On This Day: 8 December 1684

On this day in 1684, a Monday, Captain Thomas Bowrey left Fort St George (Madras) for Porto Novo (Parangipettai). Today’s journey is different because, rather than travelling by sea, along the coast, this was overland whist Bowrey’s Borneo Merchant was riding out the monsoon in the Ennore Creek (a Madras backwater).

For some unknown reason, Bowrey wrote a detailed account of this journey. Other than that of his six-week tour of Holland and Flanders fourteen years later, this is the only diary Bowrey appears to have kept. Certainly, it is the only survival. The paper on which the account is written has a large piece missing from the right-hand corner but, unexpectedly, this damage occurred before Bowrey wrote on it. None of the text is missing.

The journey took under five days, starting at 09:30 pm and ending at 01:00 pm on Friday 12 December, during which Bowrey was carried in a palanquin by four or six Coolies sometimes up to their thighs in water. Strangely, he described the food eaten by his men but not what he ate during the journey. They rested once at a large stone Choultry (guesthouse) attached to the Bhoomeshwarar Temple close to the coastal town of Marakkananam and another time at the English factory at Koonimedu. Otherwise they slept out in the open together during the day and travelled in the late afternoon and overnight.

The total length of the journey was about 140 miles. The terrain varied between good dry ground, paddy (rice) fields, marshy ground and salt ponds. They crossed numerous rivers, some only knee deep but others as high as their navels.

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