Waterloo Shipping to the Caribbean William Roche Halifax merchant Article Analysis
To complete this assignment, choose one of the following articles (both articles are assigned readings for this course (see Course Outline below) and are available through course reserves):
a) Julian Gwyn, “Shipping to the Caribbean in the 1820s-1840s: William Roche, Halifax Merchant,” Northern Mariner 2013 23, 2: 99-122
For the article analysis, the student is required to read and summarize a scholarly article from the course readings and explain the relevance of the article’s content to the study of business history. The purpose of the assignment is to have the student discern (and thus summarize) the main issue/question under investigation, the thesis (main argument) of the author, and the main points of argument used to support the thesis and then explain how the article contributes to the analysis (and understanding) of the topics covered in the course and lecture for which it was assigned.
The assigned articles examine a major issue, topic or person in business history. The assignment has two parts.
First, the assignment must begin with a one-page summary of the article. The summary must outline: 1) the major issue/debate in business history which the article addresses; 2) the thesis of the article; and 3) the main points/ideas the author uses to defend his/her thesis.
The second part of the assignment is a two-page analysis/discussion of how the article relates or adds insight in to the business history topic under examination. Students should ask themselves “how does this article add additional information or interpretation to compliment, or perhaps contradict, the information being presented in class/lectures?” In order to do so, students should examine one or more of the following questions:
1) Is the author offering a new/different interpretation of the issue than presented in other course materials or in the lectures? (for example, by examining different evidence or by using a different method of examining the issue).
2) Does the author offer new ideas, points of information, or interpretations that compliment or contradict the material being presented in class?
3) How does the article further develop your understanding of the main topic or businessperson under study?
The assignment must be a total of 3 pages in length, double-spaced with a standard character size and font.Students are not to exceed the 3 page length.The purpose of the assignment is twofold: first, to have the student recognize and understand the argument of a scholarly article and to assess the content within the larger course themes and issues; secondly, the assignment is a writing exercise which requires students to be both concise but also comprehensive.
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Shipping to the Caribbean in the 1820s – 1840s: William
Roche, Halifax Merchant
lnitialement, /es marchands d’Halifax avaient peu d’options dans leurs
negociations. Pour leurs exportations de produits de la peche et du bois, ils
ont importe le rhum de la Nouvelle-Angleterre, le sucre et la melasse
antillais. La guerre d’Independance americaine et !es guerres avec la
France jusqu ‘en 1815 ont restreint !es importations americaines et ont
accru !es possibilites dans !es Caraioes. L’ere de !’emancipation des
esclaves a cree beaucoup d’incertitude dans un marche en dee/in. C’est
dans ce monde d’apres-guerre que William Roche (1800-1887) a etabli ses
activites en tant que proprietaire de navires et de marchand import-export.
Son cas peut etre etudie pour la periode de 1820 a 1840 grace a/’heureuse
survie de ses papiers d’affaires.
Almost every settlement contains somebody who,
contriving to furnish himself with a cask of rum, a
keg of tobacco, and a few other articles, sets
himself down for a merchant. 1
Much of Nova Scotia’s early economy was dominated by a highly visible elite
group of merchants. “What exactly did merchants do?” 2 was the question asked some
years ago by Jacob Price, the eminent historian of the colonial American economy. Price
concluded that the successful merchant advanced credit and concentrated on the firm’s
balance sheet. Such balance sheets, in the absence of all but a little fixed capital, absorbed
the attention of the commercial elite, wherever it was located. To supplement their
capital, merchants especially bought medium-term bonds, when available, which paid
higher yield than mortgages or land holdings. For short-term liquidity, they employed the
bill of exchange, which dominated commercial transactions in the Atlantic economy in
Their success in general was remarkable, as overseas trade greatly expanded
before 1800. No sector of this trade grew faster than that with North America, which
reached 30 per cent of all British overseas commerce by 1800. Merchants in Halifax,
Colonial Patriot, 23 October 1831.
Jacob Price, “What Did Merchants Do? Reflections on British Overseas Trade, 1660-1790,”
Journal ofEconomic History 49 (1989), 278.
The Northern Mariner/le marin du nord, XXIII, No. 2, (April 2013), 99-122
The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord
from the city’s founding in 1749, increasingly reflected this phenomenon. What follows
will detail the experiences of one Halifax merchant house in an attempt to answer Jacob
Price’s question: What exactly did merchants do?
Despite what is evident from the customs house and shipping records of the
extensive trade between Nova Scotia and the West Indies, almost nothing survives to
detail the activities of Nova Scotia merchants who carried on the business. The fortunate
survival of the papers of William Roche (1800-87), the Halifax merchant, ship owner,
and sea captain, enables us to put flesh and muscle on the otherwise dry bones of
surviving official statistics annually compiled in Halifax and London.
Roche’s letterbooks, logs, and accounts are, at times, most intimate documents
which tell us much about the man. They include his rough notes and carefully detailed
accounts, a range of letters relating to his business affairs, letters of introductions, and
precise instructions to masters and supercargoes. There is a sketch of his vessel, the brig
Ambassador, in full sail-too light to illustrate here-and a well-executed draft of the
approaches to the port of Bahia, with its soundings. At Port of Spain, Trinidad, he
recounted his tour with the architect of the neo-Gothic Catholic cathedral still under
construction, noting its dimensions and the type of stone used. On the same voyage at St.
Vincent he dealt with a drunken, mutinous mate, and provided a blow-by-blow account of
the encounter. There also can be found his impressions of Hamburg when, on sailing from
the Brazilian coast with a cargo of sugar, he was delayed there for repairs to his vessel.
In addition Roche listed the places he wished to visit before “returning from the
sea.” They included London, Naples, and “to go to the top of Vesuvius,” to Sicily “in
order to see Etna,” to Rome, Venice, Gibraltar, Cadiz, Lisbon, Oporto, and the Azores.
His hope was to “procure a cargo of fish at Newfoundland for Spain, or Portugal, and on
the passage out stop at Fyal. If the cargo can be sold for cash at Fegueira, Oporto or
Lisbon, proceed to Gibraltar, and there obtain freight for the Mediterranean, until all or as
many of the places possible that are named here have been visited. On the return home
visit Madeira, and if it be winter call at Tenerife, and run the trades down.” 4 It was a
Among the most useful studies are those by David A. Sutherland, “The Merchants of
Halifax: A Commercial Class in Pursuit of Metropolitan Status” (PhD thesis, University of
Toronto 1975); Eric W. Sager and Gerald E. ·Panting,· Merchant Capital: The Shipping
Industry in Atlantic Canada, 1820-1914 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1990);
Allan B. Robertson, “John Wesley’s Nova Scotia Business men: Halifax Methodist
Merchants, 1815-1855” (PhD thesis, Queen’s University, 1990); Julian Gwyn, Excessive
Expectations. Maritime Commerce & the Economic Development of Nova Scotia, 1740
1870. (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1998); James D. Frost, Merchant
Princes. Halifax s First Family ofFinance, Ships and Steel. (Toronto: Lorimer, 2003).
Nova Scotia Archives (hereafter NSA), MG3/208. For an account of another merchant
trading between Nova Scotia and the Caribbean, see Nancy Redmayne Ross, ed., The Diary
ofa Maritimer, 1816-1902: The Life and Times ofJoseph Salter (St John’s, NL: International
Maritime Economic History Association, 1996).
Shipping to the Caribbean in the 1820s – 1840s
dream that he never realized.
Prominently placed in the front page of his invoice book and quite alone, where
almost every other page is cluttered, is found a speech given by Shakespeare’s Brutus:
There is a tide in the affairs of Men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current, when it serves;
Or lose our ventures. 5
Elsewhere he recorded his concept, perhaps typical of his social class, of the
ideal woman. 6
Who was William Roche? His father, Charles Roche, came from Cork, Ireland
and as a young ship’s master had sailed to the East Indies on vessels owned by a London
alderman. 7 Eventually he sailed as well to the West Indies. The American War of
Independence found him in New York City, then the headquarters of the British army. In
1783, with many thousands of others, he went as a Loyalist refugee to Shelburne. There
he married Elizabeth, the daughter of William McNab, another New York Loyalist
His son, William Roche, born in Shelburne in 1800, was the second of three
children. To sea as an adolescent, as early as 1820 or 1821 he was master of a vessel,
owned jointly with his father. By 1826 young William was partner with his elder brother,
Charles (1798-1878), who was later MHA for Shelburne and who maintained a dry
goods store on Granville Street in Halifax. 9 The two brothers initially used to dock there
at Thomson’s wharf.
Before Roche retired from trade in 1860, he had long given up his dreams of
travel, and had prospered in a modest way as a land-based merchant, and served for many
years as president of the Union Marine Insurance Company of Halifax, in which he held
Julius Caesar, IV, iii, 217-23; NSA, MG3/205b.
The two closely written pages start: “Good sense alone is insufficient for the acquisement of
grace. Unfortunately we see many ladies of the most excellent understanding, not only
negatively without grace, but positively ungraceful. There are other requisites to grace of the
most essential kind. An amiable temper and a habitual disposition to please are of the first
consequence. The expression of all violent passions is destructive of grace. The expression of
all feelings unpleasant to others is equally so. So is the expression of selfishness in all its
forms …” NSA, MG3/208.
Biographical Sketches of Leading Citizens of the Province of Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1900),
23-24. He died aged 68 in Shelburne on 8 August 1830, and was buried there in the Anglican
She died aged 71 in Shelburne in 1837,Acadian Recorder, 27 May 1837.
His sister was Elizabeth Ann (1802-76).
The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord
fifteen original shares. 10
In 1839 William married Susan Manning, 11 with whom he had two sons and a
daughter. He served two terms as a Halifax alderman in 1849-52 and in 1862-65, and for
some years acted as town assessor. Deeply interested in politics, he supported as wide a
trade reciprocity as possible with the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. Like so
many others in Nova Scotia, he was strongly opposed to the 1867 federation with the
Canadas and New Brunswick. His younger son, Edward (1850-81), the only one to
follow his father and grandfather to the sea, became a ship’s captain. Their elder son,
William II (1842-1925), who ran a coal business. was president of the Halifax Insurance
Company. 12 This celebrated son, a year before his father’s death, was elected to the House
of Assembly and later to Parliament. After his electoral defeat in 1908, he was appointed
in 1910 to the Senate. When he died the papers called him both the “best known citizen”
and the ••Grand Old Man of Halifax.” Thereafter the family passed into obscurity. 13
West Indies Trade
Before delving into the pattern of William Roche’s West Indies experience, we
must first sketch the historical context. Rum, sugar, and molasses helped drive Nova
Scotia’s economy from the 1770s to the 1830s. Rum was the staple drink of the poor, as
William Forsyth, a Halifax importer, noted in 1798: “People who keep grog shops are the
principal purchasers of rum; and what will bear most water is more saleable; provided it
has no bad taste. Fine flavour is not looked for, it being used only by the lower orders.” 14
Likewise Moorsom’s Letters from Nova Scotia remarked that the poor used molasses “in
place of sugar. By others it is used as a drink, when diluted with water.” 15
For some decades this trade was important to Nova Scotia. On duties imposed on
West Indies imports initially rested much of the provincial revenue. Yet the West Indies
was of small consequence and direct trade was negligible. In 1772, for instance, of the
It was incorporated by an Act of the Nova Scotia House ofAssembly in 1838, with capital of
£40,000 in 800 shares. His shares cost him £50 each. He sold five of these in 1845. For the
firm’s papers for 1838-1880 see NSA, MG3/213-224.
22 November 1839,Acadian Recorder.
William Roche II married Rachel Clara Henry (1860-1918). His firm of coal merchants and
steamship agents was located at Roche’s Wharf, 165 Upper Water Street. When his own
political career took him to Ottawa, his firm was managed by his brother-in-law, Charles
Henry. He was MHA for Halifax County (1886-94), MP (1900-8), and Senator (1910-25).
He had as well been director of the old Union Bank of Halifax, Chronicle, 22 October 1925.
His only surviving son, William III (1894-1983), had removed to Bedford by 1943 and
“devoted his life to music and played the organ in many local churches,” Chronicle-Herald,
3 January 1984, 83.
There are many other details on the family monument in Camp Hill cemetery, location: DD
To William Postlethwaite in Grenada, 12 January 1798, NSA, MG3/150, 463.
William Scarfe Moorsom, Letters from Nova Scotia: Comprising Sketches of a Young
Country, (London, 1830), 58.
Shipping to the Caribbean in the 1820s – 1840s
1,205 vessels from North American ports that sailed to the British islands in the
Caribbean, only seven came from Halifax. 16 Simeon Perkins, who carried on a small
trade from Liverpool, was the most prominent of Nova Scotians then trading to the
Caribbean. Sending cargoes of low grade dry cod and lumber and occasionally selling
schooners there, he imported return cargoes of rum, sugar, molasses, and salt. 17
Illustration 1: Detail oflithograph ofthe Halifax waterfront in 1857, showing merchant wharves
along Upper Water Street, the location of William Roches establishment. Maritime Museum of
the Atlantic M81.IJ 8.1, reproduced with permission.
Let us first consider what the statistics indicate. Most West Indies produce
entered Nova Scotia until 1775 through New England. According to the customs ledgers,
no more than 10 per cent of the rum imported into Nova Scotia between 1768 and 1772
came from direct trade with the Caribbean.1 8 Only when war from 1776 to 1783 cut out
New Englanders did Nova Scotia’s trade expand. By 1778 some 2,440 tons or 15.6 per
cent of the 15,400 tons of shipping that paid the Halifax lighthouse duty was bound for
the West Indies. 19
Despite the decade of peace from 1783 Nova Scotia’s direct trade did not
The National Archives, Kew (hereafter TNA Kew), BT6/84 No. 41.
Perkins to Ebenezer Barker and Jabez Perkins, 2 June and 2 July 1765, NSA, MGl/752.
Details ,derive from a database of vessels paying toll in support of the Nova Scotia
Lighthouse. The list is deposited in the Julian Gwyn Fonds, Beaton Institute, Cape Breton
University. Original returns are in NSA, RG3 l-105/l.
The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord
experience a boom. Trade with the British islands from the United States did not vanish,
as had unrealistically been anticipated by many. Nova Scotia’s exports, though dwarfed
by those coming from the United States, expanded principally by reflecting the expanded
population resulting from arrival and settlement of loyalist refugees. Nova Scotia’s share
of the British West Indies market grew only slowly.
The outbreak of the British Empire’s war with France in 1793 transformed the
West Indies trade. As the islands were thrown open to American supplies, Nova Scotia’s
trade there stagnated. In 1790-91 vessels from the British West Indies entering the port of
Halifax constituted 12 per cent of tonnage; by 1795-96 they had fallen to 8 per cent,
recovering only in 1799-1801. As late as 1833 Henry Bliss, a keen and well-informed
observer of imperial trade policy and Nova Scotia enthusiast, recalled: “These measures
of government, in the year 1794, brought sudden distress and despair upon the North
American colonies , whose West India trade was thus rendered ruinous, fisheries
worthless, and whose population so impoverished and disheartened, that many of the
Loyalists, who had taken refuge there since 1783, and whose best hope of support
depended on the West Indies trade, were now driven to abandon a dominion for which
they had hitherto spared no sacrifice; and … many returned back to the United States, there
to obtain, in the intercourse with British Islands, advantages denied to British colonies.”20
Nova Scotia’s trade with the islands grew only from 1807 when the United States
unilaterally imposed an embargo on its overseas trade. During the next decade the British
North American colonies, led by Nova Scotia, acquired a larger, though still relatively
small, niche in the West Indies market. By 1808-10 almost 29 per cent of all vessels
paying toll in support of the Halifax lighthouse were inward bound from the West Indies.
This amounted to 11,200 tons of shipping. By 1812-19 some 90 per cent of sugar
products reached the province directly from the West Indies. Some of these imported
sugar products were by then re-exported from Nova Scotia principally to other British
North American colonies, as well as the U.S. 21
Nova Scotia paid for its West Indies imports not only with such re-export
earnings but also with exports principally of fish, wood products, and a variety of
provisions. The war allowed Halifax to become the major supplier of naval stores to
Jamaica, Antigua, Barbados, and Bermuda. Twenty-four such shipments of pitch and tar,
spars, planks, timber, oars and rafters, as well as train oil, were sent expressly for the use
of the Royal Navy in 1809 alone. 22 By 1812-19 95.5 per cent of Nova Scotia’s vessels,
carrying fish, found markets in North American or West Indies ports.
The 1830s witnessed a significant shift for Nova Scotia in the patterns of
Caribbean trade. The changes had much to do with the ending, between 1834 and 1838,
of slavery in the British Empire and the subsequent labour dislocation. Plantation owners
discovered that, where there was a choice, free Black labour would always select
The Colonial System (London, 1833), 17.
Data come from a microfilm edition by Julian Gwyn, Nova Scotia Naval Office Shipping
Lists, 1730-1820 (Wakefield, Yorkshire: British Association for American Studies, 1982).
TNA Kew, ADM106/2028.
Shipping to the Caribbean in the 1820s – 1840s
occupations less onerous than cutting sugar cane, picking cotton, or harvesting tobacco, if
the wages were inadequate. After 1838 many former slaves chose to avoid the
disheartening working conditions associated with sugar and turned instead to earning a
subsistence living from cultivating small garden plots, raising poultry, swine, and goats or
opening small shops. 23 This led to a catastrophic decline in sugar production.
The story is significant for the West Indies and their trading partners. On St.
Vmcent, Grenada, and Tobago, sugar production never again reached pre-emancipation
levels. It was 1934 before Jamaica reached its pre-abolition level of sugar production,
Guiana not until 1861, St. Lucia not until 1858, Montserrat only between 1866 and 1896,
Nevis only between 1871 and 1882, Dominica only between 1842 and 1889 and St. Kitts
in 1839. Taken together, the British Caribbean’s average level of production in 1830-39
was regained only in 1860-69, when its share of world output had fallen from 40 per cent
to only 10 per cent. 24
Tariff reform undertaken by the Imperial Parliament permitted Nova Scotia’s
merchants, from the late 1830s on, to exploit the trade possibilities thrown open to them
in the French and Spanish sugar islands and the Brazilian coastal ports. 25 Such was the
rising demand in Europe and America, especially for sugar from West Indies markets,
that by the early 1840s Cuba alone exported more sugar than all the British West Indies
The shift by Nova Scotian importers was as sudden as it was dramatic. William
Roche of Halifax noted this in 1837: “There appears to be a general inclination by people
engaged in commerce here to expand their trade and to ship part of our exports to the
foreign islands.” Two years later, a customs official noted: ”within the last eighteen
months nearly all the importations of West India produce have been from the Foreign
Islands.”26 Evidence for this tendency was reflected in trade statistics collected by the
Customs House in London. In 1832-36 the average annual value of British North
American (the bulk from Nova Scotia ports) exports to the British Caribbean was
£268,000, but by 1849-53 it had fallen by almost 90 per cent to £25,000.
Until the 1830s the British islands supplied Nova Scotia with about 90 per cent of
its sugar imports. Much of the rest came from the foreign islands. Yet from 1837 on, the
British West Indies supp…
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