Notes on the Commercial Affairs of the Bourne Family (work in progress)


by Nigel Watts


JOHN BOURNE (1706-1783)


John Bourne added to the family’s estates through his marriage in 1740 to Jane Fox (1714-1791), daughter and heiress of Cornelius Fox, yeoman of Fernhill and Preesall.  The Fox family had held land in Fernhill, part of the manor of Hackensall, since at least the seventeenth century and in 1717 Cornelius bought part of the manor of Stalmine, including Stalmine Hall.  Since the sixteenth century this estate had formed part of the holding of the Butler family of Out Rawcliffe, but all their lands were forfeited and sold off by the Crown for their support of the Old Pretender in the Jacobite uprising of 1715. 





It was Cornelius, John’s fourth son, born 2 April 1747 at Stalmine Hall, who laid the foundations of the family’s transition from yeomen in remote rural Lancashire to the ranks of the baronetage two generations later.  The key to this transformation was Liverpool trade.  Although the family’s entry in Burke’s Landed Gentry makes no mention of the fact, Cornelius and his sons were first and foremost Liverpool merchants. 


In the absence of comprehensive records, it is not possible to give a full description of the family’s business affairs.  Fortunately some papers were deposited in the Lancashire Record Office in the 1950s by Basil Bourne.  Although relatively few items relate to the family’s business affairs, there are some which are of interest and, together with material from other sources, it is possible to sketch an outline.


Cornelius moves to Liverpool


The earliest record I have found to connect Cornelius with Liverpool is an entry in a trade directory of 1769 which shows “Mason & Bourne, merchants” in Hurst street, a partnership that was to continue until about 1790.  In 1769 Cornelius would just have come of age.  It was not uncommon at the time for younger sons of yeomen and even gentry to be apprenticed to merchants in major towns, and Cornelius could have been apprenticed to Edward Mason some years before.  Cornelius’s paternal grandmother was a Mason, and there may have been a family connection.  If Cornelius’s business partner was the same Edward, son of William Mason, baptised in Liverpool on 11 January 1736, he would have been eleven years his senior.


Mason and Bourne were certainly involved in the timber trade (a 1774 directory entry describes them as timber merchants, and a document in the family papers deposited at the Lancashire Record Office by Basil Bourne refers to a timber yard in Tabley Street), but like other merchants of the time they may well have had other interests and have done business outside the partnership.  In 1772 and 1774, the directories show Mason & Bourne and Cornelius himself in Mason Street.  From 1777 to 1790 Mason & Bourne were in Shaw’s alley, and Cornelius was in Kent Street. 


Ship-owning interests


In 1786 parliament passed an act requiring the drawing up a comprehensive register of merchant ships.  Although many of these are now lost, the Liverpool registers survived largely intact.  In a review of the entries made in respect of vessels registered in the three years following the act Cornelius appeared as owner, or part owner, of no fewer than ten.


The 1786 register shows four cutters owned jointly by William White, Edward Mason and Cornelius Bourne: Kite, 50 tons; Gannat, 36 tons; Lively, 30 tons; and Dolphin, 5 tons.  The oldest of these vessels was built in 1786 and the most recent in 1780, but the register does not state whether they had been owned from new.  The next year’s register includes William, a 76 ton brigantine, owned by the same three.  The register notes that the William had been “taken by the enemy, retaken by Lightning  (a successful privateer) of Liverpool, and one eighth part thereof condemned for salvage by the High Court of Admiralty, 26 June 1782.  Now registered by order of the Board of Customs of 31 October 1786” – an indication of the hazards and the costs of the shipping business in those days.


The Whale, a 236 ton three masted ship, had been a prize from the French in 1778.  She was registered in 1786 and the owners given as Edward Mason, Cornelius Bourne, William Beckwith, George Johnston, Richard Wicksted and John Pilkington, all merchants, and John Burrow, mariner.  The Mary and Ann, a 195 ton ship was registered in the same year, with the owners given as Edward Mason, Cornelius Bourne (both described as merchants) and William Priestman, mariner, who was also listed as the master of the vessel.


The register contains details of changes of ownership, and from this we can see that Cornelius subsequently acquired shares in three more vessels.  A quarter share of the the Amphitrite, a 200 ton ship taken as a prize from the French in 1782, was acquired and Cornelius Bourne and Edward Mason in March 1788, the Hannah, a 345 ton Swedish built ship was acquired by Cornelius Bourne and Joseph Matthews, sailmaker on 12 January 1791 and a share of the Recovery, a 210 ton ship was sold to Cornelius in 1792.


Of the four cutters, one was sold by Mason and Bourne in 1787, one in June 1790 and the last two on 26 March 1791.  The Mary and Ann was sold in 1789, Mason and Bourne’s share of the William in 1791, and on 4 March 1791, Cornelius sold his share of the Whale to Edward Mason.  March 1791 was also the month in which Edward Mason sold his share of the Amphitrite to Cornelius.  The Hannah is recorded as having been lost.


The changes of ownership in March 1791 suggest that Cornelius and Edward Mason may have dissolved their partnership or gone into a different line of business at about this time.  This is supported by evidence from the trade directories.  The last one in which “Mason & Bourne, merchants” is mentioned is dated 1790.


Swedish Connections


The Bournes seem to have had a close link with Sweden.  Thomas Bourne, Cornelius’s second son, was listed in directories as the Swedish consul in Liverpool from 1807 to 1813.  Cornelius, or possibly his elder bother James, is probably the Mr Bourne referred to by Eric Svedenstirna in his account of his travels in Britain in 1803.  The Jernkontor, the Swedish Iron Bureau, commissioned Svedenstirna to investigate developments in iron production in France and England.  Sweden had been the main source of European iron until the mid eighteenth century, but her position was under threat, especially from developments in Britain.  His was a very gentlemanly form of industrial espionage; he made sure he had letters of introduction, and did not resort to underhand methods.   After touring the South West, the Midlands, the North East and Scotland he travelled into Lancashire from the North, and may well have prearranged his meeting with “Mr Bourne” on his way down past the Bourne estates near Stalmine:


“On the way from here down into Lancashire the land maintains the same appearance over a distance of some miles but gradually descends when one comes into Westmoreland, and after that up to Liverpool is for the most part flat.  In proportion to this the district becomes also more populous and cultivated, traversed by canals, and has several manufacturing towns, amongst which Lancaster and Preston are the most considerable.  Between the later place and Liverpool one passes several fine estates with the cottagers belonging to them, which latter consist of day-labourers of all kinds, who pay the landlord only an insignificant rent.  These cottages usually consist of a little house with kitchen and bedroom, of just the same kind as our smaller day labourers’ cottages, and are all built of wattle daubing with or without timbering.  The former are considered to be more durable, if they are erected at a suitable time of year, properly plastered, and kept in repair.  The method of construction is almost the same as has been introduced for such in recent times in Sweden; the walls are made 21 inches thick at the foot and 12 to 13 at the roof.  A Mr Bourne, a business man in Liverpool, who has had substantial estates here and in Cheshire, assured me that he had in both places mud houses which stood for 60 to 70 years, without noticeable damage.  He added that this method of construction has been tried out on a large scale in several places, which however, was not a success, because the thick walls which were found necessary for a larger building could not be dried in the first summer.”   


In Liverpool, Svedenstirna remarked on the volume of trade, expressed the view that, so long as the trade continued to be allowed, slaves were better off in English ships than Dutch or French ones, showed an interest in the literary society, and noted the excellence of the town’s communications, concluding that “the situation of the town is therefore one of the most favourable for inland and foreign trade that can be imagined, and when one adds to that the already circulating capital of the inhabitants, it is easy to guess what has so far happened in business, and what may yet happen in future.”  After a few days, he travelled to Manchester “in company with Mr Bourne”, suggesting that he may have been the Bournes’ guests during his visit.  After seeing Manchester he paid a visit to The Duke of Bridgewater’s mines at Worsley, then:


“on returning to Manchester, I made, in company with Mr Bourne, another excursion of 5 or 6 Swedish quarter-miles to Rochdale, a little town on the way to Leeds, in order to see a canal construction which was being carried out there, and to be present at a meeting of the shareholders.”


Cornelius was a shareholder in the Rochdale canal, so it seems highly probable that it was he who had suggested and arranged the visit.


If it was Cornelius, Svedenstirna’s choice of travelling companion and the hospitality he was given in return seems likely to have been fuelled by mutual interest.  Sweden was a major exporter of timber to Britain, and doubtless a major source of supply for the Bournes.  It is also not improbable that one of the cargoes sent to Sweden on return voyages was salt, a commodity in which the Bournes were to acquire a substantial interest. 


Local Politics


Like many successful merchants, Cornelius became involved in the administration of Liverpool and its institutions.  In 1796 he was auditor to the Infirmary and in 1802 the Vestry Books record his name as a member of a parish committee.  In 1798 a voluntary subscription was raised to assist the war with France; Cornelius gave £100, and Edward Mason gave £300.


Marriage and Children


Cornelius married on 31 July 1774 Anne, widow of Edward Glover and daughter of Thomas Reymer.  I have so far discovered little about Ann’s father or first husband.  A Captain Thomas Rymer appeared in the subscribers’ list to a plan of Liverpool harbour in 1748, but I have no proof of a link.  The IGI records a marriage between Elias Glover and Ann Rymer on 11 July 1768 at St Peter’s, Liverpool, which could be her first marriage, with an abbreviation of Edward perhaps being confused in transcription with Elias.


Cornelius and Ann had nine children, of whom four sons and one daughter survived into adulthood.  The daughter, Mary Anne, born in 1785, married James Molyneux of Sandfield, Lancs, son of William Molyneux the Liverpool merchant and nephew of the slave trader Thomas Molyneux, whose family is dealt with elsewhere on this site.  The four sons, John born in 1777, Thomas born in 1779, James born in 1782 and Peter born in 1783 all went into the family business.


By 1796 Cornelius had moved to Duke Street, and had his “compting house” in Tabley street.  The style “Cornelius Bourne & Sons” appears in 1800, and in the same year his son John is listed as a merchant in his own right.  Thomas appears in his own right in the 1803 directory, and Peter in 1805.  In the latter year a William Bourne, merchant is also listed at the same address as Cornelius, but I have yet to identify who this was.


In the same 1805 directory, Cornelius, still at Duke Street, describes himself as “gentleman” for the first time, rather than “merchant”, and “Cornelius Bourne & Sons” is replaced by “John & Thomas Bourne” and “John, Thomas & Peter Bourne”.   Cornelius would then have been about 58, and the directory entries may indicate that had retired.  He died in 1806. 




Cornelius’s eldest brother John died unmarried in 1790.  The second oldest, James, had two daughters, but both were dead without issue by 1810, and James himself died in 1819.  Cornelius’s third older brother died without issue in 1784.  As a result, all the Bourne properties in Stalmine and elsewhere were inherited by Cornelius’s sons.  I have not yet studied the Bourne wills to establish how and when the properties were inherited, but it seems unlikely that Cornelius would have inherited any in his lifetime because he was outlived by his older brother James.


An inventory of Cornelius’s personal estate for legacy duty has survived in the Bourne papers at the Lancashire record office, which gives us a glimpse of his commercial activities.


Description of Property                                                     Value per Will      Real Value

                                                                                                                £                     £      

Moity of upper warehouse & yard in Tabley Steet                   4,000                4,000

3 Shares in Rochdale Canal                                                            1,500                   450

3 Shares in Grand Junction Canal                                                 1,500                3,450

One eighth Marston Salt Works &c.                                            6,000                4,520

Money                                                                                               2,880                2,880

Lower warehouse and timber yard in Tabley street                   2,550                2,550

Impl. 3% Stock (£1,200)                                                                  1,200                1,240

A moity of a Flat                                                                                 700                   550

Bank Stock                                                                                           990                1,380

£2,350 Corpn. Bond                                                                         2,350                2,350

Mortgage on Cusm. House                                                            2,000                2,000

Loyalty Loan                                                                                    1,185                1,185

House Jordan Street                                                                           420                   420

   do. in Duke    do.                                                                           1,500                1,500

5 per cents                                                                                        4,630                4,630

Balance of Debts & Credits                                                           4,989                4,989

                                                                                                          38,394              38,094


It is quite possible that some or even most of Cornelius’s business assets had already been passed onto his sons, but the above inventory is of particular interest in showing the connection with the salt works at Marston in Cheshire and the shareholdings in canals.


Cheshire Salt and Lancashire Coal


Salt had been produced in Cheshire since Roman times.  Until the rock salt deposits were discovered in 1690, the process involved boiling brine from natural salt springs.  Originally wood was used as the fuel, but this was later replaced by coal.  As brine was not easily portable, the coal had to be brought to the sites of the springs and in the days before canals and railways this had to be done by pack horse with the result that the cost of carriage usually exceeded the cost of production by a significant margin.  One ton of coal was needed to make one and a half tons of salt, so the economics of salt production were inextricably bound up with those of coal and transport. 


As the South Lancashire coalfield developed, salt boilers found that they could get coal marginally more cheaply from Lancashire than from their traditional source in Staffordshire, and so the link was established between Cheshire salt and Lancashire coal.  The discovery of rock salt (by accident, in an attempt to find a source of coal nearer to the salt springs) opened up new possibilities.  Rock salt still needed refining by dissolving in water and then boiling, but unlike brine it was easily portable, so the refining did not have to be carried out at source.  Salt works were set up at Liverpool and the Dungeon, near Speke Hall, transport links to the Mersey were improved, export markets were opened up and the Liverpool merchants came to dominate the industry.   The Bournes were one of these families.


I do not know exactly how or when Cornelius entered the salt trade, but it is clear that he did so while still working with his partner Edward Mason.  According to the biographer of the Gilbert family, Edward Mason and Cornelius Bourne owned seven boats in partnership with John Gilbert to take salt from Gilbert’s mine at Marston along the Trent and Mersey canal to Runcorn, presumably to be transferred to other vessels for further shipment to Liverpool.  John Gilbert’s father, also John, is one of the unsung heros of the industrial revolution.  He was agent to the third Duke of Bridgewater, and largely responsible for the engineering work involved in the Duke’s pioneering canal schemes.  (The elder John Gilbert’s sister Ann married John Royds, and their great grandson Henry Royds was later to marry Cornelius’s granddaughter Margaret Bourne.)  Edward Mason is believed to have retired from business in about 1802, when he moved to a large house he had built in Edge Hill (it was later acquired by the eccentric tunnel builder Joseph Williamson), so the association with Gilbert is likely to have been no later than the 1790s.


To be continued…


















Drinkwater Earlier History