Book of the Day: Britain After the Glorious Revolution 1689-1714

Revolution Cover

Despite living in the East Indies for nineteen years, Captain Thomas Bowrey remained aware of the political situation at home. He delayed his return home once when the news of the death of Charles II reached India. He understood that the accession of Catholic sympathiser of his brother, James, to the throne had the potential for unrest in the country. When he finally arrived back in England in 1689, he learned that the so called Glorious Revolution had taken place whilst he was on board the Bengal Merchant.

The Britain After the Glorious Revolution 1689-1714 edited by Geoffrey Holmes is perfectly placed to through light on the country to which he returned for the last twenty-four years of his life. The book’s format is ten essays on different aspects of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century British history with an introduction by Holmes. The major aspects of the social and religious life of the period are covered and many of the essays touch on important aspects of Bowrey’s life including shipping, the South Sea Company and the union between England and Scotland in addition to events that affected him and his business such as trade, the press and the wars of the time.

T C Smoult’s The Road to Union and the final essay  have been particularly useful for me. The subject of the latter is Robert Harley, first Earl of Oxford, in whose papers some of Bowrey’s proposals survive. They were probably introduced by Daniel Defoe who shared many of Bowrey’s trade interests.

Revolution Publisher


Book of the Day: Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book

Fettiplace Cover

… and now for something completely different. It would be difficult to find a greater contrast between the Language and Literature of Malaysia and today’s book, Hilary Spurling’s Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book. I hope that this demonstrates the diversity of material available for the biography of Captain Thomas Bowrey.

Within in Bowrey’s papers, there is correspondence about the Malay and other oriental languages alongside bills for food and, even, a dinner to celebrate the launching of one of his ships. When searching for book on food of the period, I could not resist purchasing Hilary Spurling’s book.

Although I have not yet proved the connection, Bowrey’s wife Mary Gardiner was distantly related to the Fettiplace family through her mother Frances Bushell. The mother of Frances’ nephew, Thomas Bushell, was Diana Fettiplace and he changed his surname when in inherited his uncle’s estate. This uncle was probably Elinor’s great grandson, Sir Edmund Fettiplace. Thus, any possible connection between Elinor and Bowrey is extremely tenuous but still proved irresistible when I was searching for books about the food of the period despite it being out of period.

Elinor was not unusual in being guardian of her own recipes but few such Receipt Books have survived and even fewer published. Recipes were passed down families and Frances was likely to have brought her own with her when she married Philip Gardiner. Bowrey moved in with the family when he married Mary and may well have experienced some of Elinor’s dishes although, as recipes usually passed through the female line, probably not. At the launch dinner mentioned earlier, Bowrey supplied the cook employed with a ham, no doubt prepared to one of Frances’ recipes. Unfortunately, there is no ham recipe in the book.

Fettiplace Publisher

Book of the Day: The Encyclopaedia of Malaysia: Language and Literature

Encyclopedia Cover

The wide-ranging nature of Captain Thomas Bowrey’s activities has had resulted in me having to educate myself in a similarly wide-ranging list of subjects. One of those subjects is the fascinating Malay language. This has not been as difficult as you may imagine. I should not have been so surprised to find Professor Dato’ Dr Asmah Haji Omar’s beautiful volume on the Malay Language and Literature in the Encyclopaedia  of Malaysia series. If you look in detail at many of today’s coffee-table books, so many of them have been printed in Singapore or Malaysia even when published elsewhere.

Today, we are used to English being widely understood but this was not the case in Bowrey’s day. In the earliest days, the English East India Company officials often resulted to Latin in their communication primarily because the Portuguese had been in the East Indies for so much longer. The intra-Asian trade had been in existence for even longer and the Malay language had become the lingua-franca of business. It was also one of the international language of diplomacy alongside Arabic and Persian. Malay is still the fifth most widely spoken world language. It is one of the official languages of Malaysia and Singapore and, in a slightly different form, of Indonesia. It remains an important contact language – that is a language spoken by native speakers of other languages. It is easier to learn than European languages.

Because of the importance of Malay Bowrey’s dictionary, the earliest Malay-English dictionary published, still has relevance now. It has been claimed that even today anyone following his vocabulary and rules for pronunciation would learn to speak Malay sufficiently to be understood.

This is more remarkable than you would imagine because Malay is a much more complex than English. There are three forms of the language: colloquial, formal and bazaar. Colloquial Malay is the spoken form used as a contact language. Formal, or standard, Malay is a highly developed language used for literature, education and administration in both written and spoken form. This written for of Malay is at least as old as written English. The earliest inscriptions used Indic-based scripts. As the use of Malay spread with the spread of Islam, an Arabic-based script known as Jawi came into use. The Malay Roman script known as Rumi was not adopted until the period of British administration long after Bowrey’s time.

Bazaar, pasar or low Malay was used as the trade language, that used as the lingua franca of the Malay Archipelago.  It is a reduced form, grammatically simpler with a smaller vocabulary. This third variation is the form Bowrey knew and the source of any criticism of his dictionary but he had been required to develop his own method of Romanising Malay for English speakers. When Malaysia and Indonesia agreed on a standard Romanised spelling system to replace Jawi in 1972, it was based on the existing Dutch and English systems. It was the culmination of the evolution of a written system in part started by Bowrey.

It is thanks to Professor Omar that I can understand all this.

Encyclopedia Publisher

Book of the Day: The Story of Fort St George

Fort Cover

Today’s offering is a tiny book, The Story of Fort St George by Colonel Douglas Muir Reid. Modest though it is, it was first published by the Diocesan Press in Madras in 1945 and has been reprinted twice in New Delhi in 1999 and 2007. My pristine copy is one of the latter Asian Educational Services reprints. It is not my only reprint from this useful publisher.

From the Forward by the then Governor of Madras we learn that Colonel Reid regularly conducted tours of the Fort making use of his unequalled knowledge and enthusiastic love of the Fort. I can easily imagine Reid to be one of those energetic amateur local historians whose passion for their subject results in them being the guardian of the sorts of gems that would otherwise be lost. His text is enhanced with delightful little drawings by Ismena R Warren. All this allows me to be forgiving of the poor print quality and weird layout of the book.

The books is written as if you are actually on one of Reid’s tours of the Fort and is full of the little details that help bring the past to life. Most books about the history of the East India Company stress the importance of the trade in pepper during the earliest days but only in this book is there the explanation that mustard was the only spice grown in England at the time.

For me, writing the biography of Captain Thomas Bowrey, it is the description of Fort at different periods with such details of how you would have arrived by sea and landed by surf boat that is so invaluable. The book also includes a set of plans of the Fort through the years and a useful historic timeline. In this case, size is not everything. A great deal of useful content is contained in just seventy-eight tiny pages.

Fort Publisher

Book of the Day: Historical Naval Fiction

When I decided to write the biography of Captain Thomas Bowrey I was acutely aware of my unsuitability for the task. I was not a historian, I was not a writer, I knew nothing about the East Indies and I was certainly no expert in all things maritime. I was not totally unprepared. I had been interested in early-modern history, especially of London, for some time. I had had some magazine articles published. I had done a year’s sailing whilst still at school and I had cruise round the world – over time and not always in the same direction but still …

Alongside immersing myself in the papers of Thomas Bowrey and writing the book, I have had to undertake some serious education including a number of non-fiction writing workshops. This Book of the Day series is highlighting my non-fiction reading list covering a wide range of subjects from the East India Company to Restoration London and there is more variety to come as the series continues. Whilst these gave me skills and facts, they could help me understand what it would have felt like to be a mariner in the days of sail: what the life was really like; what would have directed my days and nights; what I would have feared.

Fortunately, I discovered the novels of J D Davies and Alexander Kent (the late Douglas Reeman) with their sagas of Matthew Quinton and Richard Bolitho. These protagonists may have been officers in the Royal Navy and lived a generation before and after Thomas Bowrey but their stories, written by experts, have provided me with a painless and enjoyable education. The backgrounds of the two authors were different: Reeman was a Royal Naval officer during WWII while Davies also served in the Royal Navy, he was a teacher and historian before turning to writing full-time. What both have done in their novels is to take their reader into the mind of a captain of a early-modern sailing vessel.

Book of the Day: Vestiges of Old Madras 1640-1800

Vestiges Cover

Today’s book, Vestiges of Old Madras, 1640-1800: traced from the East India Company’s records preserved at Fort St George and the India Office and from other sources Volume 4 – Index Volume by Henry Davison Love is here as a representative of all three volumes edited from primary sources by Love. Whilst only this index sits on my desk, the three volumes to which it refers are freely available on the Internet.

Love’s first volume contains a selection of accounts and descriptions of Fort St George and is the one in which there are a number of references to Thomas Bowrey taken from the East India Company records and Sir Richard Carnac Temple’s publications. At the beginning of chapter five, Love comments that considering the number of Europeans frequenting Madras – merchants, soldiers, clergymen, doctors and ships’ captains – it is remarkable that so few writings of this period are extant regarding Fort St George and its social life. Despite Love’s hopes, no other old manuscripts like those of … Thomas Bowrey have since been discovered and this is one of the reasons why Thomas’ papers are still considered important today.

For anyone researching early Madras residents, volume one’s many lists of residents are particularly useful. Many of Thomas’ friends and associates are listed here but nowhere else other than in his papers. At present, without the work of Love and others who have painstakingly edited some of the Company records, it would be an almost a huge task to find some of these individuals in the manuscript copies at the British Library. It is one of the reasons that, alongside writing his biography, I am slowly building a more detailed catalogue of all Thomas’ papers and other records relating to him.

Vestiges Title

Book of the Day: The Dreadful Judgement

Dreadful Judgement Cover

In order to kick-start myself after my short interlude, I have decided to feature one of my long-time favourite books today. I love The Dreadful Judgement: The True Story of the Great Fire of London especially for Neil Hanson’s vivid description of Thomas Farriner’s walk through the streets of plague-ridden London. It was a London shortly to be afflicted by a second disaster, the Great Fire. Farriner was, of course, the baker whose shop was the origin of the blaze.

Captain Thomas Bowrey lived through both the Plague and Fire before departing for nineteen years in the East Indies. Hanson’s account was one of the sources I used to reimagine his life in Wapping. However, The Dreadful Judgement is so much more than just beautifully crafted description of events and the human stories, it is also a meticulously researched historical detective story, It combines modern knowledge of the physic of fire with eye-witness accounts.

Remarkably for such a work rooted in factual research, The Dreadful Judgement is as easy to read as a novel. I never cease to enjoy it.

Dreadful Judgement Publisher