On This Day: 16 October 1689

On this day in 1689, Robert Masfen took the opportunity of the imminent departure of the Dorry for England to send Thomas Bowrey an update on their East Indies trade. He had last written to Bowrey eight months earlier when he had mentioned that when they parted they were not on good terms.

It would appear from this letter that Bowrey had not replied to Masfen’s earlier letter. Masfen seems to have assumed that Bowrey was still holding a grudge. In this letter, Masfen describes how a business associate had unfairly sued him over money he was said to owe. He also reminds Bowrey of his godson, Masfen’s son named Thomas after him, and asks if Bowrey has married yet.

Masfen was unaware that Bowrey’s return voyage took longer than expected and he had not reached England early enough to reply to Masfen’s earlier letter. There is no surviving evidence on Bowrey’s feelings about Masfen but the salutations in Masfen’s letters to Bowrey indicate that they were reconciled before Masfen’s death in 1699.


On This Day: 15 October 1688

On this day in 1688, Henry Alford received goods from Thomas Bowrey at Fort St George (Madras). The receipt was considered important enough to be witnessed by Robert Mellish.

It is a strange list of items received ranging from the abstract (Bowrey’s orders for goods left with Captain George Herron in Bengal) to physical goods (two barrels of butter and a parcel of timber). The reason becomes clear if you know that in five days Bowrey would leave India for good on the Bengal Merchant. The receipt represents the final odds and ends of Bowrey’s business life in the East that he had been unable to resolve before he sailed.

On the reverse of the receipt, Bowrey has written a note, presumably to Alford, asking him to enclose the receipt when he writes to him in London by the next ship to depart. Thus explaining how it ended up in Bowrey’s Papers. The letter should be addressed to Bowrey at Mr Thomas Short’s or, in Bowrey’s absence, to Phillip Gardiner. Gardiner was to become Bowrey’s father-in-law and was described as his kinsman and cousin although I have not been able to confirm how they were related.

Short was a drugster of Threadneedle Street but his relationship to Bowrey is even more of a mystery. Bowrey started writing to him and Gardiner as he prepared to return to England. He addressed cargos to Short and Gardiner. There was no reference to him in Bowrey’s Papers before this time or after his return home yet he was entrusting his fortune to him and may have been planning to stay with him in London.

On This Day: 14 October 1683

On this day in 1683, Thomas Bowrey was at Hugli in Bengal on the ketch Adventure. He was in partnership with Henry Alford and James Wheeler as well as carrying goods for Nathaniel Gyfford. The Adventure was the first ship owned, in part, by Bowrey.

Wheeler was governor of the East India Company at Pettipolee aged on 27 but had a quarter share in the Adventure. He was to resign from the Company in 1685 but remained in India. He died aged only 37 in 1693, having been accidentally poisoned by his surgeon.

Alford was also employed by the Company but was a warehouseman who had only been in India for fifteen months and this was the first time he had traded on his own account. Alford’s business partnership with Bowrey was to last for a number of years after Bowrey had returned to England.

There is nothing else about Gyfford in Bowrey’s Papers but it was a common surname in East India Company circles at the time.

The ketch had been built to the partner’s orders by Sancho Narsa at Madapollam about 390 miles from Fort St George (Madras). Bowrey was to have further dealings with Narsa in the future.

On This Day: 13 October 1701

On this day in 1701, Captain John Hilliard of the Prosperous received supplies from John Martin, ships’ chandler. A ships’ chandler was the closest thing to a one-stop supermarket for ships’ provisions at the turn of the 18th century. The Prosperous received 87 different items ranging from gun carriages to billet wood (wood for fuel).

I am constantly amazed every time I look through Thomas Bowrey’s Papers just how much had to be purchased for each new voyage. Some ships were brand new, built specifically for the voyage, such as the Mary Galley, but others had only just returned from a similar East Indies voyage, such as the Scipio. All appear to have needed to be resupplied with almost everything. More firewood is understandable. New gun carriages for a ship that would have only used its guns for saluting a port or another ship is more unexpected.

Even allowing for considerable wear and tear during a voyage, there seems to be far too many new purchases leading me to wonder if everything was sold off at the end of a voyage because it was not known who would charter the ship next. Sir George Matthew, for example, owned the ship London of which he was commander but chartered her both to the East India Company and to Bowrey. It may explain why everything was sold off when the voyage of the St George Galley was aborted.

On This Day: 12 October 1701

On this day in 1701, Thomas Bowrey’s father-in-law, Phillip Gardiner, supplied medicines, drugs and necessaries for the use of the surgeon on the ship Prosperous. It is a very long list of almost 200 different items. Gardiner was an apothecary who also invested occasionally in trading voyages to the East Indies and elsewhere.

Similar long lists of drug survive for two more of Bowrey’s ships but a fourth, the Scipio, returned with a cargo of drugs that were sold in London.

By this date, most merchant ships no longer carried a surgeon but they would often carry apothecary’s chests with instructions for use. That Bowrey’s ships carried both surgeon and apothecary’s chests may have been due to his personal experience of how dangerous sickness at sea could be.

Despite this, mariners were fatalistic about illness and believe that fate or the will of God had more influence on their survival than the surgeon or the apothecary’s chest.

On This Day: 11 October 1704

On this day in 1704, Thomas Bowrey paid Humphrey Richards £1/10/0.

A few days ago, I posted about the clothes Bowrey purchased for Studds’ voyage on the Mary Galley. Today’s receipt was for teaching Thomas Studds navigation and arithmetic – another stage in his preparation for a seafaring life.

There is evidence in the correspondence between Bowrey and Joseph Tolson, the master of the Mary Galley, that Bowrey and Studds had a close relationship. Bowrey sent his love to his cousin in his otherwise business-like letters to Tolson and Tolson enclosed letters from Studds to his mother in his letters to Bowrey.

Further still, Bowrey specifically mentioned Studds in his instructions about the voyage given to Tolson. He entrusted Studds to the care of Tolson, said that Mr Dungey should be his mathematics master on board and that he should be allowed on shore at all their stops in India to enable him to learn all aspects of the business.

On This Day: 10 October 1701

On this day in 1701, Robert Lessly wrote to Thomas Bowrey from Gombroon (Bandar, Shiraz, Iran).

Despite his many failings, Lessly’s letter highlights one of the positive aspects of Bowrey’s life. More usually known as Robin Lesly, Robert was the son of Robert Masfen’s sister, Philadelphia. She had two sons and a daughter and the poor children were shunted between India and relatives in England after the their widowed mother married Charles Sherer. The children may have been born in India. They certainly do not appear to have been very welcome by their relatives at home passing between their grandmother and aunt who both quibbled about the money sent for their upkeep by Sherer.

Bowrey and his wife had no children of their own and this may have been why he took an interest in the sons of his friends and relatives. Throughout the Lesly siblings’ time in England, Bowrey kept a paternal eye on them on behalf of their mother and uncle. Today’s letter is one of a number in which Robin expresses his gratitude to Bowrey in addition to updating him on the current state of the East Indies Trade.