Today’s book is another of Peter Earle’s that has been invaluable in writing Thomas Bowrey’s biography: Sailors, English Merchant Seamen 1650-1775.
It may have been foolish to attempt this with no prior knowledge of maritime history but, having done so, I needed good sources of background information. Sailors provides much of this. Better still, it specifically concerns merchant seamen. Life for them was very different to that of mariners in the Royal Navy then, as it is still likely to be today.
As a social and economic history of English sailors in the seventeenth and eighteenth century the book is perfectly targets my area of interest. As with all his books, Earle provided the type of detail I need by drawing on primary documents and memoires – saving me countless hours in archives gathering this for myself. He explores every aspect of a mariner’s life from conditions of service to details of his possessions. Each time I have a question, Earle’s book provides the answer. It is not sufficient to understand life on land during the period. As the quotation on the dust cover of my copy of the book highlights:
When one goes into Rotherhithe and Wapping, which places are chiefly inhabited by sailors, a man would be apt to suspect himself in another country. Their manner of living, speaking, acting, dressing, and behaving, are so very peculiar to themselves.
Sir John Fielding
Wapping is where Thomas was born and spent his short childhood. He was one of these from another country. In the phrase of the time, he was bred to the sea. He and his family understood the difference between the two naval services. They chose the merchant service for him. Wherever Thomas was in the world, whatever his status, this was his country.