On This Day: 18 January 1698

On this day in 1698, Robert Masfen wrote to Thomas Bowrey at his house in Greenwich from on board the Cathay Merchant sitting in Madras road.

After Bowrey left his business partner in the East Indies, Masfen’s fortunes declined. Reading his letter to England, his situation comes to life. From part owning his own ships, he appears to have returned to working for others, spending most of his time sailing between Madras and Bengal. This may have been the root of the disagreement between the friends before Bowrey’s departure almost a decade earlier. Masfen probably realised that, on his own, he would not have sufficient resources to work for himself.

Yet, this letter makes it clear, Masfen was still looking after Bowrey’s interests. Much of what he says is about a diamond belonging to Bowrey, presumably purchased with the proceeds of goods he traded on Bowrey’s behalf. The saga of John Jackson’s will, last written about here in September, was still dragging on. Doing all these things on behalf of his friend who was doing so much better than himself can only have made his own situation seem worse.

The only highlights in Masfen’s life seem to be the periwig sent him and the box of ribbons sent his wife by Bowrey but these gifts were not altruistic. Bowrey had sent more demands for goods he wanted. This time he had asked for smocks. It is unclear what these will have been. At this time, a smock would be a hardwearing loose gown worn by farm labourers. Perhaps, they were some sort of loose oriental garment for relaxation.


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