submitted by George Poulos on 21.10.2004
Speech by Her Exellency Ms Quentin Bryce, AC
Governor of Queensland
Clem Lack Oration
for the Royal Historical Society of Queensland
hosted at Government House, Queensland
19 August 2004
[An entry already exists for Diamantina Roma, in the section People, subsection, High Achievers. That entry was written by Dr Owen Harris.
Other entries can be located by placing Diamantina in the internal search engine.
I have placed this in the working life section because this is a speech by a Governor about the working life of a prior Governess, who happened to derive from another Ionian island. This entry is designed to compliment the High Achiever's entry.
Queensland's 24th Governor, Uuiversity of Queensland graduate Quentin Bryce, came to the position in early 2003 after a long and successful career in legal education, human rights and community advocacy.
She has forged an amazing career since graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (1962) and a Bachelor of Laws (1965) from UQ. On returning to Australia from living abroad in the United Kingdom following graduation, Ms Bryce spent 14 years teaching Introduction to Law, Criminal Law, Administrative Law and Legal Aspects of Social Work at the University.
Other career highlights include: Principal and Chief Executive Officer, The Women's College within the University of Sydney; founding Chair and Chief Executive Officer, National Childcare Accreditation Council; Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner; Queensland Director, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission; and inaugural Director, Women's Information Service Queensland, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Her community and professional memberships include: member, Australian delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Geneva; US State Department visitor; National President, Association for the Welfare of Children in Hospital; President, Women's Cricket Australia; Chair, National Breast Cancer Centre Advisory Network; Director, Australian Children's Television Foundation Board; Vice-President, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties; and member, Legal Committee, Childhood Accident Prevention Foundation of Australia (CAPFA).
We thank Her Excellency for permission to reproduce her speech.
President of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland
- Doctor Ian Hadwen
Members and friends of the Society
Ladies and Gentlemen
I want you to know what a pleasure it is to welcome members and friends of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland to Government House for the Clem Lack Oration.
It is fitting that the Society has dedicated its annual lecture to this distinguished writer.
Clem Lack, a dedicated member and official of the Society, began his journalistic career as a cadet on the Gympie Times in 1918, and joined the old Brisbane Courier four years later. In eleven years with that journal he was a Supreme Court reporter, sub-editor, a specialist writer and political columnist.
In 1940, Mr Lack joined the Brisbane Telegraph and subsequently became lead writer and book reviewer. In
mid-1944, he moved to The Age, Melbourne as lead writer.
He returned to Brisbane to join the State Public Relations Bureau, and ultimately was director from 1953 until his retirement in December 1966.
Mr Lack’s writing and analysis on Queensland’s history has provided Queenslanders with ready access to aspects of the State’s past, and I am certain that the topic of my address would have been one familiar to him.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, this year’s oration came about following a discussion with Dr Michael White. Last December at the Supreme Court I honoured a commitment to my dear friend, Justice Margaret White to speak on the publication of Queensland Judges on the High Court and to unveil a model of the QGSY Lucinda.
Dr White had an idea, no doubt springing from my speech on Lucinda Musgrave, the yacht’s namesake and wife of Queensland’s sixth Governor, Sir Anthony. He invited me, as Patron of your Society, to speak at another time, suggesting I might consider expanding on the Lucinda Musgrave story.
On reflection, my inclination was to explore further the life and times of Diamantina, wife of Queensland’s first Governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen.
I wanted to know more about this captivating, exotic woman, of her serenity and kindness. And like many others who have read of the Bowens’ time in Queensland, I wondered about that couple’s relationship - the differences in upbringing and cultural traditions - yet encouraged by the impetus they gave, in partnership, to Australia’s northern colony, newly separated from New South Wales in 1859.
I was reminded too of the seeming contradictions in their temperaments. I am not the first to have considered this. The opening lines of a poem attributed to Jim Potts, currently with the British Council in Sweden, whose work Diamantina Roma and the Postings of Governor Bowen begins thus:
that selfish brute Bowen,
got Corfu, then Brisbane,
New Zealand and Melbourne!
Missed out on New South Wales!
Twenty years down under,
Sir Gorgeous Figginson Blowing…
Potts’ use of the word ‘brute’ and the sarcasm inherent in the corruption of Bowen’s name are taken directly from 19th century writer and natural history artist, Edward Lear, known the world over as the author of The Owl and the Pussycat.
Lear met Bowen on the island of Corfu and had lived there for some time in rooms near the Metropolitan’s Palace. He wrote of society under the British Protectorate as “having all the extra fuss and ill-will produced by a Court and small officials.” Apparently Lear’s particular loathing of Bowen appears in his personal correspondence.
MY FRIENDS, I wanted to use this occasion to satisfy my desire that the good works initiated by Lady Bowen should not be taken for granted, that we should recall her influence in the ‘salons’ of Brisbane, meeting people in its dusty streets, encouraging music and culture, establishing hospital facilities, motivating her peers, and charming foreign and local visitors.
I especially wanted to learn about Diamantina’s concern for her contemporaries, in particular families and pregnant women - a sharp focus for her personally as we recall her three pregnancies while in Queensland - Zoë, Agnes, and George born in Brisbane.
I agree with Penny Russell’s view that ‘the public representation of governors’ wives was threaded though the cultural terrain of colonial feminity.’ Lady Bowen was ‘a first’ in the new colonial entity. And as I thought more about Diamantina, I supported Russell’s observation that:
the governor’s wife was an important symbolic figure in – but not of – Australian society, and carried the particular burden of representing the Queen: not only as the wife of the viceroy, but (also) as herself the embodiment of a female sovereignty.
In this capacity, she presided over organisations and institutions that reflected the social constitution of the colony and the chief preoccupations of its elite women.
She could certainly promote ‘pet’ charities and causes of her own, but her particular function was as the ‘social apex’ of a world that often seemed both alien and insular.
My view is that Lady Bowen discharged this role with grace, elegance, and determination, and softened the ‘alien’ and the ‘insular’, and that her efforts were appreciated and reciprocated in the genuine feelings of disappointment and sorrow when she left Queensland in 1868. (I shall refer to this later.)
In 19th century Australia, philanthropy of the English variety saw the role of the Governor's wife as central to a charitable society or institution. A woman of status added solidity and respectability to a charity. Her contacts among the rich attracted financial support. The possibility of being publicly associated with such a woman drew useful, practical support.
Although the role often but not always demanded little more of the patroness than her name, many of the Governors’ spouses gave of their time and management skills to encourage and elevate community endeavours. I think of them as ‘enablers’.
‘It is somewhat disconcerting to find that women of independent means, who were nineteenth century voluntary welfare workers, are not uncommonly and patronisingly described with such phrases as driven by Victorian religious values or plight of the poor pricked the conscience of the affluent.
No doubt these were influencing factors, but the aims of these women were purely altruistic. They received no monetary reward, yet they were the founders and sustainers for decades of a number of essential services in the community.
‘For example, the Lady Bowen Hospital has grown into the Royal Women’s Hospital, there is the Royal Children’s Hospital, All Hallows’ School, the Creche and Kindergarten Association, the Playground and Recreation Association and numerous others.’
(It should be remembered that the State played little or no role in the services that we now ascribe as State responsibilities, such as public health and social services.)
A publication by the Royal Historical Society of Queensland in 1959 described two categories of women - The Lady and The Toiler. Considerably different ways of life, yet both classes crucial in managing the growing pains and aspirations of a young colony.
When I recall images of pioneer women, I am moved by their stoicism born perhaps of inevitability - thinking immediately of Russell Drysdale’s profound painting, The Drover’s Wife - the solitary woman standing on a featureless plane - women engaged in so much practical work - establishing homes scattered in the remote bush - coping without medical services - clearing land - raising, educating, and in many cases burying their children - managing properties while husbands were away for long periods about their work in the scrub.
And yet women, within their varying means, maintained the accoutrements of civilisation.
We have access to the reminiscences of George Leslie’s purchase of a piano from Sydney for his wife, Emmie: transporting the instrument by small coastal steamer to Brisbane, transferred to a bullock dray, and hauled unsteadily up the range and on to their property, “Canning Downs”, outside Warwick.
And Mary McConnell, piecing together her husband David’s extravagent collection of oversized silk handerchiefs to make curtains for their ‘rude frontier shack’ in the Brisbane Valley.
MY FRIENDS, expectations were high, fuelled by great enthusiasm for this, as yet, untested self-governing colony.
A contemporary source has noted that:
‘The heat and dust of a Queensland summer greeted Lady Bowen as she stepped ashore with her husband, Sir George on the 10th December 1859.
A temporary landing stage had been erected off the Botanic Gardens, there was a triumphal arch and fireworks, welcome banners carried by groups of working men, a 21 gun salute, and twelve young ladies, all dressed in white, presented Lady Bowen with a bouquet of flowers. There was much waving of Union Jacks and Greek flags and cheering from the 6000 citizens, one of whom had already named his yacht, Lady Bowen.’
From the balcony of the temporary vice-regal residence (now the Deanery of St John’s Cathedral) Diamantina held high her child (the 16 month old Adelaide Diamantina, known en famille as Nina) for the crowd to see. Finally, having endured agonies of sea-sickness (possibly morning sickness now that she was four weeks pregnant) and several hours of speeches and proclamations, Lady Bowen was allowed to rest.
No matter how broad and boisterous the welcome, Brisbane must have been a culture shock for the slim, 27-year-old Greek noblewoman.
The town was dusty, lumbering, and humid. It boasted an unreliable supply of water sometimes the consistency of pea-soup, unsanitary conditions were common, the roads rough, and infant mortality high.
Brisbane hardly presented as a jewel in Queensland’s natal year. And we recall Sir George’s early plea for funds, having allegedly inherited just seven pence halfpenny from the Treasury with which to run the new colony.
Rosa Murray-Prior (later Campbell-Praed) was one of the group of young ladies who presented Lady Bowen with a bouquet on landing, and later wrote of her as ‘a young and beautiful Greek fairy princess who seemed to have stepped straight out of a poetry book to dazzle the eyes of a pack of rough bush children.’
Rosa’s words caused me to think more deeply about Diamantina - her background, her family heritage, her life before Queensland, other influences that shaped and guided her approach to her family and duties - her kindness and clear sense of service.
I turned for some answers to her birthplace, the Greek island of Zakynthos, frequently referred to in its Italian form, Zante, one of the seven Ionian islands off the west coast of Greece, stretching south from the present Albanian coast to the southern tip of the Peloponnese.
The Islands prospered under the Romans and then its successor, the Byzantine Empire. In the 14th century the Islands passed to the Venetian Republic and remained part of “La Serenessima” until 1797.
The Ionian islands provided an ideal naval station for the Venetian Republic, from which to keep an eye on the Peloponnese. And its strategic value would later be recognised by Napoleon. In 1797 he extinguished the Republic and ceded Venice and all its possessions, except the Ionian Islands, to Austria. Writing from Milan, Napoleon explained his decision:
The islands of Corfu, of Zante, and of Cephalonia, are of greater interest to us than all Italy put together. I think that if we were obliged to make a choice, it would be advisable to restore Italy to the Emperor, and for us to keep the islands, which are a source of wealth and prosperity to our commerce.
The Turkish Empire is crumbling from day to day, the possession of these islands will enable us to keep it together, if that is possible, or, to take our share of it.
The time is not far distant, when we shall feel the necessity of taking possession of Egypt in order really to destroy England. The vast Ottoman Empire, which is daily perishing, forces us to take measures in good time for the preservation of our commerce in the Levant.
When French rule ended in 1798, a brief Russian Protectorate gave the Greek Orthodox population of the islands for the first time in over four centuries - political masters of the Orthodox faith.
In 1807 the Islands returned again under French rule as a result of the Tilsit Agreement between Tsar Alexander I and Napoleon. The French were expelled, and in 1815 a British Protectorate was established over the Islands until 1864. Greece did not attain its own national independence until 1821.
And as Jan Morris said in her history of the Venetian Empire, the islands ‘were the bastion of Hellenism, the place the Greek dimension kept it in being.’
These seven Greek islands - the ‘United States of the Ionian Islands’ - became a British protectorate through the Treaty of Paris (November 1815). Although the administration of the islands was placed in the hands of a
bi-cameral legislature, real political authority was held by the High Commissioners.
The Ionians, like their contemporaries in far-off New South Wales, resented such direct rule and sought real participation in their government.
The British Government introduced policy changes from 1841. The ‘year of revolutions’ in Europe in 1848 echoed in the Ionian Islands.
In a letter published in London that year addressed to the Secretary of State for War and Colonies, an Ionian (N Zambelli) protested the absence of freedom of the press and an elected legislature.
Support was growing in the islands for a political union with Greece.
While the topic of the Ionian Islands enosis [union with Greece] is beyond the scope of this paper, it is important to note that it was a debate that included the active participation of Sir George Bowen and members of Diamantina’s family.
Sir George Bowen published in 1851 a defence of the British Protectorate in his work, Ionian Islands under British rule, which was promptly answered by Ionian, Georgios Drakatos Papanicolas.
In 1863 the High Commissioner, Sir Henry Storks, laid before the Ionian Parliament the conditions of cession to Greece. Although these were rejected by the legislature, Great Britain and the European powers signed a treaty on 29 March 1864 that ended the Protectorate.
Sir Henry, the last High Commissioner, left Corfu on 3 May 1864 and King George I of Greece entered the islands’ capital on 6 June that year.
Zakynthos was famous for its beauty since the Roman author, Pliny, described it: an island full of the thrust and colouring of natural beauty; flaming sunsets; romantic moonlight; luxurious vegetation; magnificent, colourful flowers.
And other highlights: centuries-old olive groves and vineyards; scented lemons; lagoons; coves; springs; golden sands; and turquiose, emerald seas - the sweep of the great bay.
Known as the ‘Florence of Greece’, the island was also long accustomed to the title, ‘Flower of the East’. Edgar Allan Poe wrote his charming, mannered Sonnet to Zante, after visiting the island in 1837.
Fair isle, that from the fairest of all flowers,
Thy gentlest of all gentle names dost take!
How many memories of what radiant hours
At sight of thee and thine at once awake!
How many scenes of what departed bliss!
How many thoughts of what entombed hopes!
How many visions of a maiden that is
No more - no more upon thy verdant slopes!
No more! alas, that magical sad sound
Transforming all! Thy charms shall please no more -
Thy memory no more! Accursed ground
Henceforth I hold thy flower-enameled shore,
O hyacinthine isle! O purple Zante!
"Isola d'oro! Fior di Levante!"
The island took special pride in its own opera house, now since vanished. Zakynthos gave birth to three major Greek poets - Cavalos, Foscolo, and Solomos who wrote the famous Hymn to Freedom, the first three verses of which would become the Greek national anthem. Solomos’ lyrical work would later be sung in far-off Rockhampton in 1862 when Sir George Bowen attended a reception in that city.
It was the British Protectorate that brought George Ferguson Bowen to the island of Corfu as Rector of the University and later, Government Secretary, to assist the High Commissioner. Corfu has been immortalised by Homer under the name Phæacia (taken from the name of Neptune’s son):
Then swelled to sight Phæacia’s coast,
And woody mountains, half in vapours lost;
That lay before him, indistinct and vast,
Like a broad shield amid the watery waste.
In his work of 1837, History of the British Possessions in the Mediterranean, Montgomery Martin speaks of domestic Corfu city - its labyrinthine layout, the tolerably good-looking houses, the piazzas, the narrow streets and straggling lanes, the skulking market rats, - the Corfiots passionately attached to smoking tobacco - their favourite amusement, dancing or enjoying listless idleness - the countryside abundant with plover, water-fowl, wild duck, and teal - the surrounding seas producing skate, whiting, and the beautiful sea-horse.
Corfu had served as ‘the Gibraltar’ of the Venetian Republic, and is where Bowen met and married Diamantina, daughter of Count Candiano and Countess Orsola di Roma. Her father was President of the Senate of the Ionian Islands.
The family enjoyed a long history of service to the Republic of Venice - their origins in 13th century Rome and 14th century Vicenza began their involvement. The di Roma motto “Respice Finem” (look upon the end) well characterises the family’s many moves. In 1548 one of the members took prudent steps to leave Vicenza to escape the long arm of Venetian law. Ultimately, some of the family settled in Corfu, and others in Crete, a Venetian colony for 450 years.
In 1610 Candiano di Roma left Crete to settle on Zakynthos, and was enrolled in that island’s nobility. One of his sons commanded the island’s armed forces in Venice’s twenty-three year defence of Crete against the Turks. And one of his descendants was granted the title of Count in 1721 for his part in the defence of Corfu against the Turks.
Diamantina’s grandfather, Dionisio di Roma was the Consul-General of the Venetian Republic in the Peloponnesian Peninsular, then like the rest of Greece under Ottoman rule.
After the fall of the Republic, he would devote his energies and a large part of his wealth to promoting the union of the Ionian Islands with Greece. He would later be nominated as Greece’s first President. Following the establishment of the Greek monarchy, he was appointed a member of the King’s Council of State, was tried for conspiracy and condemned to death but later pardoned, and lived on to see Diamantina married.
When the British Protectorate was set up, Diamantina’s father became President of the Legislative Assembly and then President of the Senate. He was one of the first recipients of the British decoration, the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.
His son-in-law, George Bowen had been secretary of this Order, and I delight in the deep sense of connection, seeing on the collar of the Order, the Lion of Saint Mark, the symbol of the Venetian Republic.
Sir George’s own insiginia of knighthood is on permanent display in the foyer here at Fernberg, through the courtesy of the Queensland Women’s Historical Association.
The historian, Hugh Gilchrist, in his Australians and Greeks, highlights the roles played by other members of Lady Bowen’s family in public life and in the politics of Greece - a brother married the aunt of the Queen of Italy, another married Princess Sofia in Romania, a niece married a Greek prime minister, another niece married a Greek general, and a third niece married a member of the Greek parliament who was a grandson of the Greek War of Independence (1821-33), Markos Votsaris.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, in his 1960s work, The Ionian Islands, Arthur Foss captures a sense of the Roma family home on Zakynthos, claiming it to be the capital’s one remaining mansion, only partially destroyed by the earthquake of 1953.
The house, originally built in the seventeenth century, is situated close to the Church of Our Lady of the Angels which stands to the north of St Mark’s Square.
Originally of three stories, the top one was destroyed in 1953 and had not been replaced. The garden ran down to the sea where there was a boathouse. We walked down steps between a fenced-off garden which was alive with flowering trees, into the hall which runs the full length of the house.
On the walls were portraits of ancestors going back nearly four hundred years, one of the earliest being that of a dark lean man, stern and unbending, who had commanded the Zakynthiot naval contingent at the siege of Candia during the 17th century. In the background is depicted his great galley, its long oars striking the sea off the island of Crete. Close by were his helmet and sword.
At the foot of the staircase, facing into the hall, was the portrait of another Roma in frock-coat, cravat and all the sartorial embellishments of the mid-Victoria era, who was President of the Ionian Senate during the Crimean War.
I shall return to this home on Zakynthos later.
As Gilchrist notes, ‘under the British Protectorate, from 1815 to 1864, the leading Ionian families led a gracious, civilised and highly privileged life, enjoying most of the amenities of the capitals of Western Europe and suffering few of their disadvantages. Music, opera, the theatre and the arts in general were promoted.’
It would be fair to say that these descriptions could not apply to infant Queensland, when the Bowens arrived in December, 1859. Brisbane, suddenly elevated as the capital of a self-governing colony would be their home for eight years. These were challenging times. And, as Bowen claimed, he found himself in the position of being ‘an autocrat; the sole source of authority here, without a single soldier, and without a single shilling.’
Queensland was unique amongst the six Australian colonies in that it received responsible government at its creation.
Bowen faced the difficulties of establishing the executive government and the legislature. Elections for the Legislative Assembly had to be called, the first Queensland Parliament meeting in the former convict barracks in Queen Street. This grim reminder of the convict past remained the seat of the legislature until it moved to the present Parliament House in 1868.
The Bowens lost little time in hosting the people of Brisbane and surrounding districts. Lady Bowen effectively raised the ‘tone’ of the rugged pioneer colony, her graciousness and open approach to citizens inspiring confidence and warmth.
This can be seen in place names including the Diamantina River, Roma Street (Brisbane), Lady Bowen Park, the town of Roma and, Diamantina Shire - not forgetting Queensland’s first passenger railway engine, named in her honour; and the marvellous 140oz Lady Bowen gold nugget, dicovered west of Brisbane, which Sir George and Lady Bowen were shown on their first visit to Ipswich.
A contemporary tribute to Lady Bowen was unveiled in 1989 at the Greek Community Centre, South Brisbane: the memorial figure of Diamantina by sculptor, Phillip Piperides.
During her years as Queensland's first lady, Diamantina took a special interest in the welfare of mothers - generating outstanding support for the founding, in 1864, of the Lady Bowen Lying-in Hospital. A personal message from the members of the hospital committee to their patroness highlights not only the esteem in which Lady Bowen was held, but also reveals her direct contribution to the hospital’s formation:
This institution owes its origins entirely to your benevolence ... charity which will always continue to bear your name, and from within whose walls we feel convinced many a deep felt prayer will arise for God's blessing on the head of her who devised it.
In the hospital’s first year of operation there were 41 births: 27 to married women and 14 to single women. The committee worked hard, meeting weekly, organising and fund-raising, and always arranging for one of their members to be available as a hospital visitor.
It is clear that Lady Bowen's interest in the hospital and in women’s health was genuine, brought about by a sincere desire to use her influence for people when most in need. She said:
I have great satisfaction in feeling that that institution has proved as successful as it was needful. I have much pleasure in thinking I was the means of commencing so useful a charity, and I shall always feel a pride in having my name associated with it.
I rejoice to think that we have in Queensland so many women who love to do women's work, and who show such ready sympathy for those who so strongly need a sister's help.
I earnestly beg that you will always try to assist and comfort those poor women, not only while they remain in the institution, but as long as they are in want and distress.
Lady Bowen was personally associated with the Diamantina Orphanage that opened at Greenhills (now the Roma Street Parklands site) - it re-located to Woolloongabba and became the Diamantina Hospital for Chronic Disease in 1901, the South Brisbane Auxiliary Hospital in 1943, and finally the Princess Alexandra Hospital in 1956. Her name was also associated with the Diamantina Home for Incurables.
Lady Bowen spent considerable time and energy helping with the formation and running of the Sunday School attached to St. John's Pro-Cathedral where her Brisbane-born children were christened.
As well as being an enthusiastic patroness, Diamantina was a gifted musician who made it her special interest to encourage others, especially young musicians. She regularly gave her patronage and attendance to public performances.
One of the few places in Brisbane of the 1860's where you could go to enjoy "culture" was All Hallows' convent, founded in 1863.
Lady Bowen and many others enjoyed concerts there, people of all denominations being welcomed by the Sisters. Before she left Brisbane, Lady Bowen paid a farewell visit to the school and the girls presented her with an Irish harp brooch, made from Queensland gold and set with Queensland pearls and emeralds. She had previously given the school her portrait done in pastels.
The girls told her that her presence had always gladdened their hearts, and that because she was a gifted musician her approval was more than once a cherished reward.
And another dimension to Diamantina’s warm relationship with the Sisters of Mercy - in 1865 agreeing to be patroness of the nuns’ first fund-raising bazaar in Ipswich, an event designed to defray costs of the purchase of the sisters’ residence in that town.
It is well documented that this was a period marked by sectarianism. Lady Bowen was prepared to rise above it.
“Brisbane’s first Roman Catholic bishop, James Quinn, came up against a bias in his dealings with Sir George Bowen, and the first Premier, Robert Herbert.
The Governor’s antagonism was not usually displayed in public. It was disguised largely by the exceedingly friendly relations between his wife and the Sisters at All Hallows, an association that afforded the bishop much satisfaction especially … to attract pupils (to the school).
Whenever it allowed, Diamantina set an admirable example of popular accessibility, her advertisement in the Queensland Daily Guardian notifying the public that she was available to receive callers at Government House every Monday and Thursday between noon and 2pm.
Katie Hume provides an example. After visiting Brisbane from the Darling Downs, she wrote:
I have been presented to Lady Bowen at last! "Duckems" took me to one of her Thursday morning receptions from 12 to 2 o'clock. There was no one else there when we arrived (except visitors in the house) so we had all her ladyship's attention. She is very ladylike and agreeable in her manner. She has just a slight foreign accent in speaking which sounds very pretty.
‘Perhaps the least self-conscious, though not entirely unbiased glimpses of Lady Bowen and her family are found in the letters of the young bachelor Premier, Robert (later Sir Robert) Herbert, to his mother and sister in England. The family’s activities are described regularly over a three year period. At various times he wrote:
“Yesterday we entertained Lady and the Misses Bowen. We gave them a large dish of figs, an immense one of peaches, bananas, biscuits, and what was most appreciated some peach water ice, which I made and which was very successful.
“We killed a calf last week. Half bred buffalo. It was excellent. We gave head, feet and a leg to Lady Bowen.
“Lady Bowen still looks young and pretty, but is not very strong. The summer heat and her husband’s eccentricities are trying to her health.
Diamantina also engaged in a full schedule of civic duties. For example, in 1865 she turned the sod for Queensland's first rail line from Ipswich to Grandchester.
After addresses by the citizens' committee, reply by the Governor, the Mayor of Ipswich, and a further reply by the Governor, the Minister for Land and Works asked Lady Bowen "to turn the first sod of the southern and western railway, and for the purpose, and in commemoration of this auspicious occasion, I beg your acceptance of this spade".
Lady Bowen was then handed what was described as a very handsome silver spade, suitably inscribed.
One of Diamantina’s greatest loves was gardening, no doubt stirred by her childhood on the lush island of Zakynthos, and to which she returned to visit once during the ‘Queensland years’.
After the family moved to the newly constructed Government House in 1862, Lady Bowen began intensive work on the estate. In a letter to botanical enthusiast, Sir William Macarthur of Sydney in 1865, she revealed her delight in the transformation of the grounds of Government House.
Many thanks for the beautiful collection of flowers that you were kind enough to send me. I shall take good care of them. My garden is the place where I spend all my spare time, and it is a great pleasure to me.
I wish you would come and pay us a visit. Sir George and I will be very glad to see you at Government House.
If you come to Brisbane we shall be very glad to see you after April, as it is too hot before that time for anyone to enjoy the elements. From May to September the climate here is perfect.
MY FRIENDS, such were the sentiments of admiration for Diamantina, kindled by her kind-heartedness and thoughtful style, that one hundred and twenty women subscribed to a farewell presentation to Lady Bowen.
We are indeed fortunate that the very fine bracelet, set with local emeralds and crafted from Gympie gold, is on display this evening. I note that the discovery of payable gold at Gympie came at a critical time in the colony’s economic history.
The married women of Queensland wrote a heartfelt account of Diamantina’s stewardship, her friendship, and her generous participation in the life of the colony:
We express to you the deep regret we feel that the time approaches for your departure from our shores. Eight years ago you came amongst us as a stranger and a foreigner, you leave us having won the hearts of many, the good will of all.
You have become endeared to us by your ever ready sympathy in our joys and sorrows.
But not for us alone, dear Lady Bowen, who now tender you this token of our love and esteem, have your thoughts been occupied. The poor, the destitute, the afflicted, and the orphan have alike shared your sympathy.
And it will be a pleasing recollection to many of us that you have taken a lively interest in our charitable institutions, for we know that to your benevolence and kindly patronage they owe much of their success.
Diamantina equally regretted leaving Queensland. The Brisbane Courier reported that as she walked from Government House with her family, she ‘was utterly overwhelmed with emotion at parting from home and friends of eight years. She never raised her head all the way through the gardens, sobbing bitterly, scarcely able to walk. On reaching the jetty, she broke down entirely and had to be carried into the cabin of the Platypus.’
The Bowens took up a succession of vice-regal duties: New Zealand 1869, Victoria 1873, Mauritius 1879, and Hong Kong from 1882 to 1886, after which they retired to England. Bowen’s final assignment was a report on the Constitution of Malta.
Sir George and Lady Bowen settled in London where he was an occasional speaker at meetings of the Hellenic Society. Diamantina and her two unmarried daughters became regular worshippers at the Greek Orthodox Church in Moscow Road.
I here revert to the description of the family home on Zakynthos to illustrate a not infrequent hazard to the historians’ research. Hugh Gilchrist laments that:
Unfortunately, Diamantina’s impressions of Australian frontier society can be only distantly imagined, for the hundreds of letters which she wrote to family and friends in Zante are now lost. Preserved for more than 80 years in the Roma family villa, they were destroyed as a consequence of the disastrous earthquakes in the Ionian islands in 1953.
The earthquakes struck Zante on a Sunday morning, and fires cooking the midday meal spread through the town to the Roma estate. When the flames were only 200 metres distant a change of wind saved the 300-year-old house from incineration. Its structure, however, had been badly damaged, and during efforts by her grand-nephew, Count Dionysios Roma, to repair it, the contents of the library were stored in a nearby hut.
They were still there two months later when a torrential rainstorm flooded the hut, and many historical documents, rare books and engravings and family papers, including Diamantina’s letters, were reduced to pulp.
Diamantina Bowen predeceased her husband, dying of acute bronchitis at their home in Cadogan Square, London, on 17 November 1893, aged sixty years. She is buried in the Bowen family grave at Kensal Green cemetery, Harrow Road, London.
Sir George made a final visit to Athens to attend a lavish reception in his honour, given by Diamantina’s niece Lina, who was married to Kiriakoulis Mavromichalis, later to become Prime Minister of Greece in 1908.
When Bowen was over 70, he married a clergyman’s widow, but his second wife was not well received by the younger Bowens, who had adored their mother. Sir George lived on for another five years and died at Brighton in 1899.
The continuing interest of Queenslanders in their first ‘first lady’ can be seen in the Brisbane Courier’s publication of an obituary written in an Athens newspaper:
Bowen had a faithful and very clever associate in Diamantina, his beautiful, graceful, good and intelligent wife consort, who everywhere gave honour to the Greek name which she dignified by her true Greek conduct.
She was a type of woman who will never be forgotten by those who had the good fortune to know her. In the prime of her life she united grace with goodness, and preserved a certain aristocratic dignity in her manners which was founded on the sincere and simple benevolence of her nature.
In England, in Australia and New Zealand, and in the East she was the good and powerful champion of Greeks who are not rare in those parts of the world, and with whom she was always accustomed to speak the language of their fathers with deep sympathy and emotion.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I have just touched on aspects of the life of Lady Bowen from the Ionian Islands and Queensland. I have not referred to the contributions she made in her other official postings in Australia and overseas. I leave others to further the research into the substantial and lasting impact that the wives of the Governors have made to the societies where they were briefly resident.
Finally, I return to the words of Rosa Campbell-Praed, an eye-witness to Lady Bowen’s time in Queensland:
Never had we ever seen anyone faintly resembling this gracious being with her kindly smile, and soft foreign accent, about whom everything from the bow of ribbon in her hair, to the filmy pocket handkerchief with its coroneted 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 acquirements and delicate charm might have seemed somewhat out of place in the primitive colony just given a name and an existence of its own.
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