Major Milestone

I am taking a short break from my Book Of The Day series to note having met a major milestone in writing Thomas Bowrey’s biography – I have completed the first cut of the complete book. There is some way to go, but I consider this an achievement. It has answered the questions I had from the start: could I do it and was there sufficient of the necessary material to do it? I now know I can and there is.

In preparation for starting the rewrite, I have started making a note of all the material I need to ensure is covered. Some of this is to be found in my On This Day series but it also includes notes I have been collecting over the years when I have discovered something at the wrong time. My rewrite needs to incorporate much of this material alongside improving what I have already written. I need to be selective. I have learned so much since I started writing. There is so much I need to change.

There is, as well, a little more research I have to carry out to be able to fill in a few gaps. I am no longer speaking of speculative research. That does have to stop but I do need to check a few details from known reference sources at the British Library. I hope to be able to do this by the end of May.

Along the way, I must also ensure that the end notes, gazetteer, glossary, bibliography and index entries are complete. So, it is not going to be a quick job and there is not going to be much to report on here but I will be beavering away in the background nevertheless.

I am really excited about this next phrase. Wish me luck!


Book of the Day: Sailors

Sailors Cover

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.

Sailors Title

Book of the Day: The World of Defoe

Defoe Cover

Following on from my previous offering about Thomas Bowrey’s letters from Daniel Defoe, today I am featuring Peter Earle’s The World of Defoe. Earle is  Emeritus Reader in Economic History at the University of London and his books are constant companions on my desk. I refer to them continually.

The World of Defoe helped me understand Defoe, an acquaintance and contemporary of Thomas, and the world within which both of them lived. Despite being very different people, Thomas and Defoe shared interests and characteristics. Both were interested in the economic advantages to the country but, more so, to themselves of trade with the South Seas. They were cautious about their own safety and could be selfish in this respect. Earle’s book was useful in my understanding of these aspects of Thomas’ life.

This book is so much more than a typical social history of London or England at the time. It is split into four parts: a biography of Defoe; a description of the spiritual, intellectual and philosophical world which he lived; a description of the economic and social world in which he lived; and, finally, the life-cycle of the individual within that world. Earle succeeds in showing how individuals were influenced by the extraordinary time in which they lived.

Defoe was an incredible person, so much more than just the author of Robinson Crusoe, and so were many others living at the time. He was a product of his age. Similar may be said of Thomas Bowrey.

Defoe Title

Book of the Day: Letters of Daniel Defoe

Letters Spine

Today’s book is not so much a recommendation but an example of how Thomas Bowrey’s life story has been pieced together. Sir Richard Carnac Temple, in editing The Papers of Thomas Bowrey (the second book I featured), made the simple comment: Among his correspondents Bowrey numbered … Daniel Defoe … The Defoe letters are no longer part of Thomas’ archive in any repository.

The Internet has been an invaluable resource in my research but this does not mean that a simple search immediately brings all the answers. I could not write my biography without the Internet but it has to be used intelligently. In this case, a search revealed that two letters from Defoe to Thomas had been sold at auction but nothing more. However, it also allowed me to track down the Letters of Daniel Defoe edited by George Harris Healey which contained copies of the letter plus some very useful notes. These told me that the letters had been purchased by an American who also possessed another letter from Defoe. Unfortunately, I would not be able to study the originals and must rely on the opinion of others.

The notes on the letters were harvested from a letter from Temple published in Notes and Queries in 1931. Again I have been unable to locate a copy of this publication. I had to depend on third hand information. That I have done but alongside confirming as much of the information as possible.

Two simple letters arranging a meeting opened up a whole section of Thomas’ life and linked him to the foundation of the South Sea Company, the company that later collapsed when the infamous South Sea Bubble burst. I followed the paper trail to Defoe’s original letters to Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, at the British Library where I was privileged to be granted special permission to view the originals. I gathered sufficient evidence to discount conclusions made by other authors about Thomas and America.

For me, this book is the perfect example of how the Internet is an essential research tool but one that must be used alongside published material and documents in archives.

Letters Title Page

Book of the Day: Lawson Lies Still in the Thames

Lawson Cover

After three old books edited by Sir Richard Carnac Temple, I thought it would make a nice contrast to feature a very new book today. Gill Blanchard’s Lawson Lies Still in the Thames: The Extraordinary Life of Vice-Admiral Sir John Lawson was a book I eagerly awaited publication last year. I love the title that comes from the first entry in Samuel Pepys’ diary.

I learned Gill was writing this book as I joined her Writing Your Family History workshops. Knowing that she was doing so provided the encouragement I needed to write Thomas Bowrey’s biography. I had asked Gill if she had any previous naval history experience and was cheered to learn that, like me, she had not. Having always had an interest in both London and the period, I was so surprised to learn about the incident described in the title. I had never previously read about it. It is amazing how many books about the Commonwealth period do not mention it.

As the publication date approached, I discovered in parallel that Thomas’ father and uncle had served in the Commonwealth Navy at the same time as Lawson. In fact, his father had been part of the blockade referred to in the book’s title.

The book was not a disappointment. The result of a chance archive find, it is well researched and accessible to anyone. Unlike so many books written by experts in the events of the period, you do not need an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Civil War and Commonwealth period to understand Lawson’s story.  I can recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the period, who enjoys biography or is intrigued by how a life can be pieced together from careful research in archives – in fact, it should appeal to anyone who is looking forward to Thomas’ biography. His and Lawson’s stories are very different but have these elements in common.

Lawson Title Page

Book Of the Day: New Light on the Mysterious Tragedy of the Worcester 1704-1705

Worcester Title Page

Today’s offering is third in the trio of books by Sir Richard Carnac Temple concerning Captain Thomas Bowrey. Whilst not a light read, I consider New Light on the Mysterious Tragedy of the Worcester 1704-1705 to be the most balanced account about the ill-fated Worcester although it will never satisfy those who believe Thomas Green, John Madder and John Simpson to have been guilty.

I have read everything I have been able to find on the incident – and that is a great deal of material – and, for once, I cannot fault Temple’s conclusions. Whatever your stance, however much you will not be swayed by the arguments, the research carried out by Temple is impressive. If you have any interest in the history of the period, if you want to understand the still topical question of the union between England and Scotland, it you have any interest in miscarriages of justice or conspiracy theories, this book is well worth reading.

The story of the Worcester is not simply that of the loss of a ship. There many of those on Thomas Bowrey’s papers. The events leading up to the loss, and the consequence of it, are a brilliant example of how complex political affairs can become and how ordinary people can be tragically caught up in them.

Unlike the previous two Temple volumes, I do not believe that this book is available as a modern, print-on-demand book but there are plenty of second-hand copies available all of which are likely to cost you less than the interlibrary loan fee charged by our local library.



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