On This Day: 17 August 1704

Today’s letter from Joseph Tolson, the captain of the Mary Galley, is of particular interest to me because I am trying to assemble all the evidence hat survives about Thomas Bowrey’s health.

He survived nineteen years in the East Indies when many Europeans did not last a year yet he was much of the time at sea. At the time, the sea was also a dangerous place but analysis by Peter Earle showed that the death rate on European and north American voyages was slightly lower than that of labourers on land. The death rate was ten times higher for those who sailed to the East Indies. These statistics indicate that his underlying constitution was good.

Yet, there are many reports of his serious illness whilst he was in the East from 1683. It was perhaps around this time that he started planning to return home. Once home, Bowrey does not appear to have been in good health. Mortality in London was high. Earle calculated that it was three times as high as today. Letters mention Bowrey being ill frequently from 1702 to 1712. He died in March 1713. He was known to have spent a great deal of time at Bath and Tunbridge Wells – both spa towns believed to be beneficial for health.

This letter is contains another reference to Bowrey’s indisposion. It is not the sort of letter that someone ill would want to receive mentioning the death of three other men. Tolson does finish by hoping to hear of Bowrey’s health and welfare – notably not his improved health and welfare. Bowrey did not always have good relations with the masters of his ships. Perhaps Tolson was secretly pleased to hear of Bowrey’s poor health.

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