Writing Family History Group

I have always intended this blog to be about writing biography or other non-fiction as well as Captain Thomas Bowrey but realise that I have not said much about the writing process recently.

Recently, I was contacted but a fellow student from Gill Blanchard’s Writing Your Family History workshops about her idea of setting up a group for thse who have written or are writing family history. Helen Parker-Drabble’s proposal is that the group could link-up to jointly promote their published works and I think that it is a great idea.

Helen has a lot of very good ideas about what we can do so, if you are interested, perhaps you contact me @ captainthomasbowrey@gmail.com We would love to hear from you.



Captain Thomas Bowrey – The Essex Connection

I believe my talk at the Waltham Forest Family History Society went well. They are a small but friendly group and laughed in all the right places. It is always nice to have your sense of humour confirmed.

On my journey home, I decided to detour through my ancestral area of Essex and found some useful books in Ingatestone library including a photograph of my 4 x great uncle, Joseph Poole. He began his working life as a shoemaker but because the parish clerk (and, apparently, church organist) for many years. As he was also a letter carrier and later postmaster, he was a very busy man well known as a character in the village. Modern portfolio careers are nothing new.

Traveling through Essex I was reminded of Thomas Bowrey’s mysterious connections with the county. Similarly to his connection with Borneo, there are hints that he knew the area well but little more than circumstantial evidence. Thomas’ father-in-law, Philip Gardiner, may have been born in the country c.1636, had a house at Clacton and was buried there. As there was twelve days between his death and burial (in August, the wrong time of year to keep a body unburied), he is unlikely to have died there.

More strangely, a small cache of Thomas’ papers are held at the Essex County Records Office probably originally deposited with a local solicitor. They are mixed with some of Gardiner’s papers. Included is correspondence concerning a financial dispute between Andrew Searle senior and junior who came from the Epping area. (I stayed overnight at the Epping Forest Hotel.) Searle senior was a captain, I assume a sea captain, but otherwise there is no evidence how Thomas knew the family well enough to get involved in a family dispute.

I am constantly amazed at how little I know about I man I know so well!

Rings and Captain Thomas Bowrey

One of the aspects of Thomas Bowrey’s life that surprised me was how often finger rings feature. He used them to repatriate his wealth, packed them in his trunk when he went to Bath to take the waters and bequeathed them in his will. His estranged friend, Robert Masfen, used a mourning ring as a peace offering following his wife’s death.

Thomas repatriated his wealth over a number of years on many different ships to spread the risk of lost. Over that time the following were despatched: unspecified jewellery in two escritoires, twenty-two diamond ring, a single diamond ring and a single loose diamond. At the time a mourning ring was valued at £1 (equivalent to about £150 today). A one carat diamond could be purchased in India for £1/5/- and a four carat one for £14 although diamonds were also obtained from Borneo.

It was common to bequeath mourning rings to friends and relatives and, in his will, Thomas left eight valued at £1 each to his cousins, his mother-in-law and a number of friends. When he and Mary went to Bath, they packed a diamond buckle, a pair of diamond earrings, a gold ring and a ring set wound with diamonds (presumably similar to a full eternity ring today). When the Worcester was seized by the Scots, one of Thomas’ concerns was for two diamond rings in the captain’s chest.

The rings in my collection are not the intrinsically valuable rings that Thomas owned but were the prized possessions of less wealthy folk however I thought that you may see like to see my examples of finger rings of the same period.

046 Post Rig Wapping Connection

The first is the bronze posy (or poesy) ring discovered at Wapping I mentioned yesterday. Next is a silver mani-in-fede ring with frilled cuffs:

013 Post-Medieval Ring with Clasped Hands 1

Bronze signet rings like t next example were common unlike the enamelled one like the final example that has white and red flowers on a green enamelled bronze background.

019 Signet Ring Screensaver

044 Post Medieval Enamelleed Ring

Mudlarking on the Thames

So many of my ancestors were wedded to the Thames. They lived in river-side town, migrated along its length towards London or worked on the river as mariners, watermen, fishermen, fishmongers and fish porters. If the Bay of Bengal was Captain Thomas Bowrey’s environment during his years in the East Indies, the Thames was his home before he went and after his return. He lived at Greenwich and Wapping on its banks, fitted out  his ships on its waters and sailed on the river and its estuary for relaxation.

I feel a great affinity for the personal objects of the past. Earlier this week I wrote of the seventeenth century needlework I purchased at auction. I also collect vernacular finger rings, both antiquities or antiques – personal possessions of ordinary people from the past – items that have little intrinsic value but great sentimental value to their original owner. One of my prized rings is a seventeenth century bronze posy ring discovered at Wapping Dock inscribed I Love U Lucy.

Despite my aversion to mud, I have long been fascinated by mudlarking so some time ago I was delighted learn about the imminent publication of Lara Maiklem’s Mudlarking – Lost and Found on the River Thames. If you are as avid a Radio 4 listener as me, you may have had an early sneak preview when it was the station’s Book of the Week a few weeks back. If so, I can highly recommend still reading the full version. It is so much more than a book about mudlarking.

Lara follows the Thames from it tidal origins in the west of London to where it meets the sea in the east. As she journeys along its length, she describes its history through the items discovered from Neolithic flints to twenty-first century plastic cotton-bud sticks. She explains how her mother taught her to observe the smallest details and this enables her to write evocative descriptions of each stage of the river.

It is a magical book and one of the few that I know I will read more than once.

Another Outing for the Notorious Henry Smith

The fourth talk I have schedule for the coming weeks and the last for this year will be on Thursday 24 October 2019 to the Fenland Family History Society based in Wisbech. This will be yet another opportunity to hear my A Most Notorious, Naughty. False. Lying Fellow – A Global Black Sheep, or Maligned Character talk giving Henry Smith his third outing this year.  After two centuries of obscurity, the limelight will be going to his head.

The Fenland Family History Society covers the former Isle of Ely, parts of South Lincolnshire and West Norfolk – the Fenlands that have their own character and challenges for family historians. The society aims to promote and encourage the preservation, security and accessibility of archival material and has a strong working relationship with the Wisbech and Fenland Museum, which unusually holds some of the areas parish registers. More details on membership and meetings can be found on their website at: fenlandfhs.org.uk.

My talks start up again early in the New Year and include two I have not mentioned so far:

  • My Ancestor Was A Pirate – Pirates of the Caribbean, the Sequel
  • The Long Paper Trail – The Papers Discovered In An Attic



FIBIS: Captain Thomas Bowrey – The Biography

My third talk schedule over the next few weeks will be at the October Open Meeting of the Families in British India Society. I shall be speaking of Captain Thomas Bowrey – The Biography on Saturday 12 October 2019 at the Union Jack Club near Waterloo Station. The formal program starts at 1:30pm.

My fellow speaker will be Mark Davies who will present: One Word, Two Indian Journeys, Four Anglo-Indian Families and a 1,000 Year Genealogy. Stemming from an unexpected find in the Calcutta Census of 1881 that his grandfather had been born in that city, Mark embarked upon two trips to India to search for more information. The first trip was thwarted by weather and insurgency, but in 2018, Mark succeeded in visiting Lesliegan in Jharkhand, named for his progenitor, Matthew Leslie (c.1755-1904), a senior East India Company official who lived all his adult life in India. But there was much more to learn, and Mark’s investigation was to take him in a full circle, to unexpected family connections back in his home town of Oxford. Mark had discovered a treasure trove of ancestry.

My talk which will precede Mark’s will present the most comprehensive biography of Thomas published to date alongside outlining how I uncovered his origins.

The meeting is open to everyone, not only members of FIBIS, and I would love to see you there but for security reasons it is necessary to register on the Society’s website in advance at: https://www.fibis.org/events/event/autumn-open-meeting-and-lectures/

Say “Hello” to Captain Thomas and Mary Bowrey!



OK, I admit it, this is almost definitely not how Thomas and Mary would have looked. The style of costume is not what a fashionable late-seventeenth would have worn at the time they married. Certainly the man’s costume does not tally with the clothing made by Thomas’ tailors. But, to me, they are Thomas and Mary.

I purchased these tiny (just 10cm x 15cm) seventeenth century silk needlework pictures at auction yesterday along with two other, larger ones. One was a beautiful example of stumpwork – something I have coveted for a long time. It is a very long time since I have been so nervous and excited at an auction. You would have thought I was an auction virgin.

If you study the pictures carefully you will see that the needlewoman – they were almost certainly stitched by a wealthy woman – has used stock images from a pattern book transferred to the fabric by ‘pouncing’. The pattern outline was pricked out using a pin, placed over the material and soot or charcoal rubbed over the page to transfer the design. Compared to many period needleworks, these pictures are naïve, the same motifs placed in the same place in both. A professional design draughtsman is likely to have been a little more sophisticated.

The motif that really caught my eye, leading me to christen the couple Thomas and Mary, are the monkeys. I recalled James Wheeler’s 1684 letter to Thomas requesting that he obtain a ‘type of monkey’ called a ‘orum mustan’ from Borneo  for Mr Freeman in return for his ‘dogg Tiger’ given to Thomas. I imagine Mary adding the monkey motif to her embroidery having heard the story. After all, Thomas’ library included a book about orang-utans demonstrating his interest in the animals.