At the time of William’s birth, his father, who was a lacemaker, was in possession of two machines, by which he was enabled to obtain a livelihood for himself and family. The lace trade seems to possess in a greater degree than any other, the power of bearing, during its flows, its practical, enterprising, and provident votaries, rapidly from indigence to affluence, landing them safely on the high grounds of wealth and independence; and in its ebbings, bearing back its less provident, careless, and weaker adherents, to the sea of poverty. During the infancy of our hero, one of these ebbs were fast carrying back his father thereto; necessitating the sale of his machines, and, in his own language, "enabling him to save sufficient to set him up as a journeyman." This reversal of his affairs obliged him to seek for employment, which caused his removal, in 1836, to Beeston, Nottinghamshire, where the remainder of William’s life, as a civilian, was spent. His mild and affectionate disposition soon drew around him a circle of little playmates, whose intimacy grew with their growth, strengthened with their strength, and ripened into a lasting friendship, severed only by the fatal shell which terminated his short career. Even at this early age, his sense of right and justice were strongly marked; and frequently
Whenever any of his playmates acted unfairly, he invariably withdrew from the game, whatever it might be; but his time for youthful recreation was of very short duration. Before he attained the age of seven years, instead of going to school, to educate and prepare his mind for the business of life, he was put to the inhuman calling of "jacking and threading;" turning his nights into days, and days into nights; thus inverting the order of nature, and preparing the little being for a downward instead of upward course, by leaving no time for education or improvement except that which he obtained at the Sunday school. He diligently applied himself to the occupation in which he was engaged, and soon took the lead therein; his great anxiety to please made him respected by his employer, whose tears of affection, on hearing of his death, showed the depth of his esteem. When eight years old, he was engaged by Mr.R.Thornhill as errand boy and general assistant, in whose service he continued for four years; during this period, by his readiness and ability to perform anything he was required to do, either in house or factory, he came a universal favourite. At the age of twelve years, he and his four sisters were deprived, by death, after a lingering consumption for two years, of an affectionate and loving mother, their chief source of moral culture.
William now advanced to what is denominated, in the lace trade, a "sweater," or one who assists in turning a machine; a class of youths very numerous where steam is not applied thereto. In a year or two he obtained a thorough knowledge of a machine and, as I am informed, could pick up threads, and manage it with greater dexterity than his employer. Having been taught to read at the Sunday school, his spare time was devoted to the perusal of the "Nottingham Review" (the newspaper his master took in weekly), or such books as his limited means could procure, and he was in a fair way of improvement, both mentally and pecuniary, when another fluctuation in the trade rendered him short of work. When informed by his master that he could not continue to employ him until trade again improved, he became disheartened; and having tried in vain to obtain employment elsewhere, he said to his most intimate companion, "I will not rely either upon my father or any-one else, while I have health and strength." Accordingly, leaving Beeston in December, 1846 , he started for London, where he had an uncle holding a good situation and under whom he hoped to be employed. On arriving at Leicester he called upon an aunt, spent the night at her house and next day proceeded on his journey. Shortly before his arrival at Dunstable he fell in with an old man, who, as they were proceeding together, picked up a ring; Jowett immediately said, "Shares, old friend". The man, on rubbing it, stated it to be solid gold and began to arrange for its division, but on learning that his young companion was far from home and in search of employment, with only tenpence in money left, he gave up the ring for that sum. Jowett joyfully proceeded to the first jeweller’s shop in Dunstable with his prize, where, to his great mortification, he was told that its value was only one penny. He turned into the street, tired and weary, without a place to lay his head, hungry, but without the means of satisfying the cravings of his appetite; no friend near to aid or counsel him, but alone in the world, and penniless. With a spirit too noble to ask for relief and too independent to receive it without an opportunity of returning the obligation, he resolved to engage himself to the first employer who would reward him for his services. That employer was his Queen. His erect manly bearing and good appearance - highly enhanced by his speech - quickly attracted the attention of a recruiting sergeant and "cruel necessity" soon brought them to terms; "his poverty and not his will consenting," he was changed from a penniless wanderer to a servant of his country.
Had circumstances favoured his views, the natural inclination of his mind would not have led him to choose the life of a soldier; but having adopted it, "he made the limit of his power the bound unto his will", and turned his whole attention to the study of his profession and the performance of his duty. Such was his natural quickness of perception, that he soon acquired a correct knowledge of military discipline and before he had been a soldier two years he was made a Lance Corporal and constantly engaged in imparting that instruction to others which he himself had so recently acquired. Nor did he neglect his own improvement; for although he was unable to write, on entering the army; and had to employ a comrade to correspond with his friends, only a few years elapsed before he became so proficient in the art of penmanship as to write a beautiful neat hand and in 1852 he was appointed to the office of assistant schoolmaster.
One or two selections from the numerous letters written to his relatives and friends, from 1848 to 1854 will show the steady progress he made as a soldier, as well as in mental improvement and indicate his thorough knowledge of the philisophy of human happiness.
Devonport, Dec. 27, 1852.
My Dear Sister, -
Do not trouble yourself about me, or try to procure money to buy me off, for I am quite happy, comfortable and contended. You think, Dear Susan, I am not happy; what can make you think so? I assure you I can make myself happy anywhere, so I hope you will not let that idea enter your mind again. I know, if I was out of the army I should be better off, but perhaps not so happy, for there is no-one who has the means of perfect happiness, or entire misery, at his command; as a soldier, either depending on his will. You think I am of more importance because I am employed to drill the Militia, but it has always been my lot to drill others ever since I learned my own. I told you in my last I had got a situation, but did not say what it was, because I thought you knew little of a soldier’s life; I now satisfy your curiosity, by telling you that I am assistant schoolmaster and have only to attend school six hours per day. I am happy to say I enjoy perfect health and hope this will find you in possession of the same blessing and of every enjoyment this world can afford.
Your loving and affectionate Brother,
Salford Barracks, Manchester,
February 2, 1854."
My Dear Sister, -
Your very kind letter of the 23rd duly came to hand and I take the earliest opportunity to answer it. I am glad to hear of your enjoying that choicest of blessings, good health and hope you will long continue to do so. I am glad, Dear Susan, that you decided on a Dictionary as a birth-day present for me; a book is always a suitable present, and I am very fond of a book and like to be reading; I find great improvement therefrom, and should advise you to read as much as you can. The one you have sent is certainly not a book to read, but is just what I wanted, and had you not have sent it I should have bought one for myself, it helps one to understand the English language. I saw the account of the London soldiers leaving for Turkey; it is something afresh for them to leave their sweethearts behind, but you see it is our lot, every six or eight months, to play the girl I left behind me. We expect to leave soon, but cannot tell the day. Mr. R. gave you a good account of the country we are going to, but he does not know the hardships a soldier has to go through when he goes to such places; not that I feel the least afraid, for I should consider it an honour to fight for my country. I will not fail to inform you when we receive the order; I expect it will be next month. Write soon, and believe me,
Your Affectionate and Loving Brother,
As William had anticipated, the 7th Fusiliers, in whose service he was engaged, received orders, in the following month, to proceed en route for Turkey. On the 5th of April, 1854, they embarked at Southampton, when he commenced his Diary; he kept it with the greatest regularity up to the period of the last attack on the Redan, but, unfortunately, receiving a musket shot in his right arm, besides the wound which caused his death, at that desperate struggle, was disabled from writing.