Sir John Bowring, KCB (Chinese translated name: 寶寧, 寶靈 (for Putonghua speakers) or 包令 (for Cantonese)) (Thai: พระยาสยามมานุกูลกิจ สยามมิตรมหายศ) (17 October 1792 – 23 November 1872) was an English political economist, traveller, writer, literary translator, polyglot, and the fourth Governor of Hong Kong.
Bowring was born in Exeter of Charles Bowring (1769–1856:381), a wool merchant whose main market was China,:596 from an old Unitarian family, and Sarah Jane Anne (d. 1828), the daughter of Thomas Lane, vicar of St Ives, Cornwall. His last formal education was at a Unitarian school in Moretonhampstead and he started work in his father's business at age 13. Bowring at one stage wished to become a Unitarian minister. Espousal of Unitarian faith was illegal in Britain until Bowring had turned 21.:17
Bowring acquired first experiences in trade as a contract provider to the British army during the Peninsular War in the early 1810s, initially for four years from 1811 as a clerk at Milford & Co. where he began picking up a variety of languages.:597 His experiences in Spain fed a healthy skepticism for the might of the British military-colonial machine.:15 He travelled extensively and was imprisoned in Boulogne-sur-Mer for six weeks in 1822:597 for suspected spying (though merely carrying papers for the Portuguese envoy to Paris).:29-30
He incorporated Bowring & Co. with a partner in 1818 to sell herrings to Spain (including Gibraltar by a subsidiary) and France and to buy wine from Spain. It was during this period that he came to know Jeremy Bentham,:23,28 and later became his friend. He did not, however, share Bentham's contempt for belles lettres. He was a diligent student of literature and foreign languages, especially those of Eastern Europe. He somehow found time to write 88 hymns during this time, most published between 1823 and 1825.:43
Failure of his business in 1827, amidst his Greek revolution financing adventure, left him reliant on Bentham's charity and seeking a new, literary direction.:35-40
Bowring had begun contributing to the newly founded Westminster Review and had been appointed its editor by Bentham in 1825. By his contributions to the Review he attained considerable repute as a political economist and parliamentary reformer. He advocated in its pages the cause of free trade long before it was popularized by Richard Cobden and John Bright, co-founders of the Anti-Corn Law League in Manchester in 1838.:46,66
He pleaded earnestly on behalf of parliamentary reform, Catholic emancipation, and popular education. Bentham failed in an attempt to have Bowring appointed professor of English or History at University College London in 1827 but, after Bowring visited the Netherlands in 1828, the University of Groningen conferred on him the degree of doctor of laws in February the next year for his Sketches of the Language and Literature of Holland.:598 In 1830, he was in Denmark, preparing for the publication of a collection of Scandinavian poetry. As a member of the 1831 Royal Commission, he advocated strict parliamentary control on public expenditure, and considered the ensuing reform one of his main achievements.:102 Till 1832, he was Foreign Secretary of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association.