Convict Histories

William Brown alias Hartley Bowen (c1836 – 1904?) (Reg. No. 9097)

By Irma Walter, 2021.

William Brown, aged 28, was convicted at Clerkenwell on 4 January 1864 for receiving stolen goods, and was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.[1] He arrived in Western Australia onboard the Corona on 22 December 1866, described as a stonecutter, single, with no children, 5’ 6½” tall, brown hair, grey eyes, sharp features, pockmarked, a sallow complexion and a thin build. He had 15 or 16 tattoos on his left arm, and a bottle and glass on his right. His religion was R.C.

He served his time under the name William Brown, which was probably an alias, as he soon changed his name to Hartley Bowen, and later to John Hartley Bowen.

Hartley Bowen married Eliza Dawson in Perth in 1877.[2] The only child born to Bowen and recorded in the WA Birth Register is a son, Henry Edward, born to Hartley Bowen and Eliza Davis in 1878.[3] The following summary has been found in the Dictionary of Western Australians:

BOWEN, Hartley, b. 1836 (alias William Brown, expiree No. 9097), arr. 22.12.1866 per Corona. m. Eliza. Chd. Henry Edward b. 1879 (Perth C/E). Gardener & shepherd Albany district 1870s. Labourer at time of child’s birth 1879, Perth. Bricklayer (1864-9 Alm). Erected buildings at Moore River for H. de Burgh 1887.[4]

In 1879 Hartley Bowen, alias William Brown, alias ‘Calcraft’[5], was sentenced to five years in Fremantle Gaol, for stealing 5/- from a blind man he was drinking with in McMahon’s Public House in Perth.[6] A record for this crime, dated 3 April 1879, shows that: ‘Bowen, Hartley, (alias William Brown)’ was sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment as a Colonial Prisoner, previous registration number 9097, new number 10269, aged 37(?), a builder, married with 4 children, same physical description, with tattoos, as William Brown, above.[7]

More personal details were added to his record on 10 April 1879:

Hartley Bowen, alias William Brown, age when convicted 37, (physical details same as above), plus ‘two fingers of left hand bent’. Born Old Kent Road, June of ….. (missing date). Father Hartley Bowen, builder, of Church St., Shoreditch. Prisoner’s last abode – Perth. Married to Eliza Bowen of Perth, children Amelia (12), Nellie (8), Rosa (6?) Henry (3 mnths). Can read, also writes a little. Builder and plasterer. Previous Reg. No. 9087.

It seems likely that his wife Eliza came to the marriage with other children. How she supported them after Bowen received his five-year sentence is not known. Her name was mentioned in a case of robbery, when two men John Duncan and Edward Connelly were charged with stealing a watch and a pocket-book, and ‘Eliza Bowen (late Mrs. Dawson) gave evidence that the prisoners came into her house and she turned them away; next morning she went to an outhouse and found the pocket-book produced.[8] During the 1880s there were newspaper reports of an Eliza Bowen being found drunk and disorderly on the streets of Perth, and on two occasions she was charged with stealing.

In June 1883 a Conditional Release was awarded to Reg. No. 10369, Hartley Bowes [sic].[9] However in December of that year he was back in prison for two weeks, charged with a breach of the ticket-of-leave regulations.[10] On his release from prison he was arrested for creating a disturbance at his wife’s home:


THURSDAY, January 10. (Before the Police Magistrate.) Night Charges.

Hartley Bowes (sic), was charged with disorderly conduct on the previous evening. It seemed that the man had come out of prison only on Wednesday morning, and that in the evening he created no small amount of disturbance by kicking violently at the door of the house in which his wife was residing. The prisoner admitted having kicked at the door, but urged that he went there only with the intention of getting his goods, when he was denied admission. Mr. Leake: Well, go down for three months.[11]

In 1886 Hartley Bowen served several terms in prison. On 22 March 1886 he was charged with escaping from the custody of his gaolers at Geraldton, and was sentenced to serve six months’ hard labour in addition to his original sentence at Perth.[12] However, Perth Gaol had a reputation of being an insecure prison, with breakouts often reported. It didn’t take Bowen long to make his escape from there following his arrest in 1886:

The man Hartley Bowen, who was sentenced last Monday week to six months’ imprisonment for being concerned in the larceny of a saddle, and who succeeded in making his escape from the Perth gaol at a quarter past three o’clock on the afternoon of the same day, has not yet been recaptured by the police.[13]

The Inquirer published a light-hearted version of his re-capture shortly afterwards:

Two at least of the present occupants of Her Majesty’s Gaols in this Colony — Hartley Bowen (better known as William Brown) and Stephen Hogan (the York ‘John Gilpin’) — are probably thoroughly convinced through recent experiences, that the way of absconders is hard. The first named worthy, who scaled the prison walls about a fortnight ago and tramped all the way to Northam, conceived the extraordinary notion of ensconcing himself in a deep well, in which he was ultimately found by his pursuers, and thus fell an easy prey, as a matter of course. The other adventurer, who appears to be one more of the jack-pudding stamp than of the criminal class, escapes from the dredge, moored near the bridge, and flees not to a locality where he might elude recognition, but to the scene of his former troubles, to York, where his vagaries and the somewhat severe sentence of six months’ imprisonment which followed close upon them were subjects still fresh on the lips of every soul in the township.

Very naturally Hogan seeks the house of his family, and he obtains shelter there, but he makes no effort at concealment, it seems, and drowned his care by singing favourite songs the livelong night. In the morning Hogan finds the guardians of the peace on the warpath, and, being hotly pursued, he, in true jackanapes fashion, clambers up to the beams of the house and escapes through the thatch. He is of course instantly observed and speedily run to earth. Handcuffed, he is placed in the railway-train and forwarded back to Perth, where he receives an additional sentence of ten days’ solitary confinement on bread-and-water fare and transferred for safer keeping to the prison at Fremantle. Bowen stands committed for trial.[14]

Back in Court, Hartley Bowen pleaded guilty to escaping from custody. He had written a letter to His Honor stating that he had escaped because he considered that his sentence of six months’ imprisonment was too heavy for the offence he had committed, but to no effect. He was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, in addition to the completion of the sentence he was undergoing when he escaped.[15]

In February 1887 a boy named Henry Bowen was admitted to the Children’s Home.[16]

His father Hartley Bowen continued on his life of petty crime, receiving two six-month prison terms in 1887.

Back in gaol, Hartley Bowen was listed in the prison register as ‘Reg. Nos. 6380, 9097, 10269, Hartley Bowen, alias William Brown, correct age 49 years.’ He was admitted to prison on 1/2/1887 for stealing a rug, but was discharged the following day by order of the Attorney General.[17] However later that month, on 22 February, he was sentenced to six months’ hard labour at Rottnest, working at his trade as a stonemason, for having given an unsatisfactory account of having a tablecloth and a blanket in his possession.[18] While in gaol he sent several letters (content unknown) to various people, including E Dempster and Robert Wilson, both of Northam.[19]

In 1888 it was reported that:

HARTLEY BOWEN and THOMAS ALLISON[20] were charged with vagrancy, having been found lying in the Cemetery Road in company with a woman. The police evidence was to the effect that when arrested, the prisoners resisted, kicking and biting the officers. Sergeant Claffey said that he did not think there were two worse characters in the town than the prisoners. They were sent to prison for three months.[21]

The next decade seems to be free of newspaper reports about Hartley Bowen’s misdemeanours. In 1898 he gave evidence in a trial against others of a robbery at Geraldton, stating that he was visiting the town, describing himself as a bricklayer and plasterer of Mt Magnet.[22] How long he had been living at the mining town is not known, but it was during this time that he had a ten-year association with Norah Brewerton, (née Doyle, formerly known as Norah Mellett).[23] Perhaps she had tried to keep him on the straight and narrow path during this time.

It wasn’t long before Hartley Bowen was charged with his most serious crime to date, that of the murder at Mt. Magnet of Norah Brewerton’s sister Catherine McArthur and her two children, Lilian aged three and Bertram aged 11 months, by setting fire to their house on the night of 26 February 1899.[24] The two sisters took in laundry for a living and Norah’s adult son, Walter Brewerton, a miner, also lived with them in the two-roomed house. He managed to escape from the fire after vainly trying to rescue his aunt and summon assistance. Norah was away from the house on the night of the fire, staying at a local hotel where she was employed as a laundress.

Norah and her son gave evidence at the trial of John Hartley Bowen, with Norah telling how she had lived with him for more than nine years before leaving him 18 months prior to the said murders, because of his addiction to alcohol.[25] She said that Bowen had blamed her son Walter and her sister Catherine for persuading her to leave his house, and when drunk had threatened to kill them both. Under questioning, Norah told the Court that she had gone through a form of marriage with Bowen at Leederville.[26] She admitted that during their relationship he had beaten her when drunk and that she had to seek police protection from him.[27] Others also gave evidence of Bowen’s threats to kill the pair, saying that he was known to carry a plumb-bob around in a bag as a weapon.

The Norseman Times reported the following:

Bowen is known in the district as ”Deadwood Dick” and is a habitual drunkard. He served several terms for threatening to take the life of his wife. Since his last return from gaol, it is stated he frequently threatened his wife and sister-in-law, and one evening last week he came to their camp with a plumb-bob, saying he would do for the lot of them, and that they could expect to see him on trial for murder shortly.[28]

The general public, horrified by news of the death of Catherine and her two small children, poured over newspaper reports of Bowen’s trial. Walter Brewerton told of having pushed the embers safely back into the stove before going to bed, but Bowen’s defence lawyer suggested that the fire may have started from inside the building. An Aboriginal tracker had traced Bowen’s footprints around the settlement, but police weren’t able to prove conclusively that he had deliberately set fire to the dwelling. It took just 35 minutes for the jury to return a verdict of Not Guilty. Judge Stone expressed his regret that the police had not conducted a more rigorous investigation into the crime. Bowen was released from custody on 26 April 1899.

Later that year it was reported that: An elderly man named John Hartley Bowen was charged at the Police Court with having stolen £44 or thereabouts from the person of Thomas Casper Heaves [sic, Thomas Cooper Neaves]. The accused was committed for trial.[29]

In July 1900 he was taken into custody for ‘lodging in the open air’, and was sentenced to three months’ hard labour.[30] Reports of Bowen’s life of crime and dissolute behaviour continued until March 1902, when he was gaoled for twenty months after being found guilty of robbing and assaulting a man named Peter Zanetti in the company of two others.[31]

No details of the death of Hartley Bowen have been confirmed, either under that name or as William Brown. There is, however, an account of the death of an elderly man named Hartley Brown at Waael, near Northam in Western Australia:

Found Dead.


News was received by the Northam police on Saturday morning that an old man named Hartley Brown had been found dead at Waael, on the Eastern railway line. Constable Bedwell was despatched to make enquiries, and he returned the same evening bringing with him the body of the deceased, which was taken to the hospital morgue. It appears that Brown, who was about 60 years of age, was a swagsman, and had stayed for some days at Mr. Martain’s residence, some three miles out from the Waael railway station. He had been complaining of feeling unwell, and on Friday evening Michael Martain brought him from Cunderdin a small quantity of brandy, which he gave him on Saturday morning. Brown, in a partially dressed condition, was found some yards away from the hut in which he was sleeping, quite dead. From the marks on the ground it appeared that the deceased had crawled from the place where he was sleeping to the spot where he had died. On Sunday morning Dr. Dunlop made a post mortem examination of the remains, and found death to be due to natural causes, viz., fatty degeneration of the heart. A certificate was issued accordingly, and deceased was buried on Sunday afternoon.[32]


[1] England & Wales Criminal Registers, Middlesex 1864,

[2] WA Department of Justice, Reg. No. 4389,

[3] Ibid, Birth Reg. No. 19710.

[4] Rica Erickson, Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians Pre 1829-188, Vols.1-V1, p.271,

[5] It is possible that this name was used as a joke by Bowen. William Calcraft was a 19th-century English hangman, one of the most prolific of British executioners. It is estimated in his 45-year career he carried out 450 executions. A cobbler by trade, Calcraft was initially recruited to flog juvenile offenders held in Newgate Prison. (Wikipedia)

[6] WA Times, 4 April 1879.

[7] Convict Department, Estimates and Convict Lists (128/1-32)

[8] Inquirer, 14 January 1880.

[9] WA Government Gazette, June 1883.

[10] Inquirer, 5 December 1883.

[11] Inquirer and Commercial News, 16 January 1884.

[12] Convict Establishment Miscellaneous, Record of Court Cases (V23)

[13]Inquirer and Commercial News, 9 June 1886.

[14] Daily News, 1 July 1886.

[15] Western Mail, 10 July 1886.

[16] Inquirer, 9 February 1887.

[17] Fremantle Prison Registers, Registers for Local Prisoners Nos 614 – 4185 and 4186 – 6853, 1886 – 1888 (FD3 – FD4)

[18] Ibid.

[19] Convict Establishment Miscellaneous, Register of Letters Sent By Prisoners, (V26)

[20] Convict Reg. No. 8478.

[21] West Australian, 9 February 1888.

[22] Geraldton Advertiser, 9 September 1898.

[23] Note: See more of Nora Mellett’s story in ‘The Great Cornhill Street Jewellery Robbery’ on this website.

[24] Note: Catherine Doyle, who previously had worked as a barmaid at Cæsar’s Hotel, married Peter McArthur in 1887 in Fremantle. In November that year Peter McArthur applied for a publican’s licence in Bunbury, where he briefly ran the Rose Hotel until May ’88. In the Bunbury Court in December ’88, Catherine McArthur brought a case against prominent local identity Robert Forrest, accusing him of using insulting language to her in the Bunbury baker’s shop that the couple operated. Her husband Peter McArthur, who said that he had been living in the colony for three years and had met his future wife at Cæsar’s Hotel, gave evidence against Forrest, saying that he had overheard him making suggestive remarks to his wife. Forrest was acquitted of the charges after a finding was reached that Catherine would have been a consenting party if her husband had not overheard the conversation. (Southern Times, 4 December 1888.)

Four children were registered to this couple – Janet (1887), Colin (1889), Bernard James (1891), Peter Roy (1893) and Bertram (1898), born at Mt. Magnet. The birth of Francis Lily was registered to Kate McArthur only, in Jarrahdale in 1895, but Peter was acknowledged as her father in her death notice. (See WA Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes.) The two youngest children died in the fire. Where Peter McArthur and the other children were living at the time of the fire is unknown. Peter was arrested at Coolgardie on warrant from Jarrahdale in 1895. (Coolgardie Pioneer, 12 June 1895)

[25] Note: Norah’s former partners Thomas Brewerton and Hartley Bowen (alias William Brown) would have known each other, having travelled together to Western Australia on the Corona in 1866. At the trial Norah stated that she did not know the whereabouts of her husband George Mellett.

[26] No evidence of a marriage between Norah and Peter McArthur has been found in the WA Marriage Index.

[27] West Australian, 28 April 1899.

[28] Norseman Times, 4 March 1899.

[29] Kalgoorlie Miner, 15 November 1899.

[30] Fremantle Prison Registers of Local Prisoners (F3-F4)

[31] Western Mail, 22 March 1902.

[32] Northam Advertiser, 20 January 1904.