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A History of our Firm
Chapter X - Hoghton, Rankin & Co., New Orleans; Pollok, Hoghton and Co., Mobile, George William Hoghton, James A. Bryson


HOGHTON, RANKIN and CO.
NEW ORLEANS
Opened about 1843
Closed about 1862

POLLOK, HOGHTON and Co.
MOBILE
Opened about 1854
Closed about 1862

These firms were a development from the Liverpool office, doubtless intended to take care of the freighting of the Company's ships, to act similarly as Agents for other owners, and to do a cotton business. The original partnership articles bear date 1 October, 1843, and it was not long ere Mr. Hoghton established a reputation as a sound cotton buyer, gathering round him a large clientele of Liverpool and Glasgow merchants, and later on some of the largest Lancashire and Continental spinners. The Company also executed many shipload orders of Indian Corn for Irish clients. It was from the first a prosperous concern, so much so that in 1854 it was found necessary to withdraw Mr. Hoghton from New Orleans to occupy a seat in the Liverpool office, in order to be in closer touch with home clients. Mr. Bryson, hitherto a partner in the old established firm of Bell, Gouldie & Co., cotton brokers, Liverpool, was despatched to be manager and subsequently partner abroad. Those were the comfortable days when orders were sent by mail and similarly advised by mail as executed or inoperative. The luxury of telegraphing could only be indulged in to the extent of wiring offers from New Orleans to New York to a telegraph agent who 'packed' the message, i.e., amalgamated it, with others, and his agent receiving the 'packed' letter promptly from the steamer, by expeditious methods at Queenstown, thence wired the contents to the respective addresses ; of course the reverse being the operation from this side.

I recollect seeing a sixty-days' sight draft of H., R. & Co. on R., G. & Co., for £100,000—accounted at that date a large amount for any trade purchase. It was a pyrotechnic display of Mr. Hoghton's. There could be no necessity for such an amount in any one draft, though during the cotton season the mail not infrequently did bring advice of drafts which in the aggregate came to a much larger amount. Simultaneously came remittances by drafts on Liverpool merchants or Lancashire spinners for compensating amounts, representing cotton bought for them. H., R. & Co. paid, in New Orleans, cash for the cotton they bought, but unlike most other houses who could only draw with 'documents attached' they, to recoup themselves, drew their drafts 'clean,' i.e., entirely on the credit of the two houses, H., R. and Co., and R., G. & Co., and without 'documents attached.' This in the first case meant that the bank got and held security—i.e., Bill of Lading and Insurance Policy—for what purported to be cotton or produce of equal value to the draft, with which they did not part till the Bills were provided for. The explanation of the £100,000 draft proved to be that one day finding his usual channel unwilling to give him as good a rate of exchange as he wanted, he went to a bank that had often solicited his business unsuccessfully.

H., R. & Co. also received considerable consignments from operators on this side—chiefly rough goods such as coals, pig iron and iron manufactures, salt, and not a little whisky for wholesale vending. A good deal of trouble arose therefrom at the time of the Southern War. The city was occupied first by the Confederate and subsequently by the U.S. army, and the authorities in either case helped themselves freely and irresponsibly. Our Foreign Office remonstrated, but as usual did nothing further. The shippers on this side held the firm responsible. The amounts involved were considerable, as was also the opportunity for Mr. Hoghton to exercise his diplomacy, thanks to which a settlement was effected, and, without lawsuits. I mention in passing that on the international settlement of the Alabama claims the Geneva Tribunal in 1872 awarded $15,500,000 gold, or over £3,225,000 sterling, as due from the British Government to the U.S. Government in settlement of similar claims preferred, and that after paying all claims they had a huge surplus over; yet the surplus was not returned, nor do I think any British claims such as ours were met or even considered.

In addition to having the commissions on freights and disbursements of the P., G. & Co. ships, H., R. & Co. always purchased and put on board the first 500 bales or so—as on ship's account. This constituted the vessel a 'going ship,' a thing the shippers liked, as with delay, interest would be running against their valuable ventures. So too, when final engagements were difficult to make, or the cotton to finish came along slowly, they did not hesitate to add to the venture a further few hundred bales and get the ship dispatched. It took six or eight times as long to load a 4,000 bale ship as it now does to load a 20,000 bale steamer. The freights of ½d per lb. were normal, though d was prayed for and 1d spelt ruin. During the late 1860-61 season, just before the outbreak of the American War, the P., G. fleet had hardly any freight less than 1d per lb., and in some of the very late ships just before the outbreak of the war, 1¼d.

Of Pollok, Hoghton & Co., Mobile, it may be said that it was in some sort an independent yet a branch house of Hoghton, Rankin & Co., New Orleans, transacting at Mobile the same class of business. It was founded about 1854 by Mr. John Pollok, referred to hereafter under John and William Pollok. The control of the two offices in the dead season was interchangeable, i.e., either Mr. Bryson or Mr. Pollok managed both concerns, while the other came home. There were further two very responsible men, Mr. Burroughs at New Orleans, and Mr. Peck at Mobile. The latter died very soon after the War broke out; Mr. Burroughs met his death by accident during the war. Except a native clerk, Paul Lacombe, no one was left to look after the firm's interests, and thereby the circumstances connected with the consignments alluded to above were undoubtedly aggravated and complicated. As stated above, the two houses were, owing to the War, practically closed about 1862-3, though it took some few years thereafter to unravel the complications due to the hostilities.

Two instances occur to me of very nice business feeling.

When the accounts of Hoghton, Rankin and Co. with Pollok, Gilmour & Co. were being finally closed, there was a certain sum—I do not know the amount—that stood on debatable ground between the two firms.

The previous year a son had been born to Mr. and Mrs. Hoghton, and they had christened him Robert Allan. A ready means of adjusting the difficulty without receding from principle occurred to Mr. Rankin and Mr. Gilmour, viz., endowing the Hoghton scion with the amount. I met the gentleman for the first time lately. He alluded to the circumstances and to the enjoyment he had derived therefrom.

Again under very similar circumstances, on the closing up of Rankin, Gilmour & Co.'s books of Mr. Robert Rankin's estate, his heir, afterwards Sir James Rankin, by a graceful act made. me, the junior partner in R., G. & Co., the recipient of a sum, not in dispute, but debatable, well into four figures.

In 1868 Mr. Bryson returned to New Orleans and resumed the firm's agency, but trading under his own name.

GEORGE WILLIAM HOGHTON
Born 21 June, 1817
Married Miss Borduzat, 21 February, 1852
Died 14 January, 1876

G. W. Hoghton came from near Manchester. His father, George Hoghton, had been in business with his brother-in-law, Mr. Leeming; the firm was wealthy, but he had retired early and lost his money. At the early age of seventeen George W. Hoghton found himself with his mother and three sisters almost dependent upon him. The name originally was de Hauteville—translated into Hoctoon and subsequently spelt Hoghton. He claimed that his family was the oldest Roman Catholic family in England. He began life as a land surveyor's assistant, but on an introduction to Mr. Rankin he became a member, and soon rose to be head, of the original staff in Liverpool. As I knew him first, in 1861, I will not say he was a vain man, he had had too many life experiences for that, still he had no necessity to adopt the old Scottish widow's petition, 'And, O Lord, gi'e us a guid conceit of ourselves '—though this may by no means be an unworthy request. Very particular in matters of dress, in manners courtly and somewhat Frenchy, he did not correspond with the matter-of-fact men who otherwise controlled the firm, and like the fly in amber, one wondered how he got there. He was a revelation to the two semiquakerish Polloks, who at first accounting him a fop, soon learnt to esteem him very differently, but would go no further than to designate him 'a curiosity,' though they were really very fond of him. Fussy he was, as I knew to my cost, for as junior in the office he kept me, and not me alone, running on what I often thought somewhat needless errands.

Mr. Hoghton once discoursing with me said that on entering the office he did so as Customs clerk, considered to be the most important post in it, requiring 'suavier in niodo' with 'fortiter in re.' He said that most firms had to employ a specialized Customs'agent, that seven complete dockets of outward cargo had to be filled before clearing, and that the last act of the Captain was to appear before and shake hands with the Collector in his private office, who impressively wished him a safe and prosperous voyage. In my time much merchandise —our wood goods to wit—were dutiable, necessitating four dockets, but later on they were made free and matters much simplified.

Few now can remember the joys of the Searcher's office and the amenities of 'Pin Leg and another equally disagreeable individual. It was a veritable bear garden, and I can only conceive that with one or two exceptions it was the place where the undesirables were sent to; patronage was not then entirely unknown.

In 1843 Mr. Hoghton had been sent out to open a house at New Orleans, and there he had conducted a very successful business, not only on behalf of the home firm but for a great number of clients. He was credited with a somewhat lively bachelorhood. When I was there in 1874, long after the firm had closed, he was remembered as having been rather high-handed in his methods, in short, somewhat of a Napoleon, but above all, for his sense of business probity, which was all the more remarkable on account of its rarity there. During his stay in New Orleans his life was attempted on three several occasions by members of secret societies because he refused to have anything to do with them.

If not as often as the Canadian partners, Mr. Hoghton had to cross the Atlantic more frequently than he cared for—his son told me thirty-six times—often by tedious sailing ship, and when by steamer, not in the luxurious conveyances of to-day. His son further informed me that Mr. Hoghton on occasion attempted poetry. I had not previously heard that there was a poet in any of the concerns had this come to the knowledge of the Polloks I doubt it might have interfered with his prospects. The irksomeness of the sea doubtless lay heavily upon him. At one time having evidently fallen foul of his captain, by name McKandy, he, in verse, discusses the doings in Hades and the captain's share therein in particular he winds up the effusion thus

'And last tho' not least, came a cauldron hot,
Upon which was engraved McKandy's lot.'

Another time, more playful, he begins :-

'At sea there's nothing so confounded plaguey
As a wet nurse and a little baby.'

Again he winds up a love-sick and very sentimental ditty:-

'And what is life? Ah! would'st thou know?
'Tis breath, renewed by that sweet love,
Which, mingling with two souls doth glow,
And fits them for the realms above.'

These effusions bear date 1842, and it is to be said for him that he was but in his twenty-fifth year.

It was not alone for business reasons that he came home to live in 1854. I am. informed he was then threatened with the disease of which he ultimately died.

In Liverpool in later days he fitted in well with his allotted department. He may not have found it so easy to get his own way 'on the flags' as at New Orleans ; still he was regarded as an authority there. Those were the days of frock-coated and top-hatted principals—my thoughts go back to well-groomed men, decorously transacting the cotton business—not as the market is to the outward eye presented to-day, of youths and middle-aged men perspiringly struggling in what is called 'the pit' to 'best' each other in buying and selling futures. To return—Mr. Hoghton had the correspondence in his department, but he chiefly worked our cotton business. For some years after 1861, say during the time of the American War, he had a joyously active time vending the shipments of his New Orleans and Mobile houses at very long prices, for our cotton was well held and we were heavily in stock. He was considered an excellent judge of cotton, and bringing his superior knowledge of its intrinsic value to bear on the rapid fluctuations of the staple during this War time, he had an excellent opportunity both in purchasing and selling. It was then an article of which it was very difficult to assess the value, so rapid were the transitions. Hundredths of a penny in value now, went by farthings and half-pence then. On not a few occasions he bought lots of cotton and within a few minutes re-sold them, not at a marginal profit, but at a profit of Id or more per lb.—I recollect one case of id. per lb. realised in the time it took Mr. Hoghton to walk across the flags and place the lot before a spinner whose speciality he well knew. The market, and Liverpool generally then, was in a wildly excited state, doctors, parsons, lawyers, wives and widows, and tradesmen speculating in it. I do not think that Liverpool ever before had such a plethora of riches, and certainly relatively never has since. The wealth quickly came and almost as quickly dissipated itself. He undoubtedly had great experience and knowledge of the staple. He was not always right though, and when he made a mistake was extremely tenacious. Not a few were the lots that were held on to when it would have been better to admit the error of judgment and cut the loss. The present Mr. George Hoghton informs me that it was his father who instituted the idea that the firm should be the insurers of their own ships—I refer to the wooden ships. I had thought the practice was of earlier origin; anyway, the result of a somewhat bold policy was that the insurance account proved a most profitable one.

The relation between Mr. Robert Rankin ii and Mr. Hoghton was not extremely cordial, though there was nothing acute. The only matter that ever came before me was, that one day in a tiff R. R. ii expressed an opinion that it would be better if G. W. H. went about less and attended more to keeping himself posted on the current details of the business. To this G. W. H. replied somewhat forcibly that he would not—such details were better left to a competent clerk. In my opinion there was reason on both sides, but the balance favoured Mr. Hoghton's view. It afforded, however, a clue to the business methods of the two men. Mr. Hoghton was a kindly, mercurial man, of somewhat jealous temperament. He was a good and fluent speaker, but his time was too much occupied to permit him to take great part in public affairs; he was Chairman of the Catholic Training Ship Clarence.

In 1866, very comfortably off, he retired to London, and subsequent correspondence from 71 Inverness Terrace, Kensington, was of a most cordial character.

It is to be said that he long suffered from diabetes, to which probably was due somewhat of his fretful manner. With years the disease became more acute. It is pleasant to read in a letter of his dated 3 December, 1875, to Mr. Bryson:-

'Robert and Mr. Strang were here on Wednesday evening. I had no idea the former ever entertained such kindly feeling toward me as his words and manner indicated to my wife after my parting with him, and I am more than grateful.'

At New Orleans he had married Miss Virginie Borduzat, born 1834, a member of an old French Creole family. She was a delightful, kindly, lighthearted lady, and possessed a fine contralto voice. She was somewhat of a leader of Liverpool society, and was accounted, as was her due, one of the handsomest women of the Liverpool of her day. She married again, a Monsieur Delapré, and, surviving him, she lived for some years at St. Mary Cray, Kent, with her family around her or in close proximity.

JAMES A. BRYSON.
Born 1828
Married Miss Rome, 1861
Died 26 April, 1879

James A. Bryson came to Liverpool in 1847, aged nineteen, from his father's office, R. Bryson and Son, an old established cotton business in Glasgow. He entered the office of Bell, Gouldie and Co., cotton brokers, who transacted Messrs. Bryson's business, and had a large share of Rankin, Gilmour and Co.'s brokerages. Mr. Bell was a very old and valued friend of Mr. Rankin. In a few years Mr. Bryson became a partner of Messrs. Bell, Gouldie and Co. In this position he naturally came much into touch with Mr. Rankin, and Mr. Hoghton, the New Orleans partner, and his inclinations and interest led him to retire from Bell, Gouldie & Co., and accept the position of manager of Hoghton, Rankin & Co.'s business at New Orleans, and from there, after Mr. John Pollok's death, he directed Pollok, Hoghton and Co., Mobile. He became a partner in these concerns on 30 September, 1860.

This in one sense was fortunate, and in another unfortunate for him. Fortunate because the cotton sent home on joint account that season rose immensely in value, and was sold at prices which to-day seem absolutely fictitious; unfortunate, as the continuance of the American War entailed utter stoppage of business for the succeeding years ; indeed it led to the closing of the concern. He did not dream when he came home that Spring that the War just then about to open would prove to be so severe and protracted, or so disastrous to the Southern States. A term of enforced idleness was thus thrust upon him, broken during the winters of 1861 arid 1862 by a residence in New York, whither he went in order to get a better grasp of the situation of the firm's interests in New Orleans, and also to feel the pulse of the markets there. He purchased various lines of produce which were shipped home on joint account, but they yielded no profit, and he returned home to wait yet awhile.

Mr. Gilmour and Mr. Rankin had approved of his going out to open a house in Bombay, the world's supply then resting upon Surat cotton, but the junior partners did not view the matter with favour.

Mr. Bryson had married in 1861, and in 1865 he joined his brother-in-law, Mr. William Rome, partner in the old firm of Eyre, Evans & Co., Liverpool. Ultimately Mr. Bryson left Eyre, Evans and Co., and, matters having settled down after the war, he again went out to New Orleans in 1868, this time as regards the firm, as agent only, to receive the consignments of the firm's ships, and do their cotton and other business. He found things greatly changed and life there no longer what it was. During that winter he had the assistance of Mr. John Gilmour (Montrave). In the winter of 1870-1—both the home partners and he having a good opinion of the article— he bought and shipped largely of cotton on joint account. The home market responded nobly, and the season was a very profitable one. There is something about the air of the South that leads people to be optimistic, and Mr. Bryson not only bought freely, but exceeded his orders, and, as he told me afterwards, did not dare to cable the full extent of his operations till the markets moved upwards. Fortunately the result was eminently satisfactory. About 1872 or 1873, finding residence abroad irksome, he opened an office and came to live in Liverpool; at the same time he retained the agency at New Orleans, his representative being Mr. Lacombe, a native. The business dwindled, the trust was misplaced, and with Mr. Bryson's death all connection with our firm ceased.


 


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