Captain William Owen, RN, was the son of David Owen whose ancestral home was at Glansevern, Wales, with the family seat in Montgomeryshire. William Owen entered the British navy as a youth and had risen to the rank of Lieutenant by the time he returned to England in 1761 after sailing with squadrons in both the West Indies and East Indies. In one engagement he was wounded by a musket ball, and in another his right arm was severed. William Owen's interest in America began in 1766 when he was invited by Sir William Campbell, the newly appointed Governor of Nova Scotia (which then included New Brunswick), to accompany him as his secretary. The Governor's party sailed from Glasgow, Scotland, on 8 October 1766 and docked in Halifax on 26 November 1766. The following year he accompanied the Governor on a tour of Cape Breton and St. John Island (P.E.I). While in Nova Scotia William Owen memorialized the British government for a grant of land under a policy the government had established of rewarding British army and navy officers with land for their services. The land included an island, then called Passamaquoddy (Outer)Island, in the Bay of Fundy. Captain Owen and his three nephews were co-grantees, along with several Liverpool merchants, making a total of sixteen persons. They organized a company and made preparations for establishing a settlement on the Island he renamed Campo Bello, partly in honour of Sir William Campbell. In addition to Campo Bello, Owen was later granted several small islands in Passamaquoddy Bay. Captain Owen purchased a vessel he renamed the Owen, and on 6 April 1770 thirty eight colonists set sail from Liverpool arriving at Campo Bello on 4 June 1770.
Captain Owen and his family lived at Campo Bello during the years 1770 and 1771, leaving the Island on 14 June 1771 to return to England. During their stay on the Island, a son was born who later became Admiral Sir Edward William Campbell Rich Owen. His second son, Admiral William Fitz-William Owen was born in Manchester, England, in 1774, and died in 1857 at Campo Bello Island. After returning to England, Captain Owen was sent by the British government to India and in 1778 was killed in an accident in Madras. After their father's death, Sir Thomas Rich took a special interest in the boys and sponsored them in starting their careers in the Royal Navy.
When Captain Owen left Campo Bello, the Island's affairs were administered on behalf of the heirs by resident agents until his nephew David Owen came from England. He lived there until his death in 1829. In the succeeding years, the Island was administered by an agent, John Wilkinson, who later served as a geographer-surveyor for the New Brunswick government. Following his tenure, in 1835, Admiral William Fitz-William Owen acquired the interests of all the other owners and came to Campo Bello to make his permanent home. With his death in 1857, the ownership of the Island passed to his daughter Cornelia and her husband Captain John J. Robinson-Owen RN. After Captain Robinson-Owen's death in 1874, his wife negotiated the sale of the property with a group of Boston investors, and in 1881 the Owen family's one hundred year ownership of Campo Bello Island came to an end, and Cornelia Robinson-Owen returned to England.
The Narrative of the Voyages and Travels of Captain William Owen was written in chronological order and appears to have been composed c. 1775 from the author's diaries and notes. The frequency of the entries varies. A daily record is usually made while he is traveling, but in other parts of the diary there are gaps of a few days, weeks, or even months. While at sea the entries take the form of a ship's log. The original Narrative is written in two parts, only the second of which includes his North American experiences which have been reproduced in this microfilm reel. Major subject areas include description and travel - New England, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick, especially Campobello Island.Part 1 deals with his travels to India and elsewhere, and ends on 20 July 1761.Part 2 begins on the same day with an entry stating that on this day he landed in Portsmouth after an absence of seven years, two months and twelve days. The Narrative that follows takes the form of a diary, and William Owen records in great detail an account of his life and travels for the following ten years from 20 July 1761 until the diary ends on 17 June 1771. The entries are long and often contain detailed descriptions of places and events. Frequently, conversations are recorded almost word for word, and letters are copied directly into the journal. When traveling in England he describes visits with his father and brothers, mentions friends and acquaintances by name, who are often fellow seamen, and records the places he passed through, the inns where he stayed, the coffee houses he visited, and always gives vivid descriptions of sea conditions and the countryside. He relates an eyewitness account of the processions for the wedding of George III on 8 September 1761, and the coronation on 22 September 1761, which he says he "viewed from a scaffolding erected against the Exchequer Wall in New Palace Yard".
On 6 April 1762, he was issued an impressment warrant from the Admiralty and placed in charge of a press gang to search for recruits and impress seamen into the Royal Navy. His gang's activities and methods are recorded in detail while he operated in the general area of Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Chester, and Liverpool until 18 November 1762. He quotes in full a letter of 8 July 1766 that he received from Sir William Campbell offering him the position of Governor's secretary with the rank of Master or Commander if he would accompany him to Nova Scotia. His reply of acceptance is also recorded, and on 8 October 1766, Sir William Campbell's party sailed for Halifax. Owen records the voyage, Sir William Campbell's arrival on 26 November 1766, and the swearing in of the Governor on 27 November 1766.
The Narrative continues with a record of the tour Owen made with Sir William Campbell to the Islands of Cape Breton and St. John (P.E.I.), and later with his own voyage to several New England colonies and from there to Britain arriving on 1 December 1767. He describes traveling on the Continent during 1768, but was back in England at the beginning of 1769 making preparations to take up his land grant in Nova Scotia (now part of New Brunswick). On 1 April 1770, he went on board the Owen and set sail on 6 April 1770 arriving on 4 June 1770. He chose a spot for the building of a town which he called Warrington, named the harbour Port Owen, and the Island Campo Bello. The log of the voyage is preserved in the diary.
In the latter part of the Narrative there are several sections which have particular significance for the history of Campo Bello Island including: a list of names, trade, and rate of pay, of the thirty-eight indentured servants who accompanied Owen, June 1770; description of the Islands and life in the settlement on pages 229-276; Sir William Campbell's visit, August 1770; list of Justices of the Peace and Jurors at Campobello, 25 May 1771; Table of Meteorological Observations, 4 June 1770-14 June 1771; and Minutes of a Meeting of the Court of General Sessions of the Peace at Warrington in the Island of Campo Bello, 4 June 1771. On the last page of the Narrative, William Owen records his departure from the Island, accompanied by his family and servants on the "Snow Owen", and the first days at sea where the diary ends abruptly as though additional pages have been lost.