On this day in 1701, Thomas Bowrey sent John Hilliard, the master of the Prosperous, a sealed box with a covering letter.
The box contained drug samples, the keys for all the chests loaded onto the Prosperous and Hilliard’s instructions for the voyage. The letter forbade Hilliard from opening the box until he was 200 leagues from Lands End. 200 leagues is more or less 690 miles and, from Lands End, this would be more than half-way across the Bay of Biscay – well clear of the English Channel. The opening of the box should have been in the presence of Edward Long who should also have been allowed to read the instructions.
Edward Long was the son of Nathaniel, Bowrey’s friend and business partner but, more relevant, the supercargo of the Prosperous and, as such, responsible for the trading undertaken during the voyage. Similar secrecy about the instructions for the voyage employed by Bowrey in the case of the Worcester would later be the cause of much suspicion by the Scots. You do have to wonder why such tactics were employed.