On This Day: 27 January 1698

On this day in 1698, over a year since the voyage of the St George Galley was abandoned, there was a flurry of activity in the case of Bowrey v Rolls. John Rolls recorded his answers to questions, William Walton made his affidavit and the formal case was set out. But the case would drag on for at least another five years. It is difficult to understand why such a simple case should drag on for so long.

When the accounts for the abortive voyage were drawn up, the subscribers made a loss of £19/11/0 on each hundred pounds invested. Rolls, who had paid nothing, now owed £78/4/0 which he refused to pay. Bowrey and many of the other partners had loaded their own goods onto the galley in addition to the shared cargo. Their losses were much greater. They had little sympathy with Rolls who had failed to turn up to any of their meetings.

Rolls’ defence was simple. Having been encouraged to join the venture, he made it clear that his lack of funds in London meant he could not pay his subscription until the galley reached Cadiz. When the ship did not proceed beyond Portsmouth, he considered his contract null and void. In addition, he objected to how the cargo and provisions were sold believing the others wanted to profit by buying and selling the goods among themselves at whatever rate was to their advantage.

This latter claim may have been true because Bowrey persuaded the majority of the partners to sell everything in a single lot by candle at Lloyds Coffee House. The starting bid was to be £1,200 and the increments, £5. Bowrey made it clear that he would make the starting bid, no doubt hoping to purchase everything at a knock down price. The value of the goods, according the sale details, was £1.405/3/8. The lot was purchased by a London merchant for £1,205. Nothing more is known about the merchant. Did Rolls suspect he was in collusion with Bowrey and the other investors?



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