Early de Gruchy shipowners

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Early de Gruchy

Thomas and Gilles de Gruchy and Successors (1613-1689)

The Rev J A Messervy found in the rolls of the Cour du Samedi that Thomas de Gruchy and his brother, Gilles de Gruchy, were in 1644 Armateurs, a term that can equally apply to a shipowner or privateer. In their case, they were shipowners. The brothers were Trinity-born but lived in the south of St Lawrence.

Thomas de Gruchy, as shown in the Jersey Registre Public 22/91, had bought from Richard Dumaresq, son of Clement, in two parcels dated, respectively, 12 February 1613 and 17 October 1623, a house, quay and dependancies (warehouses/stores), situated in St Brelade, on the Fief de Noirmont, at St Aubin, to the west of the house of Jeanne Durel. The first date marks the start of what became rapidly a successful wool merchant`s business.

Gilles de Gruchy was perhaps a sleeping-partner in the firm. He had been Centenier, 1633-1637, and then Constable of St Lawrence, 1637-1643. While his ship ownership in 1644 is unambiguous, it was his brother Thomas who seems to have run the business, conducting it from his own house and quay. The latter will have extended, as did others at St Aubin before the Bulwarks were built, from the house or garden directly to the harbour, enabling ships to be loaded and unloaded at all stages of the tide. Those not possessed of quays, performed this task by way of carts plying to and from vessels that sat on the sand at low tide. Not many names survive of such 17th century Jersey vessels.

Thomas had a son, Philippe de Gruchy (1625- ), who settled in London, no doubt originally as a merchant, because his first cousin, the merchant Gilles de Gruchy, had also moved there, as Messervy discovered. However, Philippe evidently had no desire to return to Jersey, as his father, who was by then in his seventies, sold the business and property in 1659, in equal shares, to his nephews, Elie and Martin de Gruchy, sons of his brother Gilles: [1]

Elie was a Southampton-based merchant, who was to become Sheriff and then Mayor of that town; Martin lived in St Lawrence, where he was Centenier in 1664, while conducting the Jersey end of the business from St Aubin. This practice was far from unusual. St Lawrence mercantile families, such as the 17th century Bailhaches and the 18th century Benests, and merchants in St Peter such as the 17th century father and son, Thomas and Elie Pipon of La Fosse, all conducted their business affairs from St Aubin, to which they will have walked or ridden several times a week, sometimes staying overnight.

Part of a business account book, formerly belonging to this Martin de Gruchy, survives. Mention is made of his business, conducted in equal shares with his brother. The trade was in wool, which was sent to France (St Malo) for washing, before being brought back to Jersey to be made into woollen garments. These were then shipped to London or Southampton for sale, hence the `placing` of sons or agents in these places, to complete the cycle.

In 1677 Elie de Gruchy sold to Jean Le Cras, fils Jean, [2] his interest in the St Aubin property that, "the said [de] Gruchy, with the late Mr Martin de Gruchy his brother, had purchased, half by half from the late Thomas de Gruchy". This late brother, Martin, was the father of the solicitor Martin de Gruchy , who was to become Jersey`s first Notary Public. The latter, on 6 July 1689, together with his sister Rachel, wife of Mr Thomas Poingdestre, sold their residual interest in the same property to Le Cras. The business had been conducted for 64 years.

De Gruchy, Le Breton and Company, afterwards called Fiott, de Gruchy and Company

De Gruchy, Le Breton and Company was a partnership that commenced in about 1760, as London merchants and shipowners, trading with the Channel Islands, but also with North Sea and Baltic countries. The partners were Philippe Pierre de Gruchy (1733-1784), son of a former Rector of St Lawrence, and grandson of Martin (above), and Edward Le Breton, of a Jersey family long-established in the Vingtaine of Croiserie, Trinity. The firm was highly successful, owning, at times of war, privateers. A lucrative side-line was ship-broking, which included financing various ventures.

When Charles Robin wished in 1766 to explore the formerly French-owned coastline of Lower Canada with a view to establishing cod fisheries there, rather than in Newfoundland, it was to this company that he is said to have applied for financial backing. The 41 ton brig Seaflower, in which he made the voyage, was owned by De Gruchy and Le Breton, together with Thomas and James Pipon, Philip Marett and Charles`s brother, Philip Robin: [3]

  • John Fiott described the business, in the time of his partnership: "The house in which I am a partner is an old-established Jersey house. Henry Durell was chief of the house 50 years ago and was succeeded by Mr James Pipon, to whom succeeded Mr de Gruchy. Our chief business consists in purchasing ships and goods, by orders of our different correspondents to be consigned as they direct, in making their insurances in ships and goods, in buying and selling stock for them and receiving their dividends. Our connections are with the principal people in Jersey, from which island by our family connections we have the chief of business. With several of our friends we take a share in their ships.

Another branch of our business is with Norway. We are connected with the chief House in that Kingdom, receiving cargoes of deals, masts, etc. to the amount of £50,000 per annum. The Danish Ambassador now receives through our hands his yearly salary from the Court of Denmark. We have, besides, correspondents at Ostend, Hamburg, etc. with whom we do business on commission. Our commission business alone (exclusive of the concerns we occasionally take in ships for our friends) has for these three years past amounted to £2,000 per annum; this year it has exceeded it" [4]

De Gruchy and Fiott had shares in a large number of vessels, many of which were registered in London. These included "the privateers...Belle of London (350 tons) and Sharp of London (350 tons), which were fitted out in 1778 and 1779, respectively". [5]

The Jersey privateers Lynx (180 tons, sixteen guns), Minerva (200 tons, fourteen guns) and Beazley (160 tons, sixteen guns) were among the Island vessels in which they had part ownership. There exists a model of the latter. Another was the 600-ton captured French frigate Desdanieux, bought in 1779 and renamed the Tartar, which the company intended for the West India trade. In the event, it was fitted out as a privateer with 40 guns and a crew of 230. The vessel had as principal owners "John Fiott, Philip [Peter] de Gruchy of London, Nicholas Fiott of Jersey and William Le Marchant, Bailiff of Guernsey". [6] The commander was Edward Fiott and James de Gruchy, the second owner`s nephew, was one of the ship`s officers. Tartar met with initial successes on this, her first cruise, but whilst in Lisbon, evading the French fleet, most of her crew were overcome by gaol fever. A British warship lent Fiott the men needed to work his ship back to England, but heavy monetary losses were incurred. [7] In 1780, "to recoup some of this money they immediately chartered the vessel to the East India Company for a voyage to India." [8] Edward Fiott was retained as Captain, as was James de Gruchy, as one of the ship`s officers. The latter remained in the Honourable East India Company`s Maritime Service until 1786. [9]

In 1784, Philip de Gruchy and Jean Fiott (de Gruchy and Fiott) owned the 200 ton vessel Bee. [10]

The company`s financial standing was well demonstrated by the following: The States of Jersey had arranged a lottery to help finance works at the Harbour of St Helier, which consisted then of merely two small quays. A C Saunders wrote, in the above-cited work, Jersey in the 18th and 19th Centuries, that "at their [Chamber of Commerce] Committee meeting of 3 November 1792 it was stated that the lottery had been a failure and the total loss sustained on the said lottery was £3348 15s 9d French currency. It was resolved to apply to Messrs Fiott, De Gruchy and Co to know "if its agreeable to them to advance the said sum upon the security of the dividends of the stock of the Chamber receiving interest according to their said advance, as it's the intention of the Chamber to preserve their present Capital in the Stocks untouched." In this instance, the necessary advance was acquired three weeks later elsewhere.

A G Jamieson [11] wrote of Channel Island privateering from February 1793 to February 1794, that 36 commissions were issued to captains of Jersey vessels. In the bonds for these Jersey commissions, John Fiott and John Philip de Gruchy of Fenchurch Street were named as sureties eleven times. The latter was the nephew of Philip Peter de Gruchy, who had succeeded to his partnership.

During the Revolutionary War with France all foreign trade suffered. Furthermore, the now senior partner, John Fiott, "had been rather neglecting his business, for he was hoping to get into Parliament and had been accepted as candidate for the safe Whig seat of Harlow. But twelve days before the election (1797) he died at the age of 48". [12] In 1796, he had received a letter from the junior partner, John Philip de Gruchy, who had married in 1791, admitting that he had been "gambling in the funds and was absconding to America". A relative of the original junior partner, Edward Le Breton, had, it transpired, been guilty of embezzlement. The firm, shortly afterwards, became insolvent.

Notes and references

  1. R P 22/91 and 24/163
  2. RP 22/91
  3. A C Saunders, Jersey in the 18th and 19th Centuries, (Jersey: Bigwood, 1930), 31
  4. Fiott papers in the Société Jersiaise Library, cited by Marguerite Syvret and Joan Stevens in Balleine`s History of Jersey, (Chichester: Phillimore, 1981), 186
  5. A G Jamieson in A People of the Sea, (London and New York: Methuen, 1986), 159
  6. A.G. Jamieson (ed.), A People of the Sea (London: Methuen, 1986), 159, 160
  7. ABSJ, XIII, 410
  8. A.G. Jamieson, op. cit.
  9. Anthony Farrington, A Biographical Index of East India Company Maritime Service Officers, 1600-1834, (British Library, 1999), 211
  10. John Jean, Tales of Jersey`s Tall Ships, (Jersey: La Haule Books, 1994)
  11. Op. cit., 179
  12. ABSJ XIII, 412
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