Thomas Gibson Bowles

Thomas Gibson Bowles (George Spencer Watson, 1901)
"Tommy". Caricature by Spy published in Vanity Fair in 1889.

Thomas Gibson Bowles (15 January 1842 – 12 January 1922) was the founder of the magazines The Lady and the English Vanity Fair, a sailor and the maternal grandfather of the Mitford sisters.


He was the illegitimate offspring of Thomas Milner Gibson and a servant named Susannah Bowles. He attended school in France and then studied for a year at King's College London. His father gave him a yearly stipend of £90 and helped him find a job at Somerset House.


He began his journalism and publishing career by writing a column for the Morning Post in 1866. His coverage of the Siege of Paris sent by balloon and pigeon post ensured his fame.

He borrowed £200 to found Vanity Fair in 1868. Shattered by the death of his wife Jessica (née Evans-Gordon) in childbirth, he sold his stake in Vanity Fair to Arthur H. Evans in 1887 for £20,000. He founded The Lady magazine in 1885, supposedly spurred by advice Jessica had once given to him. He became a competent sailor and wrote for decades in support of the Royal Navy. Bowles (nicknamed Jehu Junior after a biblical prophet who effected the downfall of his enemies) compiled the biographical notes that went with the caricatures. He was editor for twenty years and shaped magazine policy so that no-one was exempt from his enquiring eye. This approach made for an entertaining and popular magazine.

The targets of Jehu Junior's satire usually considered themselves honored to have been chosen, and although the scrutiny was acute, it was humorous rather than malicious. Bowles managed to achieve this extraordinarily difficult balancing act throughout his association with the magazine.


At the 1892 general election, he was elected as Conservative Party Member of Parliament for King's Lynn and served in the House of Commons until losing his seat at the 1906 election. He was re-elected at the January 1910 as a Liberal, but lost his seat again at the December 1910 election. He stood in the 1916 Harborough by-election as an independent.

He died while on a holiday at Algeciras, Spain, and is buried in Gibraltar.


In 1875, he married Jessica (1852–87), daughter of General Charles Evans-Gordon (1813–1901), a descendant of "Gordon of Lochinvar", and his wife Catherine, née Rose. Their children were:

  • George (1877–1955) RN, MP & barrister who married Madeline Mary Tobin (b. 1893)
  • Geoffrey (1879–1968) Royal Navy Commander;
  • Sydney (1880–1963) married the then Hon. David Mitford in 1902, and was the mother of the Mitford sisters;[1]
  • Dorothy (1885–1971) who married Col. Percy Bailey.

According to his granddaughter Julia Budworth, Bowles also fathered the last three of the four children of assistant Rita Shell (his children's governess, after the death of his wife Jessica Evans-Gordon), who changed her surname to Stewart. She later became editor of The Lady. They were Humphrey (b. 1891), Oliver (b. 1895) and Peter (b. 1900). (See "Never Forget" pp. 616–618"). Peter Stewart later assisted at Marlborough House when it was used by Queen Mary.


  • The Log of the Nereid by Thomas Bowles
  • The Irrepressible Victorian by Leonard Naylor (Macdonald, London 1965)
  • The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune, 1870-1. by Alistair Horne London: Macmillan, 1965.
  • The House of Mitford by Jonathan Guinness with Catherine Guinness (Hutchinson, 1984) ISBN 0-09-155560-4
  • Never Forget by Julia Budworth (Privately published, 2001) ISBN 978-0-953-99630-8

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Weston Jarvis
Member of Parliament for King's Lynn
Succeeded by
Carlyon Bellairs
Preceded by
Carlyon Bellairs
Member of Parliament for King's Lynn
January 1910December 1910
Succeeded by
Holcombe Ingleby