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National and political events began also to play
an important part in its development after the death
of Charles I. Oliver Cromwell found it, for
example, to be the best highway to Ireland, while
the Irish troubles of 1641 led to the emigration
into the town of a not inconsiderable number of
Irishmen, who thus founded that Irish colony
which has ever since played so noticeable a
part in the civic life of Liverpool. Furthermore,
the Plague and Fire of London in the years 1665
and 1666, with their temporary disastrous effect
upon the commerce of the capital, had brought
to Liverpool many London merchants anxious to
make a fresh start in new and less afflicted
surroundings. Amongst its inhabitants in the
year 1673, for instance, a contemporary wrote that
there were " divers eminent merchants and trades-
men, whose trade and traffic, especially in the

Early North Country Merchants 123

West Indies, make it famous, its situation afford-
ing in great plenty, and at rcasonabler rates than
in most parts of England, such exported eom-
modities as are proper for the West Indies, as
likewise a quicker return for such imported com-
modities by reason of the sugar-bakers and great
manufacturers of cotton in the adjacent parts ; and
the rather for that it is found to be the con-
venientest passage to Ireland, and divers consider-
able counties of England, with which they have
increase of traffic. Here is now erected at the
public charges a famous town house, placed on
pillars and arches of hewn stone, and underneath
is the public exchange of the merchants. It hath
a very considerable market on Saturdays for all
sorts of provisions and divers commodities, which
are bought by the merchants, and hence trans-
ported as aforesaid."

The foundations of the town were, therefore,
as will be seen, by this time well and truly laid,
and in the building of the great structure that
was afterwards to arise upon them few men played
a more prominent or public-spirited part than
Thomas Johnson, destined though he was, like
William Paterson, to die in comparative obscurity
and to be largely forgotten.

The son of a Bedford man, Thomas Johnson's
father had migrated to Liverpool, where he had
already begun to receive civic honours just about
the time when Thomas Johnson himself was born ;
and the older man lived to hand over the mayor-

124 The Sea Traders

alty of Liverpool to his son Thomas in the year
1695. The latter was then still under forty,
but apparently a successful and intelligent man
of business, although in his later life he seems to
have devoted most of his energies to the fortunes
of his birthplace rather than to his own.

It was as a dealer in cheese, oil and timber, and
also in Virginia tobacco, that Thomas Johnson
was chiefly engaged, when not about municipal
business ; but the part that he played in composing
the very acute differences that had arisen between
the cheesemongers in London and the Liverpool
shippers, whose harbour dues were considered by
the former to be excessive, led him to be elected,
in the year 1701, as Member of Parliament for
the growing city. This was the beginning of a
parliamentary career that lasted for twenty years,
during which time, while pressing in particular the
interests of his constituents, he stoutly maintained
a liberal attitude and was a steady champion of
religious tolerance.

We have already referred to cheese as one of
the commodities in which Liverpool was develop-
ing a considerable trade, and to this there was now
being added salt from the Cheshire mines, also a
most valuable article of commerce. It was so
valuable, indeed, that the Government had already
discerned in it a useful field for the taxation
imperatively required for the furtherance of
Marlborough's military campaigns on the con-
tinent of Europe. In this case also Johnson

Early North Country Merchants 125

fought hard to obtain as advantageous terms as
possible, and he afterwards played the same part,
on behalf of his fellow-townsmen, in respect of

Tobacco was by now much the most important
of all the articles in which Liverpool dealt ; and,
indeed, the progress of the town for the next one
hundred and fifty years may roughly be divided
into three commercial eras — fifty years of tobacco,
fifty years of slave-trading, and fifty years of
cotton. In the first of these eras the population
grew from about 5,000 to 18,000, in the second
from about 18,000 to 80,000, and in the third from
80,000 to 450,000.

In Johnson's time the tobacco era was in its
early days. In the first ten years of the eighteenth
century imports from Virginia amounted to
about 12,000 tons, of which a little over 7,000
were for reshipment to other countries. Of this
trade, Liverpool already had a larger share than
any other town in the country. Here, again,
Johnson was prominent in guarding the interests
of his native town, of which many of the older
ones were, as before, growing increasingly jealous.
But perhaps his greatest work of all was in the
creation of Liverpool Old Dock, the oldest dock
in the kingdom, and a crucial event in Liverpool's
civic history.

Up to that time, although it had advantages
over the river Dee, the Mersey was not to be
compared either with the Thames at London, the

126 The Sea Traders

Severn Estuary at Bristol, or the Humber at Hull ;
and Thomas Johnson and his friends were resolved,
if possible, to outstrip all these ports. In the year
1699, therefore, the first beginning of an artificial
harbour was made, although it was not until a few
years later that the work was undertaken in real
earnest. At last, in the year 1708, when the
Corporation found itself with an income of £1,200
a year, and the Mersey was being used annually
by over three hundred ships, it was resolved to go

Before this time a timid beginning in improv-
ing the navigation of the Mersey had been made
in the year 1694 by one Thomas Patten, a
merchant of Warrington. He had widened the
river and made it navigable between Runcorn
and Warrington. Important, however, as this
improvement of the navigation of the river was
to prove, the necessity to adapt the waterway to
the purposes of its increasing sea traffic was even
more pressing. The Corporation, therefore, in-
structed its two Members of Parliament, Thomas
Johnson and Richard Norris, to obtain the
necessary authority for the conversion of the pool
into a great harbour.

A year before that Johnson had been knighted,
much against his will, for his services to the town,
and he now succeeded in obtaining parliamentary
consent for the levying of the necessary dock rates
and the floating of a loan by the Liverpool Corpora-
tion. There was much opposition, but. as Johnson

Early North Country Merchants 127

sagely pointed out, the proposed measure would
not only be of value to the commerce of the nation
generally, but would be a very great service to the
Navy, there being no other dock convenience on
that coast. The work proceeded slowly, but within
twelve years the Old Dock was completed. It was
soon, however, to become inadequate to the
enormous demands which were being made upon
the port, and has been long since filled up to make
room for the Liverpool Custom House ; but it was
the first great step in Liverpool's history as a
mercantile harbour, and Johnson lived to see
some of its results, though not, alas ! to enjoy

With these results we shall have occasion to
deal in future chapters, but Thomas Johnson him-
self was never, as we have said, a rich man, and
during his twenty years of unselfish devotion to
the interests of the town of Liverpool in Parlia-
ment he became steadily poorer. At the end of
these years, when once more re-elected, a singularly
ungracious but successful appeal was made against
him on the ground, never contested by him, that
he was not a landowner worth £300 a year, and
was therefore ineligible as a parliamentary repre-
sentative. A few months afterwards he was glad
to obtain an appointment worth, we are told, £80
a year in Virginia, and it was here, some six years
later, that he died as an obscure and unremembered
custom-house officer.

Turning from Liverpool to Glasgow, we

r28 The Sea Traders

discover that the now famous Scottish town, just as
in the case of its Lancashire rival, was not destined
to rise into greatness for several centuries after
such towns as London, Bristol and Norwich, for
instance, had become wealthy ; and it was not until
the union between England and Scotland, in
which, as we have seen, William Paterson played
so striking a part, that it really began to make
substantial headway.

For all that, however, its commercial history
was a long one, the earliest figure of prominence
among its merchants being that of William Elphin-
stone, a contemporary of WiUiam Canynge, whose
history we have already considered. This William
Elphinstone, who may reasonably be said to have
been the founder of Glasgow's commercial life,
was an exporter of fish, dry herrings and salmon
especially, which he chiefly sold to France in
exchange for wines and brandy. With his profits,
which were considerable, he helped to endow
Aberdeen University, founded by his son. Bishop
Elphinstone, and destined in later years to
become the alma mater of so many notable

Another early merchant of Glasgow was one
Archibald Lyon, who undertook, we are told,
many great voyages to Poland, France and
Holland, and built numerous houses and shops in
the Glasgow of the year loOO. Like so many of
the merchant-adventurers whose lives we have been
studying, he was the younger son of a noble

Early North Country Merchants 129

family, and he himself became the founder of a
prosperous line.

Yet another figure who gave a substantial
impetus to Glasgow commerce was one Walter
Gibson. He was originally a brewer, but in the
year 1688 he fell under the glamour of oversea
adventure, hired a Dutch vessel of 450 tons, and
packed it with barrels of herrings. These he
shipped to France, where for each barrel of
herrings he received a crown piece and a barrel
of brandy. With the crown pieces he purchased
salt, and afterwards sold both the salt and the
brandy so satisfactorily that he was able to pur-
chase, not only the Dutch ship in which he made
his original venture, but two other vessels almost
as large, thereby setting to his fellow-citizens an
example that they were not slow to imitate.

An even more striking example of the success
of individual enterprise and judgment was that,
however, of William Flakefield, the son of another
Glasgow merchant of the same era. Apprenticed
to a weaver, and finding the work monotonous, he
enlisted in the year 1670 in the Cameronian
Regiment, afterwards joining the Scots Guards,
and living for some years on the Continent. Here
there caught his eye one day a sudden novelty in
the shape of a blue and white check pocket hand-
kerchief, and the idea occurred to him of returning
to Glasgow and introducing this elegant article to
his fellow-townsmen.

He therefore returned in the year 1700,

130 The Sea Traders

collected a few spindles of yarn fit for the purpose,
and manufactured as his first sample about two
dozen of these handkerchiefs. The delicate texture
and the pattern at once appealed to the Glasgow
merchants, who bought up his handkerchiefs, the
first of the kind ever sold in Great Britain. That
was the beginning of what, in these days, would
be called a " boom." The demand for these new
articles very quickly exceeded the supply ; looms
were hastily installed, and merchants and weavers
from all parts of the country came to study the
new process. Like so many other pioneers, how-
ever, William Flakefield seems to have lacked the
ability to amass wealth for himself and to have
died in extreme poverty.

Meanwhile there was beginning upon the banks
of the Clyde the first stir of that great shipbuild-
ing industiy later to become renowned throughout
the whole world. Thus, in 1662, lower down the
river Clyde, where the water was deeper and more
suitable for large ships, the enterprising Corpora-
tion of Glasgow bought thirteen acres of land to be
laid out in streets and harbours. The full benefit
of this began to be felt in the year 1707, upon
the union of England and Scotland, whereby the
latter country became for the first time an actual
sharer in the colonial enterprise of England.
Quick to realize their new opportunities, the
Glasgow merchants hired ships and were soon
engaged, chiefly in the tobacco and sugar trades,
with the North American and West Indian ports.

Early North Country Merchants 131

Ten years later the first Glasgow-built ship crossed
the Atlantic to Virginia, and soon she had many
consorts yearly adding to the wealth and import-
ance of the Scottish town.

Let us pause for a moment, however, in case
this picture of prosperity may create a somewhat
false impression, for Glasgow at this time, in spite
of the energy and enterprise of its inhabitants,
was after all but a little coimtry town about the
size of Banbury and still six days' journey from
London in a fast chaise. The journey, as a rule,
indeed took nearly a fortnight, but a daily horse-
post had just been instituted, the arrival of the
postman from Edinburgh at the Tron Gate at
six o'clock every morning being signalled by the
firing of a gun. The number of ships owned by
the Glasgow merchants at this time was but a
score, and their total tonnage amounted to perhaps
one-ninth of that of such modern giants as the
Olympic or the Aquitania. There were but three
hundred yards of pavement in the town, known as
the Plain Stanes, situated in front of the town
hall, and there the "tobacco lords," as the
prosperous Glasgow merchants had been nick-
named, were wont to promenade up and down in
cocked hats and scarlet coats.

But in the thirty years from 1740 to 1770 the
shipping of Glasgow rose from 5,000 to no less
than 60,000 tons. Most of these ships remained
in the hands of the tobacco merchants, the majority
of whom had formed themselves into a company

132 The Sea Traders

for " undertaking the trade to Virginia, the
Carribean Islands, Barbados, New England, St.
Christopher, Montserrat and other colonies in
America." Those were rich years for the tobacco
traders, but towards the end of the century the
trade began to wane, chiefly owing to the
disastrous and mistaken war with the American
colonies. It was a critical period in the town's
history, but in the person of Patrick Colquhoun,
Glasgow was fortunate in finding a citizen who
helped perhaps more than any other single man
to tide her through a critical period.

He was born in the year 1745, and was left
an orphan before he was sixteen years old, his
father having been an old schoolfellow of Tobias
Smollett. While still a boy he emigrated to
Virginia, where he carried on a local trade across
Chesapeake Bay. His health began to fail, how-
ever, and consequently, at the age of twenty-two,
he returned to Glasgow, where he started as a
merchant, and seems to have prospered from the

His first great work for the town was in the
founding of a coffee house, later to be developed
into the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce ; and in
1782, when the building was completed, he was
elected its first chairman. The object of this
organization was to consider plans and proposals
for the development of every branch of foreign
trade, to assist individual traders in their various
lines of business, and to protect the interests of

Early North Country Merchants 133

the whole mercantile coniinunity. It is safe to
say that no other single measure was of greater
benefit to the progress of the town. In the follow-
ing year Patriek Colquhoun wrote an improved
treatise on the linen trade, and five years later, at
the personal request of Pitt, he investigated and
reported upon the eotton trade of Great Britain
as a whole. In every way, indeed, he was
indefatigable, and no sooner had he accomplished
this particular task than he went to Flanders, and
especially to Ostend — at that time a great Con-
tinental centre for the European distribution of
goods from the East Indies — in order to see how
far and how best British manufacturers might
compete there. It was largely through his efforts,
too, that a little later British muslins were intro-
duced into the Continent, and a new and extremely
lucrative branch of commerce thereby opened to
British merchants.

Possibly on account of the wider influence that
he could exert upon his country's trade, Patrick
Colquhoun then moved to London, where he was
frequently called upon for expert advice. There,
among many other activities, he acted as the agent
of several West Indian islands ; he was also the
first to organize the system afterwards developed
into the river police. Several Continental towns
also entrusted him with their interests as their
British agent.

Active commerce on his own account he had
given up at the comparatively early age of forty-


The Sea Traders

four, having by that time acquired a fortune
sufficient to enable him to devote himself to
economic research. Mere money-making, indeed,
seems always to have taken a secondary place in
his scheme of life, as of many other pioneers, and
he was soon as universally respected in London
as he had been in Glasgow. In this manner, and
with these interests, he lived for another thirty
years, to die at last, in 1820, at the age of
seventy-five, with a record of achievement that
most men might envy. He had set a standard
of commercial idealism that was to bear fruit long
after his death.



The Three Eras of Liverpool's Prosperity — John Gladstone
and the West Indies — Work for the Liverpool Corn
Exchange — His Fight against the Monopoly held by the
East India Company — His Activities in Parliament and
Benefactions — Alexander Henry and the Growth of Man-
chester — A Great Distributing Agency — His Voyages
Across the Atlantic.

VVTE have now come to the opening of a new
* era in the Hfe of these islands, the embryonic
stirrings of which have already become visible to
us in the preceding chapters. Hitherto, in spite
of the progress of our oversea colonies and other
possessions, and in spite of the activities that
we have noted in dealing with the life histories
of the later Stuart and early Georgian merchants,
England remained as it had been in the days of
Elizabeth, predominantly agricultural.

The day of the factory had scarcely dawned,
and such industry as there was remained
to a large extent domestic in character. The
revolution to be wrought by steam had hardly yet
been dreamed of by any human brain, and the
enormous potentialities for these islands of their
hidden coal and iron were still a secret of the
future. Roads were scarce ; the main turnpike
road, for example, from London to the North


136 The Sea Traders

ended at the town of Grantham, and the vast bulk
of the roads beyond were httle more than beaten
field-tracks. Leisurely journeys were performed in
coaches or upon horseback ; highway robbery was
still frequent; while the cost of a journey from
such a town as Glasgow to London was equivalent
in modern money to that of a first-class ticket to
the Antipodes. For better or worse, however,
all this was now to be changed with almost head-
long rapidity, and in the transformation of the
people of these islands into a great industrial
nation it was the north country, with its resources
of coal and iron, that was to play the most striking

Let us return, therefore, for a httle while to
the rising town of Liverpool, successively con-
cerned with tobacco, the slave trade and cotton.
It was not in cotton, however, but in corn that
John Gladstone, the first subject of the present
chapter, started his commercial life, his father
being a corn merchant at Leith, near Edinburgh,
where John was born in the year 1764. According
to the older fashion, he started work young, and
while yet in his teens was helping his father, him-
self a wealthy corn and flour merchant and ship-
owner. During this time the young John Glad-
stone was voyaging on his father's behalf to the
Baltic, as well as to America. By this means he
trained himself to be able, at the early age of
twenty-one, to accept a partnership at Liverpool
in a firm of corn merchants, with whom he

Great Georgian Merchant Princes 137

remained for the next fifteen years. He then
estabUshed himself on his own account as a
dealer, not only in corn, but in cotton, sugar, and
almost every other product then being imported
into England from America and the West Indies.

Liverpool was about to make a sudden and
enormous stride in importance, and John Glad-
stone had for his contemporaries such well-known
merchants as Thomas Leyland and William
Ewart. With the latter especially he was on
terms of the greatest friendship, and it was after
him that he named one of his sons, William
Ewart Gladstone, who, later on, was to play so
large a part in the political life of his country.

The Liverpool slave trade was then, more or
less, on its last legs, and John Gladstone seems
to have taken no personal part in it, although he
was already acquiring extensive interests in the
slave-holding colonies. Thus, in the year 1808, he
became the owner of large estates in the West
Indies, including sugar plantations in Jamaica,
whose products he sold to his English customers.
A man of the strongest principles and clearest
judgment, he bitterly opposed, though himself a
convinced Tory, the anti-American policy of the
Government that was to lead a few years later
to the second American war. His efforts were
in vain, in that the disastrous Orders in Council
were not repealed for four years, but he kept his
head and laboured day and night to mitigate the
immense economic confusion that they caused.

138 The Sea Traders

In measure after measure for the development
of Liverpool he was a leading, if not the prime
mover. It was largely through his efforts that the
Liverpool Corn Exchange was opened in the year
1809, and that parliamentary consent was obtained
for the construction of the Brunswick Dock, for
the conversion of the dry dock into a wet dock,
for the building of what was to be known as the
Queen's Half-Tide Dock, and for the filling up
of the Old Dock, whose history we have noted in
association with Thomas Johnson, to make room
for the new custom-house.

Equally great in its beneficent influence on the
expansion of Liverpool were his efforts to obtain
the removal of the monopoly, now becoming
unhealthy to the general trading interests of the
community, of the great East India Company.
So cogent were his arguments and those of his
associates that in the year 1813 ever}i:hing except
the Company's trade with China and its tea trade
in the Indian Ocean was thrown open to all
comers. Upon Liverpool, at any rate, the effect
of this was instant. Gladstone himself sent one
of his ships, the Khigsmill, the next year for
the first time to the East Indies, and she returned
in twelve months laden with cotton, sugar, indigo,
spices and choice woods. She was the first of
many ships to make profitable voyages, and it
was not very long before Liverpool trade with
the East was only second to that which the town
carried on with America.

Great Georgian Merchant Princes 139

A few years later John Gladstone was once
more prominent in securing yet another important
measure. For some years the chief channel of
transport between Liverpool, Manchester and
various neighbouring manufacturing towns had
been the Bridgewater Canal, constructed by
Brindley. This had been made in the year 1773,
with generally excellent results, but fifty years
later it was proving quite inadequate, while its
monopoly was an obstacle to adequate improve-
ment. Accordingly plans were made for the con-
struction of an additional means of communication
in the shape of a railway. The proprietors of the
canal bitterly opposed the project, and the matter
had to be brought before Parliament. A Commit-
tee of the House was appointed to go into all the
circumstances, and it was before this body that
John Gladstone was examined. His representa-
tions constituted an astonishing summary of the
growth of Liverpool even within his own
personal experience.

When he settled in Liverpool, he said, there
belonged to the town 431 vessels, carrying some

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