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George Owen

George Owen

1552-1613

Welsh Geographer, Geologist, and Cartographer

George Owen of Henllys, lord of Cemais, is best known for his work Description of Pembrokeshire, written in 1603 but not published until 1892. The map he made of Pembrokeshire was considered a landmark, and Owen has been referred to as the patriarch of English geologists. Interested in the lineages of local families, he also documented family histories.

Owen was born in Henllys, Pembrokeshire, Wales, in 1552. His father was a lawyer who belonged to an old Welsh family, who did much himself to improve the social standing of his family. Collecting information on genealogy, heraldry, and historic structures of Wales, Owen was also interested in the topography and geography of Wales and in geological structures of the area, including strata of limestone and coal. Owen did not attend university, but did study law at the Inns of Court in London.

When George Owen came of age he inherited the lordship of Cemais under the Earl of Pembroke, and the Newport Castle from his father. There was some conflict from the local council as to his possession of these lands, and he was even placed under arrest in his own castle. These disputes were later settled. As landlord of Cemais, he wanted to improve agricultural practices, and a paper on the use of marl as a fertilizer was written by Owen, but it was never published. He also invented a new tool for cutting marl that he considered more efficient. He became the vice admiral of the maritime counties of Pembroke and Cardigan in 1573. Owen held many positions important to his community including the Commission of the peace in Pembrokeshire, and Deputy Lieutenant of Pembrokeshire from 1587-90 and 1595-1601. In that position he was responsible for defense in Milford Haven and trained country militia. He was the sheriff of Pembrokeshire in 1587 and 1602. He married twice, first in 1573 to Elizabeth, and he had ten children from this marriage. His second marriage was to Ann.

After 1592, when Owen was commissioned by the crown to survey the property of Sir John Perrott, the Earl of Pembroke, he created a map of Milford Haven, which began his work in the field of geology and geography. Producing the map of Milford Haven under the direction of the Earl of Pembroke, Owen used his own survey and completed a genealogical catalogue of the Earl of Pembrokeshire for him as well. He produced the Description of Milford Haven in 1595, and the Description of Wales in 1602. Later in 1603 he wrote Description of Pembrokeshire, not published until 1892. It is considered a landmark in Welsh geography; the original manuscript can be found in the British Museum. It has since been reproduced by a descendant, Henry Owen, under the title Owen's Pembrokeshire. George Owen also wrote A Cataloge and Genelogie of the Lord of Kemes, and Baronia de Kemes, published in 1861 and 1862, and A Treatise on the Government of Wales and Pembrock and Kemes. Owen's interest in heraldy led him to write a collection of pedigrees, and he also wrote a story called the "Taylor's Cushion." Another notable achievement of Owen's was a detailed map of Pembrokeshire, later included in Owen's Pembrokeshire.

While Owen did not receive a formal education in geography or cartography, his detailed writings and maps were groundbreaking. Description of Pembrokeshire contained detailed writings about the area and its landscape, including geological structures. His were the first for Pembrokeshire, and served as a suitable basis for further studies in the area. George Owen died in Haverford West, Pembrokeshire, in 1613.

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