Book of the Day: The Papers of Thomas Bowrey (1669-1713)

Papers Cover

On this snowy morning, the second book in this series has to be The Papers of Thomas Bowrey (1669-1713}, again edited by Sir Richard Carnac Temple. The story of the discovery of the papers in an attic room at Cleeve Prior caught my imagination. I know it has had the same affect on others. The book is worth reading for this story alone.

Unfortunately, Temple also described how John Humphreys with the help of Mrs Perkins arranged all the documents. This was the start of the process in which Humphreys and Henry Howard reorganised and split up the papers thus destroying to original context. The job was not even carried out very well. Whilst attempting to piece together Thomas Bowrey’s life story, I have found two copies of the same letter in different archives. (Multiple copies of the same letter were often sent via multiple ships in an attempt to ensure the arrival of at least one.) The result is that important contextual information has been lost. Despite all this tampering with the manuscripts, Temple fails to recognise or comment that very few papers survived for the period of A Geographical Account of Countries Round the Bay of Bengal.

Rant over. For this book, Temple selected to two tranches of the papers to edit and present to the public. The diary and accounts of Thomas’ six week tour of Holland and Flanders is neither particularly interesting nor typical and was no doubt chosen because it was an easily managed, self-contained event. The story of the Mary Galley was different. It not only details of one of Bowrey’s East Indies trading ventures but includes descriptions of attacks by French privateers and legal disputes. It is a good example of the risks of such ventures and an insight into Thomas’ character.

Again some of Temple’s conclusions should not be accepted without question. For example, he claims that Elias Grist, the part owner and purser of the Mary Galley, was grasping and unscrupulous and capable of despicable actions. There is little evidence that he was any worse that the others involved in this sorry tale. It is necessary to refer to the original documents at the London Metropolitan Archives because Temple has only selectively transcribed them.

Papers Title Page

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