South Eastern shipping company documents reveal history of trade and emigration

Humanities

Waterford Institute of Technology recently acquired important historical papers which offer an invaluable insight into trade, the economy and emigration in the South East throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

The papers, from the Graves shipping company, which chartered ships from New Ross to North America, were procured by WIT’s Luke Wadding Library, and will be stored in a special room where they can be viewed by students, lecturers and the general public.

The documents, which include personal letters, sales documents, accounts books, and advertising materials, came into the possession of senior managers within the company, including Peter McDonald, Brian Healy, and Edward McBride, who subsequently presented them to WIT.

Speaking at a formal signing ceremony, President of WIT, Professor Willie Donnelly, thanked the three managers for passing on the papers to the Institute.  Prof. Donnelly also acknowledged the generous efforts of WIT lecturer, Walter O’Leary, in securing the material.

“The presentation of these papers to Waterford Institute of Technology is a tremendous act of generosity towards the region and the people of the South East.  They give an insight into the lives of emigrants and those who facilitated emigration.”

Professor Donnelly added, “These papers fill in some of the story about the nature of trade and the position of emigrants within trade through this period of the nineteenth century. These stories are relevant today.  We see today’s emigrant ships crossing the Mediterranean bringing people to new lives in what they hope will be better circumstances. The Graves papers give us great insight into a very dynamic trading environment, we see evidence in them of forces of globalisation that help us understand the contemporary phenomenon.”

A particular facet which came to light from the documentation was how well the employees of the Graves company were treated.  This, coupled with a great resilience and an innovative business drive, resulted in the company’s success for so long.

The Graves archive provides a fascinating progressive insight into the entrepreneurial ethos of the Graves company which ranged from ship building, shipping, timber sawmills, and felt manufacturing, to asphalt roofing, agricultural machinery design, and real estate investment.

The range of persons in the documentation primarily include William Graves and his sons Samuel Robert Graves, who ran Graves operations in Liverpool and would become the first Irishman ever to achieve the position of Lord Mayor of Liverpool, MP for Liverpool 1865 – 1873. Anthony Elly Graves, who lived in Rosbercon Castle, ran the Graves operations in New Ross. James Palmer Graves who was based in Savannah, Georgia before returning to run the Graves operations in Waterford and lived in Newtown.

For WIT, the acquisition of these papers is another step in confirming WIT’s role as a repository of knowledge about the region and a source of regional intelligence to help with the region’s continued cultural, social and economic development.

Kieran Cronin, Developmental Librarian at WIT, who is custodian of the papers said that this was a major acquisition for WIT and a vital source of information for years to come.

“The Graves papers complement other regional and city collections acquired by the Institute in recent years and the Institute now has an unrivalled and growing collection of material relating to the history of Waterford and the South East.”

“WIT intends that the papers will be a major resource for students, teachers and the general public.  They will also be of great benefit and insight students from abroad, particularly those from Georgia who will soon be studying at WIT.  The documentation clearly outlines the relationship between New Ross and Savannah, a relationship founded on trade by the Graves Company.”

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