St Barbe, Green & Bignell

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John St Barbe was a significant London merchant who began his career as hoytaker for the Victualling Board during the American War of Independence. He made his first fortune through corruption in that role, possibly through a relationship with William Bignell.

His firm was originally known as Bignell, St Barbe & Green, but later changed its name to St Barbe, Green & Bignell, presumably because of the latter's retirement from active involvement. In addition to being major ship owners, they were also significant shipbrokers.


The brokerage seems to have undertaken much the same kinds of business as other such firms – although, given its scale and longevity, and presumably its importance given St Barbe’s prominence around town, there are remarkably few advertisements in the newspapers. He seems to have been active in offering ships to the Victualling Board in the immediate aftermath of the American War.

22 December 1784 – John St Barbe offered the Sally, Alexander Falconer to the Victualling Board to carry provisions to Gibraltar at 15/- per ton. On Mr Howe’s report, it appearing that the ship was a good one and capable for the service, and at Deptford, she was taken up by the Victualling Board on 7 January 1785 to carry bread, beef, pork flour, pease, oatmeal and vinegar, without loss of time. (Minutes of the Victualling Board, 7 January 1785, TNA ADM111/101)

14 January 1785 – The firm advertised on behalf of the Bonella, Angus, which had lost her papers. They request consignees to send copies of particulars. (Morning Chronicle & London Advertiser, 14 January 1785)

14 March 1785 – John St Barbe wrote to the Victualling Board offering to carry pease and oatmeal to Gibraltar. (TNA ADM111/101, 14 March 1785)

14-16 July 1785 – Unsurprisingly, St Barbe retained a connection with the south-west. In July 1785, they advertised for the auction of a brig at Falmouth. (General Evening Post, 14-16 July 1785)

13 January 1786 - They advertised for their one of own vessels – for freight and passage on the Eliza, Cristale, in January 1786. (Public Ledger, 13 January 1786)

18 January 1786 – They had four separate advertisements – for auctions or private sales of the Robertson, a Greenlandman; the Sykes; the Batchelor; and the Two Sisters. (Public Ledger, 18 January 1786)

23 July 1787 – They once again had four ships for sale in the one paper – the Mercury by auction, and the Venus, Sandown and Mackrell by private sale. The Sandown had been built by the firm and St Barbe had a major interest, and was used on a slaving voyage to Africa in 1794. (Public Ledger, 23 July 1787)

4 September 1788 – They sold about 11,000 seal skins in pickle, by public auction, at Garraways Coffee House in the Exchange. (Bath Chronicle, 4 September 1788)

31 January to 3 February 1789 – They were acting on behalf of the Two Janes, Captain Rochester. They advertised for all persons having claims on the owners, to apply so that they might be adjusted. (London Gazette, 31 January to 3 February 1789)

28 May 1790 – St Barbe offered the York to the Navy Board as a transport. It was not wanted. (TNA ADM106/2632)

7 May 1791 – They advertised for the sale of the Jackall, Raven – to be sold by candle at Lloyd’s Coffee House. (Public Ledger, 7 May 1791)

East India Company

15 October 1794 – St Barbe, Bignell & Green tendered 13 small ships to the EIC, including the Atlantic, Probeart, 450 tons. (IOR/L/MAR/C/531, Appendix No.1610, pp.884-887)

24 December 1796 – Navigation Licence issued for the Atlantic, Thomas Probeart. 9/25 crew. To the East Indies. (ADM7/114)

Navy Board Contracts (NSW)

From early 1791 until late 1793, John St Barbe had a remarkable run of luck in winning business from the Navy Board for transporting provisions to NSW. Almost certainly, this was because of his close relationship with the Navy Board's Deptford agent, James Bowen, who re-entered the Royal Navy in early 1794.

  • John St Barbe was the owner of the Atlantic, taken up for the Third Fleet. They were also agents for Messrs Stephens & Hattersley, applied for a fishing licence from the South Sea Company for the Mary Ann, 298 tons, Samuel Skiff. The Mary Ann was a Calvert ship. (British Library, Add MSS 25522, folio 100)
  • John St Barbe was broker for the Pitt, owned by George Macaulay, who was awarded a contract following a competition, but after a change in policy which left the field only open to East India ships not taken by the Court of Directors.
  • The Britannia was taken up on 15 December 1791, following a direct approach to brokers. St Barbe & Green were the brokers, but also appear to have been owners, although William Raven, the captain, may have acquired an interest immediately before sailing.

George Brown was the broker for the Kitty and the Royal Admiral, which were the next ships taken up, but the Kitty was put forward at the same time as the Britannia (and great care would have had to be exercised in any award of two contracts to St Barbe), and the Royal Admiral was contracted through direct negotiation with the EIC Court of Directors.

  • The next ship was the Bellona, whose broker was Alexander Davison, another friend of James Bowen. However, this contract was only awarded after Bowen delivered a negative survey on the Scarborough, a ship owned by the Hoppers, for which William Richards was the broker. Instead of allowing the Hoppers (or Richards) to supply another vessel in her place, which was the usual practice, the Navy Board sought to transfer the contract, without a further tender, to George Macaulay. The Hoppers caused such a controversy that the tender was abandoned, and a new requirement issued several months later when the Bellona was offered and won, without tender. It is not known if St Barbe was Macaulay’s agent on this occasion, but if he was, then the controversy over this affair might help to explain why Bowen used his friend Alexander Davison, who was not usually in the business of ship broking, for the Bellona.

The two ships carrying Irish convicts, the Sugar Cane and the Boddington, were awarded without tender to William Richards, by Evan Nepean. Bowen acted as Nepean’s agent in commissioning these ships and did everything he could to undermine Richards.

  • The next ship, the William, a store ship, was owned by Charles Enderby, and the broker was St Barbe, Green & Bignall. The specifications were limited to whalers sailing to the South Sea Fishery, and there was no tender. The contract was signed on 10 May 1793.
  • Then in October 1793, contracts were signed by the Navy Board for four ships – the Indispensable, the Speedy, the Resolution and the Salamander. The brokers for all four ships were St Barbe, Green & Bignell. The Speedy was offered without tender on 3 October, but the Navy Board directed that a notice be sent to Lloyds and the Royal Exchange. The Resolution and the Salamander were offered on the 12th and the Indispensable was offered on 14 October, without tender. The records are unclear how these ships came to be taken up.
  • In December 1793, on the same day that the government took a decision to send out 100 convicts to NSW, St Barbe submitted a tender for the Canada. It was decided not to hold an open tender at that time on account of the high prices for provisions, and the Canada was taken up by the Navy Board. She was later rejected as unfit for the service, and when a tender was called, it was won by Camden, Calvert and King.

By the time the next tender was called in March 1794, to carry provisions to NSW, James Bowen had returned to the Navy.

The next three contracts were won by George Brown (who was the major naval contractor) and from late 1795, James Duncan acquired a virtual monopoly on NSW business. In short, St Barbe’s run of luck came to an end once Bowen was no longer in office.

Coal Trade

In his evidence to a parliamentary committee in 1796, St Barbe made particular reference several times to the coal trade, suggesting that he had some interest in that business.

Other Contracts

17 August 1787 – Messrs Smith & St Barbe tendered the Zephyr, Scott, 370 tons, to the African Committee (as the annual supply ship) for £400. The offer was accepted. (T70/145/420)

1804 – There is evidence of St Barbe and Co selling two Dutch brigs, the Haaze and the Haazgie, with their stores to the Navy Board in this year.

1810-1813 – Mr St Barbe was agent for the master, officers and crew of the ship Alexander in relation to some droits of the Crown (and thus a naval prize).