Thursday, 9 August 2012

Laurence Butler- Ch. 14: Commercial Society of Sydney

One of the primary concerns in the fledgling trading community was the lack of a stable monetary system. There was no coinage system in place in the colony. Trade and payments for goods and services depended on a system of promissory notes, discounted against sterling at variable rates, and IOU’s. There was wholesale forgery of paper bills, and theft of promissory notes. Lt. Finucane explains in his journal:  August 1808- “Gold or silver money is not to be seen. The only currency of the Colony is the English copper coin which passes at double its value, and paper, in the solvency of which little confidence can be placed. Promissory notes, as low as for a few pence, are issued by all the petty retailers, several of whom are convicts. These must be received as payment, and when, for the purposes of making remittances to Europe or elsewhere, it is necessary to change them for bills on the Treasury or Mercantile houses in England, it can only be done at a discount of from 15 to 20 percent.”  [i]

A Promissory note dated 1823 Hobart

“Official prices were given in sterling but the only notes with full sterling value equal to their face value were of two kinds: government bills of exchange on the British treasury, and paymaster’s notes issued to the officers of the NSW Corps, which were consolidated as bills on the regimental treasury in England. Of the two, the Rum Corps’ notes were much preferred.”  [ii]

As many of the traders in the community found this system unworkable, a few traders met to form a society to establish a more regulated and manageable system

On 18 October 1813, Laurence was one of seventeen men who met at the house of James Chisolm in George Street and founded the Commercial Society of Sydney, described by Gov. Macquarie as “divers victuallers, publicans and others” and by W. C. Wentworth as “belonging to the richer class of inhabitants”.
They were James Chisholm, former Sergeant in the New South Wales Corp, 102nd Regiment, granted license to retail wines and spirits 1810, successful trader, granted land in 1809 in George Street; Thomas Rushton, brewer, licensed to brew beer in Feb 1811; Robert Jenkins, free settler and merchant with warehouse in Pitt Street, 1813-16 auctioneer; David Bevan, the leading auctioneer; Samuel Terry, inn keeper and merchant, later to be known as the Botany Bay Rothschild (and neighbour of Laurence), speculator in city and pastoral properties; James Wilshire, the colony’s leading tanner and soap/candle manufacturuer, and deputy commissary for the government 1800 to 1806; Samuel Foster, an O’Connell Street publican, received spirit license in Feb 1811; Henry Marr, merchant in Castlereigh Street, his wife Elizabeth Marr received a spirit license in Feb 1811; John Reddington, clerk to the Sydney Racecourse and publican in Pitt Street, received a spirit license in Feb 1811; John Laurie, no.1 George Street and 18 Hunter Street, general store; Joshua Palmer, Sydney dealer; Joseph Inch, publican in Pitt Street, received a spirit license in Feb 1811, and boat owner; Absalom West, builder, brewer who received a spirit license and a license for brewing beer in Feb 1811,  Cambridge Street, and publisher of the first Australian engraved views; Thomas Rose, convict baker and publican in Castlereagh Street, received a spirit license in Feb 1811; Laurence Butler, cabinet maker and trader; James Underwood, shipbuilder, distiller and merchant, partner of Henry Kable and Simeon Lord in sealing industry until 1809, then partnered brother Joseph Underwood; and Charles Tompson, who had spent four years in the commissary’s office for John Palmer, and had a shop at the corner of Pitt Street and Hunter Street, received a spirits license in Feb 1811.”[iii]

Of the seventeen men, three (James Chisolm, James Wilshire, and Robert Jenkins) came free to the Colony, and, except for Laurence, and John Reddington who were Irish political convicts given life sentences (Reddington was a United Irishman from Roscommon, who was a distiller in Ireland, and played a prominent role in the support for Major Johnston’s overthrow of Bligh); the rest were English convicts, mostly given seven year sentences: David Bevan, trial Old Bailey 1789, 7 yrs, for stealing a pair of pearl ear-rings being delivered- claimed he found the box when it dropped out of the coach, employer claimed he was very honest; Samuel Terry, trial 1800 Manchester, 7 yrs, for theft of 400 pairs of stockings; Samuel Foster, trial 1789 Warwick, 7 yrs; Henry Marr trial 1799 London, 7 yrs, for stealing a leather pocket book- pick-pocketing- victim did not feel it being taken but saw him running away; John Lawrie, trial 1804 London, 7 yrs, for stealing a number of blankets, lace, napkins, tablecloths etc from a woman’s trunk-pleaded guilty to a lesser offence of larceny and a few who received fourteen year sentences for felony offences described as capital convictions; Joseph Inch, trial 1788 Old Bailey, 7 yrs, for stealing three cotton gowns, an apron, by climbing through a lady’s window; Thomas Rose, trial 1793 Shrewsbury, for house breaking, death sentence commuted to life, granted an absolute pardon; James Underwood, trial 1790 Maidenstone, 7 yrs, brother of Joseph Underwood; Charles Tompson, trial 1802 Warwick 7 yrs; Thomas Rushton, trial in 1802, 14 yrs, for Grand Larceny, given absolute pardon; Joshua Palmer trial in 1800 Old Bailey, 14 yrs, for receiving stolen goods although no goods found on him, only witness statements, Palmer declared he was totally innocent; Absalom West, trial in Somerset 1795, 14 yrs, for a felony. Apart from Laurence who only received a Conditional Pardon, Reddington, Rose and Rushton received Absolute Pardons, and the others had completed their sentences and had elected to remain in the colony.

“The aim of the society was to form a small trading group or bank to issue promissory notes in lieu of currency.
At their meeting it was resolved that “a certain printed Paper exhibited at this Meeting, setting forth an intention of issuing upon certain regulations therein expressed Promissory Notes payable at Three Years after date, appears to us, on very mature consideration to be inimical of the most serious and calamitous consequences to Agriculturalists as well as to the labouring Class of Inhabitants of these Settlements, by keeping down the spirit of industry, and giving encouragement to every species of Monopoly.
That to supercede the necessity of putting such species of notes into circulation it becomes necessary to establish a better and more permanent Currency.” [iv]
The meeting decided that each member should issue £100 worth of promissory notes: £40 worth at 2/6, £40 worth at 5/- and £20 worth at 10/- payable on Demand in Currency, or in Sterling at 25% discount. [v] To be included in such a group shows Laurence must have been well established.

On the 23rd October 1813 David Bevan on behalf of the committee wrote to Governor Macquarie re their proposals. They received a terse communication in reply, in which Macquarie’s Secretary, Jno Campbell expressed:
“That you have convened Meetings and therein entered into certain resolutions for the purposes of circulating “A New and better Currency” (as you term  it) under the designation of the “Commercial Society”.
Your having convened meetings to discuss any public measure without having previouslt consulted His Excellency or obtained permission for the holding of such meetings from the Magistrate at the head of the Police Department has been on your part a __ and very inconsiderate act, and as such has excited His Excellency’s Surprize, and he cannot forbear expressing his strong displeasure at the irregularity and impropriety thereof.
Had your Meetings been duly convened by Public requisition and stating the specific object for which they were sought, the public at large would have had an opportunity of fully discussing the importance of the subject, and giving it their free assent or negative according to the bestof their judgements. At present His Excellency, strictly prohibits you from holding any furnter meetings without such sanction and desires that you shall dissolve your self created society and hold no further Meetings without His Excellency’s authority for the legal convening of such Meetings.’[vi]
Bevan and the committee obviously did not respond to this letter as a follow-up letter was written on the 8th November 1813, espressing;
“That having not received any reply from you I have now to request that you will inform me whether or not you have received that communication as in the Event of your not having received it I shall transmit you a Duplicate of it and will expect that you will make me a full and __ avowal of what your intentions are in regard to the Injunctions I transmitted you for His Excellency on this subject.”[vii]

Hainsworth wrote-“Governor Macquarie was so concerned about the groups proposals that he issued a proclamation in which he accused the participants of seeking to alter the existing rate of exchange between government bills and currency, of agreeing not to accept any notes, no matter how respectable, at a lower discount rate than their own bills, and of planning to otherwise defy existing regulations to the injury of their fellow colonists. The proclamation forbade unlicensed assemblies of more than six people, and outlawed any combination to refuse to accept promissory notes, or to influence the discount rate between sterling bills and currency. The society, therefore could not meet, but its members could, and did issue their own notes. Moreover, as individuals, they could insist on whatever discount the market would bear, and as individuals could refuse to accept certain promissory notes. The Commercial Society’s bills continued to circulate without reference to discount until 1816.  [viii]  (N.B. Promissory Notes constituted currency, a local medium of exchange discounted against sterling at the rate of from 25% to 50%.)”

The first attempt at a coinage system occurred in 1814 with the introduction of the holey dollar, stamped out of Spanish coins, but the first Australian coins were not minted until 1825. The holey dollar was a Spanish coin of Charles III whose center or “dump” was punched out and given a value of 1s. 3d, while the remaining “ring” was worth 5s. The Crown had dispatched a supply of silver coin valued at £10,000 in 1812 to the Colony, but this was quickly used up by visiting trading vessels due to the unfavourable balance of trade.  [ix]

Holey Dollar 1813 value 5s.

The dump value 15d.   
In November 1816, Macquarie called a meeting of magistrates, merchants and gentlemen, at which he proposed the establishment of a colonial bank which would be incorporated as a joint-stock company. On the 5th December 1816, forty-six people took shares in the Bank of New South Wales. A committee of fifteen was elected to formulate regulations and under the terms of Article 7 of the bank’s charter, anyone who was not absolutely and unconditionally free was excluded from serving as a director, although conditionally pardoned emancipists were allowed to be shareholders.

When the Bank of New South Wales was finally established, the only member of the Sydney Commercial Society of 1813 who was present at the initial meeting of prominent citizens to discuss the founding of the Bank of New South Wales, was Robert Jenkins, who was elected a director of the new institution. (Other directors were Simeon Lord, D’Arcy Wentworth, Robert Campbell, Thomas Wylde, Dr William Redfern, Dr John Harris, and Alexander Riley). Samuel Terry and James Chisholm were associates and became directors in 1828. Wentworth became a director in 1824.[x]  The exclusives, displeased with the emancipist’s appointments on the board, would establish a rival institution, the Bank of Australia in 1826.

On checking the banking records for the Bank of New South Wales, no record was found of Laurence Butler having banked with them. He may have been distrustful of the financial viability of the Bank and believed in the safety of investment in ‘bricks and mortar’, and reinvestment in stock for his own businesses. Despite the depression during the period 1812 to 1815, Laurence’s businesses were expanding during this period, although Michael Hayes wrote in 1812 that although Laurence ‘employed five men he was poorly paid’, and in 1814 that he might send money to his wife in Wexford ‘if he was well disposed’. Michael Hayes also described that Laurence was incumbered by debts, in April 1817.  [xi] It would appear that, although his assets were expanding rapidly in value, cash flow was poor.

©  B.A. Butler

  Contact email address:  butler1802  (NB. no spaces)

Link back to Introduction:

Links to all the chapters in this blog:

The 1798 rebellion
Laurence Butler's trial for his role in the Rebellion
Analysis of Butler's trial
Laurence Butler at the Battle of Tubberneering
Laurence Butler's imprisonment
Butler's life and family in Wexford
Laurence Butler's transportation to Sydney in 1802 on the Atlas 2
Conditions on Convict Ships
Life as a convict in Sydney
Laurence Butler's property investments in Pitt Street Sydney
Sydney Town in 1800-1810
Laurence Butler's petitions to the Governor
Laurence Butler's 100 acre land grant in District of Petersham
Butler's membership of the Commercial Society of Sydney
Laurence Butler's court cases
Laurence Butler's business interests in Sydney
Laurence Butler's cabinet making business
Laurence Butler's property investments in Sydney
Laurence Butler's colonial family
Laurence Butler's death in 1820
Laurence Butler's issue- Walter, Lawrence Junior and Mary Ann
The Catholic Community of Sydney up until 1820
Genealogy- Butler's possible ancestry and possible descendants in Ireland, and BDM records
Butler's fellow Irish rebels transported to Sydney
Conclusion about the life of Laurence Butler

[i]  A. M. Whitaker, Distracted Settlement, New South Wales after Bligh , Melbourne University Press, 1990, p.56
[ii]  R. Hughes, The Fatal Shore, Collins Harvil, London, 1987, p.289
[iii] D. R. Hainsworth, The Sydney Traders: Simeon Lord and His Contemporaries 1788-1821, Melbourne University Press, 1981, Chapter 3, p.60
[iv]  D. R. Hainsworth,“Builders and Adventurers- The Traders & the Emergence of the Colony 1788-1821”, Cassell Australia, 1968, pp.56-7- quoted “Chisolm Ledger” Mitchell Library MSS A4047
[v] D.R. Hainsworth, The Sydney Traders..., op.cit p.60
[vi] SRNSW: Colonial Secretary; [4/3491, pp574-5]; David Bevan re forbidding of meetings of Commercial Society; Oct 28 1813; Reel 6002
[vii] Ibid, p593 (Reel 6002)
[viii] D.R. Hainsworth, The Sydney Traders..., op.cit p.60-61
[ix] R. Hughes, The Fatal Shore, op.cit, p289
[x] John Ritchie, The Wentworths, Father & Son, Melbourne University Press, 1997, p.163-4
[xi] Michael Hayes, Letters 1799-1833, NLA MS 246 (copies in State Library of NSW and National Library of Australia, originals in Franciscan Archives, Dun mhuire, Killiney, Dublin.) Thirteen letters written between 1799 and 1825 by Michael Hayes to his mother, sister and two brothers, plus three letters written by F. Girard, Sydney (son-in-law) to Patrick Hayes in Ireland written in 1831-33.,