On This Day: 9 February 1702

On this day in 1702, Thomas Bowrey sent Robert Callant a map of Delagoa on the east coast of Africa and advised him not to bring home whale fins of less than 4 foot. Bowrey kept a copy of all his letters sent to the Worcester except this one. He simply noted that the map and advice had been enclosed in a cover to Mr Watts of Deal, Kent. It is unclear why this should be.

For a short time before the Worcester departed England, Bowrey became obsessed with a new opportunity. The Greenland Company that had a long-term monopoly of the London whaling trade had just failed and the whaling market had reopened to any merchant adventurer. Whales were to be found at Delagoa Bay on the Worcester‘s proposed route. Their baleen (whalebone or whale’s fin used for corsets) and oil (for lightning and lubricants) had great commercial value. Bowrey enthusiastically researched the trade and sent instruction to the ship’s chief mate, John Madder.

Two professional harpooners were recruited, accommodation built for them on board and Bowrey was excited about the additional possibilities these would add to the voyage. As cabin space was reserved for officers and important passengers, providing separate accommodation was an indication of the harpooners perceived value. A whaling venture was not included in the contract but Bowrey (just one of many owners and freighters) clearly believed that he was free to deviate from this. It is easy to sympathise with the ship’s captain, Thomas Green, who was criticised for accepting cargo as a private venture by another of the owners.

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