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The Sea Traders


Archibald Hurd

Cassell and Company, Ltd
London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne

First published October 1921.
Reprintd December 1921.





1. The Riddle of the Island Empire . . 1

2. The Dawn of Commerce .

3. Merchant Seamen of Bristol .

4. Pioneers of Foreign Trade
^ 5. The Opening of the Golden Age

^ 6. The Elizabethan Renaissance

C 7. The Foundations of our Eastern Trade

8. The East India Company

9. Colston of Bristol and Paterson of

Dumfries .....

10. Some Early North Country Merchants

11. Great Georgian Merchant Princes

12. Samuel Cunard ....

13. Bridging the Atlantic

14. Early Days of the P. & O. Company

15. Donald Currie and the South African

Trade .....

16. Edward Lloyd and His Record
\ 17. The Great Expansion

Index ......






i 3647'35

The Sea Traders



England under the Heel of Conquerors — The Coming of the
Romans — The Saxon Ascendancy — The Heptarchy and
the Invading Danes — Deliverance from Servitude — England

npHAT the little island of Britain, harried by
^ Saxon and Dane, and ground under the
heel of conquerors for centuries, should have
become at last the pivot of an empire em-
bracing nearly one-quarter of the land surface
of the earth, constitutes a riddle to which the
historian offers no solution. The explanation is
possibly to be found in the fact that the history
of this great expansion has been written by lands-
men. They have told us when king succeeded
king ; they have described innumerable battles
on land ; and they have explained the growth of
our system of government ; but being themselves
without the sea-sense, they have not supplied us
with the secret of the riddle which the British
Empire presents when we glance at the map of
the world and recall the record of earlier centuries.

2 The Sea Traders

Great events are often concealed in trite
phrases which spring to the lip .without thought of
their significance. Every child reads in his history
at school of the landing of the Romans. *' The
Roman Conquest" means little or nothing to
him, and the grown-up man or woman goes
through life without realizing that this country
was subject to the Romans for about four hundred
and fifty years. They found the inhabitants little
better than barbarians, who knew next to nothing
of the culture which had flourished in p^Tst centuries
in Asia and Africa, and which afterwards bloomed
in Greece. By the Roman conquerors the natives
were regarded with contempt ; they lived amongst
them, but mixed little with them. England was
to the Romans their most distant colony, to be held
by force and ruled with all the authority which
flowed from the Imperial city of Rome. And thus
it seemed that this small island, tossed like an
afterthought out of the side of Europe, was
destined to remain the despised dependent of one
of the great empires of the continent. For after
Boadieea's vain attempt to drive out the Romans,
the conquerors remained absolute masters of the
country until at last Rome herself began to decay.
The distant legions were then called home, and
the natives left to muddle on as best they could
^without the masters under whose yoke they had
existed for so long that the memoiy of no man
or woman held the recollection of the day when
England had been free.

The Riddle of the Island Empire 3

The rude inhabitants did not know what use
to make of the freedom which had come to them
through no efforts of their own. The country was
soon embroiled in internecine warfare and became
the easy prey of marauders who swept across
the North Sea. Jutes from the peninsula of
Jutland, which the battle of 1916 has made for
ever famous ; Saxons from the regions between the
Eider and the Weser, to-day the home of the
Germans ; and Angles from Schleswig, recently
restored under the Peace Treaty to Denmark,
overran a large part of England and at last became
its masters. For another five hundred years and
more Little England lived not its own life, but
according to the habits of its invaders. The Jutes
held Kent, Canterbury being the seat of their
authority ; from Chichester, Winchester and Lon-
don the Saxons exercised their sway over Sussex,
Essex and Wessex; and York was the capital of
the Angles, who ruled Northumbria, East Anglia
and Mercia.

These seven kingdoms were known as the
Heptarchy, which only ceased to exist when
the Danes, or Norsemen, began to harass the
coast with piratical incursions. These strangers
had learnt the secret of the strength which lies in
the sea and the power which resides in the ship.
Egbert, King of Wessex, was seized with the truth
that success against the marauders was to be
found in union, and thus it came about that the
Heptarchy, which meant division and weakness,

4 The Sea Traders

was dissolved, and Egbert became the first King
of England. In that way the country passed
under some sort of united rule, but for years a
struggle for predominance continued between the
Saxons and the Danes ; at one time a Saxon king
was on the throne, and at another the crown was
worn by a Dane.

And then the Normans came. The ships which
should have stayed the progress of William the
Conqueror had been dispersed, and the invaders*
progress across the Channel met with no resistance.
A flat bit of beach was selected for the landing,
and at Pevensey, near Hastings, the whole force
disembarked unopposed on September 28, 1066.
If the fleet entrusted with the guardianship of
the English coast had been at its station off
Sandwich, the whole course of English history
might have been changed ; for the Norman sea-
men were encumbered by many soldiers with
their accoutrements, and the probability is that
the nimble English ships would have sunk the
Norman armada.

Thus it happened that England, having been
conquered successively by the Romans, the Saxons
and the Danes, passed under the rule of the
Normans. Macaulay has declared that " During
the century and a half which followed the Conquest
there is, to speak strictly, no English history.''
For the Conqueror and his descendants to the
fourth generation were not Englishmen ; most of
them were born in France ; they spent the greater

The Riddle of the Island Empire 5

part of their lives in France ; their ordinary speech
was French; almost every high office was filled
by a Frenchman; every acquisition which they
made on the continent estranged them more and
more from the population of this island. The
historian has suggested that if the Plantagenet
kings, who followed after the early Normans, had
succeeded, as at one time seemed likely, in uniting
all France under their government, England might
never have had an independent existence. " Her
princes, her lords, her prelates, would have been
men differing in race and language from the
artisans and the tillers of the earth. The revenues
of her great proprietors would have been spent in
festivities and diversions on the banks of the Seine.
The noble language of Milton and Burke would
have remained a rustic dialect, without a literature,
a fixed grammar, or a fixed orthography, and
would have been contemptuously abandoned to the
use of the boors. No man of English extraction
would have risen to eminence except by becoming
in speech and habits a Frenchman." England
would have had no place among the nations of
the world, but would have worked out her narrow
destiny as a colony of a great continental Power.
The weakness and the lack of statesmanship
of a king of direct Norman descent proved to
be England's salvation. William the Conqueror
and his successors had ranged far and \vide on
the Continent, but at last there ascended to
the throne a despicable figure in John, who was

6 The Sea Traders

eventually driven ignominiously from Normandy,
the land of his fathers. Hundreds of Norman
barons had found England a pleasant place in
which to live from time to time, and they had
grown rich and powerful. Now they were
compelled to choose between Little England
and the continent where great happenings were
occurring, offering opportunities of gain to men
of martial ardour who could count on hundreds of
vassals joining their standards when the sound of
war, profitable war, reached them. Many of them
decided to make the little island their permanent
home. " Shut up by the sea with the people whom
they had hitherto oppressed and despised, they
gradually came to regard England as their country
and the English as their countrymen. The two
races, so long hostile, soon found that they had
common interests and common enemies. Both
alike were aggrieved by the tyranny of a bad

Once again it was the failure of sea-power which
had changed the course of England's history, for
if John had secured command of the Channel,
as he might well have done, he would, probably,
never have been driven out of Normandy. His
failure was a happy event in English history, for
henceforward England was able to live her own
life. With the death of King John from chagrin
over the reverses he had suffered in Normandy,
England became herself once again. The old
feuds were buried and the various races inter-

The Riddle of the Island Empire 7

mingled ; within less than a century the English-
man, a distinctive type among the peoples of the
world, had been born to a proud destiny.

How has it happened that this small sub-
jugated island, divided between a score or so of
French barons, has become in less than nine
hundred years a world-wide Commonwealth?
There is only one answer. It is written round
our coasts — the sea.

Because there has resided, deep in the being
of its population, an instinctive love and ever-
growing mastery of the sea, this country has
lifted itself out of obscurity and secured its liberty
for nine centuries. The island refuge — the edge
of the known world as it was — of the most daring
of the earlier European tribes; the goal of the
ablest and most vigorous of the Saxon and Danish
adventurers; for over four hundred years the
colonial home of the younger sons of the Roman
Empire ; the ultimate absorber of the fiery Norman
nobles who came to rob and stayed to love — slowly
behind the Channel mists a race of strong and
peculiar quality was formed.

In this little, despised, uncultured and un-
regarded England a nation was being moulded
of stubborn and idealistic but essentially law-
abiding and liberty-loving men, who were to
discover, in the seas washing their coast, the
foundations of the world's greatest empire. As
will be seen from the following pages, it was for
many centuries a slow process. The great lessons

8 The Sea Traders

of sea-power were not rapidly learnt. The earlier
conquests of England on the continent, using sea
power at short range, supply evidence of this.
But they were learnt at last, and the nation had
no better teachers than those stout sea-traders,
merchant-adventurers, some of whose stories it is
proposed briefly to recount in this volume.

Similarly the birth of England, as a self-
conscious and independent English nation, was a
gradual process. It was probably not complete
until the middle of the fourteenth century and the
vigorous reign of Edward III.

To visitors from the richer and more cultured
Mediterranean civilization, who came to its shores
to trade in their small ships, England must have
seemed a very rude and inferior little country ;
and it is hard for us to construct now the sort of
picture that it must have presented to the Lom-
bard merchants. Apart from the strategic roads
built by the Romans, dependent for their upkeep
on local landowners, there were only a few scantily-
trodden field tracks, traversed on horseback or in
clumsy carts, while the art of bridge-making had
practically died out, not to be revived again for
a couple of hundred years. Of the principal towns
London was by far the largest, with a population
of about 40,000, York and Bristol coming next
with about 10,000 each. With the possible excep-
tion of Coventry, Norwich and Lincoln, and, it
may be, Colchester in Essex, no other town
was so big as, for instance, Swanage is to-day.

The Riddle of the Island Empire 9

The total population of the country was, in fact,
less than 3,000,000, a figure which had not very
greatly increased in Elizabethan times, and which
was seriously depleted in the middle of the
fourteenth century owing to the ravages of the
Black Death.

Of this population at least three-quarters were
scattered over the country in agricultural pursuits,
and gathered together in exclusive and illiterate
little communities — largely self-governing — about
the various manor houses. The staple food grown
was, of course, wheat; but the conditions under
which it was sown were still so primitive that the
average yield from the seed was only a quarter of
what it is at present. Winter roots were unknown,
and there were no such things in England as
potatoes, turnips, parsnips or carrots.

Most of the houses were built of wood, except
that, here and there, where houses adjoined each
other, the sides might be built of masonry in order
to prevent the spreading of fire. Glass was almost
unknown ; there was usually an open hearth in the
middle of the living-room ; warm clothes had to
be put on indoors in order to counteract the
draughts ; such chairs as were to be found in the
average dwelling were but planks on trestles ;
sanitation scarcely existed, and vermin afflicted
both rich and poor.

It is true that, in the houses of the well-to-do,
such articles as feather-beds, linen sheets, serge
blankets and cushions >vere to be found ; but even

10 The Sea Traders

in these houses the conditions of life >vere such as
would hardly be tolerated anywhere to-day. It
was generally impossible, for instance, to warm
one's hands, as it has been said, without burning
one's boots ; while the price of a tallow candle —
worth four times its weight in beefsteak — led
people to retire early to bed as a matter of
necessary economy. Such things as night attire
and pocket-handkerchiefs were unknown and there-
fore unused. There was no tea and no coffee,
and sugar was a rare and almost wholly medicinal
luxury. In the average house slabs of bread, after-
wards given to the poor, were the usual plates, and
meat was eaten with the fingers, table knives and
forks being practically never seen.

This then was the England of the first real
English — the English of the reign of Edward III
— a little, almost roadless island of villages and
rough timber houses, in which lived people who
had few of the things we regard as necessaries and
none of our luxuries. Its total population was
scarcely one-half of that of London of to-day ; and
the dreams of its rulers, when their eyes turned
seawards, were of possessions on the continent of
Europe. Those dreams were to fade, as we shall
see, from the national consciousness. But it had
already been realized that, if they were to be
attained, the lordship of the local seas was a first
necessity. By the victory of Sluys, in which no
fewer than seven hundred English ships — merchant
ships of course — were engaged, Edward III had

The Riddle of the Island Empire ii

become justified in claiming this command. Little
asr it could have been presaged, it was in that
victory, in 1840, and in the sea impulse that it
registered, that there lay hidden the secret of the
British Empire and all that it stands for to-day.



A Picture of Old London — The Importance of the Merchant
— Master Philpot and King Richard II. — The Audacity of
John Mercer, the Pirate — His Defeat and Capture — Master
Philpot and the King's Council — Belated Honours.

npHE fusion of the dominant races which had
-■- settled in this island may be said to have been
complete by the reign of Edward III, and it is
from this king's accession that the expansion of
England and the growth of its trade and sea power
must be dated. He was a statesman as well as
a warrior. He encouraged commerce, inviting
Flemish handicraftsmen to settle in this country,
laid the foundations on which constitutional
government in this country has since rested, and
defeated and captured the French king. In Master
John Philpot, who was to rise to be Lord Mayor
of London, we have a typical figure of this period,
a man of robust physique, sound judgment, and
jolly wit — in short, an Englishman. In building
up his own fortunes he furnished a fine example
of the influence which even in those early days the
individual citizen could exercise on the destiny of
the nation.

Various factors, of course, apart from the
peculiar absorptive stubbornness of the Saxon


The Dawn of Commerce 13

temperament, were concerned in this final integra-
tion of the Enghsh race. The successful wars with
France, with their outstanding victories of Sluys
at sea in 1840, and of Cressy and Poictiers on land
in 1346 and 1850 respectively, acted no doubt as
a strong unifying influence; and, in a lesser
degree, the military victories in Scotland served
a similar purpose. But it is arguable that the
culminating agency was the native genius of
Geoffrey Chaucer, in which the English language,
as we now understand it, found its first and most
glorious literary expression.

The military victories of Edward III have
assumed too conspicuous a place in history as
it has been hitherto popularly taught, and a far
greater importance ought really to be attached to
the immense strides in trade and commerce that
England made during these fifty years. For
the first time, with the full recognition and
indeed with the encouragement of the monarch,
the merchants of England began to step into a
definite and important place in the communal
life of the country and the councils of the
State. Thus we find, not very long after the
battle of Poictiers, Harry Picard, a wealthy wine
merchant of London, entertaining as his guests
no fewer than four monarchs— the King of
England, the King of Scotland, the King of
France and the King of Cyprus. Already the
doom of the armoured knights and nobles had
been faintly uttered from the mouths of the

14 The Sea Traders

primitive cannon fired at Cressy ; and the import-
ance of the trading cities was already challenging
the hitherto unquestioned supremacy of the terri-
torial feudalism of the great barons.

Of these cities London, of course, had already
assumed the leadership, and before considering, in
the person of Master Philpot, one of its ablest,
most characteristic and independent citizens, we
may try to picture the capital, of whose commercial
enterprise he was so largely the product. Within
its four walls it contained the most famous markets
of the country. In what is now known as Cheap-
side many articles of food such as bread, cheese,
fruit and poultry were sold by dealers at their
stalls on either side of the road. In what is now
known as Cornhill merchants dealt in grains of all
sorts and manufactured articles of iron and wood.
The grocers chiefly congregated in Queen Street.

In what is still called the Poultry such
poulterers as were freemen of the City of London
conducted their trade, while in Leadenhall, where
there is still a market in game and poultry, dealers
who were not citizens were allowed to carry on
their business. The butchers cried their wares in
Newgate, while in the neighbourhood of St. Mary
Woolnoth the wool and cloth merchants used to
meet for the purposes of their particular industry.
All this, of course, was within the four walls of
the old and circumscribed city, and the villages
of Strand, Holborn and Charing Cross ,were
"without the walls."

The Dawn of Commerce 15

At this period England was still, as it remained
for many centuries, almost overwhelmingly agri-
cultural, and, in consequence, self-supporting as
regarded food. The coimtry was indeed able to
export a limited amount of corn and fish, and
some of its merchants were engaged in selling
these things in foreign markets. For the purpose
of self-protection, mutual help and insurance, the
system of guilds was, before the accession of
Edward III, fairly well established, and during
his reign they were conceded many valuable

The selection of city officers and even of
members of Parliament was placed in their hands,
and by 1876 there were no fewer than forty-eight
of these guilds or companies in the position to
exercise this important right.

Into the history of this movement it is unneces-
sary to enter, but it is from these times, and even
earlier, that many of the great City companies
such as the Fishmongers', the Grocers', and the
Mercers' Companies date their existence. Nor
was their enterprise confined within the realms
of this island. The great naval victory of Sluys,
with King Edward's claim that he was, by right.
Lord of the Four Seas, lent a stimulus to
marine undertakings of all kinds. It was in this
reign also that Macham, an Englishman, dis-
covered Madeira and made the researches and
observations that subsequently led the French to
the discovery of the Canary Islands,

i6 The Sea Traders

This, very briefly, was the London, and
the mercantile atmosphere that went towards the
building up of the private fortunes of John
Philpot, though it was not until the death of the
old King, after a year or two of dotage, that, as
an alderman of Lrondon, he definitely stepped into
the pages of history. He was then, as the most
influential member of the great Grocers' Company,
and one of the wealthiest and most honest and
courageous of English merchants, the leading
figure of a deputation from the City of London
to the young King Richard II, then residing at
Kennington. Considerably as the merchants and
citizens of London doubted the capacity of the new
monarch, we find Philpot, on June 22, 1377,
addressing the young king in the following terms :

"We bring news, most excellent Prince,"
he said, "which without great sorrow we cannot
rehearse, of the undoubted death of our most
invincible King Edward, who hath kept and
governed us and this kingdom for a long time in
quiet peace. And now we beseech you on behalf
of the citizens of London that you will have recom-
mended to your good grace the City, your chamber,
seeing that you are shortly to be our King and that
to your rule we submit ourselves, bowing to your
will and pleasure under your dominion to serve in
word and deed."

He was vWell received by the King and his
immediate councillors, but when, in September of
the same year. Parliament met to vote a subsidy

The Dawn of Commerce 17

to its new sovereign, so doubtful was it of the use
to which the King would be likely to put the
money, that a stipulation was made to the effect
that the money should be put into the safe keeping
of trustees. The Lord Mayor of London, William
Walworth, and John Philpot himself, were ap-
pointed to undertake this trust ; and in their
persons we trace the first stage in the creation of
the great office of Chancellor of the Exchequer.

That was in the year 1377, and in the next,
when he w^as himself Lord Mayor of London,
Philpot took into his own hands, owing to the
supineness of the Government, the suppression of a
notorious pirate, one John Mercer, a Scot. This
man and his father, who were nominally merchants
of Perth, had made common cause with the enemy
during the wars of Edward III against the French
and were still harrying English shipping. The
father, the year before, had been driven by a storm
on to the Yorkshire coast, where he had been cap-
tured and interned in Scarborough Castle. The
son, however, was still at large, capturing or sink-
ing English vessels, and had even gone so far as to
threaten the Mayor of Dover that he would burn
that town if a ransom were not forthcoming.

Not directly hurt by these depredations, the
nobles about the King had taken no active steps
to deal with this pirate. But to the courageous
and common-sense mind of Master John Philpot
it was an intolerable situation, and he resolved to
end it. Collecting, at his own expense, some

iS The Sea Traders

fourteen ships and a thousand picked men, he set
sail, without permission of the Government, in
search of John Mercer; and there is perhaps
nothing more typically English in our sea records
than the picture of this robust Chief Magistrate

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