The Byram and Gowan Families

Berwick-upon-Tweed is the most northerly English town on the east coast before the Scottish border, a mere 4 km away. Historically it has passed many times between the two countries.

Tweed River at Berwick Billy Swan's site gives some of the early history of shipbuilding in this town which began when a qualified carpenter and boat builder, Arthur Byram (the author's great-great-great-great-great-grandfather) arrived in 1751, perhaps from Whitby, and opened a shipyard on the Berwick side of the river outside the Elizabethan walls. Thereafter the Byram-Gowan family built an average of about four sailing vessels per year here on the Tweed, representing an important contribution to the town's economy and source of employment, until the yard closed 127 years later in 1878. [Production was revived by a different company in 1950, only to shut down again in 1979.]

Palace Street, Berwick The business must have prospered in the first thirty years because by 1782 Arthur Byram was able to have a large house constructed for himself and his second wife in 25/27 Palace Street, not far from the quay and the site of his shipyard. There is a stone above the door of no. 25 which is inscribed with the shipbuilder's initials and the year 1782.

The Familytraits website presents this undated pencil drawing by L.S. Lowry of Palace Street and states:
"Arthur Byram, a shipbuilder, lived in one of the houses with a stone dated 1782. Ships built by Byram were reckoned to be the fastest sailing vessels of their day. One such vessel completed the voyage from Berwick to the heart of London in just 44 hours. His house was restored by the Berwick-upon-Tweed Preservation Trust in 1982."

25 Palace Street, Berwick The Preservation Trust's website shows the photograph at right of 25 Palace St before its restoration. The photos below (courtesy Jamie Thompson) show the property after its refurbishment. (Click to enlarge.)

Arthur Byram's first wife was Elizabeth Lyster. They married 22 June 1753 in Chillingham, Northumberland. Two sons, both born in Berwick, James in 1754 and Arthur in 1756, died in infancy. A daughter, Elizabeth, was baptised on 20 Aug 1757. When she was under two years of age, her mother died and was buried in Holy Trinity churchyard on 11 Mar 1759. Seven years later, on 5 Apr 1766 in Holy Trinity, Arthur Byram married Rosamond Mowbray, a spinster in her late thirties.

Daughter Elizabeth, on 9 March 1781 in Holy Trinity, Berwick, married a Robert Gowans (born c. 1756 in Dunbar Scotland, died 22 Sep 1802, buried 25 Sep 1802), described as a "ship's carpenter" (so he may have been an employee of the Byram yard). Gowans subsequently dropped the final 's' and the family was thereafter known as Gowan.

25 Palace Street, Berwick 25 Palace Street, Berwick 25 Palace Street, Berwick


Much of the information which follows was provided by Joanne Marsh (née Gowan) who has carried out extensive research on the family. The first table, reconstructed from the parish record of baptisms, lists the children of the Robert Gowan(s) -Elizabeth Byram marriage. (A daughter Elizabeth is said to have died in 1787.)


Baptised Married Died Notes
Margaret 18 July 1784 John Fo(r)ster
1808, Berwick
4 children b. 1815-25
- -
Martha Byram 17 Sep 1786 Never married 4Q 1857 -
Arthur Byram Born 22 Dec 1788
Chr. 6 Jan 1789
Margaret Denovan (1790-1865)
6 June 1816
2Q 1867 The author's great-great-great-grandparents.
Elizabeth Lister Born 10 Jan 1791
Chr. 30 Jan 1791
Never married 1Q 1864 -
James 24 March 1793 - - -
Mary 26 July 1795 - - -
Sarah Foreman Born 17 July 1798
Chr. 12 Aug 1798
Never married 1Q 1861 -


Arthur Byram continued to run the shipyard until 1789. Shortly before his death in the same year he handed responsibility for management of the yard to his son-in-law, Robert Gowan(s). Early in 1789 Gowan(s), stating that Arthur Byram was now "very unfirm" and unable to carry on his business, petitioned the Guild for the reassignment to himself of the piece of ground Byram held of the Corporation. This was granted in May of that year.

Robert Gowan managed the shipyard for 13 years until his death in 1802. Thereafter Elizabeth ran the business until her son Arthur Byram Gowan was old enough to take over in 1814.

Arthur Byram Gowan upgraded the yard in 1825 and also appears to have built a number of ships for himself, running several between 1850 and the time of his death in 1867.

Arthur married Margaret Denovan (1790-1865) - see separate Denovan page. The table of the offspring of Arthur Byram Gowan and Margaret looks as follows:

Baptised Married Died Notes
Elizabeth Denovan ("Eliza") 31 Aug 1816 Kerr Johnston
Berwick, 4 Aug 1842
1894 in Vic., Australia The author's great-great-grandparents.
Arthur Byram Jr 1818/19 Jane Sutherland
6 children
4Q 1880 Ran the family shipyard.
William Denovan - - - -
Margaret 23 Feb 1823 - - Living at home at 1861 census.
Robina 6 Jun 1825 John Williams
2Q in Berwick, 1852
1 known child
- Living at home at 1861 census.
Robert 1827 - 1905 -
John Denovan c. 1830 Helen Long (1836-1906)
5 July 1860 at St Paul's, Melb.
1 known child
4 Feb 1885 ("aged 55") in
Byram St., St. Kilda, Melbourne
Buried St Kilda Cem 6 Feb 85 (See The Argus 5&6 Feb 1885.)
Mary Ann 23 Feb 1831 Mr Owen - Living at home at 1861 census.
Sidney Lister 23 Oct 1833 3Q 1863 to
Henry Flockhart
6 children
- Living at home at 1861 census.


In the 1851 census, Arthur Jr, Robina and Mary are still living at home in Palace Street and Arthur Sr's three unmarried sisters are to be found two doors along. By 1861 Arthur Jr had got married (to Jane Sutherland) and had moved as far as next door, and his father's household includes his other daughters Margaret and Sidney.

Both Arthur Sr and Arthur Jr are described as "Ship Builder employing 20 men and 20 apprentices". Arthur Jr took over the business alone after his father's death in 1867 and further upgraded the yard in 1874. From the Berwick Shipyard site above it appears that in 1877 Arthur went into business with a John Wilson to build iron ships but by the end of 1877 Gowan & Wilson closed down, possibly because competition from the railways impinged on the coastal shipping trade.

Arthur Byram Gowan Sr died in 2Q 1867 while Margaret appears to have died in 4Q 1865.


Jarrow ferry A.B: Gowan The male line continued with a series of A.B. Gowans. Lieutenant Arthur Blackwood Gowan of 1st/3rd Battalion Durham Field Company Regiment Royal Engineers (Territorial) was killed in action in World War I on 14 July 1916, aged 19. He was the son of A. B. Gowan of Newcastle-on-Tyne who at the time was manager of Palmer Shipbuilders in Jarrow. The Jarrow Ferry A.B. Gowan was named after the dead soldier. This was the last Jarrow ferry and made its final trip in 1967 when the Tyne Tunnel was opened.