Thonning Owesen was the son of Otto Owesen from Schleswig who came to Trondheim in the 1780s. Otto eventually became a partner in a firm in the lumber trade. On assignment for the company he often stayed in Ireland, and there he married Jane Marie Allingham in 1803. Thonning was born in 1804 in Dublin, and the same year the family moved back to Trondheim. Here they bought a property at Devle which they called Ballyshannon, after Jane's home region. The mother unfortunately died at the young age of 23 in 1807, and the father was also in poor health. Thonning was sent to Ireland to be brought up with relatives, and he had a sound upbringing and was well schooled there. But he never saw his father again – Otto died in 1812.
Against the wishes of his mother's family Thonning returned to Trondheim in 1822, and here he stayed for good. The father had left behind a large fortune, and in 1829 Thonning Owesen bought the large property called Leira. Here he farmed on a large scale for more than 50 years. He had a large staff, and imported stewards from Ireland.
In his younger days Owesen was quite a man about town. He travelled a great deal, and often entertained guests at the Leira manor. At a later stage, his life took a religious turn, and in his later years he lived a more reserved life. He died unmarried and childless in 1881.
His name lives on, primarily because of the social profile he had established in his will. Several foundations helping those in need were granted large donations, and in particular the blind benefited from the fortune he left behind. Den Nordenfjeldske Blindeskole [School for the Blind] was established at Gløshaugen in 1886, eventually becoming the first nationwide educational institution for the blind. A stone commemorating Thonning Owesen is now placed at Tambartun, the education centre in Melhus.
Recommended reading: Strinda bygdebok [Strinda local history book], v. 1 (Leira)