BOULER (Bowler), ROBERT, captain in the Royal Navy; commodore of the Newfoundland convoy and temporary governor, 1724–27; b. c. 1676; d. 1734.
Robert Bouler was appointed 5th lieutenant in the Royal William in 1696 and was promoted captain of the Experiment in 1707. After several years of uneventful service at sea, he was appointed commodore of the Newfoundland convoy and governor for the summer of 1724. He held this appointment again in 1725 and 1726. In 1727, in command of the Argyle, he was appointed commodore and governor for St John’s and the northern parts of the island; Captain John St. Lo in the Ludlow Castle – under Bouler’s orders until reaching Newfoundland waters – became commodore and governor of Placentia and the south coast. Bouler’s answers to the customary Heads of Enquiry were perfunctory and stereotyped, and in 1726 the Board of Trade and Plantations noted that they expected the commodore to be more “punctual” in his answers.
The state of Newfoundland in the 1720s was critical. The fishery was at a low ebb, and many of the fishing admirals were turning to trade: “The Admirals of the fishing ships seem more diligent in their shops and storehouses ashore than in taking and curing of fish, however the cheife reasons of the fish being not so good as it used to be, is that the fish do not come in so early as heretofore so that the great part of the summer season being over the latter part is most attended with wet, and that prevents their being thoroughly cur’d.” Drunkenness, corruption, and crime were rife in the settlement; Bouler reported that the “number of families who keep private houses” was 257, and the number “who keep taverns, 74.” Despite sporadic attempts by the inhabitants to set up local governing bodies [see Jago], no permanent or efficient authority was established. Many of the impoverished and debt-ridden inhabitants fled to New England as “indentured servants”; Bouler noted that the taking of bonds from masters of New England ships to prevent this traffic was virtually useless, as the offending ships merely waited until the commodore left. In 1725 Bouler reported a complaint by George Skeffington that certain individuals had interfered with his salmon fisheries; the commodore investigated the matter and ordered two of the offenders to be flogged, “with a catt of nine tails on the bare back.”
After his last return from Newfoundland Bouler was placed on half-pay and did not serve at sea again. He died 27 July 1734.
PRO, Adm. 2/51, pp.439f. (orders and instructions), 6 (commission and warrant books), 51/63 (captain’s log of H.M.S. Argyle), 51/558 (captain’s log of H.M.S. Ludlow Castle); C.O. 194/7, 194/8; CSP, Col., 1724–25, 1726–27. Chamock, Biographia navalis, III. Lounsbury, British fishery at Nfld.