SPURRELL, GEORGE, HBC captain and member of the company’s London committee; d. October 1770 at Barking, England.
George Spurrell was the longest-serving of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s ship-captains during the 18th century. He first commanded an HBC ship in 1722, was senior captain by 1727, and continued to take a ship on the annual voyage to Hudson Bay until his retirement in 1756. For this remarkable run of 35 voyages there is no record of serious accident to his ships – a tribute to his professional skill on one of the most taxing trade routes used by British shipping, involving as it did the negotiation on the outward and the homeward passage of the icebound bottleneck of Hudson Strait. During the parliamentary investigation into the company’s affairs in 1749, Spurrell revealed that he had never stayed longer than 23 days at an HBC post, and consequently had no first-hand knowledge of the hinterland. Even so, under close questioning he stoutly defended the company’s policy of limiting its trading activities to coastal posts in the bay rather than expanding into the interior.
Spurrell was one of the few HBC captains of the period who seems not to have been suspected of private trade by his superiors, and in November 1756 this solid, respectable figure was elected to the governing committee of the company in London. Ex-servants with practical experience of the bay trade rarely found their way to places on the London committee, and the minute books show that Spurrell was invariably entrusted with the manifold problems that the annual voyage to the bay of three or four company ships involved. By this time Spurrell was a man of substance, and in 1756 and 1757 he acquired more than £2,500 worth of company stock, most of which he transferred to his son Joseph, also an HBC captain, when he retired from the committee in 1765.
After his career at sea ended Spurrell had moved his place of residence from Stepney in East London to Barking, where he died in October 1770 leaving Joseph his sole executor.
[Notes on Spurrell’s long career are scattered through the company records, particularly in HBC Arch. A.1/120–22 and A.1/34–42. The journals of his voyages to the bay between 1751 and 1755 survive in C.1/869–73, but they are brief and uninformative. The evidence Spurrell gave before the parliamentary committee in 1749 is noted in E.18/1, ff.198d–203. Records of his stock transactions are in A.43/4–5; and details of his will are in A.44/1, p.51. g.w.]