ship further up the Brisbane River on Saturday 10.12.59 and disembarked at the Brisbane Gardens. En route up the Brisbane River, they were enthusiastically greeted by paddle steamers filled with sightseers, fireworks, flags; one local citizen's (Mr Gaskarth) yacht was renamed the Lady Bowen and flew the Greek flag in honour of her homeland.(Ref 3,4). Then four thousand people lined the river banks near the gardens and gave them a most enthusiastic and joyous welcome, after which they were taken by vice-regal carriage along dusty streets to the temporary vice-regal residence (Adelaide House, vacated and leased for 3 years to them by the owner Dr William Stubbs, Government Health Officer and Surgeon; now The Deanery, St John's Cathedral); there Diamantina held her baby, Nina (aged 16 months), high over Adelaide Street for the crowd to see.(Ref 4).

For her part, Lady Bowen carried out her official duties with self-discipline, conscientiousness, compassion and aplomb; her charming manner endeared her to all Queenslanders. Ten days after arrival in Brisbane Diamantina accompanied Sir George to Ipswich escorted by 400 people on horseback. She and her husband were the first occupants in "New" Government House, Gardens Point with its beautiful arc of Ionian columns (built in 1862 and now headquarters for The National Trust of Queensland). She was a charming and talented hostess and personally selected and planted many of the plants in its gardens; plants and gardens fascinated Diamantina. The brilliantly hued creeper "bignonia venusta" covered a cottage near Government House and for a long time was known as "Lady Bowen's Creeper". It was a most beautiful garden with a vineyard and all varieties of fruit; on Sundays children were allowed to walk in it. From distant Camden N.S.W. the botanical enthusiast Sir William MacArthur sent her plants which she acknowledged by letter. This letter gives insight into her politeness, sensitivity and some of her pleasures.(Ref 1). Another example of her personality and charm is seen in the observation by one guest after a Government House ball "The Government House is beautiful, and it seems as if the spirit of Greek taste has been given to the colony by Lady Bowen". As well, she was a collector of Chippendale furniture, and Lady Bowen was an accomplished musician with much admired singing and piano playing. She encouraged others by attending concerts. She is quoted "of all the arts, music has always been the dearest friend to me". She initiated and worked for several charities, to do something for mothers less fortunate than she. Examples of her charities are Lady Bowen Lying-In Hospital, founded in 1864, and Diamantina Orphanage at Greenhills (now Roma Street Goodsyards) later in 1883 rebuilt and relocated to Woolloongabba, now Princess Alexandra Hospital. As well, she founded the Diamantina Home for Incurables and was Patron to the Servants Home (established 1863) for training of servants from young women of good character and was closely involved with the Sunday School attached to St John's Pro-Cathedral (then at Queen's Park, George Street) at which her three Brisbane born children were christened. All of these benevolent activities came easily and naturally to this very caring woman.(Ref 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Also, Lady Bowen was noted for her elegant hairstyle and clothing and was greatly admired by Queensland's first Premier, Robert Herbert who frequently mentioned how young and pretty she looked.

Lady Bowen turned the first sod for the construction of Queensland's and Australia's first railway from Ipswich to Grandchester (50 kms) on February 25, 1864; the Avonside locomotive that hauled the colony's first passenger train was named the "Lady Bowen".

Mrs Campbell Praed (in her book "My Australian Girlhood", published in 1904 (Ref 6) has this memory of Lady Bowen "the chatelaine of Government House". "A Cottage stood at the end of the garden and it was occupied one summer by the Governor's wife, a young and beautiful Greek fairy princess, another Fair Inez who seemed to have stepped straight out of a poetry book and dazzled the eyes of a pack of rough bush children. Never had we ever seen anyone faintly resembling this gracious being, with her kindly smile, a soft foreign accent, about whom everything from the bow of ribbon in her hair to the filmy pocket handkerchief with its coronetted monogram seemed to exhale an odour of romance.

Strange indeed must have been the crudities of Australian life to this gifted Greek lady whose brilliant accomplishments and delicate charm might have seemed somewhat out of place in this primitive colony just given a name and an existence of its own".

Unfortunately the impressions by Lady Bowen (aged 26 on arrival in Brisbane) are not available, as hundreds of her letters to family and friends in Zante are now lost. They were preserved for 80 years in the Roma family villa, but were destroyed in the earthquakes in Ionian Islands in 1953.(Ref 1,2).

In 1867 Sir George Bowen was appointed Governor of New Zealand. The Bowens spent eight years (December 1859 to January 1868) in Queensland during which Brisbane had grown from 4,000 to a lusty embryonic city of 15,000. Three of the Bowen's children (Zoe Caroline (8 months after arrival), Agnes Herbert (2 years later) and George William Howard (21 months later) were born in Brisbane, and much of Lady Bowen's life in Queensland was taken up with bearing and rearing the children.

Before her departure from Queensland, 120 married women subscribed to give her a diamond necklace as a momento of "the admiration and regard which the English ladies of this colony feel for the "Lady of the Greek Isles" who has so gracefully presided over them." In a farewell address they declared "Eight years ago you came among us as a stranger and foreigner. You leave us having won the hearts of many and the goodwill of all. The poor, the destitute, the afflicted and the orphans have alike shared your sympathy".

Another 120 Queenslanders - unmarried women and girls - also subscribed to give her a bracelet, declaring "The influence of your virtues and example will dwell with us when you have departed for another land".

Another example of the high regard for Lady Bowen came from All Hallows Convent, which was started by the Sisters of Mercy in 1861 in a lovely two story stone house quite close to Adelaide House where the Governor and Lady Bowen lived until 1862. Lady Bowen attended many of its functions, but after she had presented prizes just prior to her departure, she showed her appreciation of the work by the Sisters by donating a lovely pastel painting of herself. It is the only painting of her in Queensland, and has been carefully restored. This added to a previous gift of a pretty Limoge tea set. In return, the Sisters gave her an illuminated address and an Irish harp brooch in Queensland gold set with pearls and emeralds. Then, on departure from Queensland, as she and the Governor sailed down the Brisbane River, the girls from All Hallows marked over Taylor Hill and formed a surprise party at the nearby bend of the river. (Ref 7).

On departure on 4.1.1868 from Brisbane the Bowens walked from Government House via adjacent Brisbane Botanical Gardens cheered by thousands of Queenslanders to board the government steamer "Platypus" in the Brisbane River. Reports indicate that Lady Bowen was overwhelmed with emotion at parting from her home and friends of eight years. Apparently she never raised her head through the gardens and was sobbing bitterly and scarcely able to walk. On reaching the jetty she broke down and needed to be carried to her cabin on the "Platypus".(Ref 1-4).

Whilst Sir George was Governor General of N.Z. from 1868-1873, Diamantina maintained her lifestyle and interests. Then when he was appointed Governor of Victoria in 1873 she returned to Australia; initially into Stonnington and then 1876 into the new Government House near the Yarra. Now aged 43 yrs she became the "grande dame" and Melbourne gossip writers were impressed e.g. "Her English was picturesque, her manner regal and she was the subject of mingled awe and admiration in the somewhat unsophisticated world of the colonies". Another paper rhapsodized "A creature as exotic as a bird of paradise, still a beauty, with black dazzling eyes, a flawless cream complexion and a figure that, even in the dresses of the period, was the envy of many younger matrons in the Government House circle".

In 1879 she was assaulted outside the Athanaeum Club in Collins Street by a deranged, insane woman (a fortune teller named Esther Gray). This caused considerable pains and anguish and remained a topic of conversation in Melbourne for 2-3 years.(Ref 1,2,3).

In 1873 she presented the athletics trophies at a schools meeting (23 yrs before the revival of the Olympic Games in Athens) and Sir George remarked "It is a pleasing and appropriate task for a daughter of the Isles of Greece to award the palm of victors in the Olympic Games of Australia, games such as those celebrated of old in the odes of Pindar and the verses of Horace".

Later she was absent from Victoria for one year for what Sir George Bowen publicly described as a "short visit to Europe necessitated by her state of health". No further information of this absence has been found. Then another farewell in 1879 as Sir George was appointed Governor of Mauritius. At the farewell banquet in Melbourne Town Hall, Marcus Clarke's poem "Victoria's Farewell to Lady Bowen" was sung to music composed by Alfred Plumpton.

When in Mauritius, Lady Bowen's eldest daughter, Diamantina (Nina) married a Queensland grazier, Allan Campbell. Then after a period in Hong Kong where Sir George was Governor, they settled in London. Diamantina and her two unmarried daughters were regular worshippers at the Greek Orthodox Church.

When aged 59 years she developed Acute Bronchitis, died, and was buried in the Bowen family grave in Kensall Green cemetery, London (Ref 8). Although three of Diamantina's children were born in Australia and another married an Australian, they and their children settled in England.

Contessa Diamantina Roma - Diamantina Roma Lady Bowen
[Thank you to Dr Owen Harris, and the Public Relations Unit, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, for permission to reproduce this photograph of the Bracelet given to Lady Bowen.]

The emerald bracelet given to her by the Queensland girls has returned to the Queensland Women's Historical Association which also holds a replica of the silver spade with which she turned the sod for the colony's first railway, and silver trowels used by her in other foundation ceremonies, together with some furniture and part of Bowen's original table silver and a family Bible. This is very appropriate, as the Queensland Women's Historical Association has been very interested in, and given major recognition to, the fundamental and important contributions by Lady Bowen to the early development of Queensland from 1859 to 1868 especially in relation to philanthropic, social and women's issues in those crucial years(Ref 3,4).

As well, she is a heroine for the Greek community, being the first Greek lady in Queensland. A life size bronze statue (by Philip Piperides) of her, donated by Mr Angelo Efstathis, C.B.E., is erected outside the Greek Club, West End, Brisbane, as a sign of love and respect for her. It was unveiled by Governor Sir Walter Campbell on September 22, 1989 (Ref 8).

Contessa Diamantina Roma - Contessa Diamantina Bowen - Bronze Statue - Hellenic Club, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

[Thank you to Dr Owen Harris, and the Public Relations Unit, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, for permission to reproduce this photograph of the statue.]

As well, another senior Queensland Greek, Mr Christos Freeleagus, wrote in Athens in 1922 "The excellent Greek girl who had married an English nobleman, and found herself at the antipodes, at such a remote land, and at such a long distance from her home, continued to remain a genuine Greek girl, and has fully honoured and glorified Hellenism in practice, in that other foreign land." (Ref 9).

Finally, Lady Bowen is remembered by Queenslanders when various Governments named after her a street (Roma Street) and a park (Lady Bowen Park) in Brisbane, a Western Queensland town of Roma, and a North Queensland river (Diamantina River) and shire (Diamantina Shire). Then in Victoria named after her is the Diamantina Falls, in Canberra - Diamantina Street, and an early riverclass frigate H.M.A.S. Diamantina has carried on her name by discovering a deep ocean cleft off Western Australia - the Diamantina Trench.

This important contribution to Queensland's history by Contessa Diamantina Roma, Lady Bowen is highlighted now, because in 2001 celebration will occur of the centenary of a hospital that began its life as the Diamantina Hospital for Chronic Diseases opened at Woolloongabba, Brisbane on August 5, 1901. During the celebrations the opening of the Diamantina Health Care Museum will occur; it is to be housed in the only remaining building from the original Diamantina hospital - that is, the Dispenser's House.



GILCHRIST, Hugh., Australians and Greeks, 1992, Vol 1. The Early Years. Halstead.
PIKE, Douglas., Australian Dictionary of Biographies, Vol 3(A-C) 1851-90, General Edition, A.N.U.
PRENTICE, U., 1984, Diamantina, Lady Bowen:Queensland's First Lady Brisbane:Queensland Women's Historical Association.
CAZALAR, L., 1994, Diamantina, Lady Bowen, in Women in History, Places of Purpose, Reprographics, Griffith Uni, 56-65.
WOOD, R.F.J., 1983, "The Diam", A History of the Diamantina Hospital, Royal Historical Society of Queensland.
PRAED, C., 1904, My Australian Girlhood, London, Fisher and Unwin.
MAHONEY, J-M, 1985 Dien et Devoir "The Story of All Hallows School", Boolarong Publications, Brisbane, 46, London Times, p 1, col 1, 21.11.1893.
EFSTATHIS, L., 1998, personal communication.

Blazon, or Badge of the family de Roma.

Contessa Diamantina Roma - Bracelet given to Lady Bowen

Kindly provided by a descendant, Andrei de Roma, who lives in Beauvais, France.

Contessa Diamantina Roma - Blason de Roma (1)

One of the Ladies of Australian society. A Lady amongst Ladies.

Lady Robinson, Lady Bowen and Lady Musgrave, by Hugh George, 1877.

The standing figure is Lady Diamantina Bowen (nee Roma), the wife of Governor Sir George Bowen, after whom the city of Roma, Queensland, Australia, is named.

[George C Poulos]

The Town of Roma

Roma is a flourishing town in South Western Queensland - the commercial hub of a huge grazing district and the biggest store cattle selling centre in Australia.

The area has been promoted as a tourist destination and conference centre in recent years.

Roma is the "Gateway to the Carnarvon Ranges" - a National Park about 250 kilometres north of the town with scenic gorges, Aboriginal cave drawings, and native flora and fauna.

Sport is an integral part of Roma's lifestyle and people enjoy a wide range of sporting and recreational activities. Arts and craft groups, and many clubs and service organisations are active.

Roma is 78 kilometres square in area and has a population of approximately 6500 people. The town was named after Lady Diamantina Roma Bowen (an Italian citizen) and the wife of Queensland Governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen. It was officially surveyed for development in 1862.

Roma was the first town gazetted in the newly-proclaimed colony of Queensland.

Leave A comment


George Poulos
on 09.06.2004

Bowen and Diamantina met when Diamantina was studying in Corfu. Their romance developed durinfg their student years, culminating in marriage in England. The main street of Zakynthos is called Alexandra Roma. The patriko spiti of Alexandra is now a Museum, where many artefact are maintained. The political centre is called Romyaniko. It was detroyed by earthquake in 1953. It has subsequently, painstakingly been rebuilt, over many years, to it former splendour. - Theothoros Plessas, (2004).

George Poulos
on 04.09.2004

On 15 August I received the following information from a descendant of the Contessa's - ANDREI RE ROMA. Andrei lives in Beauvais,in the town of Jean Racine, which is close to Paris. Andrei writes: I have discovered an error in the excellent compilation of Dr. Harris. It is not correct that Diamantina had 10 brothers, but in fact 9 brothers and one sister, and she was not the the only surviving. 10 children survived and one died at a young age (few days). Of the 8 brothers and one sister some will went on to become important personalities (one minister of culture, one lord of the Greek Admirality, some cavalry superior officers, one assistant officer of the King Othon). Diamantina de Roma was the little sister of my old grandfather, the Count Pietro de Roma, married first with the Princess Sofia Ypsilanti (died during childbirth in 1868) and second with the Princess Maria Conaki Vogoridi. I also think that there is some doubt that Diamantina was born in 1833. First, my old grandfather and his twin have been born in 1833. This brother died a few days later. Second, there were 2 other brothers who were born in 1834 and 1836. In all the historical and genealogical dictionaries, Diamantina is the youngest sister. Third argument, the last but not the least: in 1856, for a lady to be married as late as 23 years old - was not common. At that time, 23 years ment an old lady. There were enough honourable families in Zante and Diamantina was the exeption who married with a stranger. We must not forget that her father was in a strong conflict with Sir Thomas Maintland, a person of sad memory in the Ionian Archipelago. Nobody has forgotten the persecutions against the Eteria, between 1822 and 1828. For your information, the Roma family is named for the first time in 1242. In 1385 Roma are inscribed in the Gold Book from Vicenza. They arrived in Corfu during the wars agains the Turks. They "played the sword and the guns" so well that, in 1723, Francesco de Roma, colonel in the Venitian Navy, received the title of count. Diamantina's granfather, Dionisios de Roma, was a distiguished member of Eteria and he have been proposed for the presidence, against Capodistria. Under the Russian and British pressure, Capodistria have been "elected" (for a very short time, till Mavromichalis shot him). Yours sincerely, Andrei de Roma In a separate communication Andrei informed Dr Harris that: ...the Counts' Roma was originally from Vicenza (inscribed in the noble council of this town in 1385). There are other documents which specify the date of 1242. From 1385 till today the family has 168 members. Culturally, the Roma familly was extremely diversified. Clergymen (even a cardinal, Julius de Roma), high magistrates, men of letters and, of course, officers. Some statesmen also. The title have been awarded in 1723 to the colonel Giovani Francesco de Roma, who served in the Venice Navy, against the Turkish Empire (he was not the first in the family...). Diamantina 's father was the brother of my old-old grandfather. Andrei de Roma

George Poulos
on 04.09.2004

Andrei de Roma also informed us of this Queensland Government link: "Roma has links to European aristocracy." http://www.nrme.qld.gov.au/about/media/feb/09_roma_name.html

George Poulos
on 04.09.2004

On 25th August 2004, Andrei de Roma also asked me to note that: Did you knew that Diamantina organized in Hong-Kong, an exclusive club strictly reserved for ladies - which included and facilities for shooting. A really modern lady! Please remark that Diamantina bore a very striking resemblance to her mother.

George Poulos
on 07.09.2004

Andrei de Roma has also supplied another source for further information on Diamantina Roma - the Queensland Womens Historical Association 35 Jordan Terrace Bowen Hills, Brisbane Quensland. Australia. 07 3252 2979 http://www.connectqld.org.au/asp/index.asp?pgid=15487

Dinos Romas
on 05.05.2009

Zakynthos 2.5.2009 Dear Sir, Surfing in the internet I stopped on the Kythera-family.net. I was very impressed with the excellent work you have done, and I want to congratulate you, and all your team, for the brilliant idea you had and the professional way you organized it. Going through, much to my surprise, I noticed that you are referring to Diamantina Roma as a distinguished Greek woman in Australia. As I happened to be one of her descendants in Zakynthos, I wish to add a few things and to make some corrections, in relation to Diamantina’s biography. 1. Re. Contessa Diamantina Roma. Submitted by George Poulos 05.05.2004 A. On Mr. George A. Poulos notes regarding the name of ROMA town in S.W. Queensland he writes that the «town was named after Lady Diamantina Roma Bowen (an Italian citizen) ». Diamantina WAS NOT an Italian citizen. 2. In the comments submitted by Mr. G. A. Poulos on 09.06.2004 a. Diamantina was married in Corfu on 28.04 1856 and not in England. b. The main street in Zakynthos is not called Alexandra but Alexandrou Roma from Alexandros Romas. c. The “patriko spiti” (family house) of Alexandros Romas is now inhabited by my family and at the same time is open to visitors as a museum. (Pls. see www.romas.gr) 3. From the portrait’s gallery of Diamantina’s family, the one you display as Georgio Candiano (Diamantinas father) is not Georgio Candiano but Count Dionisios de Romas, father of Georgio and grantfather of Diamantina. For your information I attach herewith the portrait of Georgio Candiano (1798-1856) as well as a pastel drawing of Bowen’s house in Queensland . Regarding the information submitted by ANDREI ROMA, in relation to the number of children of Count Georgio Candiano (1798-1860), I wish to add the following. According to the LIVRE D’OR DE LA NOBLESSE IONIENNE (VOLUME 3 ZANTE) by EUGENE RIZO-RANGABE, Georgio Candiano had 11 children, as follows. 1. NICOLO (1821-1885) 2. DIONISIO (1825-1868) 3. CAMILLO (----- -1825) 4. SPIRIDON (1826-1880) 5. CESARE (1827- 1892) 6. ADRIANNA (----- - -----) 7. GIORGIO (1835-1910) 8. PIEDRO (1833-1914)* 9. ROBERTO (1834-1920) 10. GEORGIO -DEMITRI (1836- ---- ) 11. DIAMANTINA ( -----------) More details about the history of the ROMA family can be found in the ROMAS MANSION site www.Romas.gr Andrei Roma’s grant father PIEDRO, left Zakynthos on about 1870’s and went to Romania were he settled down and became the founder of the ROMA’S Romanian branch. Kind regards Constantinos Romas