John Bowring, born in 1792 in Exeter, was one of the ablest and most industrious men of his age. He was a talented linguist, who put his skills at the service of both literature and radical politics. He served as a Member of Parliament for Bolton on a liberal and free-trade platform and was an admirer of Jeremy Bentham. At the age of 56 he accepted the post of British Consul at Canton and went on to serve as minister with plenipotentiary powers in China and as Governor of Hong Kong at a time when Britain's relations with China were marked by insecurity and danger. Religion and politics loomed large in both Bowring's public and private life. By faith he was a Unitarian, by philosophy a 'utilitarian'. He had a large family of five sons and three surviving daughters, all of whom had similar gifts of industry and intelligence. From Bowring's copious correspondence with his wife and children, G. F. Bartle has been able to draw a vivid picture of a man and family of prolific talents and of a quick-changing period of our history.