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John MacKintosh
Chapter V - Continental Ventures


"In Germany the military element is uppermost; in Russia, the police; in England, the civilian power is the greatest. Long may it continue!"—"Notes of Travel," by John Mackintosh.

John Mackintosh was built on spacious lines. He was a big man with great ideas and high aims. He was not satisfied with what had been already attained, nor did he wait on events, but made them wait on him, by sheer force of will and brilliant enterprise. No sooner was his home organisation adequate to home demands, than he began to look farther afield for other markets and channels of supply.

He travelled much for such a busy man, and he got great pleasure out of his travels, but he always had before him a definite business purpose. His journeys were not more wonderful in themselves than those of other men, but they were unique in this, that they were undertaken to advance business in such a simple commodity as toffee.

His habit of writing copious notes and keeping diaries of his travels enables us to follow him, and shows us the various countries he visited from the point of view of a business man. These notes give the vivid impressions of a young but keenly observant Englishman, and they contain both graphic descriptions of scenery and shrewd observations on the manners and customs of various nations. At this period he was a little over thirty years of age, carrying the burden of a growing business at home, yet venturing abroad and dreaming of extending his business on a world-wide scale.

He commenced his first tour of Northern Europe in July, 1902. The operations of the American Beef Trust of that day, having made it more profitable to kill than to keep alive, had so affected the world's butter market that it was essential for all in whose business butter was a staple commodity to look further afield for their supplies. At that time Siberian butter was coming into the market. Previously it was little known; but with the opening of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the establishment of collecting depots throughout Siberia, and the granting of facilities on the Russian railways, there came rapid development. Huge cold stores were erected at Riga, with English capital and by an English company, for butter storage; and for the first time the products of Siberia were available for Southern Europe.

The object of this tour was to explore the possibilities of the new Russian butter market, and if the quality of the butter was satisfactory to obtain regular supplies.

The route followed is given by Mr. Mackintosh in the following note :-

We called first at Brussels, then at Cologne, then at Berlin. Next, after a thirty-hour railway journey, we reached Riga, Russia's greatest Baltic port. Thence we journeyed to St. Petersburg (now Petrograd), and again to Helsingfors. We sailed to Stockholm, threading our way for twenty-four hours through a perfect archipelago of islands, ranging from the merest hummock of rocks to islands half a mile or more in length. From Stockholm we travelled overland to Christiania, and thence to Gothenburg. Again journeying southwards, we crossed to Copenhagen, then to Hamburg, passing the Hohenzollern and a fleet of German warships at Kiel. Next we journeyed to Amsterdam, spent an afternoon at Scheveningen, a night at The Hague, a morning at 'The House in the Wood,' where the first Peace Conference assembled; and then, after a brief visit to Rotterdam, we took the boat from the Hook of Holland to Harwich, and reached London just in time for the coronation."

"In the course of our journey we traversed some 3,000 miles, spent seven nights in 'Sleeping Cars,' two in steamers, passed the Customs eleven times, dealt with people speaking five different languages, and using six different coinages."

At all stopping places there were interviews with business men, letters to be answered, enquiries to be made.

"Good-bye to English money," he writes, except sovereigns and £5 notes, which even Russians don't despise. If English people were only as well respected as their gold they would indeed feel flattered."

That was in "The days of old, the days of gold," and not in these days of "notes " and scraps of paper."

Here is a pleasing incident, characteristic of the man, which took place in a railway carriage, on the route between London and Dover, on the outward journey :-

In our carriage was a young French family of girls leaving father and mother, and returning to France in charge of grandmother. The baby soon got tired and began to fret. Taking the child on my knee, and playing tricks learned in boyhood's days, amused the French baby, helped to dry its tears, and so cheer the grandmother. Moral—take an interest in children's play as well as in their lessons. What cares baby for Browning or Michael Angelo? A paper ship, to its little mind, is as a Great Eastern. A railway, engine cut from a paper conjures up in its mind real smoke and puff-puff included. At any rate it forgets its troubles until we steam into Dover. What a grand view of the chalk cliffs I Shall we see anything to compare during our butter-hunt?"

He was no linguist, but he had a ready wit, and with a few words gleaned from many languages he was able to get about with remarkable ease.

"Ticket collectors," he writes, "and such like officials were dealt with by appearing learned, and no doubt they thought we knew several languages more than they did ! It is wonderful how far cheek will carry you, if it is accompanied with a smile."

But when he was really in need of something definite, the mere appearance of learning was woefully inadequate. At the Riga Hotel, having decided to have boiled eggs, the problem to be solved was how to make the waiter comprehend. When he failed to make the right impression by "clucking," he began to "crow," and the waiter's face immediately lighted up with intelligence. The difficulty was surmounted, and the eggs were obtained. When he was in Petrograd, thinking he would like honey for breakfast, he beckoned the waiter and began buzzing to imitate the bee. At length the waiter cried, "Ya! ya! ze fabric," and went for the "Business Directory" containing the addresses of the factories, having mistaken the intended buzzing of the bee for the hum of machinery.

In Petrograd he discovered what appeared to him to be a partial solution of the language difficulty. He tells us that:-

"Outside many shops are signs which denote at once what is sold therein. Fruit shops have elaborate paintings of oranges, grapes, &c. Glovers have gloves represented, and so on. This is a good idea, as even Englishmen can read pictures. Would it not be a great convenience if all nations would adopt some universal language, either of pictures or words?

He loved to sit, note-book in hand, in a railway carriage, or on board a steamer, and record his impressions when passing through beautiful country, or along a river winding through picturesque scenery. Here is a word picture of what he sees from the train as it speeds along from Berlin to the Russian frontier.

"I am at the rear of the train. Look along that single track. Straight as a die it runs to where the rails appear to taper to a point. On either side the woods crowd in, black shadows under the trees, and ghostly eyes looking through the leafy screen. Who can look into those shadows without recalling tales heard by winter fires of wolves and bears? Suddenly there is a gash in the forest through which we race. The woods have taken fright I Away go the trees in sudden panic across the fields I They pause presently to consider, then mustering courage they scamper back again and gaze with curious eyes upon the train.

"And now night has fallen. The moon appears over the pine-tree tops. The forests drift dimly by and silence reigns in the train."

What a remarkably vivid picture of what most of us have seen, but which no one seems to have before attempted to describe I It is like a peep at the cinema.

"Later the passengers bestir themselves. Books and papers are put away. Bags are closed and strapped. Hats and wraps are resumed. The brakes grind on the wheels, and the train comes to a standstill.

"We are now at the Russian frontier station, and all we have ever heard of the Russian Military Police comes to mind. We are conscious of a sense of guilt, a subtle feeling of apprehension. We hear the clank of swords I The police are coming down the train ! They peer into every compartment. They pause at ours, and look at us! We see the peaked cap, the broad stern face, the coat, the bright top-boots, and heave a sigh of relief as the men pass on. We are not known here evidently I Our criminal tendencies are not perceived I How glad we are we had time to conceal the bomb we were preparing, the knife with which we meant to ......!"

The people in charge of the gates at the level- crossings salute the train, and cause the diarist to make the following amusing comment:-

"All the family seem to be awaiting our arrival, and the man in charge stands up as straight as a line-prop with a piece of wood to his shoulder as if it were a gun, and salutes the train. You see all the trains in Russia are Government trains and therefore are the Czar's. But this is a special one, for you know the 'Toffee King ' is aboard II!"

After passing the frontier, on entering the train, he was greeted in the broad Doric so dear and familiar to him:—"An yo' getten through au reet?" "Good old LancashireI" he exclaimed, "we'll make use of you." Later on, when he was in difficulties in Petrograd, he called on this gentleman and found him in charge of a cotton factory, of which he was manager. The Lancastrian was delighted to be of service to the Yorkshireman.

The tender of the Russian train was piled high with logs to use as fuel for the engine. Mr.. Mackintosh appreciated this and declared that—

After the awful, evil-smelling coal used by the Germans, it was quite pleasant to have the smell from the burning wood. There is not half the smoke, and at night time, when they are firing up, the sparks fly in showers, enough to afford every boy all the joys of 'November Plot night."

His first drive in Riga was not altogether a Joy-ride!

"We took a padded box on wheels, drawn by a half-broken animal they called a horse. Driving is very cheap in Riga; and it ought to be, for money does not represent all you have to pay. A Russian could not possibly drive twenty yards without lashing the horse. Then the carriages have no springs, and the roads are laid with great cobble-stones in the towns; in the outskirts they are left to mend themselves to a great extent."

He thought that we had something to learn from the working-men on the Continent in regard to politeness.

"I saw one man stand at the door of a workshop and shake hands with seven of his work-mates. Catch an Englishman doing such a thing! I saw even boys of ten or twelve years shake hands and raise their hats to each other. I know many Englishmen think it effeminate to be so gushing, and no doubt it can be overdone. But I think we might take a lesson from the foreigner in respect of politeness. If we feel polite, why not show it?"

A strong sense of humour was one of Mr. Mackintosh's characteristics. He always saw the comic side of a situation. For example take the following :-

It is easy to enter an hotel. The porter is there to receive you. The lift boy is there to salute you as you pas to the lift. The head-waiter will bring you 'Vat you please!' The driver of the hotel-bus hands down your little bags as if they were trunks from America. 'Boots' conveys your belongings to your room. The chambermaid (on the Continent she is fifty, usually) peers at you over the railings, wondering if you are of the generous sort. Yes, it is easy to enter an hotel. You feel that at last you are receiving the recognition due to your worth. But coming out is a different matter! I will not harrow your feelings by dwelling on it ; only remember, the folk who help you in will be there when you come out."

Here is another shrewd comment:-" If you want to know how it feels to he a king or an emperor for a day, go about giving half-crowns to waiters and the like, and long before bed-time you will feel inclined to kick everybody within reach."

At Riga his butter-hunt was crowned with success. From the attitude of the merchants he came to the conclusion that they meant business. They tried hard to appear unconcerned, but every time he wandered from butter to talk about Riga, they brought him back to the subject with:

"Yes, butter is dear this season."

It happened that one of the refrigerator trains coming from Siberia to Riga with butter a few days previously had been wrecked; several wagons had jumped the lines and plunged into a river, and in consequence the whole consignment, whether damaged or not, had been refused. An enterprising butter merchant accepted the risks and purchased the whole of it. Mr. Mackintosh got into touch with this man, and spent the next few days in the Union Cold Store at Riga, where he tasted more butter than he had ever done before, or has since. There was a young man from Hull in the office, and Yorkshire- men are very clannish. He gave a quiet nod to indicate where the undamaged butter was stored. It was terribly cold, and to prevent frost bite, sacking was tied round both arms and legs while he was in the refrigerator. In the end Mr. Mackintosh bought over £5,000 worth of that butter, and arranged for it to be transferred to cold store at Hull. It was a memorable purchase for the business in its early development, for the entire butter supply for the whole year was thus secured at a time when it was almost impossible to buy butter in large quantities in England.

With his genius for advertisement here was an opportunity not to be missed. He had a block prepared representing a railway train loaded with hundreds of kegs of butter, and over it this announcement:-"The largest consignment of butter ever purchased by a firm of manufacturing confectioners in one consignment." A photograph also of the cheque paid was reproduced.

In Riga Mr. Mackintosh noted the absence of statues as compared with Berlin, and a business man replied, "We cannot afford statues here we are too poor. When we want to perpetuate the memory of a man we name a street after him. It is cheaper than a statue, and just as effective."

After leaving Riga, he was able to give himself more to the enjoyment of his tour, for now the chief object of his visit had been achieved, and it only remained for him to secure agents in the various cities visited.
Of Petrograd he wrote:-

"We found things to look more and more strange here. The lower orders of the people looked like so many grizzly bears walking about. The drivers of carriages were as numerous as flies, and they wore long brown hair and beards and shaggy eye-brows. There is a great number of churches in this city, many of them very fine indeed; some with dome tops painted sky-blue, with stars of silver. When the sun is shining the effect is beautiful. One doesn't often see stars in the day-time, but here they are in full glory."

At the cotton mill of which his Lancashire friend was manager, Mr. Mackintosh was reminded of home when he saw the Russian women with shawls over their heads, the shawls being well decorated with cotton fluff. "The English workman," said the manager, "is superior to the Russian. If Russians were left without an over- looker they would sit down and go to sleep." "And who can wonder," replied Mr. Mackintosh, "with their long hours, poor food and shelter, and all for three shillings a day!"

One •rnan refused a tip. This remarkable incident occurred in Petrograd. He had taken Mr. Mackintosh's luggage to the left luggage office. The attendant locked it in his own private cup-board and made no charge. At train time Mr. Mackintosh re-claimed his bag. Standing by the attendant was a high official in brilliant uniform. Mr. Mackintosh offered a tip, but it was declined! The poor man's face was a study, disappointment and dread showing through the mask of his incorruptibility!

What Mr. Mackintosh thought of Petrograd was expressed in characteristic fashion:-"I should say our old proverb needs revising thus, 'From Efull, Hell, and St. Petersburg, Good Lord deliver us! ' (and give Halifax a rest)."

Christiania was so beautiful in his eyes that it exceeded the limits of his descriptive powers.

We looked over a great forest of pine-trees, and Christiania appeared like a town in toy-land behind us the Fjord that opens out to the North Sea, and a stretch of imagination showed us the hills of Yorkshire. They were there sure enough, those hills right across the water. I cannot describe the grand view with anything like the justice due to it, but if it is any compliment to the view, I confess that as I stood on that hill drinking in the glorious sight, I wished all my friends could be put into a ship and pushed right across the sea and up the hill to this very spot. I may have been intoxicated with the sight, and this may have accounted for such an impossible wish, but anything which makes man or woman wish good things for others must he of God."

Here is the kindly humorous philosopher. He was very weary after two nights spent in the train and retired to rest, but a Military Band playing popular airs in the restaurant below made sleep impossible.

"There was no poetry in the music for me. A sleepy man distorts every sound he hears into ugly shape. It was the same band that was dispensing sweet music on the following day as I sat at lunch. I looked in vain for the hag of tins which I could have sworn accompanied the music the night before. Is not this often our way of looking at things that give us no pleasure, so that we find fault with the things that give pleasure to others? We are vexed because children at their play make so much noise. A mother who has a child in the group can hear music in their voices. Yes, many of our displeasures are of our own imagination, or arise through our narrow views of life."

At Keil Mr. Mackintosh had an exciting adventure, which he related with much dry humour. The German Fleet was there escorting the Royal Yacht, with the Kaiser on board. On landing at the quay, with a few minutes to spare before his train left for Hamburg, Mr. Mackintosh hurried into a splendidly furnished apartment, which he thought was a refreshment room. He entered with a rush, and half a dozen German officers dashed after him, their swords rattling on the polished floor as they ran. Somewhat disconcerted, he asked if it was not the restaurant? Much to his relief they all roared with laughter. It was explained to him that he had entered the private reception room of the "All-Highest," who was expected at any moment.

After visiting some of the ancient castles on the Rhine, a very typical note appears in his diary:-

"I am afraid my blood is too thick, as it never jumps in my veins at the sight of old things, except old people. I never see an old person without being touched somehow. But what does appeal to me is the setting that often surrounds these relics of the past."

This first Continental tour is described in fuller detail, because it was the first, and the impressions made upon his mind were more vivid. On many subsequent occasions he visited the Continent, and no country across the Channel was left ignorant of Mr. Mackintosh's manufactures. Amongst Continental nations "Mackintosh's Toffee " became as well known as it was in England.

In Germany, about the year 1906, he established a factory at Crefeld, near Cologne, which was in active operation until the outbreak of war. Factories established abroad were always placed in charge of men sent from the home works. Unfortunately, several of these men were interned when war was declared, but happily they all came safely through the trying years of captivity.

Mr. Mackintosh personally fostered the business in Germany. He visited the factory every year, and though he had no knowledge of the German language, he was able to travel about and to transact business wherever he went. He opened a series of retail shops throughout Germany, and built up a considerable trade) the whole of which was lost as a consequence of the war.

He narrowly escaped being involved in the terrible disaster which befel the S.S. Berlin, which was totally wrecked off the Hook of Holland, on Feb. 21st, 1907. Mr. Mackintosh had crossed only the previous night. His foreman, who followed the next night, lost his life. Mr. Mackintosh hurried back to the Hook and had the terrible trying and harrowing experience of having to identify the body from amongst the many victims of that frightful tragedy. He also witnessed some of the gallant rescues from the wreck effected by the Prince Consort of the Queen of Holland, whose heroism won the admiration of all brave men.

The introduction of Mackintosh's Toffee to Continental peoples was not so simple a matter as it might appear. Many ridiculous mistakes were made through the confusion of toffee with coffee. Toffee was an absolute novelty to the people, and many letters were received by the firm from customers stating that they had poured the boiling water on the toffee without satisfactory results.

Eventually the Toffee became so well known in Germany and the surrounding countries, that it was accepted as a symbol of British manufactures. It was no uncommon thing to see in a shop- window of a Gentleman's Outfitters, whose goods were chiefly of British origin, a few tins of "Mackintosh's." These were supposed to give just that touch requisite to prove that the business was of a genuine British character. The toffee was not for sale, but was treated by the shop keeper as part of his window-dressing outfit, the British "Hall Mark" of his stock in trade.

Mr. Mackintosh's foreign trade was by no means restricted to the Continent of Europe. He extended his operations throughout the world. Before the war a third of the total output of the factories in England was exported to foreign countries. The "Globe-trotter" found that there was not a port at which he called where Mackintosh's Toffee was unprocurable. The business was pushed forward into over forty countries, from Borneo to Nigeria, and from Rangoon to Morocco.

The name "Mackintosh" has become a household word in all the British Colonies. Factories were established in Canada and Australia. Special lines have been manufactured to meet the tastes of the natives of Africa and China. The Chinese love a sweetmeat to be nicely coloured pink, and the demand was promptly met. The foreign missionary frequently became, unconsciously, a pioneer in opening up new business in far distant corners of the earth, and as the result of his enquiring for "Mackintosh's" at the native store, a case of toffee would be included in the next consignment of mixed goods from London.

Another curious incident is related by Mr. P. Richardson, a railway detective in Central Africa, whose work takes him into all kinds of out-of-the-way places. He was searching for a Zulu railway thief at Somkele in Zululand, and on arriving at a native kraalhe examined what he calls a "rabble," a sort of dump, when to his surprise he came across three of "Mackintosh's Toffee" tins, one of which contained some toffee in good condition. He was not successful in locating the thief, but felt that he was in a measure compensated by the toffee, and despite the intense heat returned to his hotel quite refreshed.

The difficulty of keeping sweetmeats in good condition in tropical climates at first occasioned much trouble. Not only is the heat destructive, but insect pests penetrate the packing case and devour the toffee. In some parts of India, for instance, if the lid is left off a tin of toffee for half an hour the entire contents disappear. From Africa came repeated instructions to pack the tins in small cases, doubly tin lined. The boxes must be small to enable the natives to carry them on their hacks, and must be tin-lined to prevent the ravages of the white ants.

An amusing incident comes to our knowledge as we write. At Basra, in Mesopotamia, a local hotel took fire. It was a wooden building occupied chiefly by English officers and their wives. An Arab fire-brigade arrived in seriocomic style, and set to work to extinguish the flames. At length the Chief noticed that one of the firemen was missing. A careful search discovered him squatting on the ground with a four- pound tin of "Mackintosh's" on his knees, and hugely enjoying the contents while the hotel continued to burn merrily.

In the year 1907 the Royal Warrant appointing the firm Purveyors to the Royal Household was conferred by Alexandra, then England's Queen. Mr. and Mrs. Mackintosh were invited to and attended, a royal garden-party at Marlborough house, when Mr. Mackintosh had the honour of being presented to Queen Alexandra and to the present King and Queen, then Prince and Princess of Wales.

Writing in his own delightfully whimsical manner about the Royal Warrant, which is one of the most coveted honours a manufacturer can hope for, he says :-

"The Royal appointment is to business what knighthood is to the individual. The magic coat of arms on one's stationery is like the "Hall Mark" on silver. It is even more useful in foreign countries than at home, for when the merchant abroad is wondering where to place his orders, the Royal coat of arms often decides him. It also helps at an interview in handing in one's card. The lion and the unicorn do the trick, when otherwise an interview would be difficult. Occasionally, when I have been unable to make myself understood, I have handed my card to the official, whereupon he has saluted me and troubled me very little, thinking no doubt that I was at least an ambassador."


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