TUYLL VAN SEROOSKERKEN (de Tuyll de Serooskerken), VINCENT GILDEMEESTER van, Baron van TUYLL VAN SEROOSKERKEN, land speculator and developer; b. 13 March 1812 in Bath, England, son of Carel Lodewijk van Tuyll van Serooskerken and Marie Louise Gildemeester; m. 8 Aug. 1844 Charlotte Henrietta Mansfield in London, and they had three sons and four daughters; d. 17 March 1860 in The Hague, Netherlands.
The van Tuyll van Serooskerken family has had a long and distinguished history in the Netherlands. Its Upper Canadian connection began in the 1830s with the real estate speculations of Carel Lodewijk van Tuyll van Serooskerken on the western fringe of the Canada Company’s vast Huron Tract. His son, Vincent Gildemeester van Tuyll van Serooskerken, inherited the lands after his father’s death and with them a complex set of contractual responsibilities for their development. The colourful young baron attempted to open up and sell his large acreage but continuous financial problems, difficulties with transatlantic communications, the comparative remoteness of the property, and a mounting reluctance on the part of Canada Company officials to extend his credit forced him to reduce his ambitions and eventually to quit the speculation.
The family was well established in the Netherlands. With the Napoleonic occupation Carel Lodewijk escaped to England, where in 1811 he married the daughter of a former Dutch consul-general to Portugal. When Vincent Gildemeester was born at Bath the following year, his father enjoyed sufficient prestige to have him christened at Bath Abbey. After the restoration of the House of Orange the family returned to the Netherlands. In 1816 Carel Lodewijk became gentleman of the bedchamber to King Willem I, and a year later was appointed dike-reeve of the district of IJzendoorn. His title of baron was granted in 1822. Although much of his time thereafter seems to have been spent as a gentleman farmer at Hillegom, he had more than a passing interest in commerce, particularly in coal mining near Liège (Belgium). It is likely that through business connections made during his stay in England he heard of the Canada Company, which had been chartered in 1826, but nothing is known of the negotiations which preceded his association with the company and there is little evidence to suggest that he ever visited the Canadas.
The task of selecting or inspecting property in the Huron Tract fell to Carel Lodewijk’s agent, Edward C. Taylor of Goderich, who began amassing land partly on the advice of Commander Henry Wolsey Bayfield*, a family connection. In 1832 Taylor arranged the baron’s purchase of over 4,000 acres, including 1,800 in Goderich Township and a 388-acre town-plot, surveyed that year in Stanley Township at the mouth of the Bayfield River. The purchase price of £1,500 was to be paid with £300 down in 1832 and the balance in equal annual instalments between 1833 and 1837. Later, up to 700 acres were purchased in Colborne Township. The baron agreed to establish settlers, develop mill sites, and build a dam on the Bayfield River and erect a sawmill and a grist-mill there to serve the needs of the projected town of Bayfield – all before 1836. The scheme was potentially a good one for both the baron and the Canada Company. Thomas Mercer Jones*, one of its commissioners, initially showed a great deal of enthusiasm for the project. Van Tuyll’s plans, however, largely fell victim to this ill-fated optimism for in the 1830s much excellent land closer to established centres was still available elsewhere in the province, frequently at prices lower than those offered by the company.
In the early 1830s Vincent Gildemeester inspected his father’s estate and built an attractive Regency-style manor north of Goderich. He subsequently made several trips to Upper Canada, in the course of them travelling widely throughout the province and the United States. A mill was started at Bayfield in 1835; but the death that year of Carel Lodewijk meant delays and confusion while his Dutch affairs were settled. The resulting suspension of instalment payments greatly alarmed the Canada Company’s directors in London. A threat of forfeiture was turned aside only by a special plea from Vincent Gildemeester, to whom company officials extended every courtesy at this juncture. In 1837 a new bargain was struck. Even so Vincent had trouble finding a guarantor and finally, in June of that year, the company agreed to accept £1,000 as security for the fulfilment of his debts and obligations. Baron Vincent deposited £500 with the company’s bankers but, evidently pushed financially in the Netherlands (an international depression had begun in 1837), he had difficulty with the second half of the deposit. It was finally paid in August 1838.
It seems apparent that neither baron had any practical idea of the costs of the improvements which each contracted to make. Vincent had few problems in paying off the purchase price by August 1841, but it was minor compared to the improvements, which would nearly overwhelm his resources. Taylor was highly critical of the company’s demands and informed Jones in 1838 that “the Russian Autocrat could not place his meanest vassals in a more helpless degrading position than the Canada Company have placed the Baron de Tuyll.” The cost of forfeiture would be “about twenty times the original value of the purchase, and the purchase money to boot.” Such, Taylor concluded, “is the contemplated reward for improving a Wilderness!!”
Certainly Jones now felt that the deal should never have been made. The Bayfield mill alone, he informed the company directors, would cost the baron £2,000 to complete, and he was further convinced that van Tuyll did not yet understand the continuing expenses that he would encounter, not simply in fulfilling his contract but in making his lands saleable. Jones’s fears were soon realized. The Bayfield River dam cost £1,600 – fully £1,300 over the contract price Taylor had arranged. Moreover, land sales were sluggish in the aftermath of the rebellion of 1837–38 and the town of Bayfield was still largely a mass of uncleared lots and scattered wooden buildings. Although the baron made some efforts to meet his expenses, he borrowed increasingly from the company, either through its Canadian commissioners or by simply failing to meet the terms of the contract. The company’s court of directors in London was furious with the commissioners for making advances to van Tuyll but still they were sympathetic to his difficulties and reluctant to become enmeshed in legal action against him. A court case could well be injurious not only to the company and to the baron, but also to immigration and settlement generally – not to mention the company’s stock on the London exchange.
In 1841 the dam and bridge at Bayfield were swept away by floods, and the Canada Company was faced with the responsibility for their repair. Taylor’s death the previous year had thrown the baron’s affairs into confusion. By now desperate to meet the costs of improvements, in August 1841 van Tuyll coaxed the company into accepting a mortgage on his Bayfield properties for £1,130 payable in December 1842. A second mortgage of £800 was reluctantly granted in August 1844. Yet by February 1847 the indulgent company had not received a penny and, understandably, its patience was at an end. The Canadian commissioners were ordered to settle the affair and the baron was threatened with foreclosure and the seizure of his remaining Canadian property. Van Tuyll nevertheless had enough influence to have one final bargain negotiated. A new commissioner, Frederick Widder*, fully realized the costs and dangers of what could only be prolonged litigation, and the baron was granted more time to pay off a debt of almost £2,200. In 1849 he began making regular, substantial payments to the company through the Bank of Upper Canada, and by 1857 the company was able to report him as fully paid. The money had not, however, come from his Huron lands, which took many years to sell off.
In the late 1840s van Tuyll had evidently begun speculating in the mining and pewter production on the island of Billiton (Belitong) in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). He was immediately successful (in 1850, to celebrate, he named a daughter Sophie Mathilde Henriette Bilitonia Wilhelmine). In 1852 van Tuyll and Prince Hendrik of the Netherlands were appointed government commissioners to develop the Dutch tin industry, an important sideline of which was the production of toy soldiers. The baron died in 1860, just before the establishment of the N.V. Billiton Maatschappij (the Billiton International Metals Company), of which both his son and his grandson became president-commissioners.
Throughout the years of his Canadian involvement, van Tuyll was prominent at the Dutch royal court. In 1838, he became a royal chamberlain and, as part of the Dutch delegation, attended Queen Victoria’s coronation. In the Huron Tract he was viewed as a strange and picturesque character. Tall and bearded, athletic with a keen interest in fencing, sailing, and fishing, and known to be flirtatious, he affected the dress of the country and was frequently seen in a blanket coat and a close hat featuring a squirrel’s tail. In 1844 he married Charlotte Henrietta Mansfield and appears to have settled down somewhat. During the 1850s he farmed the family estates at Hillegom, raised a large family, and travelled extensively, spending much time at the fashionable German spa of Baden-Baden and at Munich. He and the baroness took up residence for a short period in the Huron Tract and, although neither felt particularly at home there, the baron seems to have been a leader in Goderich’s energetic society.
In a larger sense the barons’ role in Upper Canada’s development was a minor one. Yet, they are of interest in showing the variety of people who were interested in profiting from North American development projects, and Vincent’s career adds another touch of colour to the already diverse social picture of the colony.
Algemeen Rijksarchief (The Hague, Netherlands), Coll. Baud, inventory no.898; Royal Decrees, 17 Nov. 1816, no.44; 9 Dec. 1817, no.44; 21 May 1822, no.68; 7 Sept. 1830, no.84; 30 May 1838, no.69; 22 Nov. 1842, no.6; 3 June 1852, no.5; 19 June 1852, no.55. AO, Canada Company records, A-2, 3; A-3, 4–8; A-4-5, box 1a, vol.1; A-6-1, 2; A-6-2, 3–4; A-6-3, 1; B-3, 1, 3, 19, 49–50; C-1, 2–3. GRO (London), Reg. of marriages for the parish of St George Hanover Square (London), 8 Aug. 1844. Somerset Record Office (Taunton, Eng.), Reg. of baptisms, Bath Abbey, 17 April 1812. Nederlands adelsboek (The Hague), 45 (1952). R. D. Hall, “The Canada Company, 1826–1843” (phd thesis, Cambridge Univ., Cambridge, Eng., 1973). Robina and K. M. Lizars, In the days of the Canada Company: the story of the settlement of the Huron Tract and a view of the social life of the period (Toronto and Montreal, 1896). F. H. Armstrong, “The elusive barons of Bayfield: an excursion into the byways of history,” Families (Toronto), 18 (1979): 67–74.