In what type of business did Mr. Rice engage?

During the year 1944, centenary memorials of the death of Edmond Ignatius Rice were held in many towns in Ireland: the addresses delivered at those functions were reported fully in the local press.  Notwithstanding that an authoritative life of Edmund Ignatius Rice had been published long before that year it was quite clear, from reading those addresses, that there are certain aspects of his life regarding which somewhat fuller knowledge is needed.  I propose to dwell a little on the more important of these.

It is admitted that he succeeded to, and carried on, the business in which his uncle was engaged in Waterford in an extensive manner.  What was that business?  Here there is undoubted vagueness.  In one of the addresses referred to, it was stated that Edmund Rice was engaged in the cattle trade.  Expressed in terms of today that means purchasing cattle at fairs and markets throughout the country and disposing of them in this country or exporting them alive.  The latter aspect of that business was not carried on in Waterford during the lifetime of the uncle of Edmund Rice and there is some evidence to show that it was only beginning when Edmund Rice had determined to enter on his life’s great work.

Undoubtedly, dead meat was exported in abundance from Waterford in those days but the vessels that existed then were not suited to, nor were they fitted out for, the carrying of live cattle in anything like the manner that we associate with the cattle trade of today. Probably carriage horses were some of the first live animals to be carried regularly between Ireland and England.  The two following advertisements will indicate clearly what is meant.  The first was issued in a Waterford newspaper in October 1767 and stated that

“The Beresford yacht of Waterford, Captain Thomas Hill, is established on the service between Waterford and Bristol and will accommodate 14 passengers of fashion in two cabins, one with 10 beds and the other with 4.  The Beresford could take horses on board and if a set of genteel people desired to charter the whole ship it could be done at 24 hours notice”.

Then in April 1783 another advertisement appeared which stated that

“A number of gentlemen of the city of Waterford had associated for the purpose of establishing passage vessels between Waterford and Milford.  They have purchased two new cutters of 80 tons burden, which are each provided with 10-12 cabin beds and accommodation for carrying horses and carriages.  The first of these will sail from Waterford on April 23 1783”.

To that period the carrying of cattle in bulk as a recognized trade had not begun.  One or two cattle, or horses, at a time had been carried; carriage horses, race horses or pure bred cattle had crossed the Irish sea, but, generally, the boats then in use were not large enough nor were they properly fitted out to carry a large number of cattle. 

The shipping of live cattle from Waterford began a year or two before the year 1800 and by the latter year it was growing steadily.  In September 1801 the “Waterford Chronicle” (then called Ramsey’s Waterford Chronicle), carried a leading article protesting strongly against the then growing habit of shipping live cattle from Waterford; that paper stated that such a trade was injurious to Ireland and was carried on by English agents.  It went on to point out that the preparing, dressing and packing the dead meat provided much employment which the live cattle export trade did not; further the hides, etc., could be utilised in our tanneries.  That article enables us to approximate very closely to the date when the export of live cattle began in Waterford.  At that period Edmund Rice was not interested in entering into a new trade and, therefore, we can reject the idea that he was engaged in the cattle trade as we know it today.

There is, however, evidence of the type of business into which Edmund Rice entered in Waterford and which he carried on in that city.  Maurice Lenihan was born in Waterford in 1811; during boyhood and youth it was common knowledge in Waterford that Edmund Rice had been engaged in a certain type of business.  When Edmund Ignatiius Rice died in 1844 Maurice Lenihan wrote in his newspaper that in his early manhood the great founder of the Irish Christian Brothers was engaged in the provision trade.  A certain degree of credence attaches to those words of a man born in Waterford in 1811 and who, for most of his life, maintained a close association with that city.  For the greater part of the first 30 years of his life, Maurice Lenihan resided in Waterford, knew personally the premises in which Edmund Rice carried on his business and the nature of that business.

In addition, legal documents exist dating from those days in which Edmund Rice describes himself as a “Victualler”.   That description tells us that he was engaged in the dead meat trade and very little doubt can exist that a considerable part of his business consisted in victualling the large number of sailing vessels that then made Waterford famous.  Such a business would be described very accurately as a “Victualler”.  That word, too, was somewhat different from a butcher who sold meat, retail, in a shop.  The victualler connoted a type of business much more extensive than that of a butcher.  It is also possible that Edmund Rice engaged in preparing and dressing the meat that was exported extensively from Waterford in those days.  If we take Lenihan’s statements and Edmund Rice’s description of himself we can arrive at a very accurate concept of the business of Edmund Rice.  

Until further evidence is produced, evidence which will counter the statement of Maurice Lenihan and will show conclusively the particular type of business of which Edmund Rice was engaged in, we can be satisfied that his business was one of the many then engaged in victualling ships and in preparing meat for Waterford’s export trade.  He was not engaged in the cattle trade as we know it today.

-Extracted from a weekly column by Matthew Butler, M.R.I.A., published in the Waterford News.

 

Copyright © 2006 Waterford History