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Owen, George

1. Dates
Born: Henllys, Pembrokeshire, Wales, c.1552
Died: Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, 26 Aug. 1613
Dateinfo: Birth Uncertain
Lifespan: 61
2. Father
Occupation: Lawyer, Gentry
William Owen was a lawyer. He was from an old Welsh family, but it was William who pushed his way up into the ranks of the gentry.
Adequately clear that he was prosperous.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: No University
Owen studied law at the Inns of Court in London. He did not attend a university.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
Owen was strongly anti-Catholic. He was also non-Puritan, and his son was a royalist during the Civil War.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Geology, Geography
Owen was first of all an antiquarian, who collected information on genealogy, heraldry, historic governmental structures, and the like of Wales. With this went an interest in the topography of Pembrokeshire and of Wales, and associated with his study of topography were very insightful observations of geological structures, in effect strata, though he did not use that word, of limestone and coal. These observations have earned him a reputation as the ancestor of British geology, though the observations were not part of a conscious theory of geology.
His manuscript "Description of Pembrokeshire" was ultimately published in 1892. He also composed a "Description of Wales" (as later ages have entitled it) and a "Description of Milford Haven."
7. Means of Support
Primary: Personal Means
Secondary: Government
His father set him up with a considerable estate when George Owen married. Later he inherited more, including the lordship of Cemais [Kemes], and he added to his estate fairly constantly.
Vice admiral of the maritime counties of Pembroke and Cardigan, 1573. Commission of the Peace in Pembrokeshire. Deputy Lieutenant of Pembrokeshire, 1587-90, 1595-1601. Sheriff of Pembrokeshire, 1587 & 1602. I am not certain that Owen received compensation for these positions, but apparently there was some income from fees, fines, etc.
8. Patronage
Type: Aristrocrat
Owen must be seen as the client of the Earl of Pembroke, under whom he held the lordship of Cemais, and whose support he needed in constant struggles for position within the squirarchy of the county. In 1595 he produced a map of Milford Haven at the Earl's request, and at some point, probably later, a genealogical catalogue of the Earls of Pembroke.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Cartography, Agriculture, Instruments, Military Engineering
His map of Pembrokeshire is considered a landmark in Welsh cartography. He also produced a map of Milford Haven, based on his own survey, and apparently a map of Wales (which does not survive).
He was an improving landlord, much intent on improving agricultural practice. He wrote a treatise (not published) on marl as a fertilizer.
He invented a new tool for cutting marl that (according to his account) increased efficiency fourfold.
As Deputy Lieutenant, Owen was responsible for matters of defense, especially for the defenses of Milford Haven, on which he made a number of recommendations. He trained the county militia. These duties extended over some fifteen years. They are a very attenuated form of military engineering, but after some thought I have decided to list them.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
He maintained relations and correspondence with other antiquarians.
  1. Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-50), 14, 1302-4. J. Challinor, "The Early Progress of British Geology I," Annals of Science, 9 (1953), 127-9.
  2. Bertie G. Charles, George Owen: A Welsh Elizabethan, (Aberystwyth, 1973). This is so far superior to anything else on Owen as not to be on the same scale.
  3. Henry Owen, "Preface," in Owen's Pembrokeshire, (London, 1892).
  4. This volume contains Owen's Description of Pembrokeshire as well as other manuscripts of his composition.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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