Getting the Details Right – The Orontes Voucher.

Writers of historical fiction rely on contemporary newspapers and journals for authentic detailing and I’m no exception. One source I’ve found particularly useful is old commercial papers. I’ve chosen to write about this invoice of J. & C. D. Gordon’s, signed and dated May 1857, which I used when writing “The Shackletons of Whitehaven.”

The company describes itself as “wholesale and retail “Ironongers, Braziers, Founders, Ship Chandlers & Nail Manufacturers”. Considering this merchandise it’s no surprise to see it gives its address as “Brass Foundry, 37, & 38 Strand Street, Whitehaven”. Being so close to the harbour the foundry was in a convenient position for the shipping trade, but it must have been noisy and somewhat odorous. The offices were at 32 King Street which ran parallel to Strand Street behind it.

1815 map

This invoice is for The Orontes, a 126 ton brig launched in 1856 by Whitehaven ship builders Messrs Lumley Kennedy and Co. It lists float lights, sail needles, batten nails, pump tacks, coffee mills and a candlestick. Also a globe glass for three shillings and sixpence. There’s something that looks like a gin funnel for eight pence. These stores were bought on the 14th and 15th May by William Ellison and the invoice was settled on the 28th and signed off by one of the proprietors Chas D. Gordon. this is unuusal as often invoices don’t seem to be settled for several months after purchase in these times. The Orontes was put up for sale by auction at the Indian King on Roper Street on November 29th in 1860 and auctioned off by Mr J. Jackson the local auctioneer.

The company didn’t limit itself to ships’ provisions. It seems they also made tea trays, waiters, cutlery, stoves, grates, fenders and door locks.

I found Mr Gordon, whose full name is Charles Dickenson Gordon, listed four years later in the “Directory and Gazeteer for Cumberland 1861”. He’s listed as ironmonger, brass founder, nail manufacturer etc. He’s living in Tangier Street which is the street I have set the office for Shackleton and Company in “The Shackletons of Whitehaven.” Looking forward to an 1882 directory the company is still operating from 32 King St and is listed as ironmongers and brass founder as before. There does seem to have been some expansion though as a Thomas Gordon is now operating from 29 and 54 King St dsecribed as a general furnisher and builder, tinsmith and brazier. Charles’ son perhaps?

Back of the invoice.

“Always check the back” is a good motto when dealing with ephemera. I’m not sure what “outwards” means, but hazarding a guess I’d say it refers to an outward journey. I’d also suggest this may be an accountant’s note, just the sort of thing jotted dowen when making up the ship’s accounts. I also note that it’s referred to as a “voucher” rather than an invoice and that’s an old accountant’s term. Now that’s something to file away and use in one of my books.

For me, it’s not just about getting the facts right, it’s about the bricks and mortar of a place, and the people and their times. What’s so fascinating to me is that so much information can be gleaned from a single piece of paper.

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