The House of Slade 1804-1861
Slade founded a merchant-firm with headquarters at Twillingate about
1750 and when he died in 1792, he divided an estate estimated at ₤70,
000 among a cousin and four nephews, one of whom was Robert Slade.
Robert was born in 1768 and his father died in 1780, leaving him ₤50
in trust until he was 14 years old. This money was to be paid to place
him as an apprentice; meanwhile he was “to be kept in school.” Robert
was apprenticed as a clerk in his uncle’s counting house in Poole and
subsequently came to Twillingate. In 1793 he was manager of John Slade
& Co’s premises at Battle Harbour in Labrador and then became a
partner in the firm.
In 1804 Slade bought a house in Trinity and leased the mercantile
premises of John Jeffrey, located near Hog’s Nose, please see the
accompanying drawing of the property from an 1833 map of Trinity. In
the year of 1806/7, his company collected 5227 quintals of fish, a
cash flow of ₤5870, and operated three vessels, the brigs Active,
Gannet and Falcon. His initial efforts in Trinity were
successful enough to encourage him to purchase Jeffrey’s property in
1807 and he began to enlarge and expand his trade. In Trinity Harbour
he acquired property in Maggoty Cove and Churchill’s Room in the
Slade’s expansion was not limited to Trinity Harbour alone. In 1813,
they took possession of waterfront property in Catalina that lead to
the building of a wharf, house and store, which was soon developed
into a major out-establishment with a resident manager. By 1835, the
firm also had establishments in Heart’s Content and Hant’s Harbour.
Until they went insolvent in 1861, the Slade dynasty in Trinity Bay
traded successively under the names: 1804-1822 “Robert Slade”,
1822-1837 “Slade and Kelson”; 1837-1850 “Executors of the late Robert
Slade Sr.”, and 1850-61 “Robert Slade and Co.”.
Robert Slade Sr. (1768-1833), founder of the firm, spent very little
time in Trinity himself as he managed the trade from Poole, and
although his sons, Robert, Thomas, James and John made occasional
visits, the Trinity end of business was supervised by agents who
included: 1804-9 Joseph Gover, 1809-51 William Kelson, and 1851-61
Alexander Warren Bremner.
Robert Slade’s business in Trinity for the first decade continued in a
somewhat tenuous and uncertain footing. His first agent, Joseph Gover,
proved to be incompetent and was replaced by William Kelson. Due to
the great amount of repairs needed on the property and the
irresponsibility of Gover, Kelson set out to establish Slade’s company
on a more secure and profitable basis. It took a few years however and
some considerable repair and building before Slade started to become a
serious competitor of Garland, while in the meantime, some of the most
profitable years ever known in the Newfoundland trade had passed by.
Kelson did however have a plan to improve the premises in Trinity and
to build new establishments elsewhere, which Slade agreed to. With
Kelson’s efforts, Slade secured a significant number of
planter-dealers in Trinity, and attracted trade from planters in Bird
Island Cove (Elliston). Encouraged by all this success, Kelson
considered opening an establishment in Bird Island Cove, however, a
better alternative was to build a store in Catalina.
In the fall of 1813, Kelson reported having taken possession of a
waterfront site for a room in Catalina and having placed one Joseph
Curl on it to secure possession. In the winter of 1814 he wrote, “I
think there will soon be an opportunity of doing a great deal of
business at Catalina. Joseph Curl and I will have no doubt a flake, a
small store and a wharf constructed by the spring agreeably to my
instructions and I intend sending salt down in the spring for the
planters and also supplies for them…I intend to see the place this
winter by land and in all likelihood shall send one of the large
vessels there to load with fish next season. I am rather pleased in my
own mind (whatever opinion you may entertain of it) with our having
taking possession of the spot, as the Harbour bids fair for becoming
inhabited, most of the lately vacant good situations near yours room
being already taken up..”
Kelson’s description of expanding into Catalina not only provides a
very clear picture of how he went about the task but also contains one
of the best documentations on the close relationship between merchants
and settlers, and how a mercantile establishment attracted permanent
settlers. Under Kelson’s directions, James Lannigan, formally a clerk
in Trinity, was sent to Catalina to take charge of “Mr. Slade’s
business there” and each fall delivered his account books to Kelson in
Trinity, who then dispatched them for Robert Slade’s inspection in
In the winter of 1822, Kelson took the trade books to Poole himself
and during his stay, something was found to be amiss in the Catalina
accounts. He returned to Trinity on July 10th and was
accompanied by Robert Slade Jr. A few days later, they went to
Catalina with the local magistrate and James Lannigan was arrested and
brought to Trinity to be charged “with embezzling property.” He was
then convicted in St. John’s “For Grand Larceny and Embezzlement” and
was sentenced “to be transported beyond the Seas, for the term of 14
years, to such a place as his Majesty may direct.”
Alexander Bremner replaced Lannigan at Catalina. He was a Scotsman who
had come to Trinity in 1811 as a bookkeeper and clerk to Archibald
Graham. He joined Slade’s employee in 1820, served as winter agent
during Kelson’s absence in 1822, and then went as agent to Catalina.
He remained in this position until the firm went insolvent in 1861
when he bought the premises.
Slade kept a number of salaried servants year round, and engaged many
others on a seasonal, monthly, and casual or job basis, as the demand
required. Some were recruited in Poole, others in Trinity Bay or St.
John’s if they could be found. In 1823, there were 32 full-time
servants at Trinity who, apart from Kelson himself who earned about
₤400 a year plus living costs, were paid about ₤1000 in wages. This
sum did not include the wages of sailors, casual labour, and the
shares paid to sealers. That year Slade also had 11 servants in
Catalina who earned about ₤400 and 6 in Heart’s Content earning ₤175.
At this time, it was required for servants to have a written agreement
for employment, known as shipping papers – please see the examples in
this virtual exhibit. Although a particular job was specified, it was
also required that each employee do “everything in his power for the
good of the voyage and his master’s interest.” This meant that any
individual as demand required was to be employed at various tasks.
Some of Slade’s employees had their own homes, but until 1832 the firm
maintained a cookhouse on their premises for their clerks, tradesmen
and labourers. On November 8, 1832, the diarist wrote “the Cookroom of
Slade and Kelson’s nailed up this day…the newly shipped servants will
provide themselves at the planters houses & c for the future”. This
however, was a significant event, for it marks the end of an era when
most of the servant requirements could be met from local sources. It
also marked the declining phase of emigration from Poole as permanent
settlement had started to take place.
In addition to fishing and other trade Slade’s also took part in
sealing. By the time Robert Slade began business in Trinity, it had
become an established practice for the merchant firms and the more
substantial planters who owned schooners to send them to the ice floes
off the northeast coast to hunt seals. The peak of Slade’s sealing
efforts was probably reached in 1852, when it was reported they sent
ten vessels to the ice.
The Slade’s crewed their schooners for the seal fishery with men from
Trinity and vicinity however, significant numbers also came from
Ragged Harbour, Catalina, Bird Island Cove, Bonavista and King’s Cove.
Sealing, or “Ice Hunting” in schooners and sometimes brigs was more
precarious than most other economic activities, and success was
largely dependent upon luck as well as being fraught with numerous
Master-Mariners and Ships
The men who captained Slade’s ocean-going vessels were fairly distinct
from those commanding their coastal craft. In 1809, Hamon, a
Jersey-man and highly regarded by Kelson, was put in command of the
brig Alpha and the next year Kelson observed that he “seems to
be enterprising and preserving man and a good sailor”. He remained
with Slade for about 10 years. John Roallons stayed with Slade even
longer. In the beginning of 1814, he commanded vessels between Poole,
Ireland, Trinity and the various markets for Slade until 1832. From
1814 onward, Thomas Biel worked for Slade until 1838 when a terrible
storm hit and lost two of its crew members. This however was enough
for Biel and the ship was sailed back to Trinity under the command of
Capt. Henry Moores.
and Schooners 1806-1836
Elizabeth Louisa Hannah
Robert & James
Others brigs owned 1806-1836: Anna, Perseverance,
Schooners: Cosmopolite, Mary, Swallow, Sally,
Anna, Caroline, and Thomas and Sarah.
Though Slade owned various brigs, few were constructed in Trinity. The
Alpha, Gannet and Robert & James were built
locally, however, they did build their own schooners, numerous craft
(which included boats, bait skiffs, punts, etc), and they did their
own repair work on the ocean-going brigs.
Source: The Merchant Families
and Entrepreneurs of Trinity in the Nineteenth Century by Dr.
Gordon Handock, Department of Geography, Memorial University of
Newfoundland, March 1981 pgs 90-125.