Category Archives: The grain trade

Steam, Kilrush and trade

Appendix D

Letter from Mr O’Brien, Agent to the Inland Steam Navigation Company
Kilrush Steam Packet Office, December, 1837

Gentlemen — I beg to inclose the Return which you requested; I also send a Statement of our Exports and Imports for the last ten years.

It affords me much pleasure in being able to state, that the trade and conditions of the people in this district appear much improved since the introduction of Steamers on the Lower Shannon.

I recollect when first Mr Williams commenced on the Lower Shannon, Kilrush was a very insignificant little place, quite deserted, without trade or commerce; it is now a rising town, with a number of respectable inhabitants and merchants; and the corn market, which was formerly rated at 2d per stone under Limerick, is now fully equal, and, in some cases, better than the latter.

This improvement, so important to the farmer, was certainly caused by the cheap and expeditious conveyance between this port and Limerick; because the country farmer at once saw the absurdity of selling his corn in Kilrush, at 6d per stone, when he could get it conveyed to Limerick by steam, for one farthing per stone, where the price was 8d per stone. This soon created a competition in the price, and soon broke down the old monoply [sic], so injurious to the public.

The facility of conveyance between Kilrush and Limerick had also a tendency to bring competitors into the field; and now, instead of one corn merchant, as was the case formerly, we have eleven; and instead of two grocers, we have fifteen; and instead of two woollen drapers, we have twelve, and so on.

Kilkee and Miltown, on the Clare side, and Ballybunion, on the Kerry side, have been equally benefited. Previous to the introduction of Steamers on the Lower Shannon, these places were scarcely known; they are now rising towns, and will, I trust, after a little time, compete with some of your English favourite watering places.

At Kilkee there are 305 very fine lodges, some of which brought £30 per month, last season; at Miltown there are 204, and at Ballybunion there are 96, with excellent hotels and boarding houses.

Persons leaving Limerick in the morning, are now enabled to breakfast at Kilkee — thus performing a journey of 60 miles in the short space of five hours.

This Company has rendered invaluable services to this part of the country, which are not generally known, but for which the people seem much indebted. A great deal still remains to be done to perfect our trade in this quarter; our pier is quite unequal to the trade, which is every day increasing.

At present there are nine vessels at the pier, and so crowded are we, that the steamer is put completely out of berth, and is obliged to anchor in the stream, and land her cargoes and passengers in open boats — a very dangerous process at this season of the year.

I am, Gentlemen, with great respect, your obedient Servant, P B O’Brien

To the Commissioners for the Improvement of the River Shannon

Statement of the Number of Vessels frequenting the Kilrush Pier for the last Three Years

Vessels at Kilrush [y/e 1 November]

This Statement does not comprise the Steamers which ply daily, but which, I fear, will be obliged to stop for want of a berth for discharging or taking in.

Abstract of the Imports and Exports of Kilrush, for the last Ten Years

Imports

Sundries (1835 only)

5 tons of Fish, 1 bale of Coffee, 1 bag of Rice, 1 cask of Indigo, Paints, Oil, Pitch, Tar, and Cordage.

Observations

This market does not embrace the foreign trade, which is blended in the Limerick accounts, and consists of timber from the British colonies, with a variety of wrecked goods in the winter season. Nor does it give more than a few of the principal articles imported from Great Britain, several being exempt from coast regulation; and owing to the facility of steam navigation, the greater part of the goods are imported to Limerick, and by canal from Dublin.

Exports. This account does not include the shipments made by small traders to Limerick, Cork, &c.

[Note: the quantity exported in 1836 was given as 87 firkins. Peter M Solar (“The Irish Butter Trade in the Nineteenth Century: New Estimates and Their Implications” in Studia Hibernica No 25 1990) suggests an average weight of 67.6 lb per firkin at Limerick in the early 1820s. Applying that figure gives a weight of 5881.2 lb or 52.5 long UK hundredweight, rounded to 53 cwt. There is nothing to say whether any of the amounts for Kilrush exports are gross or net weight; Solar says that “Earlier in the nineteenth century the weight of the cask was generally taken to be a fifth of the weight of butter it contained.”]

Sundries

1826: —
1827: —
1828: 2 boxes [contents unspecified]
1829: 29 bales [nature unspecified]
1830: 4 sacks of Sea Moss
1831: 94 Marble blocks
1832: —
1833: 19 cwt 3 qrs 9 lb of Staves
1834: 40 packages of Bacon
1835: 140 tons of Hides
1836: 20 bags of dried Leaves; 14 puncheons

Source

Second Report of the Commissioners appointed pursuant to the Act 5 & 6 William IV cap 67 for the improvement of the navigation of the River Shannon; with maps, plans, and estimates HMSO, Dublin 1837

Limerick Navigation

Last week’s talk at the Killaloe Ballina Local History Society, on the subject of the Limerick Navigation, was recorded by Scariff Bay Community Radio; a podcast (1 hr 13 min 11 sec) is available here.

Kilglass

The Marquis of Westmeath presented a Petition, from certain landholders of the county of Tipperary and another from the inhabitants of Navan, in the county of Meath, against the Grand Jury Laws of Ireland, and praying for their repeal. He trusted, their Lordships would permit him to make a few observations on the matter of these petitions, and the subject to which they related. […]

He had to call their Lordships’ particular attention to some anecdotes, which he could relate respecting the manner in which this system worked, odious as it was, and deservedly so to the people of Ireland. He would begin with one occurring in the county of Roscommon — with which he was connected. In the year 1817, a presentment was made with his knowledge from the parish of Kilglass, for a road to connect it with the river Shannon, which washes its shores.

The population of that parish was immense, and it contained upwards of 5,000 Irish acres. It had no road whereupon any farmer could convey a loaded cart; and the case then was, as it now remains, that, though in a county groaning under crops of oats, the produce was brought out piecemeal, to be consigned to the river Shannon as it might; and, although within twelve miles of the great market of Longford, no loaded conveyance could travel into or out of it, nor could then, or can now, any farmer transport manure, or any other load, in that county, except upon horses’ backs.

Their Lordships would learn, with astonishment, that this county was all heavily taxed by the Grand Jury, to the amount of from 2s[hillings] to 3s annually per acre; concurrently, indeed, with those parts of the county where the Gentlemen who compose the Grand Jury disport themselves and reside; but, while one part of the county had not a single passable carriage road, its wealth was extracted to form easy communications and gravel-walks in another part of the county with which it had neither sympathy nor interest. Was it to be supposed that such a system could be endured? He himself, in 1817, had been examined before that Grand Jury, as to the oppressed and neglected state of this part of the county; and from that hour to this, it had remained precisely in the same state. […]

Irish Grand Jury Presentments in
House of Lords Debate 5 July 1831

Staffing the Shannon

According to the eleventh and final report of the Shannon Commissioners, published in 1850 but covering the year 1849, each of the quays built by the commissioners on the Shannon Estuary had an officer stationed at it to collect tolls and other charges. Five of the six — Querrin, Saleen, Kilteery, Kildysart [aka Cahircon] and Clare [now Clarecastle] — had Second Class Collectors; Kilrush, being busier, had a First Class Collector.

Cappa [Kilrush] pier

Moving upriver, Limerick was one of only two places on the Shannon to have an Inspector; it also had a First Class Collector and a Lock-keeper. Park, the next lock up on the Limerick Navigation, also had a keeper, as did five of the six locks on the Plassey–Errina Canal — Plassey [aka Annaghbeg], Gillogue, Newtown, Cloonlara [so spelt] and Errina. Presumably the Cloonlara keeper also locked after the nearby Monaskeha Lock. Preusmably, too, the keepers collected any tolls or charges due at the locks: there were no separate collectors, yet from other evidence we know that tolls and wharfage were collected at Plassey [Annaghbeg] and Errina.

O’Briensbridge modern [ie 1830s] navigation arch

Back on the river, O’Briensbridge had a Second Class Collector. On the Killaloe Canal, each of the three locks — Cussane, Moyse [sic] and Killaloe — had a keeper; the Cussane keeper must have collected tolls and wharfage. Killaloe had a First Class Collector.

On Lough Derg, Scarriff and Portumna each had a Second Class Collector. Portumna, like several places upstream, had an opening bridge, but the Shannon Commissioners did not employ a bridge-keeper: the bridge was not built, owned or operated by the Shannon Commissioners.

Back on the river, on what used to be called the Middle Shannon, the commissioners employed both a Second Class Collector and a lock-keeper at Victoria Lock (Meelick). There was another Second Class Collector, and a bridge-keeper, at Banagher. At Wooden Bridge, the crossing of the Shannon from the Grand Canal’s main line to its Ballinasloe line, the commissioners employed two ferry boatmen: by that stage the bridge no longer existed and the commissioners had installed a ferry to carry horses and tow boats between the canals.

Shannon Bridge had a Second Class Collector and a bridge-keeper; Athlone had a bridge-keeper but earned itself a First Class Collector. On Lough Ree, Lecarrow and Lanesborough each had a Second Class Collector but Tarmonbarry had nobody: a First Class Collector was assigned to Cloondragh [so spelt] but presumably had to look after Clondra and Tarmonbarry locks, the weir, Tarmonbarry bridge and the collection of tolls. Mighty men they had back then.

The second Inspector was based at Rooskey, along with a lock-keeper who presumably also operated the bridge and did anything that needed doing on the weir. Albert Lock on the Jamestown Canal had a lock-keeper but Kilbride, the quay at the upper end of the canal, had a wharfinger, the only one on the Shannon.

Fermate at Kilbride Quay

The collection of tolls (presumably by the wharfinger) did not begin at Kilbride until March 1849 but in that year it took in £6 in tolls and £1 in wharfage, compared with £1 + £2 at Drumsna and £0 + £0 at Jamestown. Perhaps the road beside the quay made it a suitable place for cargoes from Roscommon to transfer from road to water transport.

Carrick-on-Shannon, not an important station on the Shannon, had just a Second Class Collector; there was a lock-keeper at Knockvicar for the Boyle Water and another at Battle Bridge who presumably looked after all the locks on the Lough Allen Canal.

Cranes were provided at several places but there is no mention of designated crane-operators.

Source: Eleventh and Final Report of the Commissioners under the Act 2 & 3 Vict c61 for the improvement of the Navigation of the River Shannon, Ireland; with an appendix Ordered, by The House of Commons, to be Printed, 3 June 1850 [407]

 

Kilteery

The current header photo shows Kilteery Pier on the Shannon Estuary. Here is a page about the building of the pier.

Barges

River problems in the Americas.

Grand Canal carrying 1816

GRAND CANAL

Reduction of Freights etc

B Hyland and Sons return their most grateful Thanks to their Friends and the Public, for the very flattering Encouragement they have received since their commencement in Business, above 20 years, and hope, that by their constant care and attention to merit a continuance thereof. They now take the opportunity of acquainting the Friends of their Trade, that all goods committed to their care, will be forwarded as usual, with the utmost expedition. Three of their Boats leave Dublin every week, for the conveyance of all kinds of Building Materials; Wines, Spirits, Porter, Tea, Sugar, Cotton Goods, and all kinds of Merchandize &c, at tge following reduced Prices, viz:

Dublin to Rathangan                                        8s 10d per Ton
Do. to Monastereven                                      10s    6d do.
Do. to Vicarstown                                            12s    4d do.
Do. to Athy                                                        14s    2d do,

They beg leave to state to their Friends and the Public that they have got each of their Boats Hatched (so that it is impossible for Goods to meet with the slightest injury) and each Hatch is properly iron barred, with cross bars of Iron, in the most secure manner, and the moment the Goods are put into each Boat, the Hatches are put on, and locked down with brass-warded Locks of the best description, and then sealed. Each of their Agents at the above-named Stages have counter keys to open the Boats to get out the necessary Goods that is for each place. They have also provided excellent Stores at each of the above Harbours, for the general accommodation of all those who are pleased to favour them with the carriage of their Goods.

They return their best thanks to the Grand Canal Company, for their having so kindly reduced their Tolls, by which means they are thus enabled to carry Goods at the above Rates, and also to carry all kinds of Goods, Flour, Meal, Malt, Corn, &c at the under-mentioned rate of Freight to Dublin, where three of their regular fast-sailing Boats arrive each week from the country.

Athy to Dublin                                                 12s   6d per Ton
Vicarstown to do.                                            11s    6d do.
Monastereven to do.                                      10s    6d do.
Rathangan to do.                                              8s  10d do.

Exclusive of the above arrangement they have also commenced plying another Boat drawn by two Horses, which Boat leaves Monastereven every Friday evening at Four o’Clock, and arrives in Dublin on the Saturday night following; this same Boat leaves Dublin every Tuesday morning at Five o’Clock, and arrives in Monastereven on the Wednesday evening following.

They hereby give notice, that any Grain or Corn that may come by their Boats, in bulk, to Dublin, will not be entitled to the above reduction of Freight; but if the Owners of such Grain or Corn, put it into Sacks, they will then be only charged at the above-mentioned Rates (so regulated and ordered by the Grand Canal Company).

They have also established Drays with Covers for the accommodation of their Customers in Dublin, and also in the Country, for the purpose of delivering all kinds of Goods that may be conveyed by their Boats to their respective Owners.

Samples are taken from all Wines and Spirits sent to their care, the instant they are laid down off the cars, in the presence of the Carrier, in small Vial Bottles, sealed, one of which is sent to the Owners, the other retained as a proof; and they are in all cases accountable.

Their Boat Agents are Mr Henry Farrell, at Rathangan; Mr John Coyle, at Monastereven; Mr Thomas Doyle, at Vicarstown; and Mr Michael Commins, at Athy; each of whom are purchasers of Grain, and will give the full value for Wheat, Bere, Barley, Oats and Rapeseed.

Wanted, 800 new Hemp Sacks of the best Irish Manufacture; each Sack must weigh 7 lb exactly standing beam.

They have always a large supply of the best KILKENNY COALS, on reasonable Terms.

Dublin Evening Post 12 September 1816

Carrying on the Grand Canal around 1800

Some new items about early carrying on the Grand Canal or by the Grand Canal Company.

Robert French of Monivea

Another addition to the collection of turf and bog navigations: the Monivea navigations, developed by Robert French in the middle of the eighteenth century. The navigations, like certain others in the nineteenth century, combined drainage, navigation and water power.

Monivea is near Athenry in Co Galway.

 

Canal oats

The Freeman’s Journal of 25 July 1832 included a report on the Dublin markets of the previous day. The report from the Dublin Corn Exchange said

We had a moderate supply in market, and prices may be quoted same as last.

The grains traded included wheat (prime red and prime white), grinding barley, malting barley, bere, new oats, new bere, oatmeal, M’Cann’s and First Flour, as well as

Prime Feeding Oats, 14 st [stone] to the brl [barrel], 11s 6d to 12s 0d

Canal ditto, 9s 6d to 9s 9d

Usage

The term “canal oats” is used in a report from New York in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1843 and another in  The Economist in 1847; the Central New-York Farmer has it in 1844 and Walt Whitman used the term in 1846. More from that side of the Atlantic anon.

The earliest occurrence I have found in the British Newspaper Archive is in the Dublin Evening Post of 11 March 1819:

Dublin Corn Exchange, March 10. — Our Market was but poorly supplied this day, particularly with Farmers’ Grains, owing to their being so much occupied at field work. — Canal Oats were more abundant than the demand warranted, and they were heavy sale from 16s to 17s 6d; prime, and for feeding, could not be got under 20s to 21s, and seed from 22s to 30s. — Wheat and Barley steady. — Malt, Flour and Oatmeal without variation, and in but indifferent demand.

There are other Irish instances in 1824, 1825 and 1826; in all cases the price of canal oats is below that of feeding oats.

The only British examples from this period, in Gore’s Liverpool General Advertiser on 23 February 1826 and in the Glasgow Herald on 21 April 1826, are from reports on the Dublin market.

I have not checked every occurrence, but my impression is that, to the end of 1840 (I looked no further), the term “canal oats” was used frequently in Irish newspapers from all parts of the island. However, the term was used only about the Dublin and Belfast corn markets; canals served both conurbations. British newspapers used the term only in reports from the Irish markets.

Meaning

I have found no definition of the term. Here, though, are some comments on possible connotations.

First, I presume that “canal oats” were oats that travelled [part of the way] to market by canal. It is likely that most oats came by road, probably on Scotch carts; that would have required packaging, no doubt in barrels of one kind or another. Some oats did arrive by non-canal boats: on 17 December 1838 the Dublin Mercantile Advertiser, and Weekly Price Current said

Limerick, Dec 15. — […] Oats since Wednesday in good supply by land carriage, prices declined ¼d to ½d per stone, to-day 11¾d is the highest down to 11d; by boat, 10d to 11d; barley, 12d to 15d. The depression of the London market on Wednesday accounts for the fall here.

Second, “canal oats” seems to have referred to oats of an inferior quality, or at least to oats that commanded lower prices. The Belfast Commercial Chronicle of 23 March 1839 referred to canal oats as “generally arriving out of condition”, proving difficult to sell and “going to warehouse for want of buyers”. The Pilot of 11 December 1839 referred to canal oats as “soft”; it is not clear whether that applies to their market or to their physical condition. On 16 February 1839 the Belfast Commercial Chronicle referred to canal oats as “unkilndried”: did that apply only to that batch or to all canal oats?

Third, the Limerick market report, above, suggests that lower prices may have applied to all oats arriving by water rather than by land. It is possible that the prices reflected something about the nature of the transport method rather than the inherent quality of the oats; alternatively, it is possible that water transport (which, where it was available, was probably cheaper than land transport) was chosen for the oats that would sell for less.

The first possibility has, I think, two sub-possibilities: that oats travelling by water might have been more at risk of damage or that their packaging might have been inferior: specifically, that they might have been a bulk cargo, poured loose into the hold, rather than packed in barrels. The Belfast Commercial Chronicle of 16 February 1839 might be taken to suggest that: “cargoes”, not barrels, were being sold, and by the ton rather than any lesser quantity:

Oats maintain their value, and cargoes have been sold from £8 5s [presumably per ton] to £8 7s 6d for unkilndried Canal Oats.

However, that is the only such example that my quick survey found.

Fourth, it is possible that canal oats were not used for human or equine consumption. The Dublin Morning Register of 3 November 1838 reported that

The supply of oats from the neighbouring farmers was short, and brought at the opening 13s to 13s 6d per barrel. Canal oats, of which rather a good quantity appeared, was taken off at 12s 6d to 13s per 196lbs. The distillers, anxious to get into stock, gave these prices freely. The advance is fully 1s 6d a barrel since Friday.

Again, that is an isolated example; it may be that the distillers did not always use oats.

Fifth, a case heard in the New York Court of Appeals in 1851, and reported in Henry R Selden Reports of Cases argued and determined in the Court of Appeals of the State of New York; with notes, references, and an index Vol I Little & Company, Albany 1853, concerned a contract for the sale of canal oats. The appeal was against the verdict in a case in which Messrs Vail and Adams sued Mr Rice

[…] in the court of common pleas of the city of New York for the breach of a contract dated New York April 28th 1847 for the sale of “a lot of canal oats, say about four thousand bushels, more or less, at forty seven cents per bushel, deliverable in all the month of May next, from boats at or near the foot of Broad street in this city, cash on delivery”.

The ultimate decision turned on other issues, but the relevant part is that Vail and Adams had called a witness who was in the grain trade and who said

[…] that oats sent by the canal vary about five per cent when they arrive from what they were when shipped. They generally overrun or fall short about five per cent. This is always expressed by the words ‘more or less’. We always make our contracts in that way and we mean by ‘more or less’ to provide for an excess or a diminution not over or under five per cent. We use the word ‘about’ to express the same thing. It is generally customary among us that the purchaser takes whatever it is, and gets the benefit or suffers the loss, not exceeding five per cent. On his cross examination the witness stated ‘The custom is a general custom. I have never known any particular instance. All the grain dealers do. SS & Co have such a custom. I can’t mention a particular instance. I can’t give any other instance. I have sold grain to M & D this way.’

If Irish usage was the same as American, this might strengthen the suggestion that canal oats were a bulk cargo, not measured before shipment, and thus with some uncertainty about the exact amount being shipped, bought or sold. That uncertainty might account for a lower price.

Envoi

None of that amounts to conclusive evidence, and I would be glad to hear from anyone [please leave a Comment below] who knows more than I do about canal oats.