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Captain William Fitz-William Owen
Owen Sound's namesake, Captain William Fitz-William Owen, was born in 1774 in Manchester, England. According to local lore, Captain Owen sailed his schooner, "Huron", into the Owen Sound harbour while surveying this area.
In reality, however, he sailed to within 9 miles of present-day Owen Sound on October 7, 1815. His course took him from Peyette Point on the west side of the "Sound" outside Vail Point (Point William) shoal and along the Clay Cliffs. He named the cliffs, Campbell Cliffs, after his brother. Suffering a recurrence of malaria, he returned to Nottawasaga without visiting the harbour and without further exploration of the area.
Four years later, Lieutenant Henry Bayfield was the first recorded surveyor to sail into the harbour in 1819.
Captain Owen was the son of Captain William Owen RN. He joined the British Navy in 1788 and, at the age of 23, was promoted to Lieutenant. While on tour of duty in the East Indies, he was held prisoner by the French for two years and contracted malaria during that time.
In 1815, Captain Owen was assigned to do a preliminary survey of the Great Lakes of Canada, which brought him close to Owen Sound.
During the 1820s, Owen surveyed parts of the east and west coasts of Africa including Madagascar, Persia and Arabia. In 1835, he returned to North America to live at Campobello Island in the Bay of Fundy. Granted to his father in 1713 by the Governor General of Nova Scotia, the island was inherited by his two sons William Fitz-William Owen and Edward Campbell Rich Owen.
In 1842, Captain Owen was assigned to survey the Bay of Fundy plus the coasts of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The surveys of this area by Owen and Bayfield had to be combined in some manner--a difficult proposition. Owen had devised a method of firing rockets along with synchronizing chronometers to measure meridian distances. Discrepancies, however, still existed in 1844 and an American survey was employed to coordinate with the British ones. Negotiations for the survey continued from 1852-58.
Captain Owen had a passion for accuracy and detail and persisted in fine tuning the surveys until the best possible information for mariners was created. Owen was promoted to a Rear Admiral in 1847, then a Vice Admiral in 1854.
Captain William Fitz-William Owen died in St. John, New Brunswick in 1857 and was buried on his beloved Campobello Island.