Gowlland began his naval career by entering the Royal Naval School, Greenwich and in 1853 joined the navy as a master’s assistant. He saw active service with the Baltic squadron in the Crimean war and at 16 won a medal for taking a prize back to England. He then served in the survey of the Chincha Islands off Peru, Vancouver Island and in determining the northern boundary of the United States of America. As a commander he won the goodwill of the Indian chiefs and was specially thanked by the Admiralty for his excellent charts; his name is perpetuated in several places on the Pacific coast. He returned to Europe by way of Sydney and as first assistant surveyor worked in the Mediterranean.
He was appointed to the Australian survey as chief assistant in 1865 after Captain Sydney’s retirement and took command of the survey of the New South Wales coast, and compiling Admiralty charts of the coast. He carried out extensive surveys of Sydney Harbour and made the first plans of Garden Island. From 1871 his services were retained at the expense of the New South Wales government. In 1872 volunteered to command a relief expedition to search for the brig Maria wrecked off Bramble Reef, resulting in the rescuing of thirty four survivors. In 1873 Gowlland returned to England and was promoted staff commander. He was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, London, and the Royal Society of Victoria. He wrote several pamphlets on the winds and currents of the eastern coast of Australia and many press articles on marine subjects. He returned to Sydney and while surveying Middle Harbour was drowned in an accident off Dobroyd Point on 14 August 1874. He was buried with full naval honours at the cemetery of St Thomas’s Anglican Church, North Sydney.
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