George Rowell was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at its Isis-Urania temple in London on 28 February 1894; he chose the Latin motto ‘Obsta principiis’.  It was a busy evening at the GD: Mary Eliza Haweis and James Madison Durand and his wife Theodosia were also initiated that day; though I’m not sure that George would have known Mrs Haweis and the Durands before the ritual began - they moved in very different circles.


George Rowell did begin the programme of study that new initiates were expected to undertake if they wanted to be able to do practical magic.  However, a note was written in the Isis-Urania administrative papers that his membership had lapsed.  This usually happened when a particular member hadn’t paid their yearly subscription for three successive years.  There’s no date on the note, but it was probably written before March 1897 (see ‘in the GD’ below for why).  George didn’t join either of the GD’s daughter orders, Stella Matutina or the Independent and Rectified Rite. 



This is one of my short biographies.  George Rowell had a hard-working, busy life. I’ve found a bit of information on his career as an anaesthetist, but he didn’t leave any papers behind him that have found their way into the public domain. 

Sally Davis

July 2016


My basic sources for any GD member are in a section at the end of the file.  Supplementary sources for this particular member are listed at the end of each section.



This is what I have found on GEORGE ROWELL.



In December 1894 at the Isis-Urania temple, George’s friend Victor Toller was initiated into the GD.  Perhaps it was George who had put Victor’s name forward as a suitable candidate.  Victor changed his mind only a few weeks after his initiation, and sent in a letter of resignation.  The friendship continued, however, and when Victor died in 1915, George Rowell was one of his executors. 


Why March 1897?   In March 1897 William Wynn Westcott resigned as the GD’s chief administrator.  Afterwards, record-keeping in the Isis-Urania temple was not so thorough and meticulous; and in any case a lot of it was kept by the various officials in their homes, and has been lost.



R A Gilbert The Golden Dawn Companion and Ellic Howe pp166 et seq.  For full publication details see the main Sources section at the end of this biography.



George Rowell’s particular professional speciality may have made him curious about altered states of consciousness.  But I haven’t found evidence that he had any other occult interests. 

The majority of GD members arrived in the Order from freemasonry or from the Theosophical Society.  George Rowell was not in the TS and I also haven’t found anything to show he was a freemason.  It’s more difficult to discover whether GD members had any interest in spiritualism, as so much of it was based in the home and left no records behind.  Those national or local organisations that did exist haven’t left membership records that are available to the public, as far as I’m aware. 


Negative sources:

Theosophical Society Membership Registers 1889-1901.

Freemasons’ Library database of records at the United Grand Lodge of England, which you can access online at NAME.  There’s no sign of George Rowell in the FML’s records.  This doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t a freemason.  What it does mean is that - if he was one at all it was at a very local level (lodges keep their own membership records) and he never rose to national prominence.



George Rowell was born in Banbury, Oxfordshire, the eldest son of Robert and Ann Lydia Rowell.  Both George’s parents were recent arrivals in the town, but whereas his father had not moved all that far - he’d been born in Rugby - his mother had been born in west Africa, in The Gambia.  Her sister Clara was born in Hackney in 1844 so the Grants did return to England from time to time.  However, Ann Lydia is not on the 1851 census and might have been back in The  Gambia then. 


Robert and Ann Lydia met in Banbury.  Robert Rowell was working in a businessman’s office; and on the day of the 1861 census, Ann Lydia Finden Grant and her widowed mother were running a small boarding school, with Ann Lydia as the schoolmistress.


Robert Rowell and Ann Lydia Finden Grant married in 1862.  George Rowell was the eldest of their large family, born late in 1863.  On the day of the 1871 census, the Robert and Ann Lydia were living at 15 Oxford Road Banbury, with George and his brothers Charles (aged 6), John (4) and William Norman (1).  William Norman Rowell was the brother George was closest to later in life.  As well as the basic young woman general servant, the Rowells were employing a nursemaid, suggesting that they were quite well-to-do even then.


By 1881, Robert Rowell had moved the family to Chipping Norton and started his own business as an ironmonger, employing 10 men and four boys.  Census day 1881 fell during the university vacation so George was at home; as were his youngest brother Robert (9) and his sisters Lydia (7), Rose (4) and Alice (2).  Ann Lydia’s sister Clara was living with them; she was usually employed as a nurse but perhaps was between appointments on census day.  For this large household the Rowells employed two servants, and a governess for their daughters. 


After George went to university he never lived permanently in Chipping Norton again.  Robert Rowell senior died in 1894.  Ann Lydia and her daughters moved to Oxford; and George’s brother William Norman Rowell took over the ironmongery business.  Under William Norman the original ironmonger’s shop was expanded into an engineering business, specialising in road building and maintenance.  William Norman and his family seem to have done very well out of it - by 1911 they had moved to Ivydene, in the village of Ascott-under-Wychwood.  Ivydene was a substantial residence - it 15 habitable rooms; though William Norman’s wife Florence was still housekeeping with only the one basic live-in servant.


Sources: freebmd; census data 1851-1911; probate registry 1895.

People called Grant in The Gambia:

Historical Dictionary of The Gambia by Arnold Hughes and David Perfect.  4th ed.  African Historical Dictionaries number 109 Scarecrow Press Inc 2008.  1st ed was A Hughes and H A Gailey 1999.  On p90 there is mention of a Sir Alexander Grant who was sent in 1816 to occupy what became James Fort in The Gambia.  He was acting governor of Sierra Leone in 1820-21 and, with the rank of Major, commander of the British garrison in The Gambia 1822-26. 

The Missionary Register volume 4 1816 p326 in its Foreign Intelligence section announced the formation in Sierra Leone of a local branch of the British and Foreign Bible Society had been set by a group of British including John Grant Esq.  The connection is that the British toehold in The Gambia was, at this stage, being run from Sierra Leone.

History of The Gambia by J M Gray.  Cambridge University Press: 1940.  On p336 a Major Grant (I assume Alexander Grant is meant) is mentioned as negotiating a lease on land then used to build Fort George on MacCarthy Island in The Gambia.  On p336 footnote 2 quotes a letter from Lieutenant-Governor Rendall to a John Grant, 1 January 1833, seen in Report of the Select Committee on West Africa published 1844 p239.

Report of the Select Committee on West Africa published 1844 p241 Appendix 13 dated April 1842 is or contains a petition by British people in The Gambia asking the British government to provide better legal documents of land ownership to British subjects claiming land on MacCarthy Island.  One of the petitioners was John Grant.

Given how small the British population of West Africa was in the early 19th century, perhaps Ann Lydia Finden Grant was a relation of one of both of the men called Grant who are mentioned above.  Ann Lydia was born in 1836 or 1837.


There’s an Ivydene Cottage at 35 West Street Chipping Norton, but given the size of William Norman Rowell’s house it’s more likely to be the Ivydene which is still at 2 Church Close, Ascott-under-Wychwood.

Report of Proceedings of the 3rd International Road Congress, London 1913 published Oberthür 1913 p235 W N Rowell of Ivydene Chipping Norton is in a list.

Municipal Yearbook and Public Utilities Directory 1933 p300 W N Rowell still in business at same address.




George Rowell probably attended local schools in Banbury and Chipping Norton.  Then he went to Guy’s Hospital to study medicine.  An outstanding student, he qualified LRCP and MRCS in 1886 at the relatively young age of 23; and was made a Fellow of the RCS as early as 1888.   Perhaps he had gone through his medical education at a bit too high a speed, though: it took him a few years to decide what career path he wanted to pursue, what medical specialisms (if any) he wanted to focus on.



General Medical Council Registers.

Times 12 August 1884 p12 University Intelligence.

Lancet July-December 1886 p277 issue of 7 August 1886. 

Times 18 December 1888 p9 Royal College of Surgeons England: list of newly-admitted fellows.  



George spent 1889 as resident surgeon at Guy’s Hospital.  But then he went to work for P&O as a doctor aboard its royal mail ships.  He was still working for the company early in 1891 and so is not on that year’s census in the UK.  The period on board ship gave him some basic GP experience, but also decided him against settling down as a GP back in England.  Instead he decided to specialise in anaesthetics.  Resigning from P&O later in 1891, he began to work as an anaesthetist at the Royal Dental Hospital.  That was an unpaid post but George was soon offered paid work at Guy’s Hospital, which was his main place of work for the rest of his professional life though he also acted as anaesthetist in several other hospitals.  Here is a list of all the jobs he had, starting with those at Guy’s; though without many dates as I haven’t been able to confirm more than one or two. 


Anaesthetist, Guy’s Hospital.  1893.  This was a salaried post.

Demonstrator in anaesthetics, Guy’s Hospital.  1896.

Lecturer, Guy’s Hospital Medical School.  No definite date but probably by late 1897.

At death: senior anaesthetist, Guy’s Hospital. 


Assistant Anaesthetist, Royal Dental Hospital Leicester Square.  Appointed 1891.  This was an honorary appointment, and was definitely not full-time - more like one or two sessions a week -but there was still promotion available.

Anaesthetist, Royal Dental Hospital.  1898-1905 when he resigned.  There had been trouble about the honorary appointments in 1903.


Two more jobs.  George’s obituary in the BMJ seems to be suggesting that he worked at these two hospitals in between spells at Guy’s, returning to Guy’s to take up the appointment as senior anaesthetist.  However, the obituary in The Lancet doesn’t give that impression.

Anaesthetist, West End Hospital for Nervous Diseases.

Anaesthetist, National Orthopaedic Hospital.


During World War 1.  These jobs were both honorary and additions to his other work:

Anaesthetist, King George Hospital

Anaesthetist, Royal Flying Corps Hospital. 


Working at so many different places made for a busy life but soon won George a reputation in his chosen field.  He was asked to do research work on behalf of the medical profession, particularly in the 1890s and early 1900s when a number of different substances including chloroform, ether and cocaine were being investigated as possible anaesthetics.


Member, BMA Anaesthetic Commission; and served as its assistant secretary.  Beginning in 1891.

Member, BMA Chloroform Commission.  Beginning 1901.


He was a member of many professional societies:

BMA Metropolitan Counties branch.

Royal Society of Medicine, where at his death he was president of the anaesthetics section.

Medical Society of London

Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society.



The most important were his two obituaries:

The Lancet 1918 volume 1 issue of 27 April 1918 p621 obituary and some personal reminiscences.

At British Medical Journal of 27 April 1918 p495.


Lancet January-June p119 issue of 9 January 1892.  Times 13 August 1892 p3.

Lancet July-December 1891: p383-84 coverage of that year’s BMA meeting.  George spoke at its Therapeutics/Anaesthetics section, on what to do if your patient appeared to be dying of chloroform poisoning. 

Lancet July-December 1892 p269 coverage of BMA meeting, which that year was held at Nottingham.  P272 on behalf of the BMA’s Committee on Anaesthetics, Professor Victor Horsley gave reported on what it had done so far.  George was too junior to give the report but he will have worked on some of the clinical trials that had been done in the past year, and helped prepare the report for the BMA.

Lancet January-June 1897 p1275 issue of 8 May 1897. George read his paper on how to anaesthetise children at a meeting of the Harveian Society of London, held 29 April [1897].

Times 6 August 1898 p16 George as a staff anaesthetist at the Dental Hospital of London Medical School. 

Lancet January-June 1901 p280 issue of 26 January 1901: an item on a report issued by the Anaesthetics Committee of the BMA.  On p709 issue of 9 March 1901; the report had been discussed at a meeting of the Society of Anaesthetists held on 1 February 1901.  I haven’t found any direct evidence of George as being in the Society of Anaesthetists; but surely he must have been. 

Lancet 1903 January-June p453 issue of 14 February 1903; p601 issue of 28 February 1903; and p1679 issue of 13 June 1903; giving updates on a dispute at the Royal Dental Hospital.  In a very 21st-century manner, the Hospital Management Committee had appointed a man to supervise the work of its honorary anaesthetists and investigate exactly what they did.  The man had recommended that they be asked to join the Management Committee but be replaced on the wards by two paid employees: a move which the Lancet and the men involved construed as a sacking.  This was in February. Over the next few months, the in-post honorary anaesthetists and their retired precedessors fought an action which resulted in the complete capitulation of the Management Committee; the Lancet didn’t report what happened to the supervisor and investigator but I expect he kept his job like these management consultants do.  As one of the threatened honorary anaesthetists, George must have taken a part in the furore and he obviously began to think that work at the Hospital was stress in his life that he could well do without - he resigned from his honorary post two years later.


Oxford University Calendar 1904 p43 the first of a series of page-sized adverts from all the major teaching hospitals in London.  Most listed their current staff.  On p43 Guy’s Hospital Medical School University of London: G Rowell heads the list of its anaesthetists.

Lancet July-December 1904 pp538-39 issue of 20 August 1904 in the journal’s coverage of this year’s BMA meeting.  George had taken part in a session on chloroform as an anaesthetic; the discussion focused particularly on the number of deaths from overdoses.

On p1716-18 issue of 17 December 1904 the Lancet reported on the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society’s Adjourned Discussion on chloroform anaesthesia, which had taken place on 13 December 1904.  George spoke at that meeting, giving his assessment of two different pieces of equipment currently in use to administer chloroform.  He spoke out against the idea that there should be a list of recommended dosages, saying that dosage couldn’t be treated as a “mere matter of weights and measures”. 

The Lancet had a particularly large amount of coverage of the various rival anaesthetics during 1904 as the debate about their suitability continued; however, after 1904 its coverage declined.

British Medical Journal 1904 but I couldn’t see the exact date on the google snippet: George as one of two honorary secretaries of the Metropolitan Counties Branch of BMA.

Lancet January-June 1909 p957 issue of 27 March 1909 the Lancet mentioned that a private members’ bill was before Parliament to regulate the administration of anaesthetics.  The Lancet quoted a lot of reactions in medical world to the tenets of this bill  - the General Anaesthetics Bill - though George wasn’t one of the doctors quoted.

Lancet July-December 1910 p551, 555-56: report on that year’s BMA meeting, held in London.  The Anaesthetics section of the BMA held a discussion on the “open system of ether administration”.  Rowell described his experience with it, saying that it was simple to use, and free from complications.  He also made the opening remarks at a session on how to treat a patient that had gone into shock on inhaling an anaesthetic. 

Lancet January-June 1913 pp31-34 issue of 4 January 1913 item on the December [1912] meeting of the Medical Society of London.  The main discussion was on intestinal stasis and George  spoke about its anaesthetic aspects.  On pp1163-67 item on the April 1913 meeting of fellows of the Royal Society of Medicine; on alimentary toxaemia.  George had spoken at that meeting too, on the work of Mr Lane, which he had been able to observe personally.



Not as many as you would suppose.  George did contribute a chapter on the use of gas and air in anaethestics to a publication the Lancet calls Underwood’s Anaesthetics.

Notes on Anaesthetics with an Appendix.... by Arthur Swayne Underwood was published in London by C Ash and Sons in 1885, which is much too early for George to have anything useful to say on the matter.  His piece is in its second edition: 

Notes on Anaesthetics in Dental Surgery by A S Underwood and C C Braine.  London: C Ash and Sons 1893.


And noting here a book that George didn’t write, despite being very well qualified to do so: the student textbook Dental Anaesthetics, whose second edition was published in 1913.


Lancet July-December 1913 p153 issue of 19 July 1913 a note welcoming a second edition of Dental Anaesthetics by Wilfred E Alderson MD, lecturer at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospital and Dental School. Published Bristol: John Wright and Sons Ltd.




It was not until 1906 that George married.   


George’s bride was Frances Emily Holmes, about whom I’ve been able to find out virtually nothing.  The only census on which I can identify her is that of 1911, on which she was described as having been born around 1880 in Sudbury Suffolk.  An Emily Frances Holmes’ birth was registered elsewhere in Suffolk in 1880 and this registration might be the woman George married. 

I know nothing about her parents, not even their names.  Though I could see when searching with google, evidence of people named Holmes living in the Suffolk area in the late 19th century, no one called Frances Emily or Emily Frances came up.


George had been living in the Cavendish Square district of London W1 since the mid-1890s and on their marriage, he and Frances Emily set up house at 6 Cavendish Place.  They had one child, George William Rowell, born in 1908.  On the day of the 1911 census, George, Frances Emily, and George William were all at home; with their cook, parlourmaid, housemaid and nurse - a very well-to-do household.  George’s nephew Robert Norman Rowell, son of William Norman Rowell, was living with them while he studied engineering. 


George’s mother Ann Lydia was still alive in 1911, though well into her 70s; but she and George’s sisters were abroad on census day.  Ann Lydia Rowell died late in 1917, in Oxford, aged 81.  George only survived her by a few months.



The first World War put a strain on everyone, of course.  George didn’t volunteer to work in the front-line hospitals in Flanders.  Instead, he and others still working in London did their best to cover for the absence of those that had volunteered, as well as dealing with all the casualties that were sent to England for further, often complex treatment, in temporary hospitals set up all over the country.


Obituaries try hard not to speak ill of the dead.  In George’s case there was no ill to speak of, but his obituaries do suggest that his determination to take on so much extra wartime work had led to a decline in his health.  He caught an infection and died, at home, on 18 April 1918.  The Spanish Flu did a dress-rehearsal in spring 1918, making ready for the main event of that autumn, and I do wonder whether that was what killed him.  He was 54. 


His sudden death shocked his colleagues and there was an immediate sense of how very much he would be missed.  In addition to the basic obituary, the Lancet published two appreciations of George as a doctor and as a co-worker.  The second was from someone just identifying themselves as “EP”.  The first was from William Arbuthnot Lane, senior surgeon at Guy’s Hospital who - amongst many other specialities - did ear nose and throat operations and developed a successful technique for treating cleft palates.  Both spoke of George as a man extremely good at his job, both as a teacher and as an administrator of anaesthetics.  As a senior anaesthetist, many of the most difficult cases fell to his lot; but in his working life he had had very few failures; that is to say that very few patients had died as a result of the anaesthetics he had administered. 


The two obituaries quoted as sources for the ‘work/profession’ section above.

There’s a wiki on Sir William Arbuthnot Lane.  During World War 1 he fought for the funding for the famous face-rebuilding plastic surgery unit at Queen Mary Hospital Sidcup.



Sir William Lane - who lived in Cavendish Square, round the corner from George - and “EP” both spoke of George’s popularity, with his students and with his contemporaries.  He was a good, loyal friend - Lane described him, interestingly, as having more friends than most men have.

People’s friends are not always easy to spot when they leave so little historical evidence behind them.  I do know of one of George’s friends, though; possibly two.


I’ve already mentioned GD initiate Victor Toller as a long-time friend of George Rowell.  Victor died in October 1915.  His Will named George as the second of three executors.  The third was perhaps a friend to both George and Victor - Robert Hope Case, who prepared a number of poetry anthologies and an edition of the works of Christopher Marlowe.  The first executor was Victor’s widow, Mary Elizabeth Toller, and this may have presented George with a situation requiring all his social skills: the evidence I’ve found suggests that the Tollers were living apart when Victor died.


There are several works by Robert Hope Case in the British Library catalogue; all are as editor rather than author.  Victor Toller’s Will describes Hope Case as a professor of literature.  The poetry anthologies were published during George and Victor’s lifetimes:

English Epithalamies London: John Lane 1898.

The Bodley Head Anthologies London: John Lane 1896-1902.

The edition of Christopher Marlowe was not published until after World War 1 though both Victor and George may have been able to hear of the work in progress.




There seem to be several George William Rowells on the web and in Ancestry’s probate registry listings.  I haven’t been able to identify George Rowell’s son for certain.


Frances Emily Rowell was only in her late 30s when George died.  In September 1919 she married again.  Her second husband was Archibald Dunbar Brander of the Imperial Forest Service in India; and I suppose she went out to India with him.  At his retirement they went to live in Scotland, where Frances Emily Brander died in 1954.


George’s stress in World War 1 was no doubt increased when Robert Norman Rowell joined the army in April 1916.  However, he survived the war and died in Oxfordshire in 1960; probably having inherited his father’s business.  William Norman Rowell had died in 1936.



Pioneer Mail and Indian Weekly News volume 46 1919 p45 announcement of the engagement and imminent marriage of Frances Emily Rowell and A A Dunbar Brander OBE.

At posted January 2001: some information on the Dunbar Brander family of Pitgaveny; including the date of Frances Emily’s second marriage.  Her second husband died in 1953.

The Dunbar Brander family is in which uses Burke’s Peerage as the basis for its family history information.  Burke’s doesn’t seem to know of any children from Frances Emily’s second marriage; so I guess there weren’t any.

Spotted via google so I couldn’t see the date of the issue; but it must be late April 1916: London Gazette p5617 Robert Norman Rowell as 2nd Lt with effect from 19 April 1916.

Probate Registry 1936 and 1960.




BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.


Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert.  Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986.  Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914.  The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation.  All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden.  Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01.  I have recently (July 2014) discovered that some records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have survived, though most have not; however those that have survived are not yet accessible to the public.


For the history of the GD during the 1890s I usually use Ellic Howe’s The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1923.  Published Routledge and Kegan Paul 1972.  Foreword by Gerald Yorke.  Howe is a historian of printing rather than of magic; he also makes no claims to be a magician himself, or even an occultist.  He has no axe to grind.


Family history: freebmd; (census and probate);; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families;; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.


Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD.  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.


Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette.  Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web.


Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.


Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources.  I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.





24 July 2016

Email me at:


Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: