The Eponymous Enderbysby Stewart Ash
Review by Richard Buchanan
Enderby is a name commemorated in Greenwich, particularly by Enderby House at Enderby Wharf. The name is of a family whose story Mr Ash describes in detail; one that prospered, rose to the top of London society, but then declined; a family whose fortunes took them to America and to become explorers in the southern ocean.
|The Samuel Enderby
Buxton & Enderby was founded ca1765, at St Paul’s Wharf in London. They developed a successful business trading with the American colonies – shipping out British goods and bringing back whale oil and seal skins. Americans crossed the Atlantic too, one being Nathaniel Wheatley who came to England with his adopted sister Phillis to promote her poetry; she had been taken to America to be sold as a slave but was adopted, and educated, by Nathaniel’s parents. While in London, Nathaniel met and married Mary, Samuel Enderby’s eldest daughter; after the wedding they returned to Boston, where Nathaniel acted as the agent for the Enderbys. This was just after the Boston Tea Party, which involved ships used by Buxton & Enderby, though it is not clear whether they were owned or leased, or to what extent it was their tea that was lost.
In 1775 Samuel founded Samuel Enderby & Sons, to hunt whales, not just transport the oil. In 1783 Samuel junior was sent to Boston to engage Americans to crew Enderby whaling ships – they soon had 17 ships. By then whales had been all but eliminated in the north Atlantic and they were exploiting the south Atlantic. South Atlantic whales also became scarce. In 1788 their ship the Emilia (described in Moby Dick as the Amelia) initiated whaling in the Pacific, despite restrictions imposed by the East India Company. They set up base in what was to become Sydney.
|Enderby Wharf from the river in the mid-19th century
(kind permission Roger Marshall)
In 1787 the Enderbys, then quite influential in London and seen as being in a respectable line of business, were granted arms featuring a ‘harpooner’. That year Samuel junior married Mary Goodwyn, daughter of a brewer; their first two babies died at birth but nine more survived. Their eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married Henry Gordon of the Royal Artillery at the Greenwich parish church of St Alphege – one of her sons being General Gordon of Khartoum.
The family became wealthy and when Samuel (senior) died in 1797 he was able to bequeath four figure sums around the family, and ensure they could continue to live in style.
Samuel junior took the business to new heights; it peaked in 1891 with 68 ships owned or under charter. He encouraged his ship captains to explore the southern ocean in search of new whaling and seal hunting grounds. This resulted in the discovery of several island groups, including Auckland Islands found in1805. Eventually they reached Antarctica. However, no significant whaling grounds were found and decline set in – in a search for fewer and fewer whales the Enderby ships were outnumbered by American ships. In England oil lamps had largely given way to gas lighting and other uses were declining.
Samuel junior died in 1829. His eldest son, Samuel, had already become a professional soldier (whose fascinating story Mr Ash tells). The business was therefore left to the next three sons: Charles, Henry and George, though Henry took no active part. In 1830 it was renamed Messrs Enderby Brothers; they purchased a Thames-side site in Greenwich, which had first been developed as a naval gunpowder store, but which by then had a rope-walk. They developed and modernised this and added sail making, serving their own and others’ shipping interests. The site became known as Enderby Wharf, the name still in use today. Then, with dwindling resources, they left their London offices and premises at St Paul’s wharf, which they moved to Poplar.
Charles and George, however, were still explorers at heart, and were founder members of the Geographical Society (to become Royal in 1859). They organised three voyages during the 1830s, each with a pair of ships, to the southern ocean, which made notable contributions to the geography of the region; these put Charles Enderby into high regard and in1841 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society.
None of the three voyages had paid financially. However their trading and rope & sail making businesses made some money, and in 1834 they commissioned a new trading ship, named the Samuel Enderby. But in 1845 there was a devastating fire at the Enderby works. It was not rebuilt; instead Charles built himself a house on the site – still there, known as Enderby House – and listed Grade II. The house has an unusual and attractive ‘Octagon’ room on the top floor with a large window giving a good view of the Thames. The Geographical Society met there at Charles’ invitation.
|The Enderby rope and canvas works burns down
Despite his enthusiasm for the southern ocean, Charles had never been there. But James Clark Ross had, and in 1840 had discovered a fine natural harbour in the Auckland Islands, which he said would be an ideal site for a whaling station. Charles decided to go and set one up. The Enderbys could not finance such an expedition themselves and set up the Southern Whale Fishing Company. The British Government granted a 20 year lease of the Auckland Islands to the Company and named Charles Enderby as the Lieutenant-Governor. He set sail on the Samuel Enderby with two other ships in August 1849, and arrived in December. A settlement was soon built, but then things deteriorated; Charles, who proved to be ineffective, was evicted. By 1852 the settlement was abandoned. Charles was in Wellington vainly trying to clear his name; in 1853 he returned to London but fared no better.
After his return it became possible to wind up Messrs Enderby Brothers, duly done in 1854. By then none of the Enderby family was still living in the Greenwich district. George had moved to Northfleet, Kent. When Charles died in 1876 he was a lodger in Holborn.
|Enderby House today - the only listed building on the
Greenwich Peninsula it is now owned by developers.
This review briefly tells the main story of the Eponymous Enderbys – and gives only isolated glimpses of the detailed stories Mr Ash includes in his narrative of the numerous family connections; of business associates, many of whom were neighbours; and of the people connected with whaling and the sad downfall of Charles Enderby. It is altogether a fascinating history.
The derelict Enderby Wharf site was sold in 1857 to Glass, Elliot & Co and W T Henley, to manufacture subsea telegraph cables; they used Enderby House for their management offices and boardroom. After this the site really prospered and played a pivotal role in the development of subsea cable systems for the next 150 years. A story told by Stewart Ash in a companion booklet:
The Story of Subsea Telecommunications and its Association with Enderby House