The BBC Radio 4 series on Daniel Defoe about to start tomorrow is a reminder of his connection to Thomas Bowrey. (The details can be found at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07j7nv3 )
Bowrey and Defoe probably met in 1708. Correspondence from Defoe was found in Bowrey’s papers but the reason for their meeting is unknown. The two, however, shared many similarities and were both great projectors. (The meaning of projector in their time was a person who planned and set up projects or schemes.)
The project for which their plans most closely coincided was for a settlement in the South Seas – that is on the Pacific coast of South America. They both presented proposals to Robert Harley (1st Earl of Oxford) who was setting up the infamous South Sea Company (that of the later Bubble fame). Although the South Sea Company was formed and both men purchased shares in the company, the proposed settlement never happened.
Defoe was Harley’s prodigy and agent – and much more, if you believe at least one of Defoe’s biographers. Bowrey’s interest in the South Sea project came from his maritime trade interests and, as with all his schemes, he not only saw the potential for the nation’s advantage but also a profit for himself. His proposal was more detailed than Defoe’s. This is one of the ways that the two men differed. Despite their similarities, Bowrey’s life was considerably less traumatic than Defoe’s who experienced both bankruptcy and jail in his lifetime. However, both demonstrate how interesting life was at the turn of the eighteenth century.