Towerson, William (DNB00)

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TOWERSON, WILLIAM (1555–1577), merchant and navigator, made three voyages to the Guinea coast in 1555, 1556, and 1577. He started on the first venture from Newport in the Isle of Wight, on 30 Sept. 1555, with two ships, the Hart and Hind (masters, John Ralph and William Carter). On 22 Nov. he reached Cape Verde, on 12 Dec. began trading on the Guinea coast, and while engaged in this was attacked near St. George La Mina by the Portuguese (January 1556), but escaped destruction. He set sail for home on 4 Feb. 1556, and on 7 May sighted Ireland.

Towerson's second voyage was made in 1556 with the Tiger (120 tons), the Hart (60 tons), and a pinnace of 16 tons. He left Harwich on 14 Sept.; on 19 Dec. he was off Sierra Leone. On the Guinea coast he met five French ships, with which he entered into a trade agreement, on the basis of a common opposition to the Portuguese. The allies fought an indecisive action with the latter, traded with several native tribes, and left for home in March 1557, passing Cape Verde on 18 April. Near the mouth of the Channel Towerson was attacked by a French ‘pirate,’ but beat off his assailant.

His third voyage, in 1577 to West Africa, was made with four ships—the Minion, Christopher, Tiger, and a pinnace called the Unicorn. He started from Plymouth on 30 Jan.; next day fell in with two French ships, which he took and despoiled; he traded off the Guinea coast from April to June, fighting both with French and Portuguese. On 15 April Towerson tried to persuade his men to go on to Benin, but they refused, preferring to stay on the Mina coast, where they destroyed two native shore-towns of hostile negroes. On 25 June they set out for home; on 8 Sept. in 25° N.lat. they were obliged to abandon the Tiger as unseaworthy; and on 20 Oct. reached the Isle of Wight. The crew were reduced to great straits by sickness, and but for fear of a bad reception Towerson would have put into a Spanish port on his return.

[Hakluyt's Principal Navigations (edition of 1598–1600), vol. ii. pt. ii. pp. 23–52.]

C. R. B.