Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Borough, Stephen

BOROUGH, STEPHEN (1525–1584), navigator, was born on an estate of the some name in the parish of Northam, Devonshire, on 25 Sept. 1525. His name is first met with as one of the twelve ‘counsellors’ appointed in the first voyage of the English to Russia in 1553. On the setting forth of the fleet of three ships Borough was appointed to serve under Richard Chancellor, pilot-general of the fleet, as master in the Edward Bonaventure of 160 tons, the largest ship of the fleet. The tragic end of Sir Hugh Willoughby and his crew of the Bona Esperanza is too well known to repeat here; the only ship that returned in safety was the one navigated by Borough, who in this voyage first observed and named the North Cape. As recorded upon his monument in Chatham Church, it may he fairly claimed for him, as for Chancellor, that ‘he in his lifetime discouered Moscouia, by the Northerne sea passage to St. Nicholas, in the yeere 1553.' In Chancellor's second voyage to Russia in the same ship, along with the Phillip and Mary, in 1555, Borough's services were replaced by those of another sailing-master, while he himself found employment at home (Hamel, 117), probably in preparing for the expedition of the following year. Of this he left us the following record: ‘The Navigation and discourie toward the river of Ob (Obi), made by Master Steuen Burrough, Master of the Pinesse called the Serchthrift, with diuers things worth the noting, passed in the yere 1556.' To this is added ‘Certaine notes imperfectly written by Richard Johnson, seruant to Master Richard Chancelour, which was in the discouerie of Vaigatz and Nova Zembla, with Steuen Burrowe in the Serchrift.’ The outcome of this most interesting voyage was the discovery of the entrance to the Kara Sen, the strait between Nova Zenibla and the island of Waigats leading thereto still bearing the name Burrough. Adverse winds and the lateness of the year preventin Borough from reaching the Obi, he worked his way back to the White Sea and the Northern Dwina, arriving at Kholmogro on 11 Sept., where he wintered. In the following May he set out on ‘The voyage of the foresaid M. Stephen Burrough [also in the Searchthrift], Anno 1557, from Cholmogro to Wardhouse, which was sent to seeke the Bona Esperanza, the Bona Confidentia, and the Phillip and Mary, which were not heard of the yeere before’ (Hakluyt, i. 290–295). After a careful exploration of the coast of Lapland he reached Wardhouse (Vardhus) on 28 June. Failing to glean any tidings of the missing ships here after a stay of two days, he returned once more towards Kholmogro, On 30 June he arrived off Point Kegor (Kekourski), on what is now known as Ribachi, or Fisher Island, in Russian Finland. Here he anchored in Vaid Bay, where he found four or five Norwegian vessels, either manned or chartered by Dutchmen, whom he found trading, among other things, in strong beer with the Lapps for stock-fish. Of this Borough quaintly writes: ‘The Dutchman bring hither mighty strong beere; I am certaine that our English double beere would not be liked of the Kerils and Lappians as long as that would last.’ Here he learned the fate of two of the missing ships, hmring nothing of the Bona Esperanza until a later period. He was informed by the son of the burgomaster of Dronton (Throndhjem) that the Bona Confidentia was lost and that he had purchased her sails, and that the Phillip and Mary had sailed from Pronton waters for England in the previous March, where, as we learn from another source (Haklutt, i. 285), she arrived in the Thames the following April. After what manner Borough terminated this voyage we have no information beyond the statement that he was unable to make his way back to Kholmogro on account of adverse winds. It is more than probable that after a short stay in Vado Bay for victualling he directed his course for England, where he arrived at the end of the summer of 1567. Borough's yearly voyages to the north were followed by a journey to the south, whether undertaken on his own behalf or that of the Merchant Adventurers we have no means of determining. Hakluyt writes: 'Master Steuen Borrows tolde me that newely after his returne from the discouerie of Moscouie by the North in Queen Maries daies, the Spaniards, having intelligence that he was master in that discouerie' (probably the one of 1553), 'tooke him into the cotractation house [at Seville] at their admitting of masters and pilots, giuing him great honour, and presented him with a payre of perfumed gloues worth fiue or six Ducates' (Divers Voyages, preface). Hakluyt's reference to 'Queen Maries daies' limits our choice to one of two dates for this journey to Spain, either 1555 (see ante) or 1558. The most probable opinion seems to be in favour of 1558, as we have no record of Borough resuming his yearly voyages to St. Nicholas until two years later. In May 1560 Borough once more took charge of a fleet of three snips in what is known to students of Hakluyt. as the seventh voyage of the Merchant Adventurers to Moscovy. Borough's ship, the Swallow, was freighted with broadcloths, kerseys, salt, sack, raisins, and prunes, which were to be exchanged for foxskins, furs, &c.; we are also informed that 'one of the pipes of seeker [i.e. sherry] in the Swallow, which hath two round compasses upon the bung, is to be presented to the emperour (Ivan IV), for it is special good.' Borough also carried instructions to bring home Anthony Jenkinson, whom he must have found at St. Nicholas waiting to return with the fleet, after his famous journey across the Caspian into Central Asia (Hakluyt, i. 309, 335). Although Borough's name is not mentioned, it may be fairly assumed that his last voyage to Russia was once more in command of the Swallow and two other vessels, which conveyed Jenkinson to St. Nicholas in May 1661, on his journey through Russia as ambassador to Persia. Borough s career may be conveniently divided into two portions, the first as servant to the merchant adventurers trading to Russia, the second as servant to the queen. His first had now terminated. The causes which led to his appointment under the crown may be traced in no very indirect way to his visit to Spain; this, as we have already suggested, may reasonably be assumed to have taken place shortly before the death of Queen Mary, which event took place on 17 Nov. 1558. One of the results of Borough's visit to Spain was the translation of the 'Breve commendio de la sphera y de la arte de navegar, por Martin Cortes,' Seville, 1651, undertaken of the scholarly Richard Eden, at the cost and charges of the merchant adventurers, and known in its English dress as 'The Arte of Navigation,' London, 1561, in the preface to which Eden writes: 'Steuen Borough was the fyrst that moued to haue this work translated into the Englyshe tongue.' Another result, and a most important one for Borough, was his appointment on 3 Jan. 1563 as chief pilot and one of the four masters of the queen's ships in the Medway. It hardly admits of doubt that the main factor in assisting the queen's advisers in their decision in making this dual appointment was the able document drawn up by Borough soon after his return from Spain, bearing the following title: 'Three especiall causes and consideracons amongst others whether the office of Pilott maior ys allowed and estemed in Spayne, Portugale, and other places where navigaĉon flourisheth.' Drafts of Borough's appointment and the above document are preserved in the British Museum Library (Lansd. MS. 116, 10½ pp.) The objects in view in creating the office of chief pilot were the instruction and examination of seamen in the art of navigation; but as no machinery existed for carrying these out efficiently, as in the contractation house in Seville, the former appointment was allowed to lapse. Borough's attention in those stirring times being wholly directed to the surveying of ships in the Medway at Gillingham and Chatham. This employment, varied by sundry services at sea, of which we have no record, extended over a period of twenty years. Borough died in his sixtieth year, and was buried in Chatham Church, where a monumental brass to his memory is preserved in the chancel, bearing the following inscription: 'Here lieth buried the bodie of Steven Borough, who departed this life ye xij day of July in ye yere of our Lord 1684, and was borne at Northam in Devonshire ye xxvth of Septemb. 1525. He in his life time discouered Moscouia, by the Northeme sea passage to St. Nicholas, in the yere 1653. At his setting foorth of England he was accom- panied with two other shippes, Sir Hugh Willobie being Admirell of the Beete, who, with all the company of ye said two shippes, were frozen to death in Lappia ye same winter. After his discouerie of Roosia, and ye Coastes there to adioyninge-to wit, Lappia, Nova Zerula, and the Countrie of Sarnoyeda, etc.: he frequented ye trade to St. Nicholas yearlie, as chief pilot for ye voyage, until he was chosen of one of ye foure principall Masters in ordinarie of ye Queen’s Maties royall Navy, where in he continued in charge of sundrie sea services till time of his death.' [For a supposititious expedition by another Stephen Borough, or Burrogh, in 1585, see Borough, William.]

[Devonshire Assoc. Reps. and Trans., P1ymouth, 1880-l, xii. 332-60, xiii. 76; Eden's Arte of Navigation, 1561; H[akluyt]'s Diuers Voyages touching America, 1582; ib., Hakluyt Soc., ed. by J. Winter Jones, 1850; ib., Navigations, Voyages, &c., 1599, vol. i.; Hamel's England and Russia, trans. by J. S. Leigh, 1854; Thorpe’s Registrum Roffense, 1769, fol. p. 731.]

C. H. C.