Owen was not an attractive person, in appearance or in temperament. A photograph from his late middle years shows him as gaunt and sinister, like the villain in a Victorian melodrama, with long, lank hair and bulging eyes—a face to frighten babies. In manner he was cold and imperious, and he was without scruple in the furtherance of his ambitions. He was the only person Charles Darwin was ever known to hate. Even Owen's son (who soon after killed himself) referred to his father's "lamentable coldness of heart."
His undoubted gifts as an anatomist allowed him to get away with the most barefaced dishonesties. In 1857, the naturalist T. H. Huxley was leafing through a new edition of Churchill's Medical Directory when he noticed that Owen was listed as Professor of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology at the Government School of Mines, which rather surprised Huxley as that was the position he held. Upon inquiring how Churchill's had made such an elemental error, he was told that the information had been provided to them by Dr. Owen himself.
A fellow naturalist named Hugh Falconer, meanwhile, caught Owen taking credit for one of his discoveries. Others accused him of borrowing specimens, then denying he had done so. Owen even fell into a bitter dispute with the Queen's dentist over the credit for a theory concerning the physiology of teeth.