A Year of On This Day

Yesterday’s On This Day post completed a year of such posts. I am not sure that when I wrote the first I had intended to continue for a year without a break but it was not long before I made the commitment to myself. But why did I do it? There were two primary reasons:

First, I wanted to highlight the wealth of material held within the papers of Captain Thomas Bowrey. Some sections are well known and have been studied by many people but there are also very many hidden gems. I hope I have brought some of these to the attention of the wider world. Perhaps you have found something new of interest to you.

Secondly, I wanted the discipline of writing something, hopefully interesting, every day. I have, at least partially, achieved this goal. I have posted each day but only you can say if they have been interesting. One bonus has been the contacts I have had with those who have had their interest piqued during the year and the new perspectives they have given me.

In the process, I have written in the region of 100,000 words, perhaps more, and mentioned countless names of ordinary people from the period. Perhaps I have mentioned one of your ancestors. Bowrey’s papers may hold the only record of them outside basic vital records. You may have been able to see the  type of work he carried out or how much he was paid. Rarely, you may have been able to obtain an insight into his character. Rarer still, I may have written about one of your female ancestors. I would love to know if you have found one of your forebears here.

It has been an eventful year. I have completed modules two and three of Gill Blanchard’s Writing Your Family History e-Courses and thoroughly enjoyed their challenges. They are as suitable for writing biography as family history. I have made significant breakthroughs in my research, including those of Bowrey’s early life and, most recently, further details about the life of his black-sheep step-uncle, Henry Smith. I have even written many more chapters of my biography.

The end is now in sight. I have just started on my final chapter and, then, I need to rework the whole book. I have learned so much over the year. I also need to consider how to get the book published. I will continue to post here, just not every day. I am likely to treat myself to a small break but I promise to return. However, those posts will be longer than the couple of hundred words I have been writing over the past year. s I stumble across new gems, I will be sure to highlight them here.

Please follow this blog so that you are notified when I do post and leave comments so that I know what you think.


On This Day: 16 February 1685

On this day in 1685, Robert Callant signed a cargo shipping note on board the Borneo Merchant anchored in the road at Narsapore (modern Narasapuram in Andhra Pradesh). The note related to goods laden on the Boa Vista by Captain Thomas Bowrey. Callant was to command the voyage of the Boa Vista to Hugli in Bengal. The goods were destined for John Evans, the East India Company chaplain there.

Evans had paid for the foods to be delivered to him but Bowrey had been unable to reach Bengal in the Borneo Merchant the previous year due to adverse weather. Earlier this year, Bowrey had finally sold the pepper, the other cargo he had been stuck with when he coud not get to Hugli, to the Company at Fort St George. It had been easier to sell the ambergris, baleen and textiles to his associate, Henry Alford. There was also some indication that Bowrey had a cash flow problem and he was shortly to sail for Aceh.

Bowrey was discovering just how complex his affairs could become now that he was working for himself. When things did not go to his carefully laid plans, it was his responsibility to find the solutions. He had sent many letters to Evans (presumably overland) explaining why he had not been able to get his goods to him on time. Now he was having to carry out the difficult task of transferring cargo between two ships at anchor.

It would not be long before he started to plan to return home. Although this was always likely to have been his intension, did the difficulties he was experiencing hasten those plans?

On This Day: 15 February 1704

On this day in 1704, Captain Thomas Wybergh made a list of the things belonging to Mr Samuel Rowly on board the Rising Sun. Whilst considerably less rare than yesterday’s document, this list is remains of interest to social historians.

A sailor’s possession on board were sacrosanct. Theft from a fellow crew member’s sea chest a serious matter. Inventories of a sailor’s belongings were always drawn up when they died on a voyage.  It was usual for the items to be auctioned to the rest of the crew. This not only provided some additional money for the deceased’s dependants but also provided a way for members of the crew to supplement their own meagre possessions.

For the social historians, such lists provide a small window into the life of a mariner. In this case, Rowley was the chief mate of the Rising Sun. That is, he was second in command of the ship after the captain.  As a senior officer on board, this list taken towards the end of the voyage, includes goods that Rowley had traded on his own account. This makes the list more unusual than most. The other unusual aspect was that Rowley had not died. In this case the inventory was taken because there was a dispute between Wybergh and Bowrey at the end of the voyage, in which Rowley had been caught up.

On This Day: 13 February 1704

On this day in 1704, Peter Tom wrote to Captain Bowrey from  on board the Rising Sun at anhor in Flushing Road. Tom’s letter said that they had been waiting for a long and tedious time for a favourable wind so that they could start their voyage to the East Indies. The previous morning, a fresh gale blew up and, at last, the weather was suitable to set sail.

And set sail they did that night at eight p.m. on the flood tide in convoy with a number of Indiamen. The captain had experienced a great deal of trouble with the crew but they had managed to get them all on board ready to depart. The captain had asked Tom to inform Bowrey about their departure and also the losses their ship had incurred since they left England following the Great Storm. Tom also thanked Bowrey for allowing them £10 imprest money – presumable to pay men to join their crew although only the Royal Navy pressed men into service.

Tom expressed the opinion that the captain was an honest good humoured gentlemen. Mr Morgan, the boatswain, and Mr Broom, the carpenter, both sent their humble regards to  Bowrey, his Lady and his family. All seemed good.

But it was not. A postscript to the letter said that the wind dropped, they anchored and, the next morning, returned to Flushing. Now there was no other ships to sail in convoy with. It was beginning to seem that the Rising Sun would never get underway.

On This Day: 12 February 1679

On this day in 1679, a list was drawn up of the pay of the crew of the Laurel waiting at Gravesend. There are just four documents relating to the Laurel in the papers of Thomas Bowrey. I do not recognise the handwriting on any of these documents and, at the time, Bowrey was still in the East Indies. Perhaps Bowrey’s future father-in-law, Phillip Gardiner, invested in a voyage by the ship.

For whatever reason the documents have survived, the pay list is an interesting document for any student of seventeenth century merchant mariners. While still on the Thames above Gravesend, the crew received half pay except for the carpenter and his mate who received full pay no doubt because they were fully occupied. There were thirty-five men, including five who were discharged at Gravesend, on the list.

As would be expected, the captain John Payne received the highest pay £6 per month (the equivalent of about £850 in today’s values) and received £12 for four months on half pay. The lowest paid was John Whiston who received fourteen shillings per month but must have just joined the ship because he was due nothing. Whiston’s role was not recorded but he was probably an apprentice or other young man because everyone else earned over a pound each month.

On This Day: 11 February 1702

On this day in 1702, Robert Callant dashed off a short note to Captain Thomas Bowrey from Deal in Kent. Callant, the supercargo of the Worcester, was confirming to Bowrey that he had received the letter Bowrey had sent to John Madder, the ship’s chief mate. Callant also mentioned that he had received nothing more for himself.

Callant felt the need to write this note because Bowrey clearly did not fully trust his officers on board the ship. He would often request the same information from more than one of the captain, chief mate and supercargo. This may partially have been because the captain, Thomas Green, was a reluctant correspondent and frustrated Bowrey by his lack of response to queries.

This was not the only evidence of the lack of harmony among those on board the Worcester stirred up by Bowrey’s attempts at total control of the activities of the ship and crew. It was not a good start to their voyage.