On This Day: 22 January 1701

On this day in 1701, Thomas Bowrey’s Worcester was being loaded with provisions and cargo on the Thames. There were two deliveries paid for on 22 January.

Ambrose Crowley supplied a total of 6,500 nails in three different sizes. At another time, Crowley supplied anchors. The nails were delivered in a cask for which the owners and freighters had to pay 1 shilling and 4 pence. All three sizes of nails were described as cleuch – an old English word for a steep valley or ravine. It is unclear how this description applied to nails but they were no doubt for the use of the ship’s carpenter for repairs and building the ship’s boat at Delagoa.

The other delivery was from Thomas Christmas, a stationer, who supplied ink, sealing wax, quills, and paper – both loose sheets and bound in books. The ink was in powder form wrapped in paper – not the most practical for a ship at sea when the paper could become damp. There were two books both bound in vellum, one described as a journal presumably for the ship’s logbook. No doubt, the loose paper was for receipts and letters and some of this must survive within Bowrey’s papers. There would be more if the ship’s papers were not seized by the Scots.

Both these receipts remind us that, when preparing for a voyage, everything needed to be taken on board – not just cargo and food but, also, all the materials that may be needed during the voyage.


On This Day: 21 January 1706

On this day in 1706, Thomas Bowrey signed a pre-printed letter presumably designed to be sent to sea captains, ships’ supercargoes and other mariners. That he had printed forms designed for this purpose suggests that he sent these letter to most, if not all, ships departing for the East Indies and clearly shows that he had not given up his language projects after the death of Thomas Hyde.

He requested that the recipients collected Indian characters for alphabets, numbers, months and days of the week plus around 200 of the most used names of men, animals and merchandise. He continued by providing strict instructions on how to record the information and the amount of detail he wanted especially about merchandise.

In his final paragraph, he explained that he wanted the information for a book about all parts of India which he thought would be for the public good. By India he probably meant the whole of the East Indies including present day Malaysia and Indonesia. This project does not appear to have come of anything and I have found no responses to this letter within Bowrey’s papers.

On This Day: 20 January 1686

On this day in 1686, the council of the East India Company at Fort St George issued a trading pass for one year to Thomas Bowrey’s ship the Borneo Merchant. The Borneo Merchant was a country ship.

During the early East India Company voyages, their ships sailed from London to the East Indies, unloading and selling their outward cargo at Surat before travelling from port to port buying return cargos close to where they were produced. One port sold the finest textiles, another was the best for pepper and so on. In this, they were following long established Asian trading routes but this was a very slow process. Navigation in the region was restricted by the seasons and, especially, the unpredictable monsoon.

Very quickly, this system gave way to the country trade by which smaller country ships carried out regional trade within Asia and ferried goods to one of the major East India Company factories for transhipment to England. Initially, the country ships were operated by, or contracted to, the Company. Over time, increasingly the country ships were privately owned and outside the supervision of the Company. In 1661, the Company withdrew completely from the intra-Asian trade whilst retaining their claim to the monopoly of the English trade. This dichotomy was managed by issuing passes such as today’s to country ships.

On This Day: 19 January 1684

On this day in 1684, Ralph Ord at Porto Novo gave his written authority to Thomas Bowrey to recover a consignment valued at 250 pagodas from Corroa de Brillo if he should meet him. The consignment belonged to Mr Clarke but de Brillo had never delivered it to Ord. This failure of de Brillo was against the unwritten code in the East Indies where valuable goods were frequently entrusted to mariners for delivery, either within the region or to England. Without such trust, trade could not have taken place.

The English East India Company world was a tightknit community. Ord was originally the schoolmaster at Fort St George but, two years earlier, had requested a change of employment because teaching was prejudicial to his health. At this time, he was a factor at Porto Novo and would eventually become chief at Priaman. He died there in 1687. In 1681, Bowrey’s business partner, James Wheeler, had married Ord’s daughter, Tryphona, who had been a bridesmaid at the marriage of Elihu Yale’s son the previous year.

There is nothing further about de Brillo in Bowrey’s papers and we will never know if the consignment was recovered.

On This Day: 18 January 1698

On this day in 1698, Robert Masfen wrote to Thomas Bowrey at his house in Greenwich from on board the Cathay Merchant sitting in Madras road.

After Bowrey left his business partner in the East Indies, Masfen’s fortunes declined. Reading his letter to England, his situation comes to life. From part owning his own ships, he appears to have returned to working for others, spending most of his time sailing between Madras and Bengal. This may have been the root of the disagreement between the friends before Bowrey’s departure almost a decade earlier. Masfen probably realised that, on his own, he would not have sufficient resources to work for himself.

Yet, this letter makes it clear, Masfen was still looking after Bowrey’s interests. Much of what he says is about a diamond belonging to Bowrey, presumably purchased with the proceeds of goods he traded on Bowrey’s behalf. The saga of John Jackson’s will, last written about here in September, was still dragging on. Doing all these things on behalf of his friend who was doing so much better than himself can only have made his own situation seem worse.

The only highlights in Masfen’s life seem to be the periwig sent him and the box of ribbons sent his wife by Bowrey but these gifts were not altruistic. Bowrey had sent more demands for goods he wanted. This time he had asked for smocks. It is unclear what these will have been. At this time, a smock would be a hardwearing loose gown worn by farm labourers. Perhaps, they were some sort of loose oriental garment for relaxation.

On This Day: 17 January 1706

On this day in 1706, Elias Grist (part owner and purser) wrote to Captain Thomas Bowrey from Batavia to inform him that he had been left stranded by the Mary Galley. Unlikely as it may seem, both he and Joseph Tolson, the galley’s captain, claimed that Grist had been left behind accidentally. I told Tolson’s side of the story on 5 September. Although giving more details, it is not contradicted by Grist.

It would seem that Tolson had a bad reputation with his peers. He had wished to send some letters for Bowrey and some luxuries for Mary Bowrey by the first ship returning to England but the captain of the Dover refused to do anything to assist Tolson. Annoyingly, Grist claimed to know why this was but does not say in the letter. Grist had readdressed the letters and arranged for a private person, presumably a passenger on the Dover to carry the letters for him.

The Mary Galley was, at the time, under charter to a local merchant, John Moore, and he expected her return in March. Grist was stranded until then. Tolson was forced to accept this charter because they had been unable to purchase a satisfactory cargo at Batavia from the funds they had. It would not be until April that the galley returned.

On This Day: 16 January 1706

On this day in 1706, Mrs Buckley paid Thomas Bowrey £27/4/0 in respect of one year’s rent for his houses in Goodmans Fields. She also paid an additional £6/16/0 for the tax due. The total was the equivalent of just under £5250 today. These were the houses I wrote about a short while ago. On the reverse of the receipt, Bowrey has made a note of some of his expenses for the houses including a payment for 19 of cousin Davis’ men. If this was all his expenses, his profits for the year were a little under £17 or about £2,500 in today’s values. This demonstrates some of the difficulties in understanding monetary values in the past. The profit does not appear great, just a month or two’s rent in Goodmans Fields today, but would have been sufficient to rent one or more houses in an upmarket area of London for a year in 1706.

On the reverse of the receipt, Bowrey also wrote note about the goods, presumably somewhere in the East India market. From this we learn that fish hooks were much esteemed, that people would work for beads and wood was plentiful. Frustratingly, there is no indication of the place concerned.

This reuse of paper is something that is seen rarely within Bowrey’s papers and their volume means that I often forget the value of paper at the time. Paper-sellers were reasonably affluent tradesmen. Most of the tradesmen’s bill sent to Bowrey were on tiny scraps of paper. Paper was still made by hand from rags. It would be more than an century before cheaper paper made on an industrial scale from wood pulp would become available.