London, Volume 6
CXXIX.-Old Trading Companies.
CXXIX.-Old Trading Companies.
If the London merchant of any particular century could witness the struggles for freedom of trade which occurred subsequently to his own times, he would be astonished at the different objects which were kept in view. All the rights of commercial freedom which had contended for had been completely gained. No longer are there laws compelling him to send his merchandise to the king's staple: he can send it to any or every part of the globe. No longer is he an
in the trade to Turkey, Russia, Africa, or even the East Indies. The Italian merchants of the and centuries, the Steelyard merchants of a later period, no longer engross the most valuable part of the foreign trade of the country. Bruges and Antwerp are no more the great emporia of traffic to which he was accustomed to resort. London itself has become the entrept of the world. The trade of the Venetians in the spices and merchandise which they brought overland from India and sent to London in their galleys has passed away. Few are reminded by the name of Galley-quay in , that their once-proud argosies were accustomed to ride there. Another generation saw the productions of the East brought by the Portuguese to the great mart of Antwerp, to which the English resorted to exchange for them their wool and broadcloths; and that trade has also been turned into a new channel. Before noticing or of the companies which once monopolized
|the trade to particular countries,[n.50.1] we will glance briefly at a few of the commercial restrictions of bygone times, which show that the struggle for freedom of trade must be a very old in this country.
King Hlothaere of Kent, who reigned in the century, enacted that
What could have been the trade of London when such a law as this was in force? Even after the Conquest laws of this nature were either continued or revived. Their principal design, no doubt, was to protect the revenue of the King and the lord of the manor, to each of whom, according to Domesday Book, a certain proportion of the price of everything sold for more than pennies was paid, the -half by the buyer and the other by the seller. The amount specified in the Saxon law would prevent the rule from affecting the ordinary purchases of the necessaries of life; but the Conqueror, it seems, drew the restriction tighter by subjecting all bargains which involved a larger sum than to the tedious process of legislation by witnesses. In the volume of the
there is a paper by Edward A. Bond, Esq.,
which presents an interesting view of the commercial state of the country during that period; and it likewise throws some light upon the circumstances which rendered such laws as Hlothaere's tolerable.
it is remarked,
The inland trade of the country was conducted on the most confined scale.
Mr. Bond quotes a return, showing the quantity of wool in the hands of different companies of Italian merchants in England on a certain day in the year of Edward I. (). The King was then at war with France; and he had issued commands for the arrest of all wool, woolfells, and hides, in whosesoever hands they might be found. They were to be retained in the custody of the King's officers in order to prevent the possibility of their being exported into the dominions of the French King. The returns alluded to were made by the Italians themselves, who were mostly of Florence and Lucca. company is designated
The total number of sacks of wool which the companies had in their possession was . By far the greater part is stated to have been bought of religious houses: indeed many of the companies return as having received only from them. It appears that many of the religious houses were under engagements to deliver all their wool of or more years' growth to some of the companies at a period previously stipulated. The Abbey of Waverley, for instance, was bound to deliver up all its wool to Frescobaldi Neri of Florence, at Kingston-upon-Thames, on the Feast of St. John, and they were to receive for every sack of good wool, and for each sack of middle value.
Before the Cistercian Monks, taking advantage of the exemption of ecclesiastics from customs duties, had become the greatest wool-merchants in the kingdom; but in the above year the Parliament interfered, and prohibited ecclesiastical persons from practising any kind of commerce. In , when the exports still consisted almost entirely of wool, English merchants were expressly excluded from this branch of trade, and it was enacted that no denizen should buy wool, except of the owners of the sheep, and for his own use. The object of this law might either be to favour the monopoly of the foreign merchants who assisted the sovereign with loans; or it might be intended to secure to the growers of wool the profits of the intermediate dealers. Still the plan of increasing profits by diminishing the competition of buyers was an odd way of accomplishing such an object.
of the prerogatives assumed by the crown in those days was the right of restricting all mercantile dealings for a time to a certain place. Thus, in , Henry III. proclaimed a fair to be held at , on which occasion he ordered that all the traders of London should shut up their shops, and carry their goods to be sold at the fair, and that all other fairs should be suspended throughout England during the days it was appointed to last. The object was to obtain a supply of money from the tolls and other dues of the market; but then again the citizens of London were equally willing to profit by restrictions in their
|own favour, equally unfair towards the rest of the country; such as an ordinance of the lord mayor and aldermen, prohibiting any of the citizens from resorting with their goods to any fair or market out of the city, which was disannulled by an act of Parliament passed in -. Of a like nature were the regulations of the Staple. A particular port or other place was appointed, to which certain commodities were obliged to be brought to be weighed or measured, for the payment of the customs, before they could be sold, or in some cases imported or exported. Here the king's staple was said to be fixed. The articles of English produce upon which customs were anciently paid were wool, sheep-skins or woolfells, and leather; and these were accordingly denominated the staples or staple-goods of the kingdom. Those who exported these goods were called the merchants of the staple. They were incorporated, or at least recognized as forming a society, with certain privileges, in the century. Hakluyt has printed the charter which they received from Edward II. in . It is addressed to the mayor and council of the merchants of the staple, and the king ordains that all merchants, whether natives or foreigners, buying wool and woolfells in his dominions for exportation, should, instead of carrying them for sale, as they had been wont to do, to several places in Brabant, Flanders, and Artois, carry them in future only to certain staple in of those countries, to be appointed by the said mayor and council. The king soon transferred to his own hands the right of fixing the staple. At time it was at Antwerp, at another time at Bruges, then at Calais; or it was fixed in some of the principal towns in England. Now and then there was no staple either at home or abroad, and allmerchants came and went freely wherever they listed. In the staple was fixed at Calais, for a time, and all the ordinary exports of the kingdom were obliged to be carried there. The inconvenience of this regulation was diminished years afterwards, by the permission to use other ports on payment of the Calais staple-duties.
In this early period of our commercial history there were also many other vexatious restrictions. In Edward I. issued an order obliging all foreign merchants to sell their goods within days after arrival. They were not allowed to reside in England except by special licence from the king, and even then were subjected to various oppressive regulations; and many of these were continued when, in , Edward granted a special charter permitting foreign merchants to come safely to any of the dominions of the English crown, with all kinds of merchandise, and to sell their goods. For instance, with the exception of spices and mercery, they were only allowed to sell the commodities which they brought wholesale. Wine could not be re-exported without special licence. Every resident foreigner was answerable for the debts of every other foreign resident. In a number of foreign merchants were committed to the Tower, and there detained until they severally gave security that none of their countrymen should leave the kingdom, or export any thing from it, without the king's special licence; and they were each required to give in an account of his property, both in money and goods. Again, in , Edward prohibited the foreign merchants carrying out of the kingdom either coined money or bullion, thus compelling them either to dispose of their goods by barter, or if they were sold for money to invest the proceeds in English commodities. In the following year, however, Edward II., who had just
|ascended the throne, exempted the merchants of France from this mischievous restriction. But although other relaxations of the law were permitted in various cases, from the impossibility of strictly enforcing it, foreign merchants continued long after to be vexed by attempts to carry into effect the objects originally contemplated. In it was enacted, that no person should carry out of the kingdom either money or plate without special licence, upon pain of forfeiture. At length, in , it was enacted that foreign merchants might carry away half of the money for which they sold their goods; but it was still required that every alien bringing merchandise into England should find sureties, before the officers of the customs, to expend half the value of his imports in the purchase of wools, leather, woolfells, tin, lead, butter, cheese, cloths, or other commodities raised in England. It is curious to remark, that while the exportation of money was forbidden, the remittance of bills was allowed! Every such bill had of course the effect of preventing the money coming into the country, and thus defeating the object of the statute. Some half century later an act was made (in ) which ordained that no foreign merchant should sell any goods to another foreigner in England, on pain of the forfeiture of the goods so sold; and yet the legislators of this period had before them the prosperity of Bruges, which by the traffic of foreigners had become a greater emporium than London.
Besides the wealthy Italians who at time engrossed so large a share of the trade of the country, there were various other societies of foreigners enjoying important commercial immunities and advantages. In the merchants of Cologne had a hall or factory in London, for the legal possession of which they paid an acknowledgment to the king. Macpherson is of opinion that this , by the association of the merchants of other cities with those of Cologne, became in time the general factory and residence of all the German merchants in London, and was the same that was afterwards known by the name of the German (Gildhalla Teutonicorum). They were bound to keep of the city gates in repair. Stow says:
on which the alderman of the Haunce, he says, granted to the mayor and citizens, and covenanted on the part of the body generally that they and their successors should from time to time repair the said gate. In the gate was entirely rebuilt at their cost. Their was in , by Cosin Lane. Stow describes it as
[n.53.1] In the merchants of the Steelyard (for by this time they had acquired that name) hired a house adjoining their hall, with a large wharf on the Thames, and in the alley leading to it they erected various buildings. They had also another large house here, for which, in , they paid the city an annual rent of In a charter was granted to a body called the Company
|of Merchant Adventurers of England, for trading in woollen cloth to the Netherlands, and the merchants of the Steelyard were prohibited from interfering with their new rivals. In a hot dispute raged between the fraternities, which was brought under the notice of the Solicitor-General and the Recorder of London. It was alleged that, as no particular persons or towns had been mentioned in the charter of the Steelyard merchants, their privileges had been improperly extended; that they had engrossed almost the entire trade carried on by foreigners in the kingdom; and, lastly, it was stated that they had reduced the price of corn by their importations of foreign grain. The Company of Merchant Adventurers was now evidently the more favoured body, but its rival still continued to exist until , when, the Emperor Rudolph having ordered the factories of the English Merchant Adventurers in Germany to be shut up, Queen Elizabeth directed the Lord Mayor of London to close the house occupied by the merchants of the Steelyard. They had establishments at Boston and Lynn.
Although the Company of Merchant Adventurers had only been incorporated in , the existence of this association can be traced to the end of the century. It has been said that it originated in an association of English merchants for trading in foreign parts, called the Brotherhood of St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury, which existed about the middle of the century. The part which the Merchant Adventurers took during the stoppage of the trade with the Netherlands in recommended them to the crown. During this period, says Bacon, the Adventurers
Soon afterwards they began to assert a right to prevent any private adventurers from resorting to a foreign market, without they
upon pain of forfeiture of their goods. In a petition on the subject from the merchants not free of the Fellowship, it is stated that this fine
In consequence of this extortion the private merchants had been compelled to withdraw from the foreign marts. These facts are recited in the preamble of an act passed in , by which the fine the Company was authorised to impose was limited to They must now have been a highly influential body when this was the extent to which the government ventured to interfere with their attempt to control the whole foreign trade of the country. Mr. Burgon states, in his
that in the beginning of Queen Elizabeth's reign the Merchant Adventurers were in the habit of sending their cloths twice a-year, at Christmas and Whitsuntide, into the Low Countries; about pieces of cloth being shipped annually, which
|amounted in value to at least or ; and the merchants were accustomed to equip on these occasions a fleet of or ships, manned with the best seamen in the realm. As London is now, so was Bruges in the , and Antwerp in the centuries, the greatest resort of foreign merchants in Europe. In , according to an old writer, merchants from kingdoms had their settled domiciles and establishments at Bruges. After the middle of the century Antwerp became the greatest commercial emporium in Europe; and about the middle of the next century, when it had attained its highest prosperity, it was said to be no uncommon sight to see or vessels at time in the Scheldt, laden with merchandise from every quarter of the globe. Merchants of all nations had fixed their residences here, preserving the manners of the different countries to which they belonged. In some years, after the middle of the century, the export of English cloth of all kinds to Antwerp was valued at sterling, which sum was again invested in merchandise for English consumption. To this great emporium the Portuguese, after the discovery of the passage to India by the , brought the spices, drugs, and other rich productions of the East. The Merchant Adventurers of England had a noble mansion at Antwerp, called the English House, at which Charles V. had been entertained when he made his triumphal entry into that city in .
The discoveries of the Portuguese and Spaniards thoroughly roused the spirit of mercantile adventure in England; and Joint Stock Companies sprung up under the encouragement of Charters, which gave to the Adventurers the exclusive right of enjoying the advantages to be derived from the discovery of new countries or the opening of fresh sources of trade. The memory of these commercial companies has almost passed away, yet at period to have belonged to the Russia, the Turkey, the African, or the Eastland Companies, gave to the London merchant a pre-eminence which probably he could not have attained if unassociated with these bodies. The greatness of the East India Company, and its existence down to a more recent period, have thrown into the shade the minor companies which aimed at establishing a similar monopoly; but they are, notwithstanding, intimately connected with the commercial history of London.
Of all the minor companies, perhaps that which attempted to engross the trade with Russia was, at , the most promising. Russia had not then advanced her frontiers to the Baltic, and the opening of a trade with the Muscovites had all the excitement of geographical discovery as well as the ordinary incentives of commercial speculation. In some merchants of London, together with several noblemen, established a Company under the title of the
vessels, under the command of Sir Hugh Willoughby, were sent out on the expedition, the main object being to discover a north-east passage to China. Sir Hugh Willoughby, with of the ships, was compelled to put into a port of Russian Lapland, where they intended to pass the winter; and the whole of them, in number, were found in the ensuing spring, frozen to death. The ship, commanded by Richard Chancellor, found its way to the White Sea, and thus reached the dominions of the Czar. Chancellor obtained permission to proceed to Moscow, where he obtained
| important privileges for carrying on a trade with the Muscovites, and then returned to England. The advantages of this new trade were secured to the Adventurers by a charter granted in , while those who were not free of the Company were prohibited from engaging in the trade under pain of forfeiting both ships and merchandise. In the Company's ships brought the Ambassador from the
He was unfortunately wrecked on the coast of Scotland, and the presents intended for Queen Mary were lost. He was met at Tottenham by a splendid procession, consisting of the members of the Company, on horseback, wearing coats of velvet, with rich chains of gold about their necks. The Company bore all the expenses of his embassy. At the ambassador was received by Lord Montacute, with the Queen's pensioners; and the Lord Mayor and Aldermen received him in their scarlet robes, at Smithfield, whence they rode with him to Denmark House, in . On the return of the Ambassador in the following year, a very indefatigable agent of the Company, named Jenkinson, went out at the same time, who struck out a new line of commercial intercourse through Russia into Persia, by the Wolga and thence across the Caspian Sea. Jenkinson performed this journey different times, and agents from the Company visited the Persian court on the business of their new traffic. This branch of their trade, however, was not followed up until , when an Act was passed to enable them to engage in the Russo-Persian trade, but the internal troubles of the Persian empire caused it soon to be stopped. In the Company obtained the protection of an Act of Parliament, as well as their charter, on the ground that great numbers of private persons had interfered with their trade. The trade with Russia, Persia, the Caspian Sea, and the countries to the northward, north-eastward and north-westward, was secured to the Company alone; and some provisions were made in favour of the citizens of York, Newcastle, Hull, and Boston, who had traded to Russia in the preceding years, but they were required to make themselves free of the Company before . The future title of the association was to be
The new Russian trade did not prove very lucrative, and in its affairs were in an embarrassed state from losses by shipwreck, bad debts, and the attacks of Polish pirates; and the expense of embassies had pressed heavily on their funds. Other complaints were also made. The Czar had curtailed some of their exclusive privileges, and the Dutch appeared as competitors in the trade. In , however, the Company sent out well-armed ships to Russia. In they commenced whaling operations at Spitzbergen, and asserted an exclusive right to the fishery in that quarter. Sir Walter Raleigh, in , gave the following summary of the state of the English trade with Russia. For years together, he remarks, we had a great trade to Russia, and even about years ago we sent store of goodly ships thither; but years before he wrote, he states that only had been sent, and a year or after that only or , while the Hollanders dispatched from to ships, each as large as of ours, chiefly laden with English cloth and herrings taken in the English seas. This falling off, he tells us, had been brought about by
The disputes of the Company with the Dutch whalers began also to thicken. In the Company seized the Dutch ships
|engaged in the fishery; but in the following year our great commercial rivals sent eighteen ships to Spitzbergen, of which were well armed, while our whalers were only in number, and the Dutch fished in spite of the Company's exclusive pretensions. The East India and Russia Companies were united for the prosecution of the whale-fishery. The hope of discovering a northeast passage to China had probably led to this union of interests at Spitzbergen; but after a bad year's fishing in their partnership was dissolved; though the fishery was still continued by the Russia Company, and in the importation of whale-fins or whale-oil was prohibited, except by the Company in its corporate capacity alone. In the English Company was placed by the Czar precisely on the same footing as the Dutch, and the Earl of Carlisle, who was sent as ambassador, was not able to negotiate any better terms for them. From this time the association became what is called a regulated company, that is, each member traded on his own account. In the admission-fee of members was fixed by Act of Parliament at a sum not exceeding The Company still elects its officers, and gives an annual dinner, which is attended by merchants engaged in the Russian trade, and usually by the Russian Ambassador. The expenses of the Association are paid out of trifling duties levied on merchandise and produce imported from Russia. The English Factory in Russia, now established at St. Petersburg, is little more than a society formed of some of the principal English merchants; and Mr. M'Culloch states that its power extends to little else than the management of certain funds under its control.
The Turkey Company was chartered years later than the Russia Company, but it continued to enjoy its privileges for a much longer period. Only years ago Adam Smith termed this association
In Queen Elizabeth sent William Harburn, an English merchant, to Turkey, who obtained permission of the Sultan for the English to trade on the same terms as the French, Venetians, Germans, Poles, and others. years afterwards the Queen granted for years the exclusive right of carrying on a trade between Turkey and England to a company, consisting of eminent merchants of London, with power to increase their number to . In their charter it is stated that
Any other subjects trading to Turkey either by sea or land were to forfeit ships and goods. In the last years for which the charter was granted, the Company were to export sufficient goods to Turkey to realize a customs duty of a-year. In the following year the Company commenced their commercial operations, having built ships which were then considered of large burthen, for which they were greatly commended by the Queen and Council. An envoy was sent out to deliver the Queen's letters to the Sultan to establish factories and regulations for the English trade. The French and Venetians were particularly adverse to these new competitors, whose returns at are said to have been for . In some members of the Company
| carried part of their cloth, tin, &c., from Aleppo to Bagdad, and thence down the Tigris to Ormus, in the Persian Gulf, whence they proceeded to Goa with a view of opening an overland trade to India. They carried the Queen's recommendatory letters
and before their return visited Agra, Lahore, and various parts of India. In the charter of the Turkey Company was renewed for years, and it now consisted of persons, knights, aldermen, and merchants; and the number might be increased to eighteen additional members ( to be aldermen), on condition that each person paid a fine of to the Company to indemnify them for their past charges in establishing the trade. The Venetians having lately increased the duties on English merchandise, were prohibited importing currants and Candian wine without the licence of the Turkey Company. On the termination of the above charter a new was granted in , by King James, for a perpetuity. It provided for the admission of members by a payment of to the Company from merchants under the age of , and if above that age; and all their apprentices were entitled to their freedom on payment of only. In we find the Turkey Company complaining of their diminished commerce to the Levant, for the countries supplied from that quarter began to receive commodities sent from England by the . The Dutch also now employed above a sail in the Levant trade, while the Turkey Company sent ships fewer than formerly. However, in , Mr. Munn, in his
says, that of all Europe England drove the most profitable trade to Turkey, by reason of the vast quantities of broad cloth exported thither. Nothing remarkable in the history of the Company occurred until , when a warm dispute ensued between it and the East India Company, and the former made a direct appeal to the King's Council. The Turkey Company stated that they exported English goods, chiefly cloth, of the value of , for which they brought in exchange raw silk and other materials of manufacture, but chiefly silk; and they complained that if this article were supplanted by silk from India, the exports to Turkey must necessarily fall off, as -fourths of their value were received in Turkey silk, the other commodities of Turkey not being equivalent to carry on more than a of the present trade. The facility with which all who were bred merchants could enter the Turkey Company was compared with the exclusive nature of the East India Company, which was a joint-stock association, and did not permit members trading on their own bottom. Thus the members of the Turkey Company had increased from persons to at least between and . The number of actual merchants in the East India Company was not more than a of the whole number of members. The Turkey Company asked the Council to concede to them the right of trading to the Red Sea and all other dominions of the Sultan, and to have access thereto by the . In their reply the East India Company adverted to the respective constitution of the bodies, remarking that
years afterwards, in , the number of persons who were members of the Turkey
| Company was . In the next years the French trade increased so much in the Levant, while that of the Turkey Company had diminished, that a bill was brought into Parliament for abolishing the privileges of the association as the most probable way of enabling our trade to regain its ascendancy. The advocates of the Company were heard at the bar, and their reasons against the measure were considered strong enough to defeat it. The Company was still at a very great expense in supporting the charge of an Ambassador at Constantinople, and Consuls in other parts of Turkey, as Aleppo, Smyrna, &c., where their factories had been established. Perhaps the circumstance which told most strongly in favour of the Company's interests was the belief that if the trade were thrown open it would quickly pass into the hands of the Jews, who were great supporters of the bill. In an act was passed, which made several important changes in the constitution of the Company, the preamble of which recited the most probable means of recovering the trade to be,
also the liberty of shipping goods from whatever port, and on board such ships as happened to be most convenient. Hitherto no merchandise could be exported to Turkey except in ships belonging to the Company, and, as' these only sailed from London, the trade was entirely confined to that port. Under the new act every subject of Great Britain could be admitted a member of the Company, after giving days' notice, and paying a fine of Thus, some of the principal abuses to which the Turkey trade was subject were removed. In the Company ceased to exist.
The trade to Africa, which commenced about the year , andwas for some time an open trade, was eventually restricted to a joint-stock company. At a patent was granted for years to several merchants in Devonshire and of London, for an exclusive trade to the rivers Senegal and Gambia, because, as it was alleged,
The trade seems to have been carried on in rather a desultory manner by the patentees, and for some time after the expiration of their privileges it appears to have been discontinued entirely. In , however, King James granted an exclusive charter to Sir Robert Rich and other persons in London, authorizing them to raise a joint-stock fund for trading to Guinea; but the Company was apparently unable to keep out interlopers, or to compete with the Dutch, and was broken up. Another African Company was formed in , by Sir Richard Young, Sir Kenelm Digby, and several London merchants, and a charter was obtained for an exclusive trade to Guinea, and other parts of the west coast of Africa, for years. Forts and factories were erected; but though the Company was empowered to seize the ships of private traders they were unable to keep the trade to themselves; and, to compromise matters, they agreed to grant licences to the interlopers. During the civil war the African trade became generally open; and the Dutch and Danes destroyed the Company's forts and took their ships. As soon as the charter had expired, another Company was set on foot, in , at the head of which was the Duke of York and many persons of rank and distinction. of the conditions
| of their charter was to supply the West India plantations with negroes annually. The operations were directed to the recovering possession of the forts, for which purposes ships were sent out, and they were retaken; but the Dutch, under De Ruyter, got possession of them again in the same year. The Duke of York, by way of retaliation, seized above a Dutch merchant ships, on which a war was formally declared between the countries. The result was that this African Company shared the fate of its predecessors. These discouragements did not prevent the formation of a company, at the head of which were the King, the Duke of York, and several persons of rank. A capital of was raised in months; a sum of was paid to the late Company for of their forts; and operations were commenced with considerable spirit and with tolerable success. The former companies had been in the habit of making up their assortment of goods in Holland, but the manufacturing skill and industry of England had now so much improved that it was no longer necessary to resort to our neighbours. For several years the new Company exported British goods to the value of annually, and out of the gold which they imported
were coined in . At the Revolution the West India planters joined the free traders in attacking the Company's privileges; the former asserting that they were always best served with negroes when the trade was open. By the petition and declaration of rights an end was put to exclusive trading companies not authorized by Parliament, and the African trade became an open ; but for some time afterwards the Company persisted in seizing the ships of the private traders, as they were empowered to do by their exclusive charter. By the end of the century the private traders had secured the greatest share of the trade; but as the African Company was at the expense of maintaining forts and factories, and paid the salaries of governors and a numerous staff of officers, the legislature felt bound to indemnify them for. their charges on this account, and an act was passed in for levying a per centage on the private traders, who were no longer to be termed interlopers. The African Company long hankered after its old privileges, and made several attempts to obtain the sanction of the legislature for an exclusive charter, but the measure was always vigorously opposed by the free traders. Still the Parliament, although it passed resolutions as to the necessity of rendering the trade completely free, did not act upon them; and so long as the forts on the coast continued in the Company's hands they necessarily enjoyed a certain degree of pre-eminence which could not so easily be dispensed with. In Parliament granted . for the purpose of keeping these forts in repair; and as from this time an annual grant was made for the purpose, the chief impediment to opening the trade no longer existed. Accordingly, in , an act was passed by which the African Company ceased to be a jointstock association, but became a regulated company, under the title of
the forts, settlements, and factories of the old Company being transferred to the new body. The government of the new Company was vested in a committee of , elected by persons who had paid for the freedom of the Company. of the committee were chosen in London, and each in Bristol and Liverpool. Their power extended only to the government of the forts and factories, and they were not allowed to interfere with the trade. A sum of was allowed for the expenses of management in
|London, which was increased in to In the charter was recalled, and the Company has ceased to exist.
The Eastland Company consisted of merchants trading to the ports of the Baltic, and was incorporated by Queen Elizabeth in , with a view of encouraging an opposition to the Hanse Merchants. In an Act was passed by which the trade with the ports on the north side of the Baltic was laid open without reserve, and the eastern ports to all who paid a fine of to the Eastland Company. Sir Joshua Child, in his
states that the low rate of interest in Holland, and the
had thrown the Baltic trade into the hands of the Dutch, who had no Eastland Company, and yet times as much trade as the English in those ports, whereas to Italy, Spain, and Portugal, which was an open trade for both nations, we had as extensive a commerce as the Dutch. The Eastland Company, long after it had ceased to exist commercially, continued to elect its annual officers, having a small stock in the funds to defray the expenses of a yearly commemoration of its former existence.
It is unnecessary to proceed with the history of the minor trading companies which existed at different times. The Hamburgh, Greenland, and other Companies were of too limited a nature to exercise much influence on the commerce of London.
The Hudson's Bay Company is the only of the old trading associations which still continues in active operation. It was incorporated on the . In the preceding year Prince Rupert, cousin of Charles II., with persons of rank and distinction, had sent out a ship to the Bay to ascertain the probability of opening a trade in that quarter for furs, minerals, &c., and the report being favourable they procured their charter. No minerals have been found, but the fur trade has proved a mine of wealth. William the Conqueror's New Forest was a mere speck in comparison to this noble hunting ground of this English trading company. It comprises an area of between and million square miles, or a space some or times larger than England, extending from Hudson's Bay to the shores of the Pacific, and from the frontiers of the United States to the Arctic Sea. This vast region is diversified with mountains, rocks, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, swamps, and forests; and the pursuit of the beasts of chace which inhabit it leads men from their civilized homes to pass years in the wilderness in adventures with grisly bears, or other wild animals, and often with savage men equally untamed. Here, bitten by the frosts of winter, and. stung by the musquitoes and sand-flies in summer; often on short commons; sometimes reduced to live on the flesh of their horses; spending a dreary winter at of the
the servants of the Companypass their wild adventurous life. For nearly a century after the Hudson's Bay Company was chartered, Canada was a French colony; and not only when hostilities existed between France and England, but even at other times, the forts of the Company were occasionally attacked. The French-Canadians also prosecuted the fur trade with remarkable success, adapting themselves to circumstances with that facility which distinguishes the natives of France. The plunged into forests with the red man, learned his language, intermarried with the race, and were often adopted in his tribes. By this means the northern part of that vast
| continent became eventually as familiar to the fur traders as the neighbourhood of Montreal. Before the dominion of France ceased in Canada, the French had pushed their fur trade to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. A new impulse was given to it when Canada became a British colony, and the Anglo-Canadians entered into this branch of enterprise; at desultorily, being content with what are now considered short expeditions of or miles from Montreal. But this limited field did not long satisfy the more enterprising traders, who pushed into unknown regions and were richly rewarded for their exertions. Others soon followed, until the keenness of competition threatened to destroy the trade. This state of things led to the union of the fur traders of Canada in , under the name of the
The Canadian French were already trained to their service, and the principle of the association was well calculated to direct the feelings of individual self-interest to the general objects of the united body. The clerks had the prospect of becoming partners after certain periods of service, and many of them acquired wealth. Most of them were natives of Scotland. Sir Alexander Mackenzie, who rose from a clerkship, is known to the public by his geographical discoveries, and by the river which bears his name. The recent acquisitions to geographical knowledge made by Messrs. Simpson and Dease, in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, are well known. The furs are collected from the hunters at the different
of the Company. Fort William, on Lake Superior, was established as a sort of half-way house between Montreal and the posts in the interior. It was really managed like a garrison, the partners acting as commanding officers, the clerks as subalterns, and the French-Canadians and Indians forming the rank and file. At the close of the season the
arrived, the furs and skins which they brought were assorted, and accounts were settled. After dinner partners and clerks made merry in the great hall, and enjoyed their long nights of revelry and ease; while the , Indian half-breeds, and a motley group were not less enjoying themselves in the court-yard. Ross Cox, whose abound with the most lively descriptions of the life of the fur traders, was at Fort William in , and ascertained that
are allowed, after a certain time, to have their turn of going to Montreal, and those between Montreal and Fort William are sent into the interior. Arduous as was the task of conveying between Montreal and Fort William the stores and articles of barter and the furs obtained from the trappers and hunters, it was in the interior that real hardships were experienced.
says Ross Cox,
The activity of the North-West Company at length roused the Hudson's Bay Company, which laid claim to the right of trading in a large portion of the country where the North-West Company had established their forts; but the claim was disregarded, and a strong spirit of mutual jealousy and opposition sprung up
| between them. In the North-West Company bought Astoria, on the Columbia river, which Mr. Astor, of New York, and his other partners had been compelled to relinquish in consequence of the war between Great Britain and the United States. The North-West Company's establishments now extended from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Hudson's Bay Company had also extended its chain of posts over its vast territory. Soon after the commencement of the present century an open war broke out between the Companies, already far removed from the restraints of law. Forts were surprised and parties were intercepted and taken prisoners, according to the ordinary practices of belligerents. This unfortunate state of things was happily put an end to by the union of the North-West Company with the Hudson's Bay Company, in The united body retain the name of the Hudson's Bay Company, which has for its
the whole of North America, from the frontiers of Canada and the United States to the Frozen Ocean, and from the shores of Labrador to those of the Pacific. The mere enumeration of the distances between some of the forts will give but an inadequate idea of the difficulties of transporting skins and stores from to another. The routes taken are chains of lakes and rivers, connected by links of portages, where the canoes and packages must be carried by the . From Fort William on Lake Superior to Cumberland House, on the main branch of the Saskatchewan River, is miles; from Cumberland House to Fort Chepewyan, on Lake Athabasca, is miles; thence to Fort Resolution on Great Slave Lake, is miles. The Mackenzie River flows out of this lake, and there are forts on it. The is Fort Simpson, miles from Fort Resolution; Fort Norman, miles lower down; and Fort Good Hope, miles below Fort Norman, is the most northerly of the Hudson's Bay Company's establishments, being about miles from Montreal. Yet the clerks in charge of these establishments look upon each other as neighbours!
says Mr. Pelly, the Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company,
Pemmican or dried meat is there the chief article of subsistence; and it is always necessary to victual each establishment much in the same way as a ship about to depart on a long voyage. The clerks of the United Companies are still mostly Scotchmen; and Mr. Pelly says,
The furs obtained each season are shipped to London from Hudson's Bay, Montreal, and from the Columbia river. In upwards of beaver skins were exported from Canada; but although the hunting-grounds in British North America are now so much more extensive, the number within the last years has never exceeded ; and the average of the years from to was only . The Company now maintain beaver preserves in their territories. Whenever the animals become scarce in any district the post or fort in the neighbourhood is removed, and the natives also shift their quarters along with it.
The great sales of the Hudson's Bay Company, at their house in , take place twice a year at fixed periods, usually about Easter and early
|in September, and are remarkable for the number of foreigners who attend them, particularly from Germany. Before steam navigation had given certainty to the voyage, it not unfrequently happened that the day of sale was obliged to be postponed, in consequence of the non-arrival of the packets, from contrary winds. So many of the buyers are of Jewish race that the sales are not proceeded with on the Saturday. The beaver-skins are bought by the great hat-manufacturers, and are not re-exported. The other English buyers are the furriers, a large proportion of whom are Germans, or of German extraction, as their names sufficiently indicate. The foreign buyers carry their furs to the great fairs at Frankfort and Leipzig, whence they are distributed over Europe. Some find their way to the great Russian fair of Nijny-Novgorod, and are carried thence to Kiakhta by the Russian traders. This singular Russo-Chinese entrept is resorted to by the Tartar traders, who convey the furs to Pekin. The history of a skin, from its coming into the hands of the hunter to its forming a part of the robe of a Chinese mandarin, would be a curious illustration of the untiring energy of the commercial principle.
It is not solely as a defence against the severity of the climate that furs are valued. The taste for wearing them is characteristic of the Tartar and Slavonic races wherever they are found, whether in Southern Russia, Poland, Persia, Turkey, or China, and also of the people of Teutonic origin in the middle and western parts of Europe. At period the use of furs in England was a distinguishing mark of rank and consideration. A statute of Edward III. confined the wearing of fur in their clothes to the royal family, and to
Henry VIII. also enacted a sumptuary law respecting the use of furs. In , Henry Lane, in a letter to Hakluyt, the collector of English voyages, expresses his regret that the use of furs should not be renewed,
[n.50.1] For a notice of The East India Company and The South Sea Company, see No. CIV. Vol. V., and No. XLIV. Vol. II.
[n.53.1] For a view of the Steelyard and some further account respecting the Merchants of the Steelyard, see The Old Royal Exchange, pp. 284.5, vol. ii.