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Baine, Johnston & Co., (Battle Harbour) fonds 1901-1955

3 metres of textual records

Administrative history

According to local tradition, the Baine presence in Newfoundland originated circa 1780, with the establishment of Robert Baine and Company at Port de Grave. The principals, Robert, Archibald, and Walter Baine, expanded the firm to St. John's in 1801. Despite tradition, there is a shortage of documentary evidence to support the claim that the Baines were in Newfoundland, either at Port de Grave or St. John's, in the late eighteenth century.

There is solid evidence, however, that Lang, Baine and Company of Greenock, Scotland, with principals Thomas Lang, Walter Baine Jr., Thomas Patten, John Hamilton and Archibald Baine, was involved in the Newfoundland trade by 1806. In that year, the five partners signed a Newfoundland merchants' petition pointing to the need for bounties on the export of fish from Newfoundland. Two years later, Thomas Patten, the resident partner at St. John's, was joined by Walter Baine Jr., forming Patten, Baine and Company in affiliation with Lang, Baine and Company at Greenock.

In 1810, the Johnston name became associated with the firm through William Johnston's appointment as the St. John's agent for Walter Baine and Company, successor to Patten, Baine and Company. Johnston's appointment may have prompted Baine's return to England because, when the three remaining partners - Lang, Baine, and Johnston - renewed their partnership for a five year term in 1814, Johnston was the only Newfoundland resident. This new agreement may have coincided with the Newfoundland firm's change of name to Baine, Johnston & Co.

From its early days, Baine, Johnston & Co. was a fully functioning fisheries supply and general trade operation, importing goods from abroad and exporting fish to foreign markets. Initially, the firm leased St. John's premises from Robert Newman and Company, possibly on the south side of St. John's harbour. In 1816, William Johnston purchased from John and Thomas Mulloy the St. John's premises which were previously occupied by Hart, Robinson and Company. Two years later, the firm also acquired "Horton's Plantation", between Baird's Cove and Ayre's Cove, from Graham Bell and Company, trustees of the insolvent Cunningham, Stephenson and Company. The old Horton property remained Baine Johnston's headquarters until 1963. Baine, Johnston & Co. also purchased "Snow's Plantation" at Port de Grave from William Andrews, presumably the location of the company's branch there. According to the 1818 partnership agreement, the firm also "occupied" premises in "Cubits" (likely Cupids) but no other information is available about the operation there. By 1818, John Boyd and John Black had become partners in the firm, the former in charge of the St. John's trade and the latter operating the Port de Grave branch.

In 1831, the firm was dissolved: Thomas Lang, Walter Baine Jr., John Black and William Tarbet withdrew, leaving William Johnston as sole proprietor. Two years later, Walter Baine Jr. rejoined the firm. Johnston subsequently retired and, upon his death in 1837, Walter Grieve took over the St. John's operation, while his brother James Johnston Grieve was resident partner in Greenock, Scotland. When Walter Baine, Jr. died in 1851, Walter and James Johnston Grieve acquired the business. Walter left in 1855 to form Walter Grieve

and Company and, by 1861, was a partner in Grieve and Bremner and had purchased the Slade premises at Trinity. Over the next few years the partnership evolved, with members of the Grieve family acquiring greater interest in the firm. When James Johnston Grieve retired in 1879, his sons, Robert, James Jr., along with Walter Baine - the resident partner at St. John's by 1872 - were the surviving partners.

Baine, Johnston & Co. expanded its interests beyond the cod fishery to become a major player in the important sealing industry, outfitting vessels for the annual hunt, and processing seal oil, pelts, and other products for export. The firm purchased a seal processing plant at Harbour Grace in 1896, making that port the headquarters for its sealing operations. Baine, Johnston & Co. also became agents for Robert Newman & Company in 1894, prior to the 1907 withdrawal of that English West Country firm from Newfoundland. Additionally, the firm exported cod oil, herring, and salmon, shipping these products to foreign markets in its own vessels. From 1832 to 1920, the firm, through its principals, registered nearly three hundred vessels in Newfoundland, making it one of the largest vessel owners in the country. Among these vessels were a number of steamships including the 556 ton Bloodhound. In 1863, this vessel and Walter Grieve's Wolf were the first steamers to participate in the annual seal hunt. Baine, Johnston & Co. vessels were used in both the domestic coastal and foreign trades, in addition to being chartered on consignment for other firms. In 1868, Baine, Johnston & Co. became the Newfoundland agent for the Cunard Line.

Apart from its St. John's headquarters, the Port de Grave branch and the little known Cupids operation, the firm maintained premises at Battle Harbour, Labrador, Presque, Harbour Buffett, and Bonavista. The Bonavista branch was a casualty of the 1894 bank crash which forced the firm into insolvency. Baine, Johnston & Co. purchased the Slade business at Battle Harbour in June, 1871 from Thomas and David Slade. Slade's former storekeeper, William Collingwood, stayed on in that capacity and, possibly, also as manager or agent with the new owners. In 1883, after serving twenty-eight years in Battle Harbour, the firm transferred the forty-one year old Collingwood to its St. John's headquarters where he worked until retiring with a pension in 1921. The Battle Harbour branch also served as administrative office for the Cape Charles stores.

Walter Baine Grieve's death in 1921 marked the end of the Scottish connection with Baine, Johnston and Company. The firm was incorporated in 1922 with Thomas W. Collingwood, William's son, who joined the firm in 1895, as managing director and major shareholder, and none of the original families were involved. In 1939, Collingwood became the president and controlling shareholder of the company. Collingwood maintained and expanded the firm's position in the Labrador cod fishery into the post-confederation era but, in response to the decline in the salt fish business, the company sold its Battle Harbour operation and withdrew from the trade in 1955. In 1963, the redevelopment of the St. John's harbour front prompted the company to transfer its headquarters from the old Horton's Plantation property to a newer commercial area of the city. Baine, Johnston & Co. remains very active, with interests in commercial property, insurance, and the wholesale and retail trades.

Sources: Baine Johnston & Co. fonds, Estate papers, Maritime History Archive; Matthews, Keith. Profiles of Water Street Merchants. Unpublished Manuscript, Memorial University, 1980; Great Britain. Privy Council. Judicial Committee "Labrador Boundary Documents"; The Evening Telegram, June 20, 1980; Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, Volume I. St. John's: Newfoundland Book Publishers Limited, p. 112; Ships and Seafarers of Atlantic Canada, CD ROM. Maritime History Archive, 1998; Registry of Newfoundland Vessels, Maritime History Archive; Mariners and Merchants. A celebration of Baine, Johnston's Bicentennial 1780-1980

Scope and content

This fonds contains the operating records of the Baine, Johnston & Co. branch at Battle Harbour, Labrador. The 36 bound volumes include ledgers, journals, a private ledger and miscellaneous account books. The ledgers are indexed and contain an account of all business conducted with each customer during the fishing season. The winter ledgers contain accounts of business conducted for each customer when the fishing season was closed. The private ledger contains confidential information relating to specific accounts. The journals list individual accounts and include the date, name of customer, purchases of goods or services, customer account number and total amount of the transactions. Miscellaneous account books, which were used in every day operations, contain various accounts as well as financial and fishery reports.

This fonds is arranged in three series: Ledgers, 1917-1943; Journals, 1931-1946; Miscellaneous, 1901-1953.


The supplied title is based on the contents of the fonds

These records are on semi-permanent loan to the Maritime History Archive from The Battle Harbour Historic Trust. (Tom Paddon, project manager).

Copyright is held by the creator or his/her hiers.

Maritime History Archive finding aid 9.

Related material can be found in Acreman, William, Statement of Account, Maritime History Archive, MF-0119; Baine, Johnston & Co. fonds, 1806-1958, Maritime History Archive, finding aid 9; Baine Johnston and Co. Ltd., Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, MG 4.

Accession number 1993007

Location Bank 56, shelves 2, 3, & 4.

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