S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Cornish-Bowden, Mr Athelstan Hall (surveying)

Born: 4 December 1871, Newton Abbot, Devon, United Kingdom.
Died: 4 December 1942, Somerset West, South Africa.

A.H. Cornish-Bowden, surveyor, was the son of Admiral William Bowden and his wife Elizabeth Anne, born Cornish. He passed the Survey Certificate examination of the University of the Cape of Good Hope in 1894. Two years later he passed the survey examination set by the surveyor-general's office and was admitted to practice as a government land surveyor in the Cape Colony. In January 1903 he was appointed second assistant surveyor-general. He became acting surveyor-general in December 1904, following the death of surveyor-general C.H.L. Max Jurisch*, and was appointed surveyor-general of the colony on 1 January 1906. With the exception of 1908, when M.C. Vos wrote the annual report, he held this position until the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, and thereafter remained surveyor-general of the Cape Province until 1931. During his term of office he seems to have won a reputation for despotism and for being against the private practitioner. However, this was probably unjust and he may well have been a major contributor to the development of survey practice in South Africa. He was married to Lilian ('Lillie') Cameron Muir, daughter of Sir Thomas Muir*, and had one son.

Cornish-Bowden was president of the Institute of Government Land Surveyors of the Cape of Good Hope from 1905 to 1909. In the latter year he refused re-nomination because he felt that as a civil servant he would be unable to properly represent the institute in negotiations with the government. He became a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1905 and at the joint meeting of that association and its South African counterpart held in South Africa in 1905 was one of the secretaries of the British Association's Section E (Geography). That same year he became a member of the South African Philosophical Society and remained a member for some time after it became the Royal Society of South Africa in 1908. He compiled Soldiers' graves in Cape Colony. Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 (Cape Town, 1908, 83p), which was published by the government of the Cape Colony. A paper by him on 'Site planning' was published in the South African Survey Journal (Vol. 1(6), pp. 312-314) in 1925. After his retirement he served on the Joint Committee for Professional Examinations until 1941.

Before or in 1899 Cornish-Bowden sent some bulbs to his mother in England. These proved to be a new species which was named Nerine bowdenii.

List of sources:
British Association for the Advancement of Science. Report of the seventy-fifth meeting... South Africa, 1905.

Cape of Good Hope. Report of the Surveyor-General, 1896, June-December 1904, 1905-1909.

Fisher, R.C. & Thomas, P.W. The Institute of Government Land Surveyors of the Cape of Good Hope. South African Survey Journal, 1979, Vol. 17(1), pp. 7-20.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to Athelstan Hall Cornish-Bowden / A.H. Cornish-Bowden.

Rootsweb. http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=sandberg&id=I01137

Royal Society of South Africa. Transactions, 1908-1910, Vol. 1: List of members.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

South African Philosophical Society. Transactions, 1906-1907, Vol. 16 and 17: Lists of members.

South African Survey Journal, 1925, Vol. 1 (6), paper by Cornish-Bowden.

Union of South Africa. Public service list, 1914.

University of the Cape of Good Hope. Calendar, 1903/4.

Compiled by: C. Plug