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A Description of the Irish in Seville: Merchants of the Eighteenth Century

By Manuel Fernández Chaves and Mercedes Gamero Rojas


In Málaga there was also an Irish colony - among other foreign communities - involved in wholesale trading. This was much more important in the second half of the eighteenth century than in the post-Napoleonic period, when Spaniards - many of them from outside the region - took over the trade. Aurora Gámez and Begoña Villar have studied the careers of these merchants. They were frequently grouped into ‘mixed’ companies, that is to say formed of foreigners and native Spaniards, even though the same foreigners had lived a long time in the country and had children who could be considered fully Spanish.

One Irishman stands out from the others. Juan Murphy, a native of Waterford, formed part of Málaga’s wealthy merchant class from at least 1776. The family established branches of his company in Veracruz (Mexico), Cádiz and London, trading actively with cities both in Europe and in the Americas. He was also a ship-owner, a landowner, and of course an hidalgo (nobleman). Juan Galvey, from Carrick-on-Suir in County Tipperary, is an example of those who used marriage to open up paths for advancement in business. His first marriage was to Andrea de Gand y Vittermont, member of a Flemish family settled between Cádiz and Seville. The O´Briens, who married into the French Arboré family that had settled in those cities, continued in the same line of business as the others, while the Quilty family established sporadic relationships with merchants from Seville. 

The beginning of commercial relations between the Canary Islands and Great Britain dates from the sixteenth century, with the export of sweet malmsey wine for the English court. The Irish colonies that grew from this maintained close links with those based in the Andalusian ports already mentioned; families such as White, Walsh, Colgan, and Fitzgerald had a long history in the Canaries (Guimerá Ravina 1985: 49-48, 58). 

Irish merchants in Seville: An initial sketch

In spite of a slowdown in its commercial activity, it could be said that Seville continued to enjoy significant traffic, as its strategic position some ninety kilometres from the sea provided merchants with the opportunity to trade deep inland and supply the demand both of the former metropolis and of many locations in the interior. In addition, the fertile flatlands of the Guadalquivir River plain and surrounding areas continued to supply abundant oil and citrus fruit; these, together with wool, were exported by river. Spanish trade with England in the eighteenth century had a bipolar character, the two poles being the Cantabrian region and Andalusia. The southern region was prominent in the export of citrus fruit and products derived from grapes. Within this framework, and bearing in mind the freight registries of the different Andalusian ports, Seville had a clear edge in exports, both at regional and national levels. 

As regards citrus fruit exports, García Fernández believes that part of the produce of the Guadalquivir river plain region was probably exported from the port of Sanlúcar, or from Cádiz itself, to avail of the superior harbour facilities that these ports offered. Nevertheless, she argues for the growth of the hinterland of Cádiz as a base for the mass export of citrus fruit. This supplanted the traditional export centres - Seville and Málaga - and came to supply 40% of the citrus to be sold (García Fernández 2006: 291-294). However, although we have no comprehensive data, we consider – in line with Álvarez Pantoja (2000: 25) - that a large part of these exports came from the region around Seville, since, as García Fernández herself points out, it is a complicated undertaking to ascertain the initial point of origin of the goods sent out through the ports. This leads us to believe that, if in 1786 Seville reached the highest production figures for the entire century (550,750 units - García Fernández: 294), it could hardly have been secondary to other ports, at least when it came to goods produced. 

Around the middle of the eighteenth century the largest group of foreign merchants in Seville were the French, although the Flemish were better represented in the city’s trade, where they were more prominent than in other cities such as Cádiz. 

The establishment in Seville of these trading colonies that traded from the maritime ports had its rationale in the specific kind of activities they were involved in. They were nearer to the products they exported - citrus, wool, oil - and from Seville it was easy to distribute what was imported - manufactured products, iron, fish - towards the interior of Andalusia and Extremadura. This pattern can be confirmed by studying promissory notes in favour of these merchants, which yield information about advances of merchandise that were being offered in exchange for a delayed payment date. As the market was extremely fragile, since capacity for consumption in rural society depended on good harvests, indebtedness frequently tied the retailer to his supplier. The latter could not demand payment without bringing his debtor to bankruptcy, not just because it would make it even more difficult to recover the full debt owed, but also because in the future he would be left without any customer in the town in question. Their behaviour with suppliers was bound by similar parameters. 

We have already mentioned the interest in wool which traditionally impelled relations between Castile and England. My father’s business was fairly prosperous. It consisted of exporting agricultural produce such as fruit and wool to England,’ wrote José Blanco White in his autobiography. The wool was essentially bought in Extremadura, though wool nearer at hand in the province of Seville was not overlooked. 

Oil was another product which they dealt in, since it was used in the process of washing raw wool. The Macores (Macorish) family, during the second half of the eighteenth century, is most noteworthy in this respect. By the end of the century and at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Diego and Patricio Wiseman, relatives of Cardinal Wiseman, were the biggest buyers among the Irish. On 5 January 1803, for example, they ordered the purchase ‘from whomever can supply 15,000 arrobas of oil, to be stored in parts of the city or its surroundings or in any other place until such time as we order that by paid carriage and at our expense and with the corresponding documents it be delivered out of town to the warehouses we have in the Carreteria or to any other places suitable to us’. Soap is derived from oil, and Seville’s soap factories were the most important in Europe. They formed part of the monopoly of the Dukes of Alcalá. As Alonso Morgado wrote in the sixteenth century, ‘Seville also supplies many parts of Spain, the Americas, Flanders and England with this white soap’

Even more than wool and oil, the export of citrus fruit was probably the most typical activity of Irishmen in the region of Seville. The export of bitter oranges to England dates from the thirteenth century, and is better documented from the fifteenth century onwards. These were used both for making marmalade as well as in medicine and perfumes. The trade was so extensive that the fruit became known as the ‘Seville orange’ or bigarade. There were already some attempts to cultivate the fruit in England, anticipating the orangeries of the eighteenth century. In 1595 some orange trees were introduced into Surrey by the Carews of Beddington. These were destroyed in the big freezes of 1739-40. There are many references to this trade in the eighteenth century. Although some Flemish and Frenchmen were involved, since the entire trade was orientated towards the North Atlantic and the Baltic, there is no doubt that it was the British - Irish or English - who dominated the market. This covered not just oranges, but also lemons, the juice of both fruits as well as their dried rinds. Sweet oranges, or chinas, as they were then known in Seville, had been brought from India by the Portuguese at the start of the sixteenth century. They quickly reached Seville, although it is difficult to establish at what stage they began to be exported. The first references we find are to those exported in 1757 by Patricio Harper and Company. This advances by some forty years the earliest reports of this that we have had up to now, which referred to Majorca.

This trade left a great effect on the Seville landscape, since citrus cultivation required orchards of trees where previously pomegranates had dominated. At the same time, orange groves were added in places where olive trees were in cultivation, sometimes surpassing the olives in economic value. Citrus plantations were laid out not only in the capital and surrounding district, but also all along the banks of the Guadalquivir, from whence the fruit could be easily marketed. Cultivation spread well out into the countryside (there is documentation available about sales of citrus in Marchena) and the mountains around Cádiz (Villamartín).


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 6 September 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Fernández Chaves, Manuel and Mercedes Gamero Rojas, 'Description of the Irish in Seville: Merchants of the Eighteenth Century' in Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, 5:2 (July 2007), pp. 106-111. (www.irlandeses.org), accessed .


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