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The letter head for John Rorke & Sons Ltd

Record No: mha00000366
Title: John Rorke & Sons Limited fonds
Dates: 1879-1933
Location: Banks 49 and 50
Creator: John Rorke and Sons
Extent: 2.5 m of textual records
Organization: The fonds is organized in 4 series: Correspondence, 1880-1933; Financial records, 1879-1920; Shipping records, 1881-1923; Miscellaneous bound volumes, 1892-1920.
Source of Supplied Title: Title is based on legal documentation
Restrictions: No restrictions.
Adm. Hist/Bio. Sketch: John Rorke & Sons Limited (1839-1980) was a family mercantile firm, located in Carbonear, Newfoundland, which engaged in the Labrador fisheries and the import-export trade of the Colony, later expanding into the retail trade.
     The company was founded by John Rorke (1807-1896). Rorke emigrated to Newfoundland (1824) from Athlone, Ireland, as a clerk in the fishery supply and general trade firm of Bennett and Ridley, Harbour Grace. By 1830, Rorke had married Mary Tocque (Carbonear), daughter of Prominent local merchant and had become a planter-trader in the fishery at Adam's Cove, just north of Carbonear. In 1839 Rorke purchased the former Slade & Elson mercantile premises in Carbonear. Rorke opened two Labrador branches at St. Francis Harbour and Venison Island to conduct trade with the numerous migratory summer fishermen floaters (fishermen in schooners) and stationers (crews that fished from shore stations) that went to the Labrador coast each year from Newfoundland
     Rorke also became involved in politics, and he was elected as the member for the Carbonear district six times (1863-78). He was a member of Frederick B.T. Carter's pro-confederate slate (1869) and served in the Whiteway administration (1878.). Rorke was appointed to the Executive Council in 1879 and remained there until his death in 1896.
     Throughout its history, the business remained a family enterprise. Rorke's sons, John and James, joined the firm in 1880, assuming control of the business following the death of their father (1896). By 1920 James Rorke's sons, John and James (grandsons of John Rorke Sr.) had also entered the company. In 1929 the firm was incorporated as John Rorke and Sons Limited.
     Although the company remained a family business, its operations changed over the decades. Until 1919, the firm was primarily involved in operating and supplying vessels in the Newfoundland seal hunt and in the Labrador cod fishery although it also engaged in the import-export trade of the island. Between 1839 and 1920, the firm registered 48 vessels in Newfoundland, ranging from 50 to 150 tons. In 1919 the firm began to purchase its supplies ans to sell its fish and other export staples though St. John's mercantile firms. In 1929 the Rorkes established a separate operation known as the Rorke Fish and Coal Company Ltd., which specialized in marketing Labrador cured codfish and fresh and pickled salmon, and selling coal for domestic use. The company also operated a retail general store on Water Street in Carbonear.
     In 1980 the company ceased operations and its assets were liquidated in the following year (1981). The Rorke premises, considered among the best preserved examples of mercantile establishments in the province, were donated to the town of Carbonear by the family. In Febraury 1988 the Rorke Stores became Registered Heritage Structures
Scope and Content: Fonds consists of correspondence and shipping papers for the company operations from 1879 to 1933. Material of particular interest in this collection is the correspondence and accounts of C. T. Bennett of Bristol, which sheds light on the complexities of the marketing structure and the economic factors which affected the salt fish industry as well as giving insight into the day-to-day operations of the business. Also included are vessel expenditures and charter parties. Of particular interest are the architect's specifications for the building of the Stonehouse on Water Street in Carbonear contained in the correspondence for 1907.
     The fonds is arranged in four series: Correspondence, 1880-1933; Financial records, 1879-1920; Shipping records, 1881-1923; and Miscellaneous bound volumes, 1892-1920
Terms Governing Use: Copyright expired.
Associated Material: Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, Rorke, John and Co., Ledgers and bound volumes, MG465. 1862-1951.
Custodial History: The 8 boxes of material were found in Rorke's warehouses when the buildings were taken over by the town, after the firm's closure in 1980. The material was donated to the Carbonear Historical Society.
Finding Aids: MHA finding aid 96
Finding Aid on the Web:
Subject: Merchants Newfoundland Carbonear.
Subject: Shipping Carbonear.
Subject: Venison Island (Labrador).
Subject: Carbonear (N.L.)
Subject: Business records.
Subject: Charter parties.
Authors_Personal Name: Rorke, John.
Authors_Corporate Name: C. T. Bennett & Co. (Bristol).

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