The present political disruption in this country since the referendum result ten days ago is something that is likely to have been familiar to Thomas Bowrey. I always describe him as an ordinary man who lived in extraordinary times but one political question of his times was more intimately connected to his business affairs.
This question was the political union between England and Scotland and the unexpected catalyst that resulted in the Union happening in 1707 was the case of Bowrey’s ship, the Worcester. This story was the first I tackled when writing his life story because of the wealth of material available. Most of this source material supports the view that the seizure of the Worcester and the subsequent hanging of her captain, Thomas Green, and two other crew members resulted in, or at least hastened, the Union.
This event was only the latest in a long line of turmoil during Bowrey’s lifetime. He is likely to have lived through the Commonwealth period, the Restoration of the Monarchy, the Glorious Revolution as well as the plague of 1666 and the great fire of London. If this was not enough, for much of this time, England or Britain was at war with one or another European nation.
Now, yet again, the place of Scotland within the United Kingdom is under question because of the vote to leave the EU. In fact, there has also been more extreme murmurings about London becoming a city state and Ireland reuniting. We have a long way to go before our lives are anywhere near as traumatic as his.
Despite all this, the evidence from Bowrey’s papers is that he took it all in his stride. Many of his papers relate to his schemes, proposals and projects. In each of these, Bowrey was looking for any profit he could make, usually in the guise of advantage to his country. He moves seamlessly from referring to this country as England to calling it Britain.
I am sure that is just what he would be dong now – looking for the opportunities for him from the result of the referendum on 23 June.