Book of the Day …

Recently a number of the Facebook Groups and Blogs to which I subscribe have been posting lists of books of London and this has set me thinking. I have collected London books for some years until recently the lack of elastic walls has caused me to slow down. Despite this, I love reading the book recommendations of others. It is affirming to see a book I love recommended. It tests my resolve to stop adding more books to my collection when a read a recommendation for a book that is new to me.

It occurred to me that I could post such a list but that would just be copying someone else’s idea and I pondered about what I should do that was similar but different and appropriate for the subject of this blog.

I have been reading constantly since I started writing the biography of Thomas Bowrey and so many those books have been invaluable for many reasons. Some have provided much needed background – at the I was totally ignorant of maritime matters. Others have provided colour to Thomas’ story. To these, I should add the books into which I have dipped for just a little details, a small fact there.

After committing myself to posting daily for a year, I am not prepared to do that again so soon but I will, after today, post a book of the day at intervals. Hopefully, more frequently that once a week.

Keep following.

Historical Research and Biography

Now that I am reaching the end of my first draft of Captain Thomas Bowrey’s biography, I can reflect on how far I have come since I first considered writing it back in August 2014. At that stage, I knew so little but something told me there was a story that had to be told. Now I know that there is. The shape of my book is clear in my mind. I understand Thomas’ life – his motivations and his character.

How have I reached this point?

Continued research has been so important. Until starting to write about a period or incident, there are still unknown unknowns. Although, a line does have to be drawn, focused and targeted research is invaluable. For quick questions, archivists and librarians around the world have been generous with their assistance for which I am extremely grateful. Larger gaps in my knowledge have required an impromptu research trips.

The greatest joy has come from a question asked by others interested in aspect of Thomas’ life. They may have responded to a blog post I have written, something I have said or an enquiry I have made but, however we have made contact, they have encouraged me to investigate an associate of Thomas in more detail. I have to thank Anna Winterbottom, Andrew Smith and Gill Blanchard for their contributions to spurring me to add to the breadth and depth of the story.

Further progress has been made in response to exercises set as part of the writing workshops I have taken. The impetus these have given has been invaluable in developing the biography more fully.

It may be a cliché but I have been on a journey and, along the way others have joined me, sometimes briefly, sometimes for longer. Writing is not, and cannot be, a solitary activity. A prospective author has to start the writing but there will always be further questions to answer. T just may not know what they are. Others can help form the questions as well as provide the encouragement to look for answers.

There is still some way to go. There is the final chapter to finish before I go back to the beginning and rework especially the chapters I wrote earlier in the process. When I started, the thought of having to rewrite any of the chapters was horrifying. Now I am actually looking forward to it. If there is anyone who is in the position I was back in 2014, I would encourage you just to start writing. You will not know what you can do until you try.

A Year of On This Day

Yesterday’s On This Day post completed a year of such posts. I am not sure that when I wrote the first I had intended to continue for a year without a break but it was not long before I made the commitment to myself. But why did I do it? There were two primary reasons:

First, I wanted to highlight the wealth of material held within the papers of Captain Thomas Bowrey. Some sections are well known and have been studied by many people but there are also very many hidden gems. I hope I have brought some of these to the attention of the wider world. Perhaps you have found something new of interest to you.

Secondly, I wanted the discipline of writing something, hopefully interesting, every day. I have, at least partially, achieved this goal. I have posted each day but only you can say if they have been interesting. One bonus has been the contacts I have had with those who have had their interest piqued during the year and the new perspectives they have given me.

In the process, I have written in the region of 100,000 words, perhaps more, and mentioned countless names of ordinary people from the period. Perhaps I have mentioned one of your ancestors. Bowrey’s papers may hold the only record of them outside basic vital records. You may have been able to see the  type of work he carried out or how much he was paid. Rarely, you may have been able to obtain an insight into his character. Rarer still, I may have written about one of your female ancestors. I would love to know if you have found one of your forebears here.

It has been an eventful year. I have completed modules two and three of Gill Blanchard’s Writing Your Family History e-Courses and thoroughly enjoyed their challenges. They are as suitable for writing biography as family history. I have made significant breakthroughs in my research, including those of Bowrey’s early life and, most recently, further details about the life of his black-sheep step-uncle, Henry Smith. I have even written many more chapters of my biography.

The end is now in sight. I have just started on my final chapter and, then, I need to rework the whole book. I have learned so much over the year. I also need to consider how to get the book published. I will continue to post here, just not every day. I am likely to treat myself to a small break but I promise to return. However, those posts will be longer than the couple of hundred words I have been writing over the past year. s I stumble across new gems, I will be sure to highlight them here.

Please follow this blog so that you are notified when I do post and leave comments so that I know what you think.

On This Day: 16 February 1685

On this day in 1685, Robert Callant signed a cargo shipping note on board the Borneo Merchant anchored in the road at Narsapore (modern Narasapuram in Andhra Pradesh). The note related to goods laden on the Boa Vista by Captain Thomas Bowrey. Callant was to command the voyage of the Boa Vista to Hugli in Bengal. The goods were destined for John Evans, the East India Company chaplain there.

Evans had paid for the foods to be delivered to him but Bowrey had been unable to reach Bengal in the Borneo Merchant the previous year due to adverse weather. Earlier this year, Bowrey had finally sold the pepper, the other cargo he had been stuck with when he coud not get to Hugli, to the Company at Fort St George. It had been easier to sell the ambergris, baleen and textiles to his associate, Henry Alford. There was also some indication that Bowrey had a cash flow problem and he was shortly to sail for Aceh.

Bowrey was discovering just how complex his affairs could become now that he was working for himself. When things did not go to his carefully laid plans, it was his responsibility to find the solutions. He had sent many letters to Evans (presumably overland) explaining why he had not been able to get his goods to him on time. Now he was having to carry out the difficult task of transferring cargo between two ships at anchor.

It would not be long before he started to plan to return home. Although this was always likely to have been his intension, did the difficulties he was experiencing hasten those plans?

On This Day: 15 February 1704

On this day in 1704, Captain Thomas Wybergh made a list of the things belonging to Mr Samuel Rowly on board the Rising Sun. Whilst considerably less rare than yesterday’s document, this list is remains of interest to social historians.

A sailor’s possession on board were sacrosanct. Theft from a fellow crew member’s sea chest a serious matter. Inventories of a sailor’s belongings were always drawn up when they died on a voyage.  It was usual for the items to be auctioned to the rest of the crew. This not only provided some additional money for the deceased’s dependants but also provided a way for members of the crew to supplement their own meagre possessions.

For the social historians, such lists provide a small window into the life of a mariner. In this case, Rowley was the chief mate of the Rising Sun. That is, he was second in command of the ship after the captain.  As a senior officer on board, this list taken towards the end of the voyage, includes goods that Rowley had traded on his own account. This makes the list more unusual than most. The other unusual aspect was that Rowley had not died. In this case the inventory was taken because there was a dispute between Wybergh and Bowrey at the end of the voyage, in which Rowley had been caught up.