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Alexander Bremner's Plan,

 

 

In 1825 following a bad season in the fishery Alexander Bremner made a list, checked it twice, and made four more lists. Bremner, in charge of the Catalina, Ragged Harbour (now Melrose) and Bird Island Cove (now Elliston) operations, was then the agent for the merchant Robert Slade of Poole, Dorset who was partnered with William Kelson in Trinity, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland. Bremner emigrated from Scotland and was then about 35 years of age and was recently married in Trinity to Ann with the hyphenated name Lander-White.

Bremner's first list was a statement of the dealers in the above three places. The following is a short version:

Ragged Harbour

John Feehan
Mary Daily and her three sons - Are the only regular dealers we have there, generally pay their accounts & are fair in their dealings which is more than can be said of the other inhabitants of that settlement generally.

Catalina

Robert Baine (Barnes?) - has done poorly these last two years, but is an industrious man & deals honestly.

Thomas Drake - up till this year paid up very well, but is going to ruin now.

Charles Duffett – has hitherto paid, is very industrious, and though sometimes troublesome about prices I consider him on the whole a good dealer.

George Diamond Snr – Supplied him this year on his promise to give up pickling cannot say so much for or against him yet.

John Mason – does very poorly every year.

Wm Holloway – Does middling well hitherto.

John House – a very industrious man somewhat inclined to be honest & who I think may do pretty well yet.

Matthew Mason – Like his brother always does poorly.

Wm. Gould – I hold him in the same estimation as Duffett.

Mary Neal and her two sons– if they keep honest I think they may get on pretty well yet.

Wm. Shepherd – of a very sulky temper under the constraint I have kept him supplied – has however nearly paid up his current accts since I have been here & if he faithfully delivers his voyage this year it would be a pity to cast him off without a little for the winter.

John Sutton – has always done poorly & this year worse than ever of course.

Wm. White – never catches much fish, but generally gives us what he gets – is rather indolently inclined & I fear in these bad times will not be able to maintain his family.

We have small accounts with almost everyone in the place (Catalina) but the above is what I consider the regular dealers.

Bird Island Cove

Wm. Chalk & Wm. Barnes – will not I fear be able to maintain their families in these times.

John Chalk Sr. & sons – do not see that they can make it out if they have credit for winter diet.

George Crew – Bad with him as with the rest but I consider that he deals fair. I hold him in favourable consideration.

Thomas Cole – in independent circumstances.

Thos. Clouter – In good circumstances. I consider him a better dealer than Cole because he has a large family and is a considerable consumer of goods.

Richard Cole – Is very well off & I consider him a good dealer.

Thos. Flynn & father & mother – no idea that he will be able to pay under the winter supplying system.

Jno, Robert & Wm. Hobbs & father & mother – have a little better opinion of these than of the former & not much.

James Heile – have the same opinion of & hold him in the same estimation as G. Crew.

Minchener & Stead – will not make it out under the winter supplying system.

John Miles – ditto

Nebuz. Tucker – ditto

White & Cole (i.e. William White & George Coles) – bad with them now but have a favourable opinion of their industry and honesty.

George Smart – (resides in Catalina omitted).

In Bird Island Cove as well as in Catalina & Ragged Harbour we have a number of other small accounts but the above is the regular dealers.

Referring to this first list: The 1825 William White in Catalina is not to be confused with the person of the same name in Bird Island Cove (Elliston), Heille is Hill, Minchener & Stead is Thomas Minchines/Minchin and John Stead, Nebuz/Nebuzararadon Tucker was better know as Nebuchadnezzar Tucker. Middling, as used to describe Wm. Holloway, means that he had been an investor or middleman, in business for himself. "Pickling" in reference to George Diamond is most likely preserving his own supplies such as beef, pork or cabbage, etc. which was not in the best interests of the merchant class.

The portion of the list number one from Bremner re: Wm. Shepherd of Catalina is the first inkling that there was a plan in the wind: "it would be a pity to cast him off without a little for the winter." And again in reference to John Chalk of Bird Island Cove: "do not see that they can make it out if they have credit for winter diet". This is not a plea to help Chalk by giving winter credit under the well-known truck system but is rather a suggestion to not give him credit – "do not see than they can make out" means they won't be able to pay back credit is advanced. Bremner was "culling" the dealers just as assuredly as the agents culled the salt fish. It is also somewhat ironic that Clouter's large family made him a favourable dealer and Chalk's large family made him a liability.

Bremner's second list was exactly that – a culling. Under the original plan Bremner would only come up with three names worthy of winter supplies who according to Bremner "as I judge able to pay their accts independent of bad voyages or other contingencies" viz: Thomas Cole, his son Richard and his son-in-law Thomas Clouter, all of Bird Island Cove. This would whittle the list down to nearly non-existence and would leave most of the population of the three towns destitute and the Slade & Kelson Co. out of business in these areas.

Bremner's third list was therefore an opening of the doors of his mercantile plan to allow acceptance of others who were somewhat favoured under Bremner's first list viz; John Feehan, Mary Daily and Sons, Charles Duffett, William Holloway, and William Gould who, according to Bremner "I consider these better dealers than the former being larger consumers of store goods."

In case none of these three lists from Bremner were acceptable by Slade & Kelson Co then a fourth list was made "whom I would recommend to a moderate supply" to include George Diamond Sr., John House, Mary Neal & 2 sons, Wm. Shepherd, Wm. Barnes partner Chalk & Barnes, George Crew, Jno., Rob't & Wm. Hobbs, James Hill, White & Cole(s), and Robt. Baine (Barnes?). These last entries had nothing whatsoever to do with humanism or altruism on Bremner's part but were rather attempts to stay the business and protect his own status as Slade agent. "This is the stage at which I myself would recommend the business reduced to at present, both in regard to the planters themselves & the interest of the trade", said Bremner. It is an insight into the thinking processes of this agent that he excluded William Chalk but did include William Barnes, brother-in-law and partner of William Chalk.

Bremner's fifth list is the most damnable document ever written. He prepared this list: Catalina - Thomas Drake (perhaps has means of support that I do not know of), John Mason, Matthew Mason, John Sutton, William White Snr. B. Island Cove William Chalk, Jno Chalk & sons, Thomas Flynn, Menchiner & Stead, John Miles, Nebuzaradon Tucker "who I cannot recommend to credit the winter under present circumstances on any grounds except that of extreme distress…". To give the list more clarity, long before Bremner was even born in Scotland, John Chalk had already dedicated a lifetime to this truck system. He was age 72 at this time and Clouter only 38. Thomas Flinn was "turned off" as well including his aged parents who depended on him. Included in the "turn off" were all the servants or shareholders and their families working for the planters.

It is not known whether Bremner had finalized this plan by acting upon his last diabolical suggestion. The fact that his document survived in the Trinity branch of the Slade archives would indicate that Kelson was acquainted with the contents but the senior partner Robert Slade in Poole hadn't seen it.

Slade was well versed in the Newfoundland "truck" system, tutored by the best, his uncle John Slade, and having inherited the Slade business, he knew how the system was implemented and manipulated. Rev. Charles Pedley, Newfoundland Missionary, explained the truck system exactly as Slade and the planters understood it: "the voyage depended on causes beyond human control…a proportionate margin of profit had to be laid on the goods given out so as in case of success to compensate for the risk of failure; and also to make the gain from the man who did succeed cover the loss arising from the want of success in another man indebted to the same merchant… The fisherman knew that for the supplies for which he was indebted he had been charged an exorbitant rate, on the chance that he may not be able to repay….But the worst effect of this system fell on the man who, more industrious than the others, was therefore as a rule more successful…He knew it fell on him to make good to the supplying merchant the failure arising from his less diligent neighbor….". Bremner's ideas where he strayed so far from the spirit of the truck system would even make a Poole merchant cringe. Slade would not have approved! Bremner's "turn-off" would have lead to starvation, even death!

 

Contributed by Thomas Cole (March 2012)

Page Last Modified March 27, 2012 (Don Tate)

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