On This Day: 23 August 1704

On this day in 1704, Walter Combes wrote to Thomas Bowrey from Mauritius. Destined for India, they found that they had to stop on the way to refresh the crew.

They put 20 men ashore and most of who had recovered by the time of writing. The men were most likely suffering from scurvy caused by the lack of vitamin C due to insufficient fresh vegetables. It was a major issue on ships to the East Indies as the fatigue it caused made those affected unable to work although men usually recovered very quickly once on land.  It takes only 2 days on a decent diet for the symptoms to start to go and full recovery would not take more than a couple of weeks.

The letter also contained news from India given to Combes by the captain of a ship from Surat. The Linnet, the sloop belonging to the Prosperous, had been sold in at Surat. Combes promised to attempt to recover the money on Bowrey’s behalf. The Prosperous had been taken by pirates a few years earlier. Some of her crew had escaped on the Linnet but, when they arrived at Surat, they were suspected of piracy and imprisoned. They were only released when needed to help defend the town against a threatened attack.

The news about the Prosperous was not a good. She had been burnt by the pirates.


On This Day: 22 August 1706

On this day in 1706, Captain Thomas Wybergh listed the customs duties he had paid on the goods purchase during his voyage on the Rising Sun. While it is impossible to have a complete understanding of the document which has no column headings, it is from such documents that we gain an insight into the goods traded.

They sold 142 bags of cowries. Cowrie shell were plentiful in Africa and used as a form of currency in China. It was common for ships to trade in cowrie shells as a side-line during a voyage. Duty was also paid on 164 gallons of arrack, a spirit made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers, sugarcane, grain, rice or fruit. There is unlikely to have been a market back at home for arrack but it is unclear whether this arrack was for on board consumption or local trade.

The remaining goods, were likely to be destined for the home market: tea, fans, neck cloths, lecke ware (lacquer ware), China ware (porcelain) and one calico counterpane demonstrating the range of luxury items in demand at the time. The range of goods a ship’s supercargo (the person on board responsible for the trade) had to be an expert in is quite astounding.

The one item that has me stumped is the 78 Paper Rins. They are grouped together with the 1260 fans but I cannot work out what they were. Any suggestions?


On This Day: 21 August 1703

On this day in 1703, Roderick MacKenzie wrote to Captain Thomas Bowrey from Edinburgh. Today’s document is a copy of that letter and gives us some insight into the character of MacKenzie who was the main instigator of the later seizure of the Worcester.

MacKenzie was replying to Bowrey in a correspondence between them lasting from 17 July to 21 September that appeared to concern Bowrey’s desire to purchase shares in the Scots Company. That Company was later to seize Bowrey’s ship and MacKenzie was the prime instigator. Had Bowrey been successful in the purchase, perhaps history would have been different and the Union of England and Scotland may have been delayed or, even, never happen.

During this correspondence, MacKenzie denies that the Scots Company was negotiating to purchase the Annandale, the ship that was later to be seized by the English East India Company and precipitate the whole incident. In this letter, MacKenzie was attempting to allay concerns of Bowrey and his friends about the terms being proposed. In particular, he denies that the Scots Company was negotiating with a Captain Aprill.

On This Day: 20 August 1706

On this day in 1706, provisions started to be taken on board the Rising Sun. It took 32 days and the tendering charge for this was 3 shillings a day. In 32 days, the following were loaded:

From the butcher, Mr Johnson, some beef (possibly salt beef) and veal plus a great deal of mutton. The quantities and cuts of beef and veal are not specified but the list is more specific about the mutton. One forequarter. one hindquarter,  one non-specific quarter, four sides, one shoulder and one gint plus one unspecified cut of mutton were taken on board. I cannot identify what a gint was. In an economy reliant on woollen cloth, there must have been a lot of mutton available. The English sailors were known for expecting meat in their diet.

From the baker 250 of bread. I suspect that this was ships’ biscuits, or hard tack, such as Thomas Farriner of Pudding Lane made for the Royal Navy in 1666. According to Samuel Pepys, Royal Navy crew members should have one pound of such biscuits and a gallon of beer each day. They would need a lot of liquid to be able to eat the bread. This brings me to the final item …

From the brewer four barrels of beer.

The reverse shows Chandler’s Candles from the tallow chandler and two shovels. Tallow is the hard fat from beef cattle and sheep. Unprocessed (cheaper) tallow was yellow and unpleasant to burn but it could be boiled to remove the impurities. The processed tallow candles where whiter and not so unpleasant. Probably Chandler’s Candles were the processed variety.

On This Day: 19 August 1703

On this day in 1703, Thomas Wybergh wrote to Thomas Bowrey at Tunbridge Wells obviously in reply to a letter written by Bowrey giving his opinion on the trading voyage Wybergh was about to complete in the Rising Sun.

Yesterday, I wrote about the funding of this voyage by bottomry in which Bowrey only had a very minor share yet he appears to have wanted a major say in how the voyage was carried out. Wybergh tactfully replied that, because of Bowrey’s more experienced judgement Wybergh was willing to share his thought with him.

In Wybergh’s opinion, so long as the wares (wars) continue, and all Europe in a Flame, that Salt Peter will certainly be a commodity that will make the best returns. Althought Saltpetre, or potassium nitrate, had a culinary use, it was also used in the making of gunpowder.  Wybergh’s suggestion was to purchase 180 tons of saltpetre and top up the cargo with light goods such a Lack canes (Malacca canes – used for walking canes). Wybergh could send his sloop to purchase the canes while the Rising Sun remained in Bengal acquiring the saltpetre.

(N.B. It was suggested a week or so back that the East India Company goods in a warehouse may have been Mallaca canes rather than sugar cane. It appears that this suggestion was correct.)

On This Day: 18 August 1706

According to the account by William Bodicoate of Lombard Street of the bottomry arranged by Thomas Wybergh on the Rising Sun, the ship arrived at Gravesend homeward on this day in 1706.

Bottomry, or bottomage, is an arrangement in which the master of a ship uses the bottom or keel of the ship as security against a loan to finance a voyage. The lender loses their money if the ship sinks. The master forfeits the ship, if the money with interest is not paid at the time appointed after the ship’s safe return. This practice is now almost obsolete.

Wybergh’s bottomry involved seven lenders including Thomas Bowrey. The total loaned was £1,505 of which Bowrey loaned just £50. In this arrangement, Bowrey would have received £74 if the Rising Sun arrived home within 20 months plus another £1/4/0 per month for every month beyond 20. This arrangement encouraged the master to make a rapid voyage.

The commencement of the arrangement, for Bowrey, was 3 November 1703. Thus, he would have been entitled to £118 on this day. However, as Bowrey was querying the account in March 1708, he may not have received this money.

On This Day: 17 August 1704

Today’s letter from Joseph Tolson, the captain of the Mary Galley, is of particular interest to me because I am trying to assemble all the evidence hat survives about Thomas Bowrey’s health.

He survived nineteen years in the East Indies when many Europeans did not last a year yet he was much of the time at sea. At the time, the sea was also a dangerous place but analysis by Peter Earle showed that the death rate on European and north American voyages was slightly lower than that of labourers on land. The death rate was ten times higher for those who sailed to the East Indies. These statistics indicate that his underlying constitution was good.

Yet, there are many reports of his serious illness whilst he was in the East from 1683. It was perhaps around this time that he started planning to return home. Once home, Bowrey does not appear to have been in good health. Mortality in London was high. Earle calculated that it was three times as high as today. Letters mention Bowrey being ill frequently from 1702 to 1712. He died in March 1713. He was known to have spent a great deal of time at Bath and Tunbridge Wells – both spa towns believed to be beneficial for health.

This letter is contains another reference to Bowrey’s indisposion. It is not the sort of letter that someone ill would want to receive mentioning the death of three other men. Tolson does finish by hoping to hear of Bowrey’s health and welfare – notably not his improved health and welfare. Bowrey did not always have good relations with the masters of his ships. Perhaps Tolson was secretly pleased to hear of Bowrey’s poor health.