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COGHLAN, JEREMIAH, merchant and shipowner; m. Joanna – , and they had four sons and one daughter; fl. 1756–88.

Jeremiah Coghlan captained several Bristol merchant ships on voyages to the Mediterranean, the West Indies, and North America in the 1750s. He visited Newfoundland in 1756 as the master of a trading vessel and in 1762–63 made a voyage there on his own account in the Lovely Joanna, a 25-ton vessel with a crew of five. By the summer of 1764 Coghlan was established in the fishery on the island of Fogo, off the northeastern coast of Newfoundland, both as an independent entrepreneur and as an agent for Bristol merchants.

The following year, under the protection of Governor Hugh Palliser, who favoured the development of a Labrador fishery, Coghlan established a sealing post at Chateau Bay near the Strait of Belle Isle and fitted out an armed sloop to survey the northern coast for likely places for cod and salmon fisheries. He rapidly became one of the pillars of the Fogo community and in 1769 Governor John Byron appointed him naval officer for the port. Coghlan usually returned each fall to Bristol, where he resided in a spacious house on Trinity Street.

In 1769 Coghlan formed a partnership with Thomas Perkins of Bristol, and to this association were later added two men familiar with Labrador: George Cartwright*, a former army officer, and Francis Lucas*, who had served in the naval garrison at Chateau Bay. A settlement presided over by Cartwright was made at Cape Charles, north of Chateau Bay, and Lucas was sent north to trade with the Inuit. Unfortunately, Lucas was lost on the return voyage to Europe in 1770 and Coghlan found it prudent to end his connection with Cartwright, “having been subject to a heavy loss.” (The partnership with Perkins was dissolved in 1773.) Coghlan and Cartwright then essentially divided the Labrador coast north of Chateau Bay between them, Cartwright retaining Cape Charles and, far to the north, Sandwich Bay while Coghlan took the intervening coast.

Coghlan steadily prospered, prosecuting the cod fishery in the summer and leaving crews for sealing and furring in the winter and salmon fishing in the spring. By 1777 he could boast that he employed four times the men Cartwright did, “being bred in this business,” and he regularly sent two ships a year to the Labrador coast. At the peak of his career Coghlan annually employed between eight and ten ships to carry supplies out to Newfoundland and Labrador and cargoes of cod, salmon, furs, sealskins, and oil back to England. The miscellaneous outgoing cargoes included virtually all the basic needs of people living in isolated communities: for the household, casks of bread, biscuits, pork, and beef, firkins of butter, pipes of olive oil and vinegar, cartons of soap and candles, and bales of clothing, hats, and gloves; for the fishery, hogsheads of twine, salt, and other supplies.

By 1776 Coghlan had become the governor’s right-hand man in northeastern Newfoundland. He enforced payment of customs duties, dispatched law-breakers to St John’s for trial, and recruited men for the defence of Quebec against the Americans. During the American revolutionary war he cooperated closely with the governors in the defence of Newfoundland, and his settlements survived largely unscathed. During the summer of 1778, however, the American privateer John Grimes appeared off the coast of Labrador. He sacked the establishment at Chateau Bay, attacked Coghlan’s posts on the Alexis River, and took one of his ships. Fearing an attack upon Fogo itself, Coghlan summoned a meeting of local merchants, “but it was with great difficulty he could get even the voice of one Englishman, who would engage to stand by him, although there were 250 able men capable of bearing arms.” He decided to depend upon his own people, and he put his largest ship, the Resolution, in a state of defence. Governor John Montagu dispatched two warships to intercept Grimes, but he escaped after plundering Cartwright at Sandwich Bay. A grateful Coghlan forwarded to Montagu an address of thanks signed by 67 merchants and fishermen of Fogo who had assembled under arms as volunteers and who were headed by Coghlan as their “colonel-commandant.” In the spring of 1779 Coghlan asked Governor Richard Edwards for arms with which to defend Fogo, and that August a warship delivered 200 muskets to him. In the summer of 1780 Edwards supplied him with four six-pounders for Fogo and three six-pounders for his post at Spear Harbour, at the mouth of the Alexis River. In addition, for the remainder of the conflict ships of the Newfoundland squadron regularly patrolled the southern Labrador coast and escorted the ships of the Labrador merchants to St John’s in the fall. For his part, Coghlan kept up the drilling of his fishermen-soldiers, mounted his cannon in hastily built forts, and was so vigilant that no privateer dared attack him.

Towards the end of the war rumours began to circulate about Coghlan’s solvency, with such effect that he had to take court action. In September 1781 his eldest son presented his petition for redress before Edwards in St John’s. Coghlan’s evidence included letters written by his erstwhile partner Cartwright and by John Codner, a St John’s merchant, which threw doubt on the worth of his credit notes. Edwards had no difficulty in declaring the reports to be “malicious, ill-founded, and industriously spread for the purpose of injuring the said Jeremiah Coghlan’s trade and credit.”

Ironically, the reports were all too true, or else they had the desired effect, for Coghlan was forced into bankruptcy in July 1782. The news threw Fogo into confusion and Governor John Campbell sent one of his captains to help sort matters out. Coghlan’s fish, oil, and other effects were seized to pay his fishermen’s wages and his debts. He apparently remained active in the Newfoundland trade to some extent thereafter, for in 1788 he protested to Palliser on behalf of English merchants about the newly established Bermudian fishery on the Grand Banks. Little further is known of his career. He is thought to have been the father of Pamela Simms, who would later marry the Irish patriot Lord Edward Fitzgerald, but there is no documentary evidence to support this Newfoundland legend.

In the 1770s Jeremiah Coghlan may well have been the most prominent merchant in northern Newfoundland and on the Labrador coast. His fishing, sealing, and furring crews were to be found on the coasts of Newfoundland from the Exploits River to St Barbe, while on the Labrador coast they ranged far north from Chateau Bay, perhaps even to Hamilton Inlet. Coghlan was an example of a West Country merchant who was successful, at least for a time, in carrying on a migratory fishery and exploiting new areas on the Labrador coast. When the collapse of his empire came, however, it was swift and complete.

William H. Whiteley

[Jeremiah Coghlan’s residence in Bristol can be traced in the records in the Bristol Record Office of St Augustine parish – the poor rate books, 1761–83; the lighting and cleansing rate books, 1761–64, 1770–86; and the land tax books, 1763–64, 1766–69, 1770, 1780–87 – and in the register book of christenings, burials, and weddings, 1738–91, held by St George’s Church (Bristol). Information on the cargoes his ships carried out to Newfoundland can be found in the Bristol Presentments, exports, 1773–80, at the Bristol Reference Library. Although Coghlan was not a member of the Society of Merchant Venturers, the Seamen’s Hospital order book, 1747–69, the Hospital for Decayed Seamen, book no. 1, 1748–87, and the ships’ muster rolls, 1751–94, in the society’s archives at Merchants’ Hall (Bristol) contain several references to his ships.

Much information about Coghlan’s career in Newfoundland is to be found in the correspondence of the Colonial Secretary’s Department (GN2/ 1) in PANL, in particular vols. 3–9. Scattered references may be found in PRO, CO 194/21 and 194/34. The journal of Governor John Montagu for 1778 in PRO, Adm. 50/ 17, has a good account of the privateer raids on the Labrador coast and Coghlan’s spirited action. The unpublished diaries of Trinity merchants Isaac and Benjamin* Lester in the Dorset Record Office, Dorchester (D.365), contain several references to Coghlan’s activities from 1765 to 1782. Typewritten extracts from the diaries are located in the archives of the Maritime History Group at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St John’s (MHG-B-2A, MHG-B-2B). Coghlan also appears in George Cartwright’s A journal of transactions and events, during a residence of nearly sixteen years on the coast of Labrador . . . (3v., Newark, Eng., 1792).

Printed material on Coghlan is generally scarce, except for his alleged connection with Pamela Simms. There are scattered references in W. G. Gosling, Labrador: its discovery, exploration, and development (2nd ed., London, 1910), and Prowse, History of Nfld., and references to his ships in Lloyds list (London), 1763–81. With regard to Pamela Simms see S. P. Whiteway, “The romantic Pamela Simms, wife of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the Irish rebel” (paper presented to the Nfld. Hist. Soc., St John’s, 31 March 1942), which tends to discount the supposed Newfoundland connection. For a contrary view see William Pilot, “This Newfoundland girl might have become queen of France,” The book of Newfoundland, ed. J. R. Smallwood (6v., St John’s, 1937–67), V, 137–42. The biography of Pamela Fitzgerald in the DNB inclines to the belief that she was indeed born in Fogo, but makes no mention of Coghlan.  w.h.w.]

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

William H. Whiteley, “COGHLAN, JEREMIAH,” in EN:UNDEF:public_citation_publication, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed November 24, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/coghlan_jeremiah_4E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/coghlan_jeremiah_4E.html
Author of Article: William H. Whiteley
Title of Article: COGHLAN, JEREMIAH
Publication Name: EN:UNDEF:public_citation_publication, vol. 4
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1979
Year of revision: 1979
Access Date: November 24, 2014