Borough, William (DNB00)

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BOROUGH, WILLIAM (1536–1599), navigator and author, born at Northam, Devonshire, in 1536, was the younger brother of Stephen Borough [q. v.], under whom he served as an ordinary seaman in the first voyage of the English to Russia. In his short autobiography preserved to us he writes: ‘I was in the first voyage for discouerie of the purtes of Russia, which begun in anno 1553 (being their sixteen yeeres of age), also in the yeere 1556, in the voyage when the coastes of Samoed and Nova Zembla, with the straightes of Vaigatz, were found out; and in the yoere 1557, when the coast of Lappia and the Hay of St. Nicholas were more perfectly discouered’ (Hakluyt, i. 417). His employment for the next ten years was that of ‘continual practise in the voyages made to St. Nicholas.” In one of these homeward voyages we find him entrusted with a curious present from thc traveller Anthony Jenkinson to Sir W. Cecil, afterwards Lord Burghley. The former writes : ‘Yt may please you, I have sent Wm. Aborough (sic), Mr of one of the li oscovy Companyes shippes, a strange beast called a Loysche, and bred in the country of Cazan in Tartaria’ (Cal. State Papers, Foreign Series, 26 June 1566). According to the ‘Cat, of Lansd. MSS.,’ Brit. Mus. (p. 19), Borough made ‘a voyage for discouery of the sea coast beyond Pechora to find an open passage to Cathay’ in 1568. This is, however, not quite correct; a comparison of the manuscript referred to (Lansd. 1035) with Hakluyt (i. 382) serves to show that a corn-mission was granted hy the agent of the company to one James Bassendiue, or Bassington, with two other English sailors, to find this passage in a Russian boat, with interpreters, for which ‘necessary notes to be observed' in the discovery were drawn up by Borough, with a sketch map, at St. Nicholas in August, probably before is departure for his homeward voyage in that year (cf. Cal. State Papers, Foreign Series, 1568, No. 2415). After the first establishment of the trade of the merchant adventurers at Narva, in the Gulf of Finland, in the winter of 1569, it was found that the sea passage to this port was infested by pirates, in consequence of which we find Borough in 1570, as ‘captainse generall' of a fleet of thirteen ships, well furnished with all ‘necessaries for the warres,' 'in conflict with a ileet of six Dansko frew hooters off an island in the gulf, then known as Tuttee. Borough, after a sharp fight, dispersed the fleet, and took one of the captains, named Hans Snarke, prisoner ({sc|Hakluyt}}, i. 401). His yearly voyages for the next four years were either to Narva or St. Nicholas, as the occasion required. In 1574-5 we find Borough employed as agent to the company, ‘in passing from St. Nicholas to Moscow' and from Moscow to Narva, and thence bark again to St. Nicholas by land, setting downe alwayes, with great care and diligence, true obseruations and exact notes and descriptions of the wayes, rivers, cities, tovmes, etc.’ These, added to his notes on ‘the islands, coastes of the sea, and other things requisite to the artes of nauigation and hydrographic,' acquired in his former voyages by sea, he turned to good account at a.later period as an author and a chartographer. Like those of his brother Stephen, his ser,vices were destined to be transferred from the merchant adventurers to the queen. In i what year this took place with Wil1iam Borough we have no exact information. In January 1579 we find him residing at Limehouse, involved in a dispute with Michael Lok, master of the mint and treasurer of the Cathay Compan , in reference to a ship (the Judith) bought by the latter for Frobisher's third voyage. There are several incidents in this afihir which point to Borough being already in the service of the crown, particularly his relations with Walsingham, by whose assistance Borough seems to have thrown the unfortunate Lok into the Fleet Prison, on a suit for 200l. in connection with the ship (Cal. State Papers, Col. Ser., i. 47, and Fox Bourne, i. 175). The next two years were evidently devoted to literary effort in preparing his well-known work, 'Discourse of the variation of the Compas,' which first saw the light in 1581 (see infra). We next find him in the month of June 1583, as Comptroller of the queen's navy, at sea in charge of two barques, ‘both manned with 100 men, for apprehending of certaine outragious sea-rovers, who, it was confidently bruited, had vanquished the two ships: but within few dayes after,be 'ond all expectation, the said will, Borough and his company had discoinforted and taken to the number of ten sayle (whereof three were prizes), and ten of the chief pirates ou the 30th of Au ust were hanged at Wapping-in-the-Wose, besides London; one of whom, named Thomas Walton, as he went towards the gallows, rent his venetian breeches of crimson to ifata and distributed the same to such of his old acquaintance as stood about him’ (Stow, 696). Perhaps the most noteworthy event in thorough‘s career was the part he played in the famous expedition to Cadiz in command of the Lion, under Sir Francis Drake, wherein they succeeded, on 19 April 1587, in destroying upwards of a hundred sail lying in the harbour, besides capturing many valuzthle prizes. Unfortunately for Borough’s fame, he felt it his duty to differ with his high-handed chief as to the wisdom of a proposed land attack upon Lagos. Drake`s reply to his vice-admiral's ill-guarded and hastily written remonstrance was to place Borough under arrest in his cabin for two days. The plan so nearly failed as to justify all Borough's objections, for the invaders had to retire after considerable injury, which was feebly atoned for by the distant bombardment of the town by the fleet, which did little or no damage (Fox Bourne, ii. 188). Borough's share in the affair terminated in the mutiny of his ship’s crew while he was a prisoner and therefore helpless. His ship reached England in charge of another commander on 5 June, whence Borough wrote to Lord-admiral lloward, detailing his version of the affair. This was followed by along contradiction of the charges brought against him by Drake, which so far succeeded in saving him from further punishment or disgrace (see Barrow, pp, 241-255; also Hakluyt, ii. 121). Borough's latest service at sea of any importance calling for notice was his command of s small ship named the Bonavolia in the Armada fight 1538 (Lediard, p. 239). In a beautifully written autograph letter of Borough, dated Chatham, 28 Aug. 1589, he informs Mr. T. Randolph, residing at Maidstone, that he is ‘letted’ from seeing him by ‘ the great business for the dispatch of Sir Martin Frobisher's shippes to the sea,’ that he is ‘in comission for the late portugnile voyage,' and that another matter that he has in ‘handling' is 'getting a good wife' in the person of Lady Wentworth, which ‘matter is in effect concluded' (Harl. MS. 6994 (l04)). The latest notice of him with which we are acquainted is one, dated 31 Oct. 1590, of a person unnamed, who gives notice to Mr. Burrowes, of Limehouse, ‘that his life is in danger from one who intends to shoot him’ (Lansd. MS. 99 (94)). Borough somehow managed to survive another nine years; he died in 1699.

Borough wrote ‘ A discourse of the Variation of the Compas, or Magneticall Needle, made by W. B., and is to be annexed to the News Attraction by R[obert] N[orman],’ London, 1581, 4to; other editions 1585, 1596, 1611, 1614. In this work he points out that nearly all the charts of the period were useless for the purposes of navigntion from the non-observance of variation ; he instances Mercator’s famous map of 1569, wherein is to be observed ‘ Wardhouse ’ in Nonvay set down in two places 19 degrees apart; all west of this point being laid down from an earlier map by Olaus Magnus [of 1532, now lost]; all east of it from his own observations embodied in Anthony Jenkinson's map of Russia, 1562. Besides four other short pieces to be found in Hakluyt (i. 414 and 455) may be seen ‘A dedicatory Epistle to the Queen annexed unto his exact map of Russia, briefly containing his travails in those NE. partes,' and also his short autobiography before alluded to (Hakluyt, 417). We learn from his ‘Discourse' that the map of Russia was presented to the queen in 1578, It is now lost. He also wrote ‘Instructions for discouery of Cathay Eastwards for Pet & Jackman,' 1580 (Hakluyt, 435). The most interesting chart by William Borough known to us is one of Norway, Lapland, and the Bay of St. Nicholas, signed by him, and preserved in the British Museum (O. R, MS. 18 D. iii. 123). Three others, preserved at Hatfield, are: l. ‘Polar Seas to Lat. 20,' probably by him. 2. ‘Frobisher`s Navigation,' 3. ‘The Thames to Gravesend, and part of the N. Sea.' The remaining manuscript pieces by Borough calling for notice are: 1. ‘Tables of the prices of Masts,' n.d. (Harl. 306, 20). 2. ‘Necessary notes to be obserued in the voyage for discouery,' 1568 (see supra). 3. ‘Declaration concerning a proposal of Sir J. Hawkins and Peter Pett, with reference to the Navy,' February 1584 (Lansd. 43 (33)) 4. ‘Articles objected, with the Answeres to the same, touching the voyage of the Lion,' with two letters giving an account of his misunderstanding with Sir Francis Drake, April-May 1587 (Lansd. 52, arts. 39, 4l-2) ; see supra. 5. ‘Discourse what course were best should be taken for the resistance of ye Spanish Navy,’ 26 Feb. 1589 (Lausd. 52 (40)). There are also letters from William Borough to the privy council, &c., preserved at Hatfield, 2 Oct. 1595, Oct. 1596, 9 June 1597, 4 July 1597 (see Hist. MSS. Comm. 5th Rep. pp. 277, 285, 287, 291).

It will be observed in the above sketch that there is a lacuna in the movements of William Borough between the years 1583 and 1587. In the ‘Leicester Correspondence' (Camden Society, 1844) is printed a journal of the proceedings of the Earl of Leicester in the Low Countries, written by the admiral who conducted the fleet from Harwich to Flushing in December 1585. Down to a recent period it was held that the admiral was no other than the elder Borough, Stephen [q. v.] Mr. R. C. Cotton, however, in his able paper (Dev. Assoc. Rep. vol. xii.) shows that it was impossible to have been Stephen Borough, who died in July 1584, as is proved both by his monument and by the parish register in Chatham Church. This writer, however, suggests that there must have been a second Stephen Borough, also a seaman. This theory we are not prepared to accept. A reference to the original manuscript (Harl. 8225 serves to show that the original docketing which we take to be W. Borough, badly written as to the first initial) has been cancelled and re-docketed in error by a later hand and assigned to Stephen. If the original docketing was understood to refer to Stephen, it remains for the objector to show cause why the correction was made at all. The acceptance of the greater probability, that the whole transaction is referable to William, not only goes a great way to settle the question of doubtful authorship, but it possesses the advantage of allowing the command of the fleet in 1585 to fall naturally into its place in a more ample sketch of the life of William Borough, which is yet a desideratum among the lives of our English worthies of the period of the Tudors.

[Barrow's Life, Voyages. &c., of Sir F. Drake, 1843; Fox Bourne’s English Seamen under the Tudors. 1868; Camden Society’s Leicester Correspondence, 1844; Devonshire Assoc. Reps. and Trans., Plymouth, 1880-1. vols, xii. and xiii.; Hakluyt’s Navigations, Voyages, &c., 1599, vol. i.; Hutton’s Phil. and Math. Dictionary, 1815; Lediard’s Naval History, 1755; Stow’s Annales, ed. Howes. 1615; Hist. MSS. Comm. 7th Rep. p. 192.]

C. H. C.