Incident on the Hooghly

Captain Thomas Bowrey sighed with relief. He had found calm water. It had been a close shave but the Sancta Cruz was safe. As they were carried violently down the Hooghly towards the sandbanks he thought he was going to have to tell the ship’s Portuguese trader owners that he had lost it and her cargo. Having anchored on long cables he settled down to wait out the tidal bore. His complacency was shattered half an hour later when they were hit by the incoming tide and caught in an eddy that spun the ship round and round incapacitating everyone on board. A cable broke. The situation looked dire. Then a wind came up. He cut his remaining cable and was able to sail into a small creek and safety. Unwilling to take any further risks, Thomas remained there until the wind abated completely fourteen days later.

At the same time, two East India Company ketches, the Arrivall and Ganges, rode out the tidal bore at anchor in a safer place on the same reach as the Sancta Crux. On board the Arrivall was Streynsham Master who had recently arrived in India. William Callaway, Thomas’ very good friend, was taken seriously ill on the Ganges. A surgeon was sent but, expecting the worse, Master also sent the Arrivall’s captain, George Herron, the chaplain and a young man to the Ganges to pray for Callaway and secure his belongings. On returning to their vessel, the boat overturned and both the chaplain and the young man were drowned. The captain and four seamen were swept away on the upturned hull of their boat. Thomas’ purser happened to arrive at this point on a small ulak or cargo boat and managed to rescue the five. The purser Clement Jordan, also known as Du Jardin, was a free merchant trading on country ships at the time of the incident. Like Thomas, he was known to have been at Balasore in 1674 and they may have been friends since then.

It was September 1676 and Thomas had moved from Achin to Bengal. The Hooghly River, an arm of the River Ganges, flowed southwards into the Bay of Bengal. The strong tides on the Hooghly produced tidal bores when the head-wave of the incoming tide became restricted by the narrowing of the estuary and rose up over seven feet high as far up river as Fort William, Calcutta. The variation in the height of the tide between low-water in the dry season and high-water in the monsoon was almost twenty-one feet resulting in difficult conditions for navigation.

All ships heading for Hugli and Fort William needed the services of an experienced pilot but Thomas blamed his Ganges pilot for the incident claiming that he did not having sufficient knowledge of the conditions on the river. The East India Company had been training pilots on the Hooghly for seven years but there were only two experienced men at the time. Determined not to put himself in the same risk again, Thomas ensured he that educated himself. Many years later in 1687, whilst at Fort St George, he demonstrated this by drawing a chart of the river.





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