The port of Bristol in the second half of the eighteenth century: An examination of the organisational structure of the port pertaining to the management and operation of its shipping with special reference to ships trading with the West Indies and America.
MacMillan, John Gilbert
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
In comparison to the amount of research that has been carried out on Royal Navy affairs and its ports and dockyards, few studies have been done on the day to day operations of merchant shipping and civilian ports, especially in the eighteenth century. This thesis attempts to partly redress this by examining at depth the workings of the Port of Bristol and its shipping in this period, using contemporary records where they have survived and a system of cross-referencing where they have not. The physical structure and amenities of the port were subject to close examination, not only to establish whether they were suitable for their purpose, but to observe the effectiveness of the systems that were in place regarding their use. Similarly, the deposition of shipping in the port was scrutinised to establish whether or not it contributed to the recognised problem of congestion at the port. The reality was that the facilities and systems put in place by the managers of the port, the Society of Merchant Venturers, were mainly effective but they could not overcome the adverse conditions set by the port having one of the highest ranges of tide in the world. However, there was another factor and that was the perspectives of the users of the port, the shipowners and merchants of the city. It was established that Bristol shipowners still adhered to the traditional system of owning ships as an element of a merchant’s business interests rather than in their own right, and this meant that there was little flexibility in both ways of working and the areas ships traded to, with the result that the facilities of the port were subjected to seasonal inundations contributing to congestion. The management of the ships involved in the most important trade of the port, the West Indian, was examined at all levels and they and their crews were far from being used to their full potential. In effect the conservative attitude to trade of the Bristol merchant was exacerbating the fundamental problem of the port, its unmanageable tides.
PhD in History