William Le Brocq

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William Le Brocq, merchant and farmer


William le Brocq (1786-1871).jpg
William Le Brocq


This article was written for Jerripedia by Guy Dixon


William Le Brocq (1786-1871) was not a particularly `Famous Islander`, but was notable in business and farming and will have been known to most of his fellow Islanders. The maritime historian John Jean features him in his card index at the Jersey Archive, of Jersey's principal 19th century shipowners, intended for his book Jersey Sailing Ships. However, the record was lost in the publication process, perhaps by turning over two cards at once during typing. In the mid-1820s, Le Brocq`s shipping tonnage placed him in seventh place among the many local shipowners. What is of greater interest, however, is that his career so well demonstrates the versatility of the indigenous Jerseyman.

Family

He was born on 9 April 1786 [1], at Les Ifs, (The Yews), on the main road, some 400 yards north of the crossroads leading to the church in St Peter. He was the elder son of William Le Brocq, Procureur du Bien Public of St Peter and of Jeanne, the daughter of Pierre Le Feuvre of La Hougue. His father farmed 51 vergées at The Yews and leased from Mrs Dumaresq 40 vergées of `prairie` at Val de La Mare[2]. The family had been, for generations, chandlers, grocers and wine merchants, a business conducted in the late 18th and early 19th century by Le Brocq`s uncle, the philanthropist, Jean Le Brocq, (1762-1845).[3]

The Yews

Following the British capture of Lower Canada in the Seven Years War (1757-1763), Jersey merchants had begun to conduct a lucrative trade in Gaspé cod. The pioneer of this trade was a member of a St Peter family, Charles Robin, (1743-1824). Cod caught off mainland Canada’s maritime coast, which included Gaspé, was caught on inshore banks and dried, unlike that of Newfoundland, by both sun and wind. It tasted, as a result of this process, better than its Newfoundland counterpart and fetched better prices.

Two major wars between 1792 and 1815, firstly with the French and then the Americans, hindered trade on these new fishing grounds, causing ruin to many firms, but others held on. Among these, at Arichat, Nova Scotia, were three Jersey firms, one owned by the Janvrins, another being that of the above Charles Robin. The young William Le Brocq was sent in about 1800 to one of these fisheries to learn the trade. He was living at the time of his first marriage in 1805, at Arichat and was perhaps working either for Daniel Janvrin, who had a home in St Peter 300 yards away from The Yews or for Charles Robin, whose parents were, through the Dauvergnes, 2nd cousins of the Le Brocqs.[4]

Business launched

In due course of time, Le Brocq would have been promoted, perhaps to fishery manager or agent. He had certainly learnt well the trade, as in 1822 he founded his own business, after purchasing with Francis Le Bas and Samuel Gasnier[5] the newly-launched, Gaspé-built, 125-ton brig Olive Branch, of which Le Bas was master. Between then and 1833 he traded in cod and wine, under the name "William Le Brocq junr. & Co", to distinguish the firm from that of his late grandfather and uncle.[6] Various other items were also bought and sold, as and when available. There is no evidence, to date, that Le Brocq owned any fisheries. The fact that most of his vessels were to be brigs and the variety of goods sold, would suggest he had entered the carrying trade, transporting cod from the fisheries to markets around the world and returning with wines and divers other goods. In 1823, with Nicholas Le Rossignol, he purchased the 113-ton schooner Laurel, of which Le Rossignol was master.[7] William Le Brocq`s house flag was a white cross on a blue field.[8] Further ships were purchased in ensuing years, the last of which was a little 22 1/2 ton cutter, Blue Eyed Maid, which was doubtless employed within sight of his eventual home near Gorey, in the Island`s oyster fisheries, conducted off the Royal Bay of Grouville.

In 1823, in a move reminiscent of the early career of a brother-in-law, Abraham de Gruchy, he became, in addition, a woollen and linen draper. In 1828, this business was being conducted from Halkett House, King Street, a former Government House, which stood on the site later to be occupied by Woolworth`s. The business, described as that of a "Linen and Woollen Merchant, Silk Mercer and Hosier, was insured to the value of £7,600 (1828), with the note that the Warehouse was detached from the main building[9]. In this new venture, he relied heavily upon the advice and expertise of another brother-in-law, Charles François Ramié, a native of Lyons but by then of 7 King Street, a draper and haberdasher, who became, by 1840, his partner in the business, which was then known as Le Brocq, Ramié & Co.


More properties

On 25th December 1828 William Le Brocq inherited from his late father the house, farmland and retail premises at The Yews[10] He must now have felt that he was in danger of over-extending himself in business. His younger brother, Philippe had, like their late father, always farmed and was desirous to purchase the house and land at The Yews. However, he had no interest in the retail side of the property.

As a result, on the 21st February 1829, the following notice appeared in the Chronique de Jersey: "Messrs. W. Le Brocq & Co.[11] font savoir qu`étant sur le point de dissoudre leur société, ils vendront l`entier des marchandises de leurs magazins à des prix réduits." Philippe Le Brocq duly purchased the house and land, whilst the former shop premises, which had been enlarged and rebuilt in about 1790, were apparently at this date incorporated by Philippe into his farmhouse.[12]

William Le Brocq had also been therefore, for a few months, a wine merchant, grocer and chandler, a business in which he had previously assisted. This can be seen in his announcement in 1827 that he had for sale groceries, namely Westphalian ham and white and yellow Havana sugar.[13]

That same year, 1829, he bought another property, Le Rivage, at Gorey, which was the former chef-mainte, or principal holding, of the St Martin de La Garde family. This property had beautiful terraced walks and gardens overlooking the Royal Bay of Grouville [14] with farmland of rich soil, adjoining the modern Gorey Village, with the côtils to the east, above the village.

William Le Brocq's son, Douglas Argyle Le Brocq, with his wife and daughter

He loved his farm in the east of the Island, as did his descendants, who remained there, in a female line, until the mid-1950s.

By 1833 Le Brocq had sold his remaining four vessels, two of them to Ramié, who probably took over his brother-in-law's interests in the Canadian carrying trade. William Le Brocq remained a partner in Le Brocq and Ramié until 1851, when the business was sold. In and from 1851 Le Brocq was describing himself in censuses as a 'Farmer' at Gorey.

Ramié remained a shipowner until 1844, when he also retired from this scene of activity.

William Le Brocq sat for his oil on canvas portrait in 1829, aged 43. It reveals a still youthful man, of cheerful and ruddy countenance, resembling more the affluent country farmer that his father had been and that he had once again become, than a merchant. There is also in the portrait a suggestion that he was shrewd, which is, perhaps, unsurprising.

Wives and children

His first wife was Harriet Hague, daughter of a regimental adjutant in Newfoundland, who died prematurely. They had two children, one of whom died aged 20 years. The other, Harriet Matilda, married John Chevalier of St Helier, a wine merchant [15] and Militia lieutenant. Le Brocq married secondly in 1829, Charlotte, daughter of Joseph Hunt. She also predeceased her husband, dying in 1848. They had children Douglas Argyle, formerly of Ballarat, Australia and then of Le Rivage, Gorey; Augustus[16] and Jocelyn, Australian colonists; Catherine Julia, known as Katie, wife of Francis P. Pirouet, of Diѐlament Manor, who was a Militia captain and Charlotte, wife of Edward Nelson Collas of Gorey, who joined, with his wife and children, their relatives in Australia.

Le Brocq`s career demonstrates an amazing versatility. He was a merchant and shipowner, briefly a chandler, grocer and wine merchant, in addition to being a draper and farmer. He was also involved in the Canadian fisheries. What is perhaps the more surprising is that he seems to have been successful in each of these enterprises. Having the private capital required for each of these ventures will have no doubt helped.


Notes and References

  1. Le Brocq family pocket Bible, in the possession of the author.
  2. The 40v. leased from Mrs Dumaresq of Millbrook: Local newspaper, details temporarily mislaid.
  3. Dixon, Guy, A Brief History of The Yews, St Peter, in Ann. Bull. Soc. Jers. (2014), 275.
  4. William Le Brocq was, on the whole, more likely to have been working for the Janvrin firm, as Charles Robin was known to have disapproved of employees marrying at such a tender age.
  5. Samuel Gasnier had formerly been a "very successful privateer captain," starting in the 1790s. In 1798, he captained the privateer, Robert & Jane, one of the two owners of which was Captain Thomas de Gruchy, the first cousin of the father of Abraham de Gruchy, Le Brocq`s brother-in-law. In 1813, he was master of Vulture, (Janvrin & Durell, owners), which lends support to the option that Le Brocq had previously also been a Janvrin employee: Jean, John, Jersey Sailing Ships, (Chichester: Phillimore & Co., 1982), 41, 142.
  6. The Jersey newspaper, Chronique de Jersey, on the 29th December 1827, quoting Lloyd`s Lists, under "Nouvelles de Mer", records Olive Branch at the end of the fishing season, returning from Rio de Janeiro to Genoa, (23 November), before sailing for Gibraltar on the next leg of the journey home. This Jersey to Canada, to South America or the Mediterranean, back to the United Kingdom route, is referred to as the "Jersey Cod Triangle."
  7. Jersey Shipping Register,1822, 1823; Ships: Olive Branch and Laurel, respectively.
  8. Guernsey and Jersey Almanac, (1827), Merchants` Private Signals.
  9. Jersey Archive Service, L/A/20/A/1, West of England Insurance Co. Fire Insurance Registers, 31/12/1829-19/07/1831; also the same registers 19/07/1823.
  10. Unregistered partage, the date of which is supplied in the Registre Public, Livre 151, folio 254, (front), being the sale of the above house and farmland by William Le Brocq to his younger brother, Philippe, dated 30/04/1831.
  11. Note: "W. Le Brocq & Co", the business conducted from The Yews, St Peter, and not "William Le Brocq junr. & Co.", the shipping firm.
  12. This amends speculation by the author that the shop at The Yews may have existed as late as the 1850s: Dixon, A Brief History of The Yews.. in Ann. Bull. Soc. Jers., (2014), 280-1.
  13. Chronique de Jersey, 7 April 1827.
  14. Family information from the late Mrs Jill Richardon, née Labey, a great-niece of Le Brocq`s daughter-in-law, née Louisa Jane Labey
  15. Jean Chevalier`s business was conducted from the junction of King Street and Pitt Street: West of England Insurance Company; Fire Insurance Registers, 1823-1904 (1829), at the Jersey Archive: L/A/20/A1
  16. Augustus Le Brocq (1839-1923): Pioneer of the Macleay River district, on the northern border of New South Wales. He purchased there lots sufficient for all five of his sons to farm, paying--to the amazement of all--in gold! He and his sons then cleared the land themselves. Unlike his brother Jocelyn, who was happily married but childless, Augustus has many descendants in Australia, [Family information].

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