Are you up for a 17th & 18th-century adventure? Looking For Volunteers

I am looking for volunteers for a 17th & 18th-century adventure.

I have written many times on this blog about my hope to catalogue all the names included in the papers of Captain Thomas Bowrey. I have also mentioned how I found it impossible to apply myself to this task during lockdown. I have realised that I need help and reached out through Family Tree magazine.

Are you up for a 17th & 17th-century adventure? – Family Tree (family-tree.co.uk)

The project has started. This morning, I had the first introductory Zoom meeting with a volunteer from Australia but I am still hoping there may be more volunteers.

If you would like to take part, please get in tough through my contacts page. Contact – . (wordpress.com)

Stalking Yourself and Your Book

OK, admit it, you have Googled yourself at least once, haven’t you?

If you have had a book published, I am sure that you have Googled that as well. I admit it. I have done both as well as regularly checking Amazon to seen if I have sold one recently. It is disappointing to see how quickly second-hand copies of your book can be found for sale on other websites.

What I had not thought to do previously is check Jeopardy of Every Wind on WorldCat, the World’s largest network of library content and services I used to track down the only surviving copy of the second edition of Thomas Hyde’s Four Gospels in Malay said to have been produced by Thomas Bowrey.  I did check this morning, and I am so impressed to see the distinguished libraries that have a copy:

  • University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies
  • National University of Singapore
  • Askews and Holts Library Services Ltd Preston
  • Universitätsbibliothek Marburg Germany
  • Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg, Zentralbibliothek Frankfurt Germany
  • West Virginia University at Parkersburg
  • National Library Board, Singapore

I understand why SOAS and the Singapore libraries have copies, but it is still gratifying. Germany was not a surprise. I received considerable interest from there before publication.

According to their website [Askews And Holts Library Services], Askews and Holts provides:

a wide range of solutions to Public, School and Academic Libraries and other businesses both in the U.K. and overseas, including shelf ready processing, supplier selection services, bibliographic content, multi-media material, eBooks, promotional support and market leading web technology. 

The most surprising is the West Virginia University at Parkersburg, a community college that boasts as being one of the most affordable. I am so glad that I did not use the description of Virginia as the fag end of the world from one of Bowrey’s correspondents.

The Joy of Writing Returns

One of my original objectives for this blog, one that I have not fully met, was to document the experience of becoming an author. It is about time I said a little more on the subject.

Those of you who have followed this blog from the beginning will know that I had no idea how to write a biography when I first decided to write Thomas Bowrey’s. If you had asked me at the time what form it would take, I probably would have described a worthy, dissertation-style book. This led to my early attempts being described by my husband as boring. Frankly, if it was boring to write, it was likely to be boring for my reader.

Luckily, I discovered Gill Blanchard’s Writing Your Family History classes. I grew to await each new lesson with excitement. I found that I was enjoying writing and, hopefully, this improved what I wrote. But what no one tells you is that the final stages of getting a book published is not so much fun. Once you have written that final word, the real working of checking, responding to edits, proof reading and indexing starts. You no longer love what you have written. There are passages you know by heart. Yet I have been told that my book needed little editing. It could have been worse? In parallel with this, I was writing promotional talks and articles. Again, this felt more like a chore than fun.

Perhaps the actual publication would have been more exciting it we were not in lockdown at the time. Much of our life since last March may have been digital, some people have even had digital parties, but posting on YouTube cannot be compared with sharing an occasion with real people, face-to-face. As lockdown loomed and then restrictions continued, one-by-one scheduled talks were cancelled. I no longer felt I wanted to write yet was cajoled into producing a paper on Thomas’ links with Borneo despite there being little direct evidence of this. Would I ever want to write again?

Throughout this I have continued my involvement with the writing support group formed of those graduating from Gill’s courses. Late last year we held our first virtual writing workshop. This week we held our second. This time I have no specific objective. There is no pressure, just the simple pleasure of putting a story onto paper. The joy of writing has returned.

17th Century Miserable Christmases

If you believe Christmas 2020 has been ruined perhaps you should spare a thought for our ancestors and others in other parts of the World now.

Thomas Bowrey may have been too young to understand but his first Christmas, aged three months, was one where many were simply hoping that there next would be better. The Restoration was still some months away. In 1644 an ordinance had been issues that abolished the feast of Christmas. Even a special Christmas church service was illegal. Shops and markets were required to stay open by law. Soldiers patrolled the streets of London ensuring that the rules were followed. With the possibility of the return of the king in the air, many were surely thinking 1660 would be better than the one they were experiencing and Thomas’ second Christmas was a joyous one.

Not so Christmas 1683. In the lead up to the holy day, Thomas had been battling with his shipbuilder to get the Borneo Merchant completed on schedule. Eventually, it was. We know this because on Christmas Day cargo was being loaded onto it in Fort St George. Thomas was unable to enjoy his success. The contracts signed by those freighting goods on his ship included the clause that the ship was to be commanded by Captain Thomas Bowrey or, in the case of his death which God forbid, by Robert Masfen.

Thomas spent the Christmas seriously ill with what was almost certainly malaria. In the middle of a pandemic, it is easy to forget that, according the to the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation:

Malaria exacts a massive toll on human health and imposes a heavy social and economic burden in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, An estimated 219 million people suffered from the disease in 2017 and about 435,000 died. [These are greatly reduced number compared with last century.] More than 90 percent of the deaths were in Africa, and over 60 percent were among children under 5.

Still think that your 2020 Christmas has been ruined? So far the official total number of cases of COVID-19 is only just over a third of the likely number of cases of malaria this year. I accept that there have been in the region of four times the number of deaths from our current corona virus than likely malaria deaths this year but malaria will likely stay with those who have caught it for the rest of their lives and then may eventually kill them. It appears that Long COVID may be relatively short term although, of course, we cannot know at this stage.

Our plans may not be what we had hoped for but, if the Grinch has ruined Christmas, you can still have a very special day and be grateful that you can enjoy it in good health and realistic hope for a better one in 2021.

Singapore Writers Festival

The Singapore Writers Festival is now underway and Jeopardy of Every Wind: The Biography of Captain Thomas Bowrey is featured in their Hot of the Press section: https://swfbooks.com/pages/fresh-jeopardy-of-every-wind

Needless to say, this year’s festival and its book store are digital – very far from the romantic dream of flying out to Singapore to do book signings in the tropics. Rather anyone visiting is to be subjected to a cringe-worthy video of me complete with mispronunciation of Malay words. I did try hard to get it right but, like much else on the Internet, it seems that there are duff pronunciation guides as well – and I found them.

The self-video I recorded took a couple of days to get as right as I could get it but I picked up a few new skills on the way. My publisher put the rest together and chose the subject matter. I cannot claim responsibility for that. Both of us would have liked to include more but we had a strict time limit.

I would say “enjoy!” but I think I would rather you did not watch. You have been warned.

Third Time Lucky

In January this year I was scheduled to talk to the Peterborough & District FHS but there was a mix-up about the venue and it never happened. It was not a great day. Two days earlier my car had broken down [coincidentally in Peterborough] and was still in the garage waiting for parts. I had travelled by train, in heavy rain, and intended to return home the same way. Unfortunately, there was severe disruption on the railways that evening and my train became a dreaded replacement bus service. Even that was not smooth and we spent nearly an hours, in the rain, waiting for the bus but I did, eventually, arrive home safely.

It was not my last pre-coronavirus outing but was fresh enough in my memory for me to occasionally think that at least lockdown meant no such journeys.

All my remaining talks planned for the first half of 2020 were cancelled because of the pandemic. More recently, as COVID-19 persisted, the remaining talks I had scheduled were abandoned. One of those talks was to be to the Peterborough society. However, it was rearranged for yesterday evening on Zoom. The first Zoom meeting for them – and the first for me where I was to contribute.

With so many human and technical elements involved and my history with the society, the potential for success was not promising. During the afternoon my laptop took it upon itself to update its operating system and my broadband started to grind very slowly. I had my tablet as a back-up but, at times, I could do nothing on that either. Still, I had already recorded my presentation and sent a copy to the organiser so there was back-up but it was not looking great.

However, in the end, the update completely with more than an hour to spare and the broadband speed picked up again [probably in consequence] and the evening went well. Turn out was good with many members clearly happy to see friend for the first time in many months. It seems that Zoom meetings are likely to become a permanent fixture for many family hstory societies. Face-to-face meeting provide welcome social contact but online meeting enable members from further afield to take part. In the New Norm the two formats are likely to continue side-by-side.

Oh, yes, my talk? I spoke about the papers of Thomas Bowrey as a case study in how private papers can be used in family history research.

Jeopardy of Every Wind & COVID19 – Update

Back in March, my husband and I thought that we had adopted a realistic view of the pandemic. Unlike many, we though the precautions were likely to last much longer than a “couple of weeks”. However as things progressed, even we thought that we could move around relatively freely during August and September. We booked a trip to Eastbourne. We would have been there now. We are not. We have underlying health conditions such that we know that we would not respond well should we catch the virus and cancelled our plans. Yet again, it seems that we were just a little ahead of the curve and regulations have been tightened again.

One of the consequences has been that family history, and other, societies that were about to consider restarting their meetings have reversed plan. They are now starting to reassess their options. Some small societies have been struggling. They have had to find ways of maintaining members interests and sense of belonging. The organiser of a relatively new family history group has been producing a newsletter ever ten days. In my view, this is a mammoth task for one individual so I have produced a number of articles for her.

Other societies are moving to online talks using Zoom or other means. I have one provisional booking for this year and my one booking for 2021 is likely to be converted to a Zoom meeting.

Back in May, my UK book launch at the London Metropolitan Archives had to be postponed. They only reopened to the public last week. It will be a long time before my “book launch” can be reorganised and, by then, it will need to be repurposed. Back at the beginning of this year, my publisher thought that Jeopardy of Every Wind may have launched in Asia first. I even hoped that I may be able good in person. In the end, that did not happen but my book was one of the relatively few to be released into a locked down world and I have had some wonderful comments sent to me. [Although, that my publisher would prefer that they had posted reviews online.]

This week he emailed me saying:

COVID is causing havoc with book releases and publishers are desperately worried they might be releasing books into a void. The UK distributor has stock though, so whenever you do hold a UK Zoom meeting do mention that the book is available to order from all bookstores.

I will add that, if any of my followers have not yet purchased a copy, Amazon are currently selling Jeopardy at a discount.

The positive news is that Jeopardy of Every Wind will now be getting its Asia launch at the  at the [virtual] Singapore Writers Festival 2020 taking place between 30 October and 8 November. I shall be there, also virtually. Another positive is that many more people should be able to attend than in a more normal world. Perhaps I will see you there.

Bowry Family Papers in Birmingham

Having spent months tracking down all the papers of Captain Thomas Bowrey little did I expect to find something new at this stage but yesterday I did.

I have been battling to write an article about Thomas Bowrey for the Borneo Research Bulletin in lockdown but earlier this week I committed to finishing it by mid-September in the hope that would provide the necessary impetus. Studying the detail of the accounts for Thomas’ first independent voyage to Borneo in 1683 I came across a term with which I was unfamiliar: dupper of powder. I hoped a google search would uncover what a dupper was and found just one result for a dupper of gunpowder.

Bingo! It was a measure of gun powder but, then, I noticed the date – 1683 – and place – Vizagapatam. That was too much of a coincidence and I dug deeper to find it came from a bill of lading for the very voyage I was working on and was one of six items held at the Library of Birmingham Archives as the Papers of the Bowry Family. The remaining items are:

  • Lectures by Master Wyet on the Statute of Marton (Merton) (1256)
  • Commonplace book containing notes, accounts, recipes etc
  • Miscellaneous accounts attached to the previous item
  • Feoffment

Searching for Master Wyet produces just one entry hidden among plenty for Wyatt Earp – Sylvester Wyet (fl. 1594) and English sailing master and fisherman connected to the Grace of Bristol that made the first known English voyage to the western coast of Newfoundland in 1591. Intriguingly,  the Grace was owned by Rice Jones. This rang bells because the Annandale, involved in the affaire of the Worcester, was originally owned by John Ap-Rice (which, if I remember correctly, translates as John son of Rice). The Statute of Merton, thankfully, introduces no more coincidences. as it appears to relate to the first regulation for the enclosure of common land, a legal definition of illegitimate children and women’s rights.

It is likely that the first manuscript is simply an enormous red herring. The other documents may or may not be of interest but, as things stand, the is no chance of me viewing the papers at Birmingham in the foreseeable future. I have emailed Birmingham Archives in the hoe that they can help.

The Difficult Question of Slavery

Whilst writing the book, I thought that the most relevant themes in Thomas’ life would be the involvement of his ship Worcester in the Union of England and Scotland and his part in the early days of globalisation. Certainly, these topics have remained current. When COVID-19 hit, the feedback I received tended to focus on the 1665 plague and the affect this probably had on the remained of Thomas’ life.

Even more recent events have struck a note with me: Thomas’ involvement in slavery but I have been reluctant to be seen as trying to hijack the topic. However, I found that this was the most difficult aspect of Thomas’ life for me to address and I do not feel that I can ignore it. He transported slaves on behalf of Muslim traders whilst still in the East Indies and food for slaves is included in one of his account books. This trade ended badly for Thomas and resulted in him losing money and being imprisoned for a short while.

This Indian Ocean slave trade has long been overlooked. When the Europeans arrived in the East, they participated in a local trade in slaves that had existed for centuries. Worldwide, slavery had existed since the earliest of time. In ancient Rome, slavery was considered the natural way of the world. Slaves were utilised by the East India Company because they found most Englishmen were unable to carry out essential manual tasks such as blacksmithing in the climate. It is estimated that that there are at least 20,000 people of African-ethnic origin living in India today, most of them the descendants of slaves, and known as Siddis.

After Thomas’ return to England, at least one of his trading voyages had the objective of purchasing slaves from a Madagascan chief to trade in India. This voyage failed because the ship was taken by pirates before the slaves could be delivered to the ship. In addition, he was proposed in various schemes involving East African slaves for the East Indian Company and the king of Prussia, none of which came to anything.

In my book, I quested whether Thomas should be judged by the attitudes of today for his willingness to be involved in slavery, however unsuccessful, or if he could be exonerated because of the prevailing beliefs of his day?

From the age of ten, Thomas was raised in close contact with the employees of the East India Company and many of his values were formed at this time when each Company ship was required to carry to India ten African slaves. Back in London, the question was much more multifaceted and Thomas was exposed to a wide range of beliefs. One of his acquaintances, Daniel Defoe, frequently condemned Africans who sold slaves to Europeans, not for the act but for bad business. They sold them too cheaply.

I was, and am, not convinced that Thomas can be excused. If he was very aware that conditions for the crew of slavers were bad, which he was, he also knew that it was much worse for their human cargo. There were conflicting Christian attitudes to slavery. Many used the Bible to justify the practice but, by the late seventeenth century, Christian abolitionism had begun with Quakers who believed everyone was equal in the sight of God. By 1696, the Quakers of Pennsylvania officially declared their opposition to the slave trade. Thomas had returned to Wapping, an area with a strong Quaker community. He had at least one Quaker acquaintance in Peter Briggins. Charlwood Lawton, who reviewed Thomas’ proposals in 1708, had previously acted as the agent in England for Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn.

It is probable Thomas was aware of the abolitionist viewpoint. Some decades later, Thomas Clarkson was to discover that much of the population of Bristol expressed great loathing for the concept of slavery yet did not consider its abolition. The only conclusion is that Thomas, who kept abreast of news and prevailing attitudes, made an informed and conscious decision to deal in human lives. That he was not unusual in this cannot excuse his actions.