Mr Charles Ower
Charles Ower was Perth born, an innovative civil engineer/architect responsible for many developments at Dundee Harbour and local railways. Three of his children survived into adulthood - Charles junior and Leslie became prominent architects in Dundee, Stephen was an accountant/stockbroker.
Subscription value in 1863:
Relative to inflation up to 2023:
Relative to income compared to 2023:
Personal details and history
Date of birth
Place of birth
Name of spouse
Age at death:
Place of death:
11 Craigie Terrace, Craigiebank.
Date of death:
Western Cemetery, Dundee, Compartment 6, Lair 157 a,b,c.
Affiliations, clubs, offices and related subscribers
Clubs / societies
29 – Sir David Baxter – C.O. contributed to his statue, DB was among Camperdown Dock Lunch guests
45 – JK Caird- also attended Assoc. for Advancement of Science Meeting at Nottingham
Career and worklife
Civil Engineer, Industrial Architect, Architect
Place of work
Harbour Trustees Offices
Career to date:
He trained as a civil engineer and also practised as an architect, mainly on industrial projects initially. He acted as assistant to James Leslie, Dundee Harbour Civil Engineer and succeeded him in the post in 1846. Various developments and improvements to the Harbour as well as railways in the surrounding area, such as the Camperdown Dock (1857) and Dundee East Station (1850) are attributed to him. The construction of the Camperdown Dock was fraught with difficulties. Dundee City Archives published a Blog on 18-02-2018 "Disaster at Camperdown Docks" based on a journal (ref GD/DH/C1/20-21) kept by the Inspector of Works for the Harbour Trust at the time, summarising the dramatic events. The contractors claimed " unwarrantable and oppressive interference" by the Harbour Trustees and their engineer and claimed that Charles Ower had acted fraudulently by changing the original drawings. Arbitration began in London on 24-02-1863, was decided in favour of the Trustees and Charles Ower was put in charge of the work. The Dock and associated works were finally opened on 20-07-1865. The Dundee Advertiser had no doubt that this was a great personal triumph "No one can fail to see that Mr Ower, the Harbour Engineer, has, in the teeth of enormous difficulties been remarkably successful. He has brought to bear upon his work a thorough knowledge of his profession and a fertility of invention which, when allowed free play, produced effects almost magical for rapidity and completeness" By contrast, replying to a fulsome toast in his honour at the Celebration Lunch, Charles Ower is reported to have said (after making a brief joke which seems to refer to the difficulties with the contractors) " I am completely at a loss what to say. I am not a man of many words and therefore I hope you will be satisfied, if all I can state is that I thank you from the bottom of my heart". There were loud cheers. A list of his projects is attached to his entry in the Dictionary of Scottish Architects and Dundee City Archives holds various plans relating to his work. He is mentioned many times, either by name or as "the engineer" in the relevant minutes of the Harbour Trustees, also held in Dundee City Archives. A Floating Dock Gate at Alloa, designed by him and completed in 1862 was described as "a novel construction".. The design was part of the original proposals for the Camperdown Dock but due to the various delays, it was first used at Alloa. Charles Ower also proposed a circular railway and a section of a plan dated 1889-90 shows the route of "Proposed Dundee & Suburban Railway" passing very close to Craigie Terrace. At a meeting of the Harbour Trustees Sub-Committee on Dredging on 18-08-1869 Mr Ower said that it would be helpful to have engineering assistance in carrying out proposed new works and a Special Meeting of the sub-committee on the subject five days later agreed that a new Harbour Engineer be engaged at a salary of £400 per annum with Mr Ower being retained as Consulting Engineer on a salary of £175 pa. However, when this matter was remitted for approval by the full Board Meeting on 06-09-1869 his renumeration was set at £150pa, after a vote.  There is no indication in the minutes of these committees as to why Charles Ower should relinquish his post as Harbour Engineer, though his entry in the Dictionary of Scottish Architects refers to his health failing. (At a continuation of the same meeting on 06-09-1869 the Board heard from a deputation from the board of the North British Railway Company regarding their proposal to build a railway bridge over the Tay and "without committing themselves to details agreed to express generally their approval of the object contemplated as explained by Mr Stirling and Mr Bouch") He continued his private practice as an architect. His two eldest sons, Charles junior and Leslie had both been apprenticed to their father, 1864-1869 and 1866-1870 respectively. In 1873 Charles junior became his father's business partner and in 1874 Charles senior is believed to have retired, at which point, Leslie became his brother's business partner.
Charles Ower’s parents were Thomas Ower, wright, and Jean Gregor. He was baptised 1 August 1813 by Revd. Mr John Findlay, Minister of St Paul’s Parish Church, Perth.
On 1 September 1846, at the age of thirty three, he married Mary Fleet, daughter of David Fleet, tailor in Aberdeen. Mary was 30 years old, living in Edinburgh at that time and the marriage took place at her address 16 Upper Gray Street, Newington, the banns having been called at at St Cuthbert’s Church. The Minister was the Revd. Thomas J Crawford, a minister of the Parish of St Andrews in Edinburgh.
Charles and Mary’s first child, Margaret Ramsay died aged 18 months. They went on to have five sons: Charles junior, Leslie, Gregor, Stephen and Benjamin. In the 1861 Census the family had one domestic servant aged 22, living in, and the house is described as having seven rooms. In the 1871 Census the family had two domestic servants, aged 13 and 14, living in.
Charles junior and Leslie both became architects. Stephen became a stockbroker.
Charles Ower died suddenly at home on 20 September 1876 and his funeral was held on 25 September 1876. He is buried at the Western Cemetery in Section VI, lair no 157a with his wife, Mary who died in 1897, aged 81. Margaret and Benjamin (died aged 1) are buried in lair no 157b. Gregor (died aged 8) is buried in lair no 157c.
His obituary in Engineering, stated that “In all business matters his opinion was considered valuable and his advice was frequently sought. He had drawn about him a wide circle of friends, who will very much regret their loss by his unexpected death.” His funeral was attended by relatives, friends, several members of the Harbour Board and some of the officials. His estate amounted to £17,789 11s. 1d.
- Old Parish Records. Perth. Baptism. 1 August 1813. 387/160 145. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Old Parish Records. St. Cuthberts, Edinburgh. Marriage. 1 September 1846. 685/2 460 196. ScotlandPeople Website.
- Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 25 June 1847. British Newspaper Archive website.
- 1861 Census Scotland. Dundee First District. 282/1 ED32 p.32. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee, First District. Birth. 1855. 282/1 X9. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Statutory Registers. Dundee, First District. Birth. 1857. 282/1 304. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Western Cemetery Burial Registers. Burial Administration, Dundee City Council.
- Dundee Directory 1846-47, p.150. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Directory, 1850. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Directories, 1853-1876. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Statutory Registers. St. Andrew, Dundee. Deaths. 20 September 1876. 282/4 733. ScotlandsPeople website.
- Dundee Courier, 12 August 1862. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Courier, 24 August 1866. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Information on the career of Charles Ower. Dictionary of Scottish Architects website.
- Dundee Harbour Trust Collection. GD/DH. Dundee City Archives.
- Draft Minutes of General Meetings and Committees of the Harbour Trustees. Book 40. Dundee City Archives.
- Dundee Directories, 1850-1876. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Directories, 1874-1876. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- Dundee Advertiser, 26 February 1863 The British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Advertiser, 7 November 1861. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Advertiser, 20 July 1865. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Dundee Advertiser, 21 July 1865. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Plan from Dundee Directory, 1889-90. National Library of Scotland website.
- Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 8 September 1846. The British Newspaper archive
- Dundee Directory, 1853-54. Local Studies, Central Library, Dundee.
- 1871 Census Scotland, Dundee (census 282/4 30/40) Page 40. ScotlandPeople Website
- Dundee Courier, 26 September 1876. British Newspaper Archive website.
- Obituary of Charles Ower (reproduced from Engineering, Vol. 22, p.281). Grace's Guide to historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain website.
The information above about Charles Ower has been collated from a range of digital and hard copy sources. To the best of our knowledge it is correct but if you are relying on any information from our website for the purpose of your own research we would advise you to follow up the sources to your own satisfaction. If you are aware of an inaccuracy in our text please do not hesitate to notify us through our Contact page.