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

By Manuel Fernández Chaves and Mercedes Gamero Rojas


There were many variations - not mutually exclusive - on how the trade was undertaken:

a) The merchant purchased one or two crops of oranges and lemons produced by the small farmer. This latter person was usually a tenant farmer who received an advance payment for his crop as a way of guaranteeing the sale. The buyer undertook to pick and box the fruit, the price per box varying according to the variety and the conditions of trade. It is interesting that from the middle of the century, specifically from the time of the Seven Years War, a clause was introduced that the contract was void if a ban on trade with Spain were to be imposed. Families such as Butler, White (Álvarez Pantoja 2000: 31), Macores, Keating, Cahill, Beck, and the English families Rice, Carpinter, Summerhayes and Darwin are good examples. Doña Ana Marsellaque, wife of Don Guillermo Darwin, had at her death in 1735 some 74,577 reales ‘given to various farmers on account for the oranges and lemons of the coming harvest as costed in the agreement...’ (AHPSe, leg. 8.742 f. 218). Darwin himself bought the produce of ten small farms in Alcalá de Guadaíra in the 1770s. But the best example is the company which Don Miguel Coleman formed with Don Diego de Guardo in 1752. The Irishman invested 500 pesos escudos (75,000 reales), the equivalent of the capital he had advanced for oranges and sour lemons to several farmers and owners of 18 groves on the outskirts of the city and elsewhere. For his part, De Guardo contributed 3,500 pesos, in which was included the value of 70 kegs of Flanders butter (AHPSe, leg. 3790, f. 610).

b) The merchant offered himself as guarantor for the farmer, both in the rental and in any possible sale, the latter having to undertake to sell to him alone the produce of oranges and lemons; this happened in the case of Don Guillermo Darwin in 1752 in a farm in Sombrerero, in Puebla del Río.

c) Sometimes the merchant himself leased the farm. As well as bestowing on him the role of producer, the farm offered him a place of recreation as well as refuge from harsh weather or frequent epidemics. There was often an agreement with the farmer that he could have the vegetable produce grown on the farm, while the leaseholder would keep the fruit yielded by the trees. Thus Don Guillermo Carpinter declared in his will of 1738 that he held the lease on a farm in Tablada where the farmer had to give him, without Carpinter incurring any costs whatsoever, all fruit produced until he paid off a debt of 16,000 reales

d) The purchase of orchards. In general it has been considered that investment in real estate by the Andalusian bourgeoisie – a class which as we have seen was of differing origins and, it might be supposed, diverse mentalities - was symptomatic of the deflection of capital from more lucrative ‘bourgeois’ activities. In other words it could be taken as a clear case of ‘the betrayal of the bourgeoisie’, even though these very Andalusians were of quite recent origins, be they natives, Irish, English, French, Flemish, Italians, Germans and so on. It is advisable to take other factors into account, such as the need to own real estate, precisely because of their origins as foreigners, in order to gain access to trade with America (we will not get further into this aspect here). This was especially relevant since trade with England became financially risky because of the continual wars of the time. In addition to all of these, of course, there was the simple drive to expand businesses. 

These investments focused on highly valued products, at a time and in a century when citrus fruits were beginning to be used by the British Navy to combat scurvy. The first attempt was carried out by Lind in 1747, and Cook applied the lesson in his expeditions, but it was not till 1795 that the British navy adopted citrus for general use. The Flemish and the French, who were above all exporters of oil, invested in olive plantations, while the Irish for the same reason turned their attention to the fruit groves, although they did make some minor investments in other crops. They invested much capital in their fruit groves. They planted trees, dug wells, and built houses. In other words the effect of their activities was not only economically beneficial to themselves, but it left a rich legacy to the society where the Irishmen had chosen to live. 

A difficult alliance: Patricio O’Conry and Juana Keating

A case in point permits us to illustrate what has been said hitherto. Patricio O’Conry, a well-known member of the British colony in Seville, came from the town of Dungarvan, County Waterford. His businesses included the import of butter and textiles, including silk. He also bought citrus fruit for export, as well as corn to be supplied to the army. Apart from this, we know that he sent large numbers of books to the region around what is now Northern Colombia and Panamá, as well as to Buenos Aires (five and fifteen crates of books respectively, to the value of 8,024 and 52,154 silver reales). He invested in the publishing business, ordering the printing of 1,500 copies of Antonio de Nebrija’s Vocabulario (AHPSe, leg. 5197, f.467). 

His strong social position had led him to marry Doña Juana Keating, a native of Waterford and member of an Irish family that was prominent in France (Jahan 2003: 149-163). He was a friend of the Irish merchant Miguel Coleman, also a native of Dungarvan, and was Coleman’s executor as well as owing him a significant amount. His daughter Doña Elena O’Conry had married perhaps the most prominent member of the British community in the 1740s and 1750s, a man who was one of the most sought after widowers in Seville society, Don Guillermo Darwin, a native of London. This was in keeping with a strategy practised by merchant families, who employed marriage to their advantage for the development of their businesses and to ensure family stability. These marriages suited both sides - an enterprising son-in-law who had some commercial experience benefited from relationships within his wife’s family, while he made his own contribution to expanding and/or consolidating the business. This is the so-called rule by son-in-law of which we find examples throughout the century. 

This practice offered a certain ‘preference for unions between families that were settled in the same territory (...) because as a strategy it permitted the survival of the merchant house as well as social reproduction...’ (Fernández Pérez 1997: 166). Darwin was never actually made a business partner, undoubtedly on account of the hard times experienced by O'Conry after the marriage of his daughter Elena. Thanks to these relationships, Elena’s brother, Juan, took charge of the finances of the Englishman Guillermo Carpinter, whose executor was the same Guillermo Darwin. A relative of his wife, Diego Keating, was at the same time Darwin’s factor or business manager in Lisbon, from whence Darwin exported the larger part of the merchandise he sent to England. 

However, in 1743, illness prevented Patricio from continuing with his enterprises and obliged his wife to take charge of them. Until his death in 1745 it appears that things went reasonably well, although he began to experience ever greater shortfalls. O’Conry’s main debts consisted of 1,000 pesos escudos for the value of different types of silk that a number of people in the locality of Yecla (Murcia) had failed to pay him, together with various accounts, to the value of 70,334 reales, for corn he had sold to the army in the years 1739 and 1740. The payment of this was to be so slow that his son-in-law Don Guillermo Darwin inherited the balance of the debt, 12,374 reales. As late as 1772, this had not been fully discharged (AHPSe, leg. 8.807). In 1742, his son Juan O’Conry married Doňa Micaela de Tapia, neither of whom brought anything of material value to the marriage. The very fact that Juan was his compatriot’s accountant while at the same time being his competitor gives us an idea of the difficult times that the family experienced in the 1740s. 

Juana Keating’s great success occurred in 1744 when she won a law suit against a man who had acted as guarantor for the people in Yecla. She reached an agreement with him in which she would recover half the 1,000 pesos owed to her, to be paid in yearly instalments of 100 pesos. The debt-ridden couple O’Conry and Keating obtained a mortgage on two farms of pomegranate, orange and lemon trees. He would pay in boxes of oranges which Juana undertook to export. The rest of the money was to be collected directly from a guarantor in Yecla, for which purpose the couple in 1744 issued power of attorney to Don Juan Patricio O’Ronan, a resident of Alzira (Valencia) (AHPSe, leg. 3784 f. 268). 

But Juana did not seek to persevere with her husband’s businesses, and instead began to liquidate the real estate attached to the household. That same year, 1744, she sold to a neighbour in Triana five aranzadas (about two hectares) of Mollar vines for 4,000 reales. She also sought to get an extension on the rental of a farm of oranges and lemons that the couple had rented out to the monastery of the Holy Spirit Order (AHPSe, leg. 3784 f. 404 y 411).

One year later, in 1745, Patricio O’Conry died. He left an inheritance of 1,000 pesos escudos, several pieces of jewellery and silver plate, domestic utensils and sundry items of furniture. He also left a vegetable farm in Triana (La Viñuela) and miscellaneous livestock, together with the products of four other vegetable gardens he had rented, two in Puebla del Río, one in Triana and one other very near to the monastery of La Cartuja. The remainder consisted of approximately 206,895 reales owed to him but whose payment was less than certain (AHPSe, leg. 5203, f.74).


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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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