Ledger book from the De Rougemont Syndicate
Many items from companies’ pasts have been left, discarded and forgotten. Often a document which is no longer of use or has no purpose will be destroyed. Sometimes these items are simply put on a shelf, left in a cupboard and forgotten about. People move on, retire and new staff replace the old. If the books, office equipment and other paraphernalia survive a couple of generations, then someone may suddenly think “this should go somewhere”. Usually, they get looked at and then put back into a cupboard, but brought out every now and then as a “company curio”.
The De Rougemont ledger was one such item. It dates from 1859, and it lists shipping of that year in different parts of the world. It was found in a cupboard by itself, with no other items from the 19th century. It clearly shows the marine risks underwritten during 1859.
Although there are no names associated with the business, we are fairly certain that it was from the De Rougemont Syndicate, a well-known name in the Lloyd’s market.
The business is ordered in categories based on geographical regions, for example, Hamburg and the North Sea, France and Holland, Sweden and Russia, Atlantic Ports, Africa, Mediterranean, Brazil and River Plate. In fact, it covers almost the entire world.
There is information for each ship, with the date, the name of the ship, where it was travelling from, going to, and the cargo being carried.
The handwriting is pretty much consistent throughout the ledger, although it is in two hands, representing two people, who were probably the underwriters at the time or their clerks. There is a third hand, making corrections, or updating the information. This handwriting is quite rushed, inconsistent, squashed into the space and looks very much like an after-thought.
Other than the facts, the underlying history that the book represents, is one of a worldwide trade in goods. Patterns can be picked up, with each geographical area trading in the particular goods it produces, such as
- India – cotton and spice.
- China – tea and silk.
- The Baltic (lower ports) – wood, flax, wooden goods.
The Mediterranean is interesting, as it has always been the hub of worldwide trade and this is reflected in the variety of good listed in the ledger: coffee, cigars and sulphates. The specialisation of goods in certain geographical areas reflects deep historical, topographical and climatic characteristics.
With a bit of work, you are able to trace the individual boats and trade. Here are a few examples:
- 5 January, the John O Gaunt sailed from Liverpool to Calcutta with Goods, and on 2 September it returned to Liverpool with spice.
- 19 July, the Shakespeare is listed travelling from Bombay to Liverpool, carrying cotton. Presumably this would have gone on to the Lancashire mills to be woven in the factories.
- 29 September, the Albatross, carrying copper, sailed from Liverpool to Rotterdam.
- 29 December, the Astronomer, travelling, Liverpool to Calcutta, carrying beer.
Some of the cargoes are quite generic, such as “Goods”. Perhaps the cargo was a mixture of goods, too many to list in the ledger.
This ledger has a research appeal across the historical spectrum. Other than direct insurance and marine history, there is a wider story when it comes to social, economic world history. It has value for genealogists who can trace their ancestors to certain boats and, perhaps, if the records allow, to certain voyages. The ledger can be linked to other collections, such as the Guildhall Library Maritime Collections. It will become part of the Insurance Museum, and as part of its own history and in its own particular way will support the Insurance Museum in becoming a World Class Visitor and Research Centre in London EC3.