The story of a Jersey collier in 1745

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A Jersey collier in 1745

This article by Peter Raban was first published in the 1988 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

The taking of L'Aimable Catherine

Early in August 1744, the Industry, Captain John Le Gros, a 40-ton Jersey privateer carrying eight guns, as many swivels and a crew of 50 when she had set out on her first cruise six weeks earlier, returned home. She brought with her one prize, L'Aimable Catherine (Guillaume Tallie), a small brigantine of about her own size which she had taken two leagues south-west of Belle Isle.

Le Gros also had ransom bills and hostages from three other French coasters, the total value of which amounted to 1,275 livres tournois and 95 livres 'hat money' for his own pocket. He had taken also two other prizes (the Trinite of Camaret and the Petit Pierre of Brest) but both these, with their prize crews, had been retaken by Le Soleil, a coast-guard ship, and thus Le Gros had lost two of his officers, Philip Falle (age 32) and Abraham Chevalier (34), together with Philip de Gruchy (56), Jean Moisson (20), Richard Aubert (25), Thomas Deysson (34), Nicholas Horman (21) and Clement Romery (28) a volunteer or landsman who described himself, under French interrogation as sans avoir du qualite sur l'Industry; they were to kick their heels in French prisons for several months before being exchanged.

When examined by the Admiralty commissioners in Jersey, Tallie stated that his brigantine, of which he was a two-thirds owner, had been built at Landernau in 1737 and he valued her at over £160, or about £4 a ton, which proved to be a greatly exaggerated figure, and that he had picked up his cargo of wine at Blaye in Bordeaux River and was homeward bound when taken.


When the Industry had been commissioned as a privateer her stated owners were Thomas Denton, her armateur or ship's husband, Jean Mauger, Edward Luce and Jean Dean; ownership was divided into eight shares, the other four in the partnership were Philip Le Tocque, Jean Poingdestre, Thomas Remon and another Jean Le Gros, not the captain.

Some of those shares were again sub-divided into sixteenths, the holders of which were Pierre and Philip Luce and Daniel Messervy. The original partners had purchased the Industry in April 1744 for £130 (£3+ per ton) and had spent a further £425 in converting and arming her as a privateer (the armaments alone cost 3,248 livres, just under £145), and provisioning and paying the crew's advances (wages, part wages and shares, or gratuities on engagement).

The total outlay for her first cruise thus amounted to just under £14 per ton, a figure that compares with the costs of a few other privateers from the islands and elsewhere for which the outlay is known. When such a ship was kept in commission for a longer period (if she survived without falling into enemy hands) those costs would increase very considerably.

As a small shareholder, Messervy's investment amounted to a little under £35. From Denton's accounts it can be deduced that Messervy's share of the ransoms and Aimable Catherine amounted to some £7, and when he sold his share in the Industry back to Denton in January 1745, he was credited with £30, so that his 'profit' on that venture was just £2.

Although the Catherine, (L'Aimable being dropped from her name from thereon) was condemned as a lawful prize two months later and was put up for auction at the local Prize Court, it was not until 25 February 1745 that Jean Poingdestre, Adjudicataire en Vente Publique, was able to complete her purchase by Daniel Messervy in partnership with Thomas Denton, as manager, and Edward Luce for £41.8.0 and 40 louis d'ordre pour les pauvres et quartre pots de vin for the vendors.

Each of the three partners had an equal interest in her and thereafter shared the expenses between them. Their intention was to employ the Catherine as a collier plying between Jersey and South Wales, a trade in which a number of Channel Island vessels were engaged and one which went back at least to Elizabethan times.

A collier in the early 19th century

Channel Island trade in coal

Ports in southern England drew their coal both from Newcastle and South Wales and the local Port Books for Southampton, Poole and Weymouth - covering the 1740-1770 period - show that the islanders drew some of their domestic supplies from those sources, though on occasion they sent their own vessels to the Tyne for that same purpose.

It would seem to be uneconomic to compete with the much larger Scarborough colliers (average 300 tons burthen, with about 15 crew) which made regular deliveries to the south coast ports, and yet the islanders found reasons for engaging their much smaller vessels on that much longer route compared with a passage to Swansea or Neath.

In wartime their essential trade with London necessitated running the gauntlet of Calais and Dunkirk corsairs in the bottleneck of the Dover Straits. While every sea route from the islands was imperilled, that particular one would seem to be the least attractive. Yet Lloyd's Lists of shipping movements (which are by no means complete or accurate and only sparsely cover Channel Island shipping) occasionally reported a Guernsey or Jersey vessel trading as far north as Berwick.

Slightly more frequently Kings Lynn or Hull were ports of call, presumably for deliveries of wine, and thus there would be grounds for extending a voyage to the Tyne to bring back coal. But from the French Amiraute archives and from Lloyd's Shipping News, among the casualties reported on that route there were included the Heureuse Epreuve (Jean Slous), a 24-tonner which left Guernsey on 31 August 1760, direct for Newcastle (and presumably in ballast).

On her return journey she was struck by a gale off the Forelands and driven on to the French coast near Calais; her crew managed to get ashore and were taken prisoner. Three months later the Joseph and Mary (Atkinson) bound for Guernsey from Shields was stopped and ransomed for 200 guineas. Earlier in that war the Happy Return (Le Geyt) was ransomed for £310 in June, 1757, and a year later was taken by the French into Le Havre; on both occasions she was returning to Guernsey from Sunderland.

South Wales trade

On the other hand Lloyd's is totally silent about any Channel Island traffic with South Wales; it did not come within the province of their reporters, and yet it was a trade of considerable importance to all three islands for a variety of reasons. Two casualties on that route have been noted: the Experiment (Thomas Olliver), a 100-tonner of Guernsey, laden with coal from the Bristol Channel, was taken off the south coast by the Charles Grenot of Granville in November, 1744; and the Marie (Jean Houpe), 45 tons with five crew, bound for Swansea in ballast from Jersey, was ransomed by the Bellona of Saint Malo for 1,100 livres (c £50) on 8 March 1758.

Some indications of island traffic on this route from as early as the second half of the 16th century are contained in an article by Doctor Trevor Williams in the Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise for 1934. The first entry that he noted was for the Martin of Guernsey going from Burry Creek (Llanelly) to France with coal; the only other shipment to that destination (in most instances the destination is not stated in the records) was the Elizabeth of Jersey carrying five weys in 1595.

He noticed a considerable increase of Channel Island traffic towards the end of that century, with Jersey ships in the ascendancy, and assumed that they were all homeward bound where the destination was not stated. However, in a further study that he made of the same Port Books for the period 1709-1719, the volume of trade had increased considerably, the greater part of it being carried by Guernsey ships which were also engaged in shipping coal to Cork (two voyages) and Nantes in 1714, and to Morlaix, Brest (5), La Rochelle (2 and one Jersey shipment) and Bordeaux (2) in 1719.

Unloading a collier

Onward shipment

Occasionally a return cargo of wine or salt would be traded back to Wales for a further lading of coal, but mostly the outward passage from the islands was in ballast, or with a small lading of cider or other local produce. Nothing in those records reveals the steady onward shipment of coal from the islands to Saint Malo and the local Cotentin ports.

Evidences for such traffic are to be found in the Pierre de Ste Croix Protest Book, a very valuable source for the 1739-1744 period, although it must be remembered that such a record deals only with legal protests of many forms and that those concerned with shipping reflect only a minute proportion of the traffic with France, England and Newfoundland.

Returning home from Neath with coal, Pierre Maynard, master of the Two Friends, a Jersey snow, collided with a sloop from Granville off Saint Helier in December 1740. (Winter was not a deterrent to that trade.) Maynard duly protested against the damage incurred to his ship. When Philip Payn sold his eighth share in the Elizabeth to J Le Couteur in May 1742, the transaction also included his share of the Bristol coals still on board.

Of more direct reference is a Guernsey vessel, the Union (Michael Thoume) in August 1741, which had carried coals from Swansea to Granville for M Marquand de Beauvais and was returning with passengers and merchandise but, putting into Jersey, the ship was arrested by Captain John Theodore on the grounds of an unpaid debt owed to him by Philip Messervy of Saint Martin, Jersey, who was part-owner of the Union.

Taken prisoner

A sampling of West Country port books covering the outbreak of the Seven Years War produces one reference of particular significance to this study. On 24 November 1755 David Sale put into Plymouth in the Endeavour of Guernsey to unload six chaldrons of Swansea coal on his way home. Seven months later, and within days of the declaration of war, he commanded the Surprise I, 30-ton privateer, in which he appears to have had no success. A year later, on the Boscawen of Guernsey, he became a French prisoner.

Because he was French-speaking, he had to state his parental origins to the Amiraute Commissioners at Nantes. Then aged 36, he stated that he had been a seafarer for 26 years and that his father was originally from Caen but had left Normandie 60 years earlier.)

If the collier masters' names listed in Doctor Williams' extracts from the Swansea records for 1714 and 1719 are compared with those which are mentioned in studies of Channel Island privateering in the War of the Spanish Succession 1702-1712, it will be found that after that war ended a dozen captains took up employment as masters on this route.

It may be assumed that David Sale was only one of a number who were recruited from that source as pilots or captains of privateers for the ensuing wars in 1744 or 1756. While the Tyneside colliers were the traditional nursery for recruits for the Navy, the island colliers, particularly those trading to Brittany and the French Biscayan ports, were the training ground for privateering pilots and captains. Knowledge of the inshore waters and the outlying harbours was essential for success in commerce raiding on French petit cabotage in those same areas which were less well known to the islands' larger ships trading direct between Newfoundland, the Plantations, the Caribbean and France, Iberia and the Mediterranean.

Wartime knowledge

Thus the economic value of the carrying trade in coal was paralleled by that intimate knowledge which was so valuable in wartime, a point which has not been made in other studies of this subject. If this was mostly to the advantage of Guernsey, which held the larger stake in that trade at this period, Jersey came into her own with her more local trade in coal to the neighbouring French ports, but for a different reason to do with the security of the islands when war was pending.

Internal traffic routes in France were notoriously abominable and transport was further hindered by customs barriers between the departments and provinces. Whatever supplies of coal she possessed she desperately needed British coal and lead. As an example, when the Seven Years War was ending, Paris sent urgent instructions to the authorities in Le Havre and Rouen that, as soon as it was possible to reopen trade with England, special priority should be given to colliers - such was their need.

The islanders were well practised, as entrepreneurs, in meeting the material and spirituous needs of other societies by whatever means came to hand, legally or otherwise; they were also well exercised in getting to know what the potential enemy (France) was plotting, prior to the declarations of war, to suppress their privateers by intended invasion and takeover of their islands, of which Jersey was the most exposed.

Threat to islands

In September 1755 the British Navy began operations to destroy French maritime trade by seizing over 300 of their ships before war was finally declared in June 1756. The French economy needed British imports and was slow to retaliate, but finally closed her ports to all such trade in the spring of 1756 with one notable exception. Meanwhile she was massing troops and shipping in Saint Malo, Carteret, Granville and Morlaix with a view to an obvious amphibious operation which could either be launched against the islands or Ireland.

England was too closely guarded by the Navy to give much hope of success for such an attack on her own shores. It was vital that the islanders should get first-hand intelligence of what was being planned and to that purpose they were still able to gather some information from their own as well as French smugglers of tobacco. But, somewhat to their surprise, when they tested the closed doors of trade by baiting the hook with a Jersey collier, she was immediately admitted to Granville.

Whitehall was puzzled that French passports were available for island shipping and was suspicious, and not without reason, considering the other forms of illicit trade that went on, war or no war. For three months right up to early June, Charles Lempriere, Lieut-Bailiff of Jersey, regularly sent coal ships to one or other of the local French ports specifically to be able to send up-to-date intelligence reports to James D'Auvergne, Equerry to the Prince of Wales, who had the ear of the Newcastle Ministry. The urgency of those reports underlined the islanders' requests for adequate naval and military protection.

The last such collier to be sent failed to return, as Charles d'Auvergne reported to his brother on 10 June: "We sent some time back a small boat with coals to Granville which we have great reason to believe is detained." Thus Welsh coal met local domestic needs, provided the islanders with an important branch of carrying trade from Cherbourg to Bordeaux, opened the doors to French ports for intelligence purposes and was the nursery for many privateersmen. The humble collier had many parts to play and the Catherine was employed for a season in the first of those four roles in 1745.

The Catherine: A Jersey collier

Thomas Denton's accounts are particularly valuable because they reveal the costs of outlay and maintenance of this small brigantine, and of coal purchases, crewing and provisioning and other incidentals as well as the apparent profit or loss after three voyages to Neath between March and October 1745. Although the final purchase was not signed until 25 February 1745, Denton began in January the work of refitting the Catherine, which had deteriorated considerably over the six months since her capture.

His first purchases were deck nails - 33 lb in all - some planks, rerigging (costing over £10) and many other items as well as payments to sub-contractors for unspecified services. The total outlay was nearly £51. He then hired a crew and paid a month's wages in advance to the master, Charles Chevallier, (50 livres), Jean Mauger and Rene Fleury (20 livres each), Jean Enouf (15 livres) and 10 livres for the cabin boy's parents; together with provisioning those bills amounted to about £10.

In addition, £50 was sent to their London agent, George Amyand, to cover insurance of the boat and cargo and on whom Chevallier could draw bills for the purchase of coals and other costs. After the completion of each voyage, once the vessel was unloaded, the crew received the balance of their wages (which went up by 25 per cent after the first voyage) and payment for additional work done once in harbour. The total they received for the three voyages amounted to £35 6s, including 46s which they drew from Chevallier in Neath. Between voyages various smaller repairs and replacements, as well as caulking and careening 'à la Tour', probably Saint Aubin's Fort, added to the expenses. The total outlay can be summarised:

Purchase of the Catherine £41 8s
Refitting £50 14s
Total £92 2s
Running costs for three voyages
London agent £50
Wages £35 6s
Repairs, renewals and provisions £117 14s
Total £203

Accounts submitted

At the end of each voyage Chevallier submitted his own accounts which are included in the above summary. Apart from the payment for the coal and duties on it, they included harbour dues, lighthouse fees pour les Feux de Milleford, Surlinges (Scillies), Edestone, Casquet et Porland for which £1 5d was paid on each voyage, pilotage into and out of Neath (£1 13s), a pair of new slippers for the cabin boy costing 3s 6d, and provisions, with other incidentals. The provisions included bread, vegetables such as cabbages (caboches), leeks (poiraux) and turnips (navaux) and fresh meat, mutton or veal.

The owners provided brandy and some beer or cider, but in Neath, Chevallier bought barrels of beer including small beer at 2d a gallon and grand at 3d a quart. He also bought 7½ dozen empty bottles at 1½d each, an additional cargo which was also noted by Doctor Williams. The outward passage was invariably in ballast, the discharge of which cost about 10s, including a pourboire for the labourers and coal porters. On the first voyage he also brought back 340 items of earthenware, including plates, dishes, jugs, pots (also de chambre) and other items difficult to identify from the mixture of anglo-normand phonetics.

These passed through the partners' accounts with no reference to freight or later sale. His total bill for the three voyages was £57 4s 3d. The lighthouse fees indicate the route navigated, with the shortest crossing of the Channel to Portland and then coastwise with the least exposure to enemy corsairs that infested those waters. On his first voyage Chevallier paid 6d for an anchorage in Helford river, probably sheltering there from a gale.

Coal costs and sales

Coal was purchased by the waitte (wey), Neath measure, at 27-29s. Duties were charged per chaldron (half a wey) at 6s, but on the third voyage, the six Neath weys were charged for duty on nine chaldrons (Newcastle measure) to add confusion to divers methods of measurement then in use. By that method Chevallier saved 15s, possibly by some private arrangement with the Collector who seems to have operated a system to his personal advantage.

Doctor Williams noted a similar variability 30 years previously, but since his calculations of Newcastle, Neath or London measures of coal are open to question, the tonnage of coal actually carried to Jersey by the Catherine is also difficult to calculate exactly. Her tonnage is given in the Prize Court papers as 40 tons, and it is difficult to conceive that she was employed much under her capacity for a full cargo. (Culm, or anthracite dust with a greater weight per ton capacity, which was much in demand in the islands at the end of that century, is not referred to in Denton's accounts which refer throughout, to charbon.)

What is clear from those accounts is that the partners disposed of 121 quarters after the first voyage, and 130 quarters after the second and third deliveries, or, for the latter voyages 27 or 32.5 tons depending on a 'quarter' being either 500 lb (old measure) or 560 lb (modern measure).

On arrival in Jersey Chevallier sold some coal to customers at the quayside on behalf of the owners, who disposed of the rest, keeping some for their own cellars either for household use or later sale. All sales were at a fixed price.

The total sales would have been valued at 3,610 livres, or £160. A slight adjustment has to be made for the actual quantity of coal on board ship since Denton noted after the third voyage that, in addition to the 130 quarters put ashore, some six quarters were left on board, as on the previous voyage, pour servir de leste (ballast) jusqu'a ce qu'on la renvoye. In attempting to draw up a profit and loss account on all these transactions, no allowance has been made for amortization or depreciation (on a decaying asset), nor for the costs of cellarage of stored coal nor for the personal overheads and time spent in managing this business.

Overall loss

Excluding the initial costs of purchase and refitting the Catherine, the other costs amounted to £203, and thus after allowing for the full value of the coal there was an apparent loss of £43 on this venture. But whether Denton and his partners viewed the operation in those terms is questionable. Certainly they came out of it with a vessel that was in much better order than it had been when they purchased it. It is at that point that the accounts close, with the ship in harbour from 30 October onwards, and Denton submitted his final statements to Messervy and Luce on Christmas Eve by which time they were arranging an agreement for her next employment in the Newfoundland fisheries.

On 10 January 1746, they signed the Charter Party with Captain Philip Le Brocq and partners. The terms were that they provided the ship, fully equipped together with salt for the fish and all provisions de bouche (food and drink) and would provide a new grapnel and cable, for which they would receive two-thirds of all fish, oil and anything else taken or found on the voyage. If Le Brocq sold any of his catch or took on a cargo they were to receive two-thirds of it.

If he took passengers he was to provide one-third of their provisions, the owners providing the balance and taking two-thirds of any profit or freight therefrom. Le Brocq was to employ nine crew, provide a shallop (sloop) and skiff and all fishing equipment (Retts, Saines, Lignes, Aines, Fisselles etc) From the day of sailing the proprietors were to pay two-thirds of all harbour dues and other charges levied on the ship. Le Brocq and partners were responsible for the ship and all her furnishings, with a backing guarantee of all their biens, meubles et heritages presents et futurs,

Thus the Catherine graduated from French coastal trade, to collier, to Newfoundlander but her later history is unknown. In her new capacity she was one of the smaller vessels in that fleet, and if she escaped shipwreck, capture or other calamity she may have finished her days in Newfoundland rather than face the twice yearly crossing of the Atlantic.

(The original article is accompanied by further details of costs and earnings and a detailed inventory of the Brigantine L’Aimable Catherine)

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