Gower joined the Royal Navy in 1755 and served under Byron's command on HMS Dolphin from 1764 to 1766. He was promoted to lieutenant, serving with distinction under Commander Philip Carteret from 1766 to 1769. He then served in the Falkland Islands, West Indies, Mediterranean, the East and Newfoundland until 1792, when he declined a baronetcy and was knighted.
In 1792, Gower was named Commander of the first British diplomatic mission to imperial China and sailed in the 64-gun HMS Lion. This expedition was headed by Lord George Macartney. They were also accompanied by East Indiaman Hindostan, chartered from the East India Company for the mission. Although the Macartney Embassy returned to London without obtaining any concession from China, the mission could have been termed a success because it brought back detailed observations.
George Staunton, Secretary to the Embassy, was charged with producing the official account of the expedition after their return. This multi-volume work was taken chiefly from the papers of Lord Maccauley and from the papers of Commander Gower. Sir Joseph Banks, the President of the Royal Society, was responsible for selecting and arranging engraving of the illustrations in this official record.
Admiral and commodore-governor
Gower was promoted rear-admiral of the white in February 1799.
In late 1804, Gower sent the hired cutter Queen Charlotte, under a Lieutenant Morrison, to Labrador to investigate reports of an influx of American fishing boats. As a result of the report, the Admiralty decided to station a sloop in the fishing waters to chase off the Americans.
- Banks, Joseph. Papers of Sir Joseph Banks; Section 12: Lord Macartney’s embassy to China; Series 62: Papers concerning publication of the account of Lord Macartney's Embassy to China, ca 1797. [State Library of New South Wales.]
- Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage
- Barrow, John. (1807). Some Account of the Public Life, and a Selection from the Unpublished Writings, of the Earl of Macartney, 2 vols. London: T. Cadell and W. Davies.
- Cranmer-Byng, J. L. "Lord Macartney’s Embassy to Peking in 1793." Journal of Oriental Studies. Vol. 4, Nos. 1,2 (1957–58): 117-187.
- Esherick, Joseph W. "Cherishing Sources from Afar." Modern China Vol. 24, No. 2 (1998): 135-61.
- Hevia, James Louis. (1995). Cherishing Men from Afar: Qing Guest Ritual and the Macartney Embassy of 1793. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 978-0-8223-1637-4
- Peyrefitte, Alain. (1992). The Immobile Empire (Jon Rotschild, translator). New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-58654-0 Google Books
- Peyrefitte, Allain. (1990). Images de l'Empire immobile ou le choc des mondes. Récit historique. Paris: Fayard. ISBN 978-2-213-02383-0 (paper)
- Robbins, Helen Henrietta Macartney (1908). Our First Ambassador to China: An Account of the Life of George, Earl of Macartney with Extracts from His Letters, and the Narrative of His Experiences in China, as Told by Himself, 1737-1806, from Hitherto Unpublished Correspondence and Documents. London : John Murray. [digitized by University of Hong Kong Libraries, Digital Initiatives, "China Through Western Eyes." ]
- Rockhill, William Woodville. "Diplomatic Missions to the Court of China: The Kotow Question I," The American Historical Review, Vol. 2, No. 3 (Apr., 1897), pp. 427–442.
- Rockhill, William Woodville. "Diplomatic Missions to the Court of China: The Kotow Question II," The American Historical Review, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Jul., 1897), pp. 627–643.
- Staunton, George Leonard. (1797). An Authentic Account of and Embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China, 3 vols. London: G. Nichol.
- Biography at Government House The Governorship of Newfoundland and Labrador
- "Erasmus Gower". Dictionary of Canadian Biography (online ed.). University of Toronto Press. 1979–2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- See researcher web page A comprehensive biography is nearing completion.
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