Pilot George Bowyer

Date of birth: 16 October 1859
Place of birth: The Cottage, West Gate, Southampton, Hampshire
Marital status: Married
Spouse: Emma Hill (1860–1944)
Crew position: Trinity House Pilot (Southampton)
Date of death: 21 June 1945

Trinity House

Established in 1514 by Royal Charter granted by Henry VIII, Trinity House is the official authority for lighthouses in England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. Trinity House is also responsible for the provision and maintenance of other navigational aids, such as lightvessels, buoys, and maritime radio/satellite communication systems. It is also an official deep sea pilotage authority, providing expert navigators for ships trading in Northern European waters. Trinity House is also a maritime charity, disbursing funds for the welfare of retired seamen, the training of young cadets and the promotion of safety at sea.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Trinity House Pilot: George William Bowyer

An undated photograph of George William
Bowyer. (Click to enlarge)

George William Bowyer was born on the 16th of October 1859 at The Cottage, West Gate, Southampton, Hampshire. His father, Richard, was 28 and his mother, Sarah, was 27. He was baptised on the 4th December 1859 at St. Michael's, Southampton.

At age 11 he was listed as living at St Mary, Hampshire. He married Emma Hill (1860–1944) on the 23rd December 1882, at St Matthew's Church, Hampshire. They had nine children in 15 years. By 1891 he was listed as residing at 77 Derby Road, St Mary, Hampshire, with a wife and three children plus one servant. His occupation was listed as: "pilot".

Trinity House Pilots

A Daily Echo newspaper article of 27th July 2015 stated that the Bowyer family "for long years, had been associated with the uprising of Southampton the port – a family which for generations followed the same course of professional employment. Nearly all of them were Trinity House pilots." (27th July 2015, Southern Daily Echo)

It seems George Bowyer was destined to become a pilot. George's father Richard was a Southampton pilot. His uncle, James Bowyer, was also a pilot and lived at Bugle House in Bugle Street, Southampton.

An 1897 photograph of the Bowyer family of Trinity House pilots. George Bowyer is standing on the far right with his hand on his hip (second row). His cousin, Henry Bowyer who would go on to be mayor of Southampton is standing second from the left on the second row. (Click image to enlarge)

According to research by Richard North "George joined the pilot service in 1871 as an apprentice, crewing the sailing pilot cutter Lively, and his first trip was to ferry his uncle James (yes, the Jas Snr pictured here) to his ship. As a youngster he also crewed what he described as “William C Bowyer’s” racing yachts (presumably the boats belonged to his older cousin, the “Will” in the photograph). (http://richarddnorth.com/). He went on to be a distinguished big-ship pilot.

1907 White Star Football team

One of George Bowyer's son's, Stanley George Hill Bowyer, was born in 1889, when George was 29, and was pictured as part of the 1907 "White Star team" playing football. At the time Stanley was aged about 18.

A 1907 photograph of the White Star Line football team, which includes George Bowyer's 18-year-old son, Stanley, second row, third from the right, marked with a small X.
Image: Henry Aldridge & Son. (Click image to enlarge)

Stanley died when he was 44 and is buried next to his parents in All Saints Churchyard, Milford-on-Sea, New Forest District . The gravestone notes that he was a "Master Mariner" and "Deeply Mourned." (See photograph further down of the Bowyer family grave).

1911 Olympic collision

In 1911 Bowyer was listed as living at 119 Alma Road, Southampton, with 3 daughters and 3 sons living with them.

Bowyer was on the RMS Olympic's bridge, navigating the ship, during the HMS Hawke collision of 12.46 p.m., September 20th 1911. With Captain Smith and the mandatory Pilot George Bowyer on the bridge, Olympic departed Southampton at 11.25 a.m. and began to increase speed. The Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke, under the command of Commander William Blunt, was sailing towards the same channel in the Solent. She altered course to overtake on Olympic’s starboard side but was irresistibly drawn towards the giant liner, probably by a combination of water displacement and propeller suction.

According to later testimony, here is the exact exchange of words between Smith and Bowyer in the seconds before Hawke struck Olympic:

Captain Smith: “I do not believe he will go under our stern Bowyer.”
Bowyer: “If she is going to strike let me know in time to put our helm hard-aport.”
Smith did not reply immediately, and a few seconds later Bowyer asks: “Is she going to strike us or not, sir?”
Smith: “Yes Bowyer, she is going to strike us in the stern.”
Bowyer calls out: “Hard-aport!” and helmsman QM Albert Haines just manages to get Olympic’s wheel over hard to his right when Hawke struck.

Bowyer was up before the court and questioned over his seamanship of navigating Olympic in those waters. While he agreed that these new vessels were getting too big he, along with the Royal Navy, were found guilty of the incident.

A photograph of the Olympic owned by Bowyer. In handwritten notation he wrote below the photograph: "Olympic entering the new dock, day after collision Sept 21st 10.30am draft of water 35ft. 3ins." Image: Henry Aldridge & Son.
(Click image to enlarge)

Although Boywer would later omit reference to both Olympic and Titanic in his memoirs, he did keep a photograph of the Olympic post collision. In handwritten notation by Bowyer he wrote below the photograph: "Olympic entering the new dock, day after collision Sept 21st 10.30am draft of water 35ft. 3ins."

Bowyer photographed at the time of the Olympic collision with HMS Hawke. (Trinity Mirror/Findmypast Newspaper Archives Ltd/Brad Payne)

1912 Titanic near collision

At 11am on the morning of the 10th of April, 1912, George Bowyer arrived aboard Titanic at Berth 44 and spent some time discussing with Smith and the officers the draft of water and other considerations for the maiden voyage of Titanic. Technically speaking, Bowyer was in charge of Titanic until it reached the Nab lightship, southeast of Bembridge, at which point he would disembark.

First generation copy owned by George Bowyer of a photograph of Titanic, with Bowyer noting in his own hand: "April 10th Off Fawley Beacon" Image: Henry Aldridge & Son.
(Click image to enlarge)

At noon, tugs eased Titanic away from her berth and under Bowyer, pilotage the Titanic began her journey down the River Test, passing Berth 38 and too close to the moored R.M.S. Oceanic (quayside) and S.S. New York (moored to the Oceanic outboard in the river). Titanic’s increased displacement of tonnage caused the New York to be dragged in towards Titanic.

Captain Edward John Smith was on the bridge and stepped in to give a new order in manoeuvring Titanic, thus preventing an actual collision. After an hour's delay and assistance from tugboats, Titanic finally departed Southampton and slowly wound her way though the Solent.

Titanic stopped briefly at the St Helen Pilot Boarding Area and Bowyer disembarked from Titanic's starboard side into a rowing boat, which was photographed by Father Browne as it is picked up by by the Ketch pilot vessel heading back to Southampton. If you look carefully, you will see on the sail "I.W. No. 1" which means it is the pilot boat No. 1 from the Isle of Wight.

First-generation copy owned by George Bowyer of the famous Father Francis Browne photograph of Titanic outside the Warner Lightship with Bowyer notes in his own hand, within a week of the near collision: "The Titanic dropping the Southampton Pilot last Wednesday (April 10th, 1912) outside "Warner Light Ship". Pilot boat No.1 "Vigalent" [sic] & Norman Fort in the distance." Image: Henry Aldridge & Son.
(Click image to enlarge)

Although Bowyer deliberately neglected mention of Titanic in his memiors, he did own several first generation photographs of Titanic along with his handwritten captions that add extra hand written information, such as a photograph of Titanic captioned "April 10th Off Fawley Beacon."

According to some descendants of George Bowyer, as referenced in the book "On a Sea of Glass", Bowyer did not leave the Titanic in the Solent via a pilot boat but instead sailed on to Cherbourg. The reason proposed that it could save time lost from leaving Southampton on account of the New York incident.

A close up of the Isle of White cutter reveals
"I.W. No. 1" on the sail.

But this is not supported by a photograph that went to auction in October 2019 from George Bowyer's own personal collection. It shows the famous Father Brown photograph along with Bowyer's own handwritten caption, written within a week of the near collision: "The Titanic dropping the Southampton Pilot last Wednesday (April 10th, 1912) outside "Warner Light Ship". Pilot boat No.1 "Vigalent" [sic] & Norman Fort in the distance. " This indicates the pilot was indeed dropped outside the Warner Light Ship as planned.

In a caption added five years later, Bowyer goes onto mention that the Vigilant was blown up by a mine in 1917 with the loss of six of its crew and "eight pilots killed".

George Bowyer, in a portrait on display in the SeaCity Museum, Southampton, England.
(Click image to enlarge)

Henry Bowyer: Mayor of Southampton

Alderman Henry Bowyer was Mayor of Southampton
from 1911 until 1913. (Click to enlarge)

At the time of the sinking of Titanic, Alderman Henry Bowyer, J.P. was Mayor of Southampton and a relative of George Bowyer - it seems they were cousins. They are photographed together in the 1896 Bowyer pilots photograph earlier in this article.

Alderman Bowyer became Mayor in 1911 after only four years working as a member of the council. Alderman Bowyer "had also occupied many notable other positions in the town, including Lieutenant-Commander of the Royal Naval Reserve, a magistrate for the borough, and a Trinity House Pilot... it was by no means an exaggeration to suggest that Henry Bowyer was one of the best known pilots along the coast... In the aftermath of grief that consumed the town following the White Star liner’s sinking, Alderman Bowyer orchestrated a Mayor’s Appeal which raised £41,000 towards a fund for the relief of the sufferers. " (27th July 2015, Southern Daily Echo)

Alderman Henry Bowyer died, aged 48, on the 11th of July, 1915.
(Click image to enlarge)

Alderman Henry Bowyer died, aged 48, on the 11th of July, 1915. On his gravestone it is written: "To the Loved Memory of Henry Bowyer, J.P. Lieut. Commander R.N.R and Trinity House Pilot of this Port, Mayor of Southampton 1911 - 13. Who died suddenly on Sunday Morning July 11th, 1915, aged 48 years.""

Above: Henry Bowyer's grave is located in Southampton Old Cemetery. (Click to enlarge)

Prominent Port Personality

A 1923 cartoon and tribute to George Bowyer.
(Click image to enlarge)

George Bowyer remained at Southampton and piloted the Olympic (II), Majestic (II) and Homeric (I) among others during the 1920s.

He even went on to become something of a "prominent port personality". In one tribute to him printed in 1923 it stated:

"One of the world's greatest pilots - Mr George Bowyer of Southampton. Mr Bowyer can do almost inconceivable things with giant liners and I believe he could steer the Majestic through the Bargate without mishap!

A figure without which Dockland would be incomplete. Mr George W Bowyer, one of Southampton's Senior Trinity House pilots, is universally loved for his sunny and amiable disposition and admired for his skill."

1930 Book: "Lively Ahoy"

A year after retiring in 1929, George Bowyer wrote and published a book entitled "Lively Ahoy - Reminiscences of 58 years in the Trinity House Pilotage Service (1930). The book has become a rare and expensive item but disappointingly, his memoirs omitted the most significant events of his life, with no mention of either Olympic or Titanic incidents. Titanic had become a taboo subject in the offices of its owner, the White Star Line, and was spoken of discreetly, if at all, on Southampton’s streets, few of which escaped association with the most infamous disaster in maritime history. It seems that Bowyer bowed to this pressure and did not include it.

Lively Ahoy - Reminiscences of 58 years in the Trinity House
Pilotage Service
published in 1930, a year into his retirement.


George retired to Barton-on-Sea, a coastline area almost directly opposite the Isle of Wight. George knew every inch of this coastline and his father and mother are both buried at Southampton's Old Cemetery on The Common.

George died on 21 June 1945 at Landemer, West Road, Milford on Sea, Hampshire, at the age of 85. His probate went to Maude Eveline w/o Percy Rashley and Norman Hill Bowyer, a licensed victualler.

He was buried at Barton-on-Sea and his grave can be seen at All Saints Churchyard, Milford-on-Sea, New Forest District in a plot with his wife Emma, who died a year before him on the 15th of February 1944 aged 84. The grave reads: "George William Bowyer, Trinity House Pilot, retired. Died 21 June 1945, aged 85. A devoted husband and father.

George Bowyer was buried at Barton-on-Sea and his grave can be seen at All Saints Churchyard, Milford-on-Sea, next to his son Stanley.
(Click image to enlarge)

A close up of the headstone, in which he is described as "Trinity House Pilot retired."
(Click image to enlarge)

In recent years, plans were made to place a plaque on George Bowyer's house in Alma Road, however the owner of the property ultimately refused permission.


Pilot George Bowyer, although playing a critical role in Titanic's story, is conspicuously absent in almost all film and television portrayals - except for one: "S.O.S. Titanic" (1979) in which he is played by an uncredited actor in a brief scene on the bridge.

Bowyer as portrayed in "S.O.S. Titanic" (1979) with Captain Smith (Harry Andrews)
(Click image to enlarge)

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