Book of the Day: The Great South Sea

South Sea Cover

One of the misconceptions about Captain Thomas Bowrey is that, at some stage, he sailed to the Americas. He never did but it is understandable that people should think he did. I had to construct a timeline of his life to prove to myself that he did not go there. Why should this have been? There are a number of his surviving manuscripts proposing settlements on the east coast of South America. He wrote these in support of the setting up of the South Sea Company.

Glyndwr Williams in his The Great South Sea: English Voyages and Encounters 1570-1750 summarises Thomas’ contributions without falling into the trap of assuming that he must have been there. He sets out the complex set of relationships between those with an interest in the region at the time – including Thomas, William Dampier, Daniel Defoe and Robert Harley – and how they shared information.

Like many people, I had heard of the South Sea Bubble but did not fully understand the full story of the South Sea Company. Williams book puts it in context of the exploration of the Pacific Ocean over almost two centuries. It is a complex tale of those interested in adventure and the search for knowledge alongside the greed of others and their search for wealth.

Thomas, like Defoe and many others, had great hopes for trade with the region but were frustrated by Harley’s political imperative to reduce Britain’s national debt. In the end, all were disappointed.

South Sea Publisher

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