On This Day: 14 January 1686

On this day in 1686, Captain Thomas Bowrey set sail from Fort St George (Madras) for Porto Novo. On board he had three new crew members: William Cannan, Joseph How and Alexander Cobden.

Whether knowingly or not, Bowrey had signed-up three members of the crew of the Defence commanded by Captain William Heath. Crew unhappy with their employment would often seek out another ship. Often they would be looking for a berth home but Bowrey was a country trader around the Bay of Bengal. Perhaps these three had reasons for not wishing to return to England or they may have simply been tempted by higher pay.

Whatever their reasons, it was clearly considered unacceptable by the council of the East India Company at the Fort. They wrote to the officials at Cudaloor requesting them to detain Bowrey whist his ship was searched for the three crew members. If they were found, they were immediately to be returned to Madras under armed guard. Should they not be found, Bowrey should be required to give his bond for £1,000 in case it was later proved that he had them. The value of this bond was the equivalent of over £150,000 today – an indication that the council members were more inclined to believe Heath than Bowrey.

Understandably, the three crew members were rapidly handed over to Company officials when the Borneo Merchant reached Cudaloor. They were handed back to Heath on 25 Janaury. Bowrey would not return until September.

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