Dowden, John (1840–1910), Scottish Episcopal bishop of Edinburgh, was born 29 June 1840 in Cork city, elder of two sons of John Wheeler Dowden, a presbyterian linen merchant and brother of Richard Dowden (qv), and his wife Alicia, who was of a Church of Ireland family. Her father, John Barter Bennett, apothecary, left a detailed manuscript account of the agrarian protest movement of the Rightboys in the eighteenth century, and her cousin was George Salmon (qv). John and his brother Edward Dowden (qv) were thus brought up in a prosperous, mercantile, and philanthropic family connection.
John attended the diocesan school, and won a classical scholarship from QCC to TCD, which he entered in 1858; Salmon was his tutor, and a lifelong friend. John Butler Yeats (qv) was a contemporary in college and also a close friend. John Dowden was senior moderator and won a gold medal in ethics and logic and graduated BA in 1861; he was awarded an MA (1867), and, having attained first-class honours in divinity, graduated with a BD (1874). His college awarded him the degree of DD in 1876. The University of Edinburgh awarded him an LLD in 1904.
Dowden was ordained deacon (1864) and priest (1865); he was curate in St John's, Sligo, 1865–7, and then became incumbent of Calry, also in Sligo. While still holding this post he was one of the chaplains to the lord lieutenant from 1870, and from 1872 assistant minister in St Stephen's chapel of ease, Dublin. In May 1874 he became Pantonian professor of theology in the theological college of the episcopalian church of Scotland, based in Glenalmond College, Perthshire. A year later, after a fire, the few theological students removed to Edinburgh, where in 1880 Dowden became principal of a newly founded theological hall and canon of St Mary's cathedral.
On 21 September 1886 Dowden was consecrated bishop of Edinburgh; he retained the post of Bell lecturer in education at the theological hall, and greatly influenced the rising generation of episcopalian clergymen. Dowden supported the independence of the Scottish church against any attempts at English domination, and was a prominent church historian and liturgical scholar. Of his publications, The workmanship of the Prayer Book (1899 and 1902) was probably the best-known; he also wrote The Celtic church in Scotland (1894), and several works about the historical records of the Scottish church. In 1885–6 he was Donnellan lecturer in the University of Dublin, and in 1896 lectured at the General Theological Seminary in New York; his American lectures were published in 1897 as Outlines of the history of the theological literature of the church of England. A course of lectures, published as The medieval church in Scotland . . ., given before the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, appeared posthumously in 1910. His revision of an earlier scholar's catalogue of Scottish bishops was completed by J. Maitland Thomson and published in 1912.
Dowden died suddenly on 30 January 1910. He was buried in Dean cemetery, Edinburgh, with a memorial in his cathedral. His important collection of scholarly books is held in the National Library of Scotland. He married (September 1864) Louisa, daughter of Francis Jones; they had two sons and four daughters, who all survived him. The eldest son, John Wheeler Dowden (1866–1936), born in Dublin, was a leading surgeon and medical professor in Edinburgh, vice-president of the Edinburgh College of Surgeons, and manager of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary from 1931.