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Archibald Nevins: Carbury, county Kildare born merchant and ship-owner

Archibald Nevins was born at Arkill, Carbury in county Kildare in 1782, the second surviving son of Archibald Nevins, and his second wife Grace Penrose; married Jane____ and they had four children. He died 21 October 1812 in St Johns Newfoundland.

He was the fifth of eleven children; four of whom died as infants. He was the son of a substantial Quaker farmer, and his roots in his native county extend back to the early part of the eighteenth century when his great grand father moved from county Antrim to Edenderry, King’s County. In 1800 his father died and his mother took the family to Waterford, where a number of relatives lived. Before his debt his father had sublet a lot of land in King’s County and in Kildare. This rent and from other Nevin lands amounted to thousands and it was used to establish Thomas the eldest brother in Waterford’s extensive overseas trade, in which there uncle William Penrose was prominent since the 1770s.

In Waterford Nevins bought the most desirable property on the quays and set up trading with Newfoundland and was there beside his Penrose cousins who had succeeded there father. In 1803 Archibald himself formed a mercantile partnership with another Quaker George Newsom from Waterford. This was unsuccessful and they dissolved in the same year. In 1804 he moved to Arklow and joined his uncle Thomas Penrose in the flour milling trade. In 1805 assisted by his family he moved to Carlow where he established a tan yard. Between 1806 and August 1808 he moved to St John’s Newfoundland. There he began to ship cod, cod oil, timber and other commodities to Thomas in Waterford who in 1807 was joined in business by their younger brothers Pim and Penrose.

The company employed at least one vessel, called the Peggy exclusively in the passenger and provisions trade between Waterford and St John’s. It was going this route since 1804 and under the Nevin’s family it made at least four trips a year, bringing from Waterford salted pork, butter, bread, flour, porter, soap, candles and other items including salt from Thomas refinery to salt the fish at the other end. They also transported to other merchants in St John’s. They also received commission from other Irish and Canadian merchants for carrying their goods back and forth across the sea. His premises was located in St John’s busy business district and apart from traditional Irish produce he also offered American beef, and butter, rum and molasses from the West Indies, tea, sugar and tobacco from British suppliers, wine , brandy, and gin from continental Europe. They also carried passengers, young men and women, and often whole families who migrated to Canada and were hired in the rapidly increasing fishing industry for the summer months. In April 1807 the Peggy brought 70 adults at £6 per person. Once in Newfoundland Nevins would direct them to their employment, collect their fares in full. In 1808 he bought a 30 year old Newfoundland brig, The Success. Much of his trade was with the Scottish and Irish communities who had established themselves along the Canadian coastline.

By 1811 however owing to his inability to collect debts from people, writs were issued against him to the cost of £2,700. The court proceedings had not finished when he died tragically on the 12 October 1812. While attempting to rescue another man in trouble in the harbour he fell and fractured his skull. The Royal Gazette and Newfoundland Advertiser reported that he had been a kind and affectionate husband and parent. His younger brother Robert went to St Johns and continued the business until 1817 when a fire destroyed the premises. Thomas then focused on the North American passenger trade to the city of Quebec and the continent timber export business.

About Nevins it has been concluded that he ‘was of no importance politically and his commercial career can hardly be considered a success’.
There is no evidence of any other Quaker merchant family from Waterford taking up residence in Newfoundland to cater for the trade in both directions.

Taken from John Mannion’s entry in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, pp 623-25.

(Compiled & researched by Ciarán Reilly, Secretary Edenderry Historical Society)

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