On This Day: 16 December 1696

On this day in 1696, Nathaniel Long wrote from March Lane London to Thomas Bowrey on board the St George Galley at Spithead enclosing a letter for his brother, Lytcott. Lytcott Long was expected to be at Cadiz when Bowrey reached there. He also had a message for Lytcott: tell him wee should be glad to receive a Lyne [line] from him. If he was not at Cadiz when Bowrey arrived, Long hoped that he could find out as much as he could about his brother’s whereabouts. Many people would recognise the frustration of a sibling whom did not report home as frequently as hoped.

Family business out of the way, Long said that he had petitioned Parliament for a Letter of Marque that would allow Bowrey to act as a privateer. In Long’s opinion, there was no nation that would not, at the time, encourage their ships to annoy their enemies by authorising them to act as legal pirates against them. It is not clear whose idea it was to obtain the Letter of Marque. Perhaps the pressure to do so from the other investors, hoping for any prize money they may share, was one of the reasons for Bowrey’s reluctance to continue with this voyage.

Among the other business in this letter, Long said that he had seen a Mr Symonds about the Dutch paper which Symonds had told him was made from waste paper. He had none available. I have found references to paper being made from recycled fibres at this time but not from recycled paper and can find no references to Dutch paper. I should be interested if anyone has information about this.



On This Day: 15 December 1691

On this day in 1691, John Gray wrote to Philip Gardiner from Barbados. I am extremely grateful to Mr Gray for writing in an extremely clear hand – unlike the letter’s recipient – even if his spelling was very poor in modern terms. Gardiner not only used a script long outdated by this time but scribbled it in a way we expect of GPs today. Gardiner was an apothecary and poor handwriting in the medical profession is nothing new.

Gardiner was Thomas Bowrey’s father-in-law and, possibly, also his cousin who he trusted with his business affairs in England before he returned from India. This letter interests me because Gardiner’s origins are still a mystery to me, other than he possibly had a connection with the Clacton area of Essex, and I am always looking for clues. It seems that Gray may have been a Wapping man because he mentions his friends there.

John Gray had not only sent the letter. Captain Hobman, who had brought it from the Caribbean, had also been given a piece of eight (or silver dollar) to have a drink with Gardiner, Captain Rutter and brother Bayly. The letter concerned the payment of money due from the estate of a Mr Richardson. Gray was greatly put out by the work in having to deal with the estate without the payment of even a farthing (a quarter of a penny) and clearly wanted Gardiner to feel obligated to him.

I know from Bowrey’s papers that great pains were taken in settling the estates of people who died thousands of miles from home. Gardiner has written notes on the reverse of the letter but the parts I can decipher do not add anything meaningful to what Gray wrote.

On This Day: 14 December 1692

On this day in 1692, Robert Masfen wrote a letter to Thomas Bowrey from on board the William & Mary at Ingelee (probably a village in India but I have been unable to positively identify the location). This is just one of many long, rambling letters by which Masfen kept Bowrey up to date with business in the East and, more importantly, with news of the people among whom he had spent most of his life. For the first four years back in England, Bowrey spent as much time looking back as to the future.

Henry Alford, to whom Bowrey had assigned his power of attorney, had died and was buried at Fort St George with his wives. Masfen’s sister, Philadelphia, a widow with three children had married Charles Sherer, like Bowrey an independent merchant and mariner. Philadelphia’s children had been sent home to live with her mother and sister in England. Sherer made purchases on Bowrey’s behalf. In return, Bowrey paid Masfen’s mother for looking after the children.

Masfen’s first wife had died and he needed help looking after his son, Bowrey’s godson named Thomas after him, and remarried despite have no real desire to do so. Despite his reluctance, he considered himself lucky to have found another good wife. Masfen had been very ill and wrote frequently of wanting to return home, possibly reminding Bowrey of his own later years in India, and he sent many personal items to his old friend. Some make me question the choices though. Why would a man wish to wear a periwig, cravat and ruffles in the tropics?

On This Day: 13 December 1683

On this day in 1683, James Wheeler in Madapooam wrote to Thomas Bowrey about how Sancho Narso was delaying the fitting out of their new ship. Narso had previously built their Adventure but the partners relationship with him was not good. Wheeler describes his Roguery. The new ship, the Borneo Merchant, would be delivered before the end of the year and would be under Bowrey’s command for most of his remaining time in the East.

The letter continues to discuss the cargos they are to carry on their ships as well as passing on news of relatives, friends and acquaintances. Notably, this letter contains the first reference to Bowrey being ill – with fever and ague. There are periodic such references in correspondence up until his death thirty years later.

Wheeler finished the letter: I observe what you write about our Adventure, and that you have gotten Mr Prickman to go her Master (replacing Bowrey when he moved to the new ship), should be glad to hear it is not that mad Prickman that was once in the Williamson, a Servant to Captain Bays. Samuel Prickman was recorded at Fort St George in the 1680s as being a mariner and not a permanent inhabitant of the town. He was married to an English woman. It is not know if he was the mad Prickman but, as there were no further complaints from Wheeler, it is unlikely.

There was another Prickman, Benjamin, who was master of the East India Company ship, the Fort St George Merchant, in 1698. Perhaps he was mad.

On This Day: 12 December 1682

On this day in 1682, Thomas Bowrey sold a quarter share in the Adventure to James Wheeler for 92 pagodas 13 farams (worth about £5,400 today). Wheeler already owned a share (of unknown size) in the ketch so this was simply a readjustment.

The Adventure had a burden of just 20 tons and was small even for a ketch that would usually be between 100 and 250 tons. In view of its size, whether it had the usual 2 masts is questionable. However, the advantage was that the ketch was small enough to navigate the ports and rivers described in Bowrey’s Bay of Bengal.

James Wheeler, at this time, was governor of the East India Company’s factory at Pettipolee. He was to resign in 1685 but remained in India. He had married Tryphona, daughter of Ralph Ord, at Fort St George in 1681. Tryphona was one of the bridesmaids at the marriage of the son of Elihu Yale the previous year. When Wheeler died in 1693, having been accidentally poisoned by his surgeon aged only thirty-seven, he was described as a merchant and councilor of Fort St George.

On This Day: 11 December 1703

On this day in 1703, Peter Tom in Flushing wrote to Thomas Bowrey at Well Close Square. From this letter we get an insight of the full impact on the recent Great Storm.

After the storm, the Rising Sun was taken across the Channel for repairs. All the capacity of London shipyards was taken up repairing Royal Navy and East India Company ships. An independently owned ship would have a very low priority. Once in Flushing, the ship’s crew’s troubles were not over. Tom and the ship’s carpenter, with the help of a knowledgeable local, had been searching for replacement masts and had finally found what they needed at Flushing.

The ship’s master, Thomas Wybergh, was absent so Tom believed it was his responsibility to inform Bowrey of his concerns about the supercargo, Captain Rowley. In Tom’s opinion, Rowley fell far short of the prudence and sobriety needed to provide good management for the voyage. He suggested that Bowrey would have been better taking a man out of Bidlam (Bedlam or the Bethlehem Hospital, an institution for the insane). Tom apologised for being so frank but Rowley had been responsible for the loss of a boat with two men and a boy on board.

He finishes his letter by stressing his own good character and suitability for Rowley’s job. Was Rowley as bad as he had painted or was Tom simply taking the opportunity of his captain’s absence to engineer an opportunity for his own advancement?

On This Day: 10 December 1687

On this day in 1687, Thomas Bowrey started two account books for his stay in Porto Novo (Parangipettai, India) – one business and the other for his household. It was to be his last visit to the town and he was to stay for three months. He was in the middle of his preparation for returning home to England. His previous stay there, earlier the same year, had been distressing. He was imprisoned for a few days following an altercation with a local merchant.

For the household he bought a quarter of pork, four measures of rice, three loaves of bread, twenty-five limes, oil and wood plus some non-specific provisions. He also made the first of regular payments to the Cunecoply of Porto Novo. Over the three months he made twenty-nine such payments to, I guess, some form of local official but whether this is a bribe or local tax is not clear.

For the business, he paid for ten Coolies from Madras for Mr Fleming and four Peons as well as small amount of coconut oil. Both coolie and peon usually refer to unskilled labourers and the rate paid was the same for both. In view of his earlier experience it is possible, therefore, that they were batta peons, or armed guards, employed to provide Bowrey with protection.