HART, MARMADUKE, merchant and shipowner; b. c. 1754, probably in England; in 1779 he and Hannah Tucker of St John’s had an illegitimate son; m. January 1783 in St John’s Susanna Winter, daughter of James Winter, a merchant of the town, and they had one son and one daughter; d. 3 Nov. 1829 in Mecklenburgh Square, London.
Marmaduke Hart may well have been of Devon or Dorset origin. He immigrated to Newfoundland in 1777 as an employee of James Winter, a resident merchant of modest trade. Through previous employment with Michael Gill of New England (and from 1748 of St John’s), Winter had excellent connections in New England and Bermuda. By 1783 Hart was a full partner and continued in relative prosperity until 1789 when, by entering into partnership with William Isham Eppes, he took the step which made his fortune and eventually led to the creation of one of Newfoundland’s largest mercantile firms, Hart and Eppes. Over the years, it underwent several name changes to reflect adjustments in the partnership.
Hart and Eppes was formed at an opportune time. St John’s was growing in importance to the economy of Newfoundland, and the outport merchants, especially those in the West Indies trade, were finding it increasingly expedient to do some of their business through St John’s rather than directly with foreign suppliers and markets. Until the American revolution, these merchants had sent to New England traders a grade of fish known as “west india fish” in exchange for rum, sugar, and molasses, products they used in turn along with fish in their trade, in their own ships, with European sources and outlets. The revolution, by placing the United States outside the British navigation system, broke this relationship and created a trading void which was gradually filled by resident merchants in St John’s, and even more by the shipowners and traders of Bermuda who rapidly became prosperous as middle men in the Newfoundland–West Indies trade.
From the outset, Hart and Eppes acted as intermediaries between merchants in the West Indies and in the Newfoundland outports. However, the lucrative prospects soon led them into direct mercantile concerns, and by 1793 they owned two vessels and plied constantly between Newfoundland and Europe, operating out of Poole, Dorset. By the following year the company was collecting fish from planters on its own account, but its dealings were largely with other merchants rather than directly with fishermen. In this situation, the partners made themselves indispensable to many outport planters – especially those from Poole – not only through their Caribbean connections but also by acting as attorneys and spokesmen before the Newfoundland Supreme Court and the governors, and generally as sources of intelligence and means of communication.
By 1794 Hart had prospered sufficiently to allow him to spend most of his winters in England; until 1806 he leased substantial houses in Devon. During the summers, however, he resided in Newfoundland, except for a year or two when he nominally commanded one of the company’s vessels engaged in the European trade. In 1797 Hart and Eppes received another windfall when they were contracted to supply the naval squadron with fresh provisions. The firm thus flourished in the war years when many of the Newfoundland merchants, primarily engaged in exporting fish to Europe, found themselves in grave difficulties. George Gaden of St John’s, son of a Poole family which had been in the Newfoundland trade since the 1750s, became a partner in 1805. The union proved successful, the firm continued to prosper, and in 1808 Hart purchased a house and mercantile premises in London. At the end of the fishing season that year, he left the island permanently to establish himself as the senior partner in the new English house. About that time, John Bingley Garland, son of the prominent Poole merchant George Garland, was taken into the firm as an apprentice in London while his cousin, George Richard Robinson, was sent to direct affairs in St John’s. In 1810 Robinson became a full partner.
Hart was able to exercise both political and commercial influence from London. The company’s trade, especially to Europe, expanded greatly and, as one of the most prominent Newfoundland merchants, Hart increasingly served as spokesman for the interests of the whole industry. In 1811 he was appointed to act as “agent for the Trade of Newfoundland” and dealt with the British government on political and military issues of concern to the island and the fishery. In December of that year the composition of the firm again changed. George Gaden’s widow was bought out. Eppes retired from active participation and Garland, deciding that he did not like his prospects, also gave up his ties. The company now consisted only of Hart and Robinson, although another promising young Devon man, Thomas Holdsworth Brooking*, joined the business to learn the Newfoundland side from Robinson. Garland returned as full partner in the 1820s.
The closing years of the Napoleonic Wars had been ones of great prosperity in the Newfoundland trade, and Hart and Robinson shared fully in the expansion. By 1815 the firm was among the largest in the Newfoundland trade and took on as apprentices many young members of old mercantile families such as the Gadens, Winters, and Scotts, who eventually would flourish in competition with Hart and Robinson.
In 1816 Robinson joined Hart in the London office. Under Brooking’s management the company not only survived the devastating post-war slump which ruined many merchants but prospered. For example, between July and December of 1818, it acted as consignee for the import cargoes of 23 vessels, and exported fish and other produce in 29 more. Its network embraced almost every conceivable port of call in the Newfoundland trade, the inward cargoes coming from the United Kingdom, Europe, the Caribbean, and British North America.
In 1822 Hart retired from the business, which now became Robinson, Brooking and Company. He continued to take a paternal interest in Newfoundland, especially concerning himself with the formation and development of the Newfoundland School Society [see Samuel Codner*]. By now, the man who had started with nothing but a little education and some family connections had succeeded as far as a Newfoundland merchant could, short of acquiring a knighthood or a seat in parliament. The knighthood eluded him, although there is no evidence that he sought one. Nor did Hart emulate many other prosperous merchants by purchasing a country estate in the United Kingdom. His daughter Susannah had maintained the ties with England and Newfoundland. In 1807 she married Charles Augustus Tulk, a reform-minded politician who sat for Sudbury from 1820 to 1826 and the Newfoundland-connected constituency of Poole from 1835 to 1837.
Hart died in 1829 and for once an obituary, in the Public Ledger, amply summed up a career: “The integrity of his principles – his unremitted industry and punctuality, directed by his experienced judgement and discretion in all affairs of business – procured and secured to him, through life the confidence of an extensive circle of respectable and valuable correspondents: and, amidst the vicissitudes of a trade so fluctuating as one founded in the fisheries, these valuable qualities honourably raised him, from small beginnings to wealth and independency. “Hart’s main contribution to Newfoundland lay in the complex mercantile trade he created, and in the education and training of many younger men whose careers are better known. Even more, perhaps, his life was an example of how a rather poor young man could attain wealth and social esteem in the English-speaking world of the early 19th century.
Most of the information on which this biography is based was drawn from the Gaden, Hart, and Robinson name files and other copies of records relating to the trade and fisheries of Newfoundland available at the Maritime Hist. Arch., Memorial Univ. of Nfld. (St John’s).
Cathedral of St John the Baptist (Anglican) (St John’s), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials, 1779, 1783–84 (mfm. at PANL). Centre for Nfld. Studies, Memorial Univ. of Nfld. Library, “D’Alberti papers” (transcripts of corr. between the Colonial Office and the governor’s office of Newfoundland, 1780–1825, from various PRO, CO files), comp. Amalia and Leonora D’Alberti (34v., typescript). Dorset Record Office (Dorchester, Eng.), D365, F2–10; F21, January 1808. Hunt, Roope & Co. (London), Robert Newman & Co., letter-books. Nfld. Public Library Services, Provincial Reference and Resource Library (St John’s), Philip Saunders and Pierce Sweetman, letter-book (copy at PANL). PANL, GN 1/13/4, St John’s, 1794–95; GN 2/2, 10 Aug. 1811; GN 5/2/A/1; P7/A/6; P7/A/53, letter-book, 1792. PRO, ADM 1/476; ADM 7/141; ADM 50/111; BT 1/28; CO 194/68; CO 324/7. G.B., Parl., House of Commons paper, 1817, no.436, Report from Select Committee on Newfoundland Trade . . . Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal (Bristol, Eng.), 1791. London Chronicle, 1791. Morning Chronicle (London), January 1792. Newfoundland Mercantile Journal, 1818; 1 Dec. 1822. Public Ledger, 11 Dec. 1829; November 1831. Royal Gazette and Newfoundland Advertiser, 30 Nov. 1809, 31 May 1810, 26 Dec. 1811, 9 Jan: 1812. DNB (biog. of C. A. Tulk). The register of shipping (London), 1792–1826.