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MERCANTILE ESTABLISHMENTS OF BURGEO
From the time of the settling of Messrs. Matthews and Currie up to, say 1840, there was no one doing business here. The people had their merchants at Jersey Harbour and Harbour Breton and used to visit there every September to settle their accounts. In the summer months trading schooners were sent out to collect the people's fish and supply them with goods required.
The first person to come here and build premises and open business was John Cox from St. John's, who had previously traded here in [a] schooner. He built at West Burgeo, there being more people living there than down here [Lower Burgeo]. This was about the year 1835. There has been no person living for sometime to whom I could apply for the correct date, but it was as early as this. Mr. Cox, the merchant, not finding the harbour good for vessels, did not long continue his business at West Burgeo, but moved to Burgeo and built where, for many years, the business premises known as the "Old Room" has stood.
Newman & Company from Harbour Breton, no doubt, wished to get into the winter fishery. Therefore, they came and built premises at Mercers. In 1851, the large house was owned and occupied by Captain Benjamin Buffet. Mr. Cox, seeing he could not compete with this large company, sold out to them sometime between 1840 and 1845. He left the country, went to Prince Edward Island, and went into business there. He had brought his mother and father from St. John's and settled them in Burgeo. Later on they moved to West Burgeo and lived and died with their daughter, Mrs. Forward, and were buried on the SandBankss sometime in the sixties. [Note: Lambert and wife Hannah were buried in the 1880's, grave markers] They were very old people whom the writer remembers.
The great Jersey firm of Nicolle and Company, doing business at Jersey Harbour and LaPoile, opened here and built at what is known as Cutler's Cove and the Point. This is the same spot where Mr. George Samways has been for some years. The house, or a part of it, and the little office now standing are all that is left of what was a very complex "Room" when the writer came to Burgeo in 1860. The "Room" must have been built during the late forties. The first agent was a Mr. John Picot, but when the writer came, a Mr. John Filleul was agent and Mr. Middleton, so well known to everybody, was bookkeeper. In 1863, this firm was in business difficulties but managed to compromise with their creditors and kept on for a while. At this time there were large credit balances due a number of the planters and some money was lost by old Mr. John Matthews, Stephen Vatcher, Manuel Vatcher, William Bobbett, and probably a few others. After going ahead again, it was found that the firm could not be continued. They then went into liquidation and everything was sold out and closed down; here, Jersey Harbour, LaPoile, and Channel. The names of the agents at the different "Rooms" were John Filleul, Burgeo; Philip Clement, LaPoile; Philip Sorsoleil, Petites; Frances Read, Channel; and Mr. Chapman, at Jersey Harbour.
The difficulties of this firm meant a good time for others in Jersey to open a business and it was taken advantage of quickly. The agents, Messrs. Clement and Filleul, returned to Jersey, I think in the fall of 1862, and next year, or during that winter, a new firm was started, named De Gruchey, Renouf, Clement & Company. Mr. Renouf had been connected with the old firm and was the agent at LaPoile previous to Mr. Philip Clement. Newman and Company had closed their "Room" here, the "Old Room", in 1862. These premises were bought by the new firm and they opened here in 1864 and Mr. Filleul became agent. The old premises of Nicolle, here, LaPoile, and other places had been left in charge of Keepers and later, they all fell into the hands of the new company and were taken down, sold and used up for work, etc. The new firm, here, went into packing lobsters and salmon as a big sideline to the cod fishery. They did not make a success of it and that part of the business was given up after a year or two. They paid too high [a price] for lobsters for one thing as in those years lobster could be bought in England for ten cents a can. So much for this firm that continued for many years under this name and style and were the largest suppliers from here to Rencontre. Then came the bad voyages and losses, no doubt. Some of the many partners in Jersey withdrew and the name was changed to Renouf, Clement & Company. Later, Mr. Renouf got out and Mr. Philip Clement and his son took it all over and carried on here and at Channel. Since 1920, our Mr. Henry Clement is the only one now doing business and still known, or should be, as "The Jersey Firm".
I think this will about cover the Jersey firms. We will now take up others who appeared and have long since departed. I think John Furneaux was the next to come on the scene. Mr. Furneaux had been a bookkeeper for Newman & Company, at Burgeo. I presume he thought there was an opening for business. He started in, say 1850, and built on Small's Island, as it is now known. He was supplied by Thomas & Company, then of St. John's. However, Furneaux became insolvent in 1860 and that year Bowley & Small took over the premises from the liquidators, Mr. Dickerson of St. John's. In 1861, Mr. Furneaux and his family removed to Baddeck, [Nova Scotia], but only lived there a few years. He returned to Channel and was appointed agent for a new firm that had started at Rose Blanche, the great firm of Ridley & Sons of Harbour Grace, of whom it is said that they once paid half of the custom dues that were collected in the country.
Bowley and Small were from the United States" and had been trading on this shore, for salmon in summer and frozen herring in winter, since 1856. Bowley and Small went under that name until 1864. Then the Bowleys withdrew and Captain Small carried on until his death in 1890, with very indifferent success. The son was left with the business and, under the name J. Small & Company carried on until 1896. This firm introduced many new kinds of goods that had never been seen or sold on this coast before, such as cotton lines, rubber boots, kerosene, manila rope, lamps, nets, and an assortment of other American goods. They were the first ones to start a Banks Fishery, build icehouses, etc. Also they were in the lobster packing business as well as the general trade of the country. They did business at Channel at one time and bought rabbits by the load, which were salted for the Boston market and shipped as early as April. So much for these people who had come on the scene and departed. And I trust they did not leave the people any worse for their coming.
The next to open business in the general trade of the country was Kenneth McLea & Son of St. John's. They built on the north side of Vatcher's Island and Robert B. McLea came first as agent and after him a Mr. Wells. They later sent a Mr. Howson, and then some other persons. This business did not continue long. It fell into the hands of their creditors, Ridley & Sons, and was managed from Rose Blanche, where our old friend Mr. Sorsoleil was the agent. Mr. Sorsoleil, whose name has been mentioned before as a bookkeeper for Nicolle & Company at Burgeo under Mr. Picot, married Ellen Matthews, a sister to Uncle John and William Matthews, of Mrs. S. Vatcher, Mrs. Ann Guy, Mrs. John Anderson, and of two others, a Mrs. Jaffery, and Mrs. Morgan Windsor. The last two were gone from here when the writer came. After the above marriage, the Sorsoleils went to Jersey but returned in the spring. Mr. Sorsoleil was then appointed agent at Petites for the same firm [Nicolle & Company] and he remained with them until their failure in 1862. He then opened the business for Ridley & Sons at Rose Blanche. At the failure of Ridley & Sons, which was a great disaster, all their branches, Rose Blanche, Petites, Burnt Islands, and Channel were closed.
Wilson & Sons of St. John New Brunswick, built two stores at Muddy Hole, Hunts Island, for the purpose of storing and buying herring for export to the Southern States, but did no fish business. There was a great herring fishery on this West Coast in the fall and winter and thousands of barrels were exported frozen. This fishing was gone for good by 1861 and since has not been revived in this area. Wilson built in 1856 and the writer's father bought the largest store and moved it to Vatcher's Island for a dry fish store. Later it was used for a lobster factory where a large packing business was carried on for ten years. Small lobsters were fished out and would not pay and the fishermen took up the business of packing as a sideline to the cod fishery.
Growe [Gros] Dallan & LeGrowe [LeGros] of Jersey, bought the premises known as the "Jersey Room" in 1874, from the liquidators of Nicolle and Company and started business. Mr. LeGrowe was the agent. They only carried on for a short time. They met misfortune when a vessel loaded with dry fish sank at their wharf and ruined the whole cargo, 4000 quintals. This was too much for Mr. LeGrowe. He went to Jersey that fall and never returned. One of the partners, a brother-in-law, was left in charge and he wound up the business and went to Canada.
A year or so after this a Co-operative Company was started by Joseph Dicks. It was a company long needed by the fishermen. The principal and largest shareholders were, my old friend, James Matthews; Uncle Stephen and Manuel Vatcher; Edward Dicks; and many others. The price of the shares was 5 pounds. They got together 1500 pounds and Joseph went to Boston to buy goods. At this time goods of all kinds were cheap; they had not been so low for years. [Costs] had been coming down gradually since the high prices in the States due to the late Civil War there. This was very fortunate for those new beginners because during the next year, goods went up again and this company, having good stock, could and did, undersell others. They built their store where it now stands; but it has changed hands twice since. Joseph Dicks managed this business for three years and gave no credit except to the shareholders. At the end of the year, if any of them had not paid up, their shares were forfeited and were bought up by others. There is no doubt, whatever, that during these three years they made money as the capital was only 1500 pounds. When Joseph Dicks level them at the end of three years, the stock, cash, and store were inventoried for 3200 pounds. Joseph Dicks had the Co-operative Company written up in a St. John's daily paper to show the doubtful ones that was how he left the business. However, there was not a businessman among the remaining shareholders, not one. They would not believe it, yet they had the stock, the cash, the store, and no debts. It was plain enough they did not wish to, they wanted to discredit my friend, Joe. They placed another fisherman in charge with the old clerk, William Caswell, and Uncle Jim Matthews. They gave credit and inside of five years it went to smash and the old shareholders lost their money, every dollar, including Uncle Jim, but he did have a living out of it. They were indebted to a St. John's firm. Also, I think, in Boston. The property was sold to John Penny & Sons of Ramea, who had been doing business here for, say eight years. Their stores were off the shore, on the rocks at the southern end of the harbour. Charlie Penny was the agent and they continued business up to, say 1910, when they sold out to George Samways, who still carries on at the old Co-operative Store.
Philip McCourt of St. John's, opened a dry goods shop on James Matthews' premises as early as the year 1870 and Miss Deborah Matthews, better known as Aunt Debbie, managed it and well, no doubt. She picked up all the cash going for that class of goods and all the women in the Harbour could not buy anywhere else. The business increased and the "Jersey Room" being vacant, Mr. McCourt bought and stocked that big old shop on the wharf. This caused Aunt Debbie to move and she ran a big shop up to the time of Mr. McCourt's death at St. John's. The business was under the name and title of McCourt and Matthews. Miss Matthews never drew any profit and a settlement was made each year. So, after the death of our old friend, Mr. McCourt, it was found by the heirs that Aunt Debbie owned the lot and she carried on until her death, when her daughter's husband continued the business under the style of Matthews & Samways and it is still going on.
In or about the year 1890, Robert Moulton came to Burgeo to manufacture cod liver oil. He started a business at Philip Dicks' and was soon into the fish business. Then he began to build in Furby's Harbour and kept on and built up a fine business. He exported his fish and bought some large vessels. He then branched out up at Grand Bruit and Burnt Islands. Robert Moulton made considerable money, was very ambitious and hard working. Had he stuck to his business and left politics alone, he might have been here yet but he trusted others and got burned heavily with too much fish. His business was taken over by others and was run under the name and style of [Robert] R. Moulton Ltd. and lasted, say for ten years, then went into liquidation and paid nothing. Again it started up as Burgeo & LaPoile Export Company, principally owned at Oporto. J.T. Moulton was the agent from the time of Robert Moulton going out of the business.
Thomas Moulton, who came here to join his brother, finally opened for himself at Furby's Point, buying out our old friend, Mr. Middleton. Mr. Middleton had built premises out there but continued only for a few years, having closed up and retired to Jersey. Thomas Moulton built up a fine business and made some money. He has gone the way of all flesh, suddenly dying, in the year 1920, from heart failure, leaving the business to his two sons, George R. and Lewis. Edgar, his other son, was killed in the Great War.
In 1909, Arthur Spencer of Cul de Sac, built stores at Hunt's Island and carried on, say for five years, his agent being Arthur Kinslow. He wound up his business at Cul de Sac and moved to Wood's Island, Bay of Islands. He closed the store at Hunt's and sold the premises to William Webb of Rencontre, who was doing a large trade here. In 1914, Webb opened at Hunt's, sending his son, James, here as agent. Later they bought up the old premises of the Stephen Vatcher estate, in the harbour, and made a fine stand. They are still carrying on.
John Matthews, better known as Jackey, opened a business in Furby's Harbour in, say the year 1890. He started out first as a clerk to De Gruchy, Renouf, Clement & Company, after leaving school at the age of 17. Jackey was handicapped, having to use crutches after losing a leg. The leg was amputated in 1858 by the Doctor at LaPoile. He was given a wooden leg in 1870, by his Grandfather, who brought him up. He remained with the above firm for some time and married Amelia Samways. He then joined up with John Penny & Sons, Ramea, and was their agent here for a few years. It was then that he opened his business in Furby's Harbour and built on land belonging to the Samway's Estate. His wife [Amelia (Samways) Matthews], Mrs. [John] Colback, and George Samways were the heirs to this property. It all fell to John Matthews and wife. He did a general business. For a while he kept out a Bankser and gave credit. However, he sold the vessel but kept the groceries, etc., end of the business and made a good living until his death. He had a son, Rupert, who was considered a partner, who also carried on the business until his unexpected death. Rupert was a strong healthy fellow, a first class man and a great genius, good for anything from repairing a watch to a gasoline engine. His wife, Theresa, a most estimable woman, took charge and carried on the shop and took over the Post Office as well. The business is still carried on by a worthy young man known as "Billy Joe". They have a fine stand and the best here for their kind of trade. Mrs. Matthews moved to Boston with her two girls and married again. Her dwelling is kept partly ready for her return if circumstances should call for it. This, I believe, covers the names and firms who had done business in Burgeo from the very first. This covers, for a period of eighty-four years, the business people, the situations of their stands, the owners, and agent and, I think, will give any reader of this record or history, a very authentic account of the business done. In looking over what I have written, I find I have left out a Banksing business and stores put up in the Short Reach by John Steer of St. John's in the eighties. The agent was our old friend, Joseph Dicks, but this only lasted a few years. The large store was sold and removed. The smaller one is now owned by Stanley Crewe and formerly by John Caines senior, who moved to Sydney three years ago (1921).
Transcribed by Bill Crant, Elmsdale, NS Canada
Page Revised: February - 2003 (Don Tate)
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