During his lifetime, Bowrey produced and collected vast collection of manuscript documents. When he died in March 1713, he appointed his dear and loving Wife Mary Bowrey to be the only and sole executrix of this my last Will and Testament. With a couple of exceptions, in his will be bequeathed all his books, journals and maps to his cousin, Thomas Studds. He made no mention of his other papers.
His widow died a little over two years later. In her will she appointed her mother, Frances Gardiner, her executrix. Subsequently, in her will Frances named her nephew, Thomas Bushell of Cleeve Prior, executor and left him the residue and remainder of my Estate both reall and personal. Neither will specifically mentioned any papers, book, journals nor maps.
By default, Bowrey’s papers survived and came into the possession of Bushell. He appears to have placed them in an old chest. On 17 February 1721, he wrote from Wapping, where he was dealing with his aunt’s estate, to his cousin, Mrs Brace at Cleeve:
I have sent down this day by Darby the iron Chest, with the plate and jewels; its about two hundrd weight. George with a whell barrow will bring him home. You can’t unlock him till I send down the key.
Cleeve Prior was occupied by the Bushell family until Thomas succeeded to the estate of his uncle, Sir George Fettiplace in 1743, took the name Fettiplace by Act if Parliament and moved to his late uncle’s house in Oxfordshire. He retained the ownership of Cleeve Prior but it was occupied by a succession of tenants. In 1913, the latest tenant, Harry Hiorns, rediscovered the chest whilst turning out a windowless dark room. He told his friend, John Humphreys, and allowed him to examine the papers. Humphreys sorted them into chronological order. Henry Howard, a friend of Humphreys, purchased the papers after Hiorns death and donated the chest to the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Thus, after two hundred years of neglect, which probably ensured their survival, Thomas Bowrey’s papers were receiving attention. They were grouped as follows:
- Documents relating to his life in India
- Document relating to his life in England
- Papers relating to his ships and their cargos
- Various scheme and proposals
- Papers relating to his Malay Dictionary
- A diary of his journey to France, Flanders and Holland
- Papers connected to the Gardiner, Searle and Bushell families (many created after Bowrey’s death)
The papers included two letters from Daniel Defoe. By 1955, these letters were in the possession of Dr Henry C Hutchins of New Haven, Connecticut, USA. Hutchins sold them at Sotheby’s New York in 1984. It is assumed that they were returned to the UK because they were sold again at Christie’s London in 2007. Further letters from Elihu Yale were donated to Yale University.
In 1931, Henry Howard donated groups 2 and 4 to the Guildhall Library. They are now held at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA). Groups 1 and 5, including a number of maps and charts, were donated or sold to the India Office and subsequently passed to the British Library. Groups 3 and 6 were donated to Lloyds of London who later lodged the documents with the LMA. Lloyds retained a few manuscripts relating to Edward Lloyd and Lloyd’s Coffee House.
The current location of group 7 is unknown. They do not appear to be held at either the British Library of the LMA. The Essex Record Office holds a quantity of documents relating to the Gardiner and Searle families, both Essex families, which possibly passed to it via another repository. The provenance of these documents has been lost but I believe that these papers may have been a separate collection discovered at the Gardiner property at Little Clacton and not part of the Cleeve Prior haul. If anyone knows the location of the seventh group of the papers, I should be grateful if they would let me know via the Contact page.
On 25 February 2006, the Guardian reported that the previously unknown journals by the 17th-century explorer Thomas Bowrey … have turned up at an Isle of Wight auction house. The journals were to be sold at Bonham’s New Bond Street the following month. On the 13 March, the Isle of Wight County Press explained that the journals were bequeathed to the last descendant of the Bowrey line, believed to be living in Wootton on the island. The owner had taken them to a valuation day in Cowes the previous year. The journals (lot 143) were described in the sale catalogue as two autograph log, journal and memorandum books kept by Thomas Bowrey. A subsequent saleroom notice added: this appears to be a mid-eighteenth-century family transcript, and not in Thomas Bowrey’s hand. Despite this doubt, the journals sold for £34,000 plus buyer’s premium. No information is available about the identity of the seller. The journals were purchased for the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. These two journals appear to contain important biographical details about Bowrey but, as this Bowrey line died with the death of the childless Mary and Thomas, the provenance of the journals is unclear.
There is one further collection of papers written by Bowrey. The loose sheets forming the manuscript copy of a draft book titled A Geographical Account of the Countries Round the Bay of Bengal had, for some reason, passed from Peter Briggins, an acquaintance of Bowrey, through the Eliot/Howard family to Eliot Howard, a cousin of Henry Howard. The author of the manuscript was identified only as “TB”. Richard Carnac Temple became aware of the manuscript in the early 20th century. He collaborated with Humphreys to identify the author as Thomas Bowrey. Temple then edited and published the book. The original manuscript was sold to the British Library in 1972.