Monday, December 12, 2011

Thomas Bowrey: The Inspiration Behind the Vizag Factory?

The origins of Vizag’s European settlements date back to the mid-to-late 1600s according to the Vizagapatam Gazeteer, W. Francis. “The settlement was founded in 1682. In February of that year the Directors wrote to Fort St. George that an interloper (unauthorized trader) was designed for Metchelepatam or Gyngerlee (i.e., Mausulipatam or Vizagapatam) and left it to the Madras authorities to decide whether a factory should not be established at the latter place. The Madras consultations of the 1st August 1682 say that ‘The Company having resolved to make some investments this year at Gingerly & given order to send down some persons to further the same, as likewise to hinder and defeat any Interlopers that shall come there, resolved that Mr. George Ramsden doe proceed for this year as Chiefe there, his Second in Council being one Clement du Jardin. Thus it is clear that it was largely fear of the rivalry of the ubiquitous interloper which led the Company to first settle in Vizagapatam.”

Thomas Bowrey’s name occurs in a footnote to this text, but it is not clear whether this ‘interloper’ who inspired the English to set up a factory at Vizag was Thomas Bowrey or not. He does seem to have had some connection with this episode: one of his ship’s mates, Clement Jordan (who later changed his name to du Jardin) became one of the key persons in setting up the factory in Vizag. The links, though, are difficult to pin down based on my current reading.

Captain Bowrey (as Thomas was commonly known in English records) did, however, describe the coast around Vizag (Gingalee) in his book “A Geographical Account of the Countries Around the Bay of Bengal”. He calls this area “Certainly the most pleasant and Commodious Sea Coast that India affordeth, pleasant in many respects, beinge a most delicate Champion Land, and one of the most fertile lands in the Universe, and Commodious for Navigation’s Sake, enjoying many pleasant and good harbours, very well populated, and of a reasonable good Extent.”

Thomas Bowrey’s life (or whatever could be put together by Lt. Col. R.C. Temple in his introduction to the above-mentioned book) is an interesting one.

He sailed for the East from England while still in his teens. During his 19 years in the Eastern Hemisphere, he mainly traded in pepper, cloth and tea, but his time there was a far cry from the mundane buying and selling of goods. It was also full of adventure: he was imprisoned and put in irons and was witness to mutiny in Ceylon and a massacre in the Mergui archipelago (in southern Burma). He also drew charts and pictures of various places he visited, the best known being his chart of the Hoogli river.

In 1688, he left Fort St George (Chennai), apparently for good, and set sail for England. On his long journey back home, he put his time to good use and put together material for an English-Malayo (a far Eastern language) dictionary, which was published in 1701. He later married and probably still traded, possibly in the Western part of the New World.

When he was well into his 50s, his wanderings came in useful for Daniel Defoe (author of the widely read Robinson Crusoe), who gathered from Bowrey information on which to base his book -- “A General History of the Pyrates”, in particular information about piracy in Madagascar and Indian waters from 1695 to 1705.


1. Thomas Bowrey -- "A geographical account of countries round the Bay of Bengal, 1669 to 1679" -- Edited by Lt. Col. R. C. Temple; C.I.E., Haklyut Society; 1905

2. Francis, W. – “Vizagapatam District Gazeteer”; Asian Educational Services; first published, Madras 1907

3. Daniel Defoe – “A General History of the Pyrates” – Edited by Manuel Schonhorn; Dover Publicatio; 1999