Book of the Day: A Dictionary of Medical & related Terms

Medical Cover

This slim volume has been extremely useful whilst writing the biography of Captain Thomas Bowrey and I have referred to it many times. Intended for Family Historians, Joan E Grundy’s A Dictionary of Medical & Related Terms has wider uses.

Thomas Bowrey, Mary his wife and Elizabeth Gardiner his sister-in-law all suffered from long-term ill-health. I have looked up symptoms and other information in respect of all three of them. The book has been more useful than that. Bowrey purchased treatments from medical practitioners and understand what these were used for at the time helped diagnose their aliments. From this information, it can be deduced that the couple were concerned about their infertility.

Bowrey’s father-in-law was an apothecary who supplied drugs for some of Bowrey’s voyages. Drugs from the East Indies were also often purchased as part of the return cargo. For these, it is useful to have some understanding of medical knowledge in the past.

The usefulness of this book is greater than it small size may indicate.


Medical Publisher

On This Day: 11 January 1684

On this day in 1684, John Beavis loaded goods onto Captain Thomas Bowrey’s Borneo Merchant on behalf of Nathaniell Gyfford and wrote his instructions for it in a letter. This letter, similarly to yesterday’s manuscript, speaks of in case of mortality (which God forbid) referring to Bowrey’s sickness.

There had been mention of Bowrey’s sickness since 23 December at which time he had probably been ill with Feavor and ague for some time. He did, however, recover in time to command the voyage to Borneo.

After Bowrey returned to England, various correspondents commented on him being unwell, the first time in December 1696 and then during a number of summers for ten years from 1702. There were probably other, unrecorded, periods of sickness. He and his wife Mary visited the spas at both Bath and Tunbridge Wells and apothecary bills survive in his papers.

It is likely that Bowrey contracted malaria during his time in the East Indies and that he continued to be affected by it for the rest of his life. It may well have been the cause of his death and this is a subject I will deal with at more length in my biography.

On This Day: 8 November 1701

On this day in 1701, J O Litter wrote to Thomas Bowrey from Fort St George (Madras) India. Other than another letter from Liller nine months earlier, there are no other documents relating to him in Bowrey’s papers yet Liller signs himself your affectionate friend.

In his previous letter, Liller explained that he was unable to obtain the paper Bowrey wanted. This time, he had done his best to carry out Bowrey’s request but as for ye Lords prayer can make nothing of it at present. Bowrey’s Malay-English Dictionary included a copy of the Lord’s Prayer in Malay but had already been publish by the time this letter was received.

Liller’s letter illuminates a little of the attitudes of the Europeans to the people they lived among in the East. He had been ill, having lost all his senses as well as the use of his hands for three months. He was sure that he was going to die. However, Liller did not believe that he was ill but rather that the chief interpreter and merchant had put a spell on him he described as a Damnable trick. He believed that he had recovered because someone else had lifted the spell from him. This all happened because he would not let the East India Company be cheated & put upon by those Rouges. Today we would suggest that Liller was suffering from a neurological condition exacerbated by the stress of dealing with attempts to defraud the Company.

On This Day: 24 October 1712

On this day in 1712, the other owners and freighters of the Worcester assigned their power of attorney to Thomas Bowrey giving him the authority to collect the balance of the value of the ship due to them. This is one of the last dated documents concerning the Worcester during Bowrey’s lifetime.

Dated less than five months before his death, Bowrey appears never to have given up hope of receiving full compensation for the loss of the ship. Perhaps, by signing over their authority, the other owners had given up and Bowrey was the only one still hopeful.

Is it possible that this document also indicates that Bowrey was in good health and capable of continuing the fight? I am looking for all the clues I can find for the state of his health and why he died at the relatively young age of 53 despite proving he had a strong constitution having survived 19 years in the East Indies. Bowrey had regular bouts of ill-health ever since he returned to England but, when he signed his Will almost exactly one year before he died, was at this present in health of Body.

On This Day: 3 October 1705

On this day in 1705, Charles Sherer wrote to Thomas Bowrey in London from Kinsale, Scotland. Sherer was working his passage home from India on the Scipio and finished his letter by asking Bowrey to send word to his wife of his and her son’s safe arrival and good health by the next ship leaving for the East Indies. This is the letter I mentioned a week ago explaining that Richard Williams returned home as a passenger on a separate ship.

Sherer’s wife was the sister of Bowrey’s deceased business partner, Robert, Masfen, and remained in India because she was not well enough to travel home having recently been very sick. Sickness and mortality were a constant risk in the East and at sea. Sherer had the distressing news for Bowrey that his kinsman, Midleton, was dangerously ill and not expected to live. Bowrey had four Midleton cousins. It is a shame that the letter does not say which this was but, I think, it was possibly John.

Sherer sent news of the ships waiting in Kinsale for a convey to London. Bowrey had invested in the Scipio five years earlier. He does not appear to have had an interest in her current voyage but would have been pleased to know that the Marlborough (from China), Anne Galley (from Bencolen) and Rochester (from Surat) were safe. Bowrey had invested in all three.


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.