On This Day: 18 June 1685

On this day in 1685, Thomas Bowrey was still a temporary resident of Aceh.

Aceh, on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra in modern-day Indonesia was one of the places devastated by the tsunami in 26 December 2004. In Bowrey’s day, it already had a strong Islamic tradition, the religion having travelled along the ancient trade routes of the Indian Ocean.

Reading between the lines of Bowrey’s Papers, it is clear that there was some friction between the local people and the Europeans using the town as a trading post. In view of the friction between Catholics and Protestants, and even between the different Protestant religious movements, in Europe at the time it is not surprising that the Europeans in the East had little tolerance of those with other beliefs.

On This Day: 17 June 1685

On this day in 1685, Thomas Bowrey was living in what he called Achin.

The East India Company had first established a factory at Aceh in 1615 but suffered continuous opposition from the Dutch and it was abandoned by the English three decades later. The English did not return until 1668 when they built a grand building for the head of the factory and his factors. By the time Bowrey arrived there for the first time, this grand building had burnt to the ground and not replaced because very few English resided there because of the conditions.

Bowrey described how the houses were built many feet above ground on stilts as protection from the annual flooding of the town each September or October. In 1685, Bowrey was to depart before the rains arrived.

On This Day: 16 June 1693

Today’s document is an unsigned draft in Thomas Bowrey’s hand of a statement made by William Bowen, a London merchant, in support of Bowrey in a dispute with Henry Million of the Linen Manufacturer.

Bowrey had asked Million to sell four shares he owned in the Linen Manufacture at £100 per share. Today’s value of four shares would be more than £52,000. Bowrey claimed that Million pretended to sell the shares but Bowrey had suspicions and would not complete the transfer until Million took an oath before a Justice of the Peace.

William Bowen’s statement appears to be a form of indemnity given to Bowrey’s in return for a fee of £10/16/0 (nearly £1,500 today).

On the reverse is an statement made by Richard Sweet that Francis Burdett (to whom Million had claimed to sell the shares) denied having purchased them.

It appears that share fraudsters are nothing new.

On This Day: 15 June 1700

Today’s document is a rare one within Thomas Bowrey’s papers. It is one apparently written in anger to him by his friend and business partner Nathaniel Long.

The letter relates to the St George and, at this stage, is not an incident in Bowrey’s life that I have studied in any detail. In addition, the full contents of the letter are not yet clear. It uses notation I have not yet deciphered, part of it is badly faded and, although the writing is neat, was clearly written without the care usually used by Major Long.

Despite this, it is clear that Bowrey imposed on Long and then let him down badly. Long obviously feels that Bowrey is totally to blame for what happened. Yet he ends the letter by saying that he believes that Bowrey’s action may be to his [Long’s] advantage. I do know that their friendship and business partnership continued after 1700 and Bowrey remembered Long in his Will with a memorial ring.

It is all very intriguing.


On This Day: 14 June 1704

On this day in 1704, Richard Blackburne sent his bill for twelve pairs of scissors and twelve small swords to Thomas Bowrey. Bowrey endorsed the reverse of the bill Mr Blackburn for knives. In view of this, my guess is that small swords may have been something like a dagger.

When he paid the bill three days later, Blackburne signed the receipt for the full amount of £5/8/0 (worth around £800). A large pair of scissors cost 5s (£37 today – considerably more than you would expect to pay these days).

The scissors and swords were purchased as cargo for the Mary Galley about to leave on a trading voyage to the East Indies. Scissors had been made in Meerut, India since the 1650s so were not a novelty in India. Those purchased by Bowrey seem expensive to modern eyes. It is a puzzle, therefore, why these items were chosen for the voyage.

On This Day: 13 June 1712

On this day in 1712, Thomas Bowrey paid his coal account with Joseph Flowman. He paid £7/8/6 for 5 chaldrons of coal.

As I have previously noted for units of measure in the East Indies, the value of units in England were not fixed at the time. A London chaldron was the equivalent of approximately 1,420kg whereas a Newcastle chaldron was about 2,690kg – a considerable difference. Although most London coal came from Newcastle at the time, it is assumed that Flowman would have been using London measures.

£7/8/6 is worth more than £1,000 today. Today you can buy a 50kg sack of coal for £27.50. At this price, 5 chaldrons would cost you £781.

Without knowing how often the Bowrey household purchased their coal, a full comparison cannot be made but the same website from which I could purchase the 50kg sacks of coal estimates that a 3 bedroomed semi-detached house today costs around £1,000 per year to heat depending on the type of coal used or type of gas boiler installed. Bowrey’s house in Marine Square, Wapping was most likely a 3-storey terraced house. His household would have used coal for cooking and heating water as well as heating his house.


On This Day: 12 June 1685

On this day in 1685, Captain Thomas Bowrey purchased gold in Achein [Aceh].

Aceh is at the northern most tip of the island of Sumatra in present-day Indonesia. In Bowrey’s day it was an important source of gold ore [rock gold]. There has been a long tradition of gold mining in the area but it has now been banned because of the environmental damage the mining causes. However, illegal gold mining still happens today.

Aceh gold was tempting for independent merchants like Bowrey and Weltdon [see 4 June] as an easy way to transfer their fortune home from the east but to the European East India Companies its attraction was pepper and tin.