The Seaflower Venture is a transatlantic research and photographic project exploring the island of Jersey’s maritime and mercantile links to Canada during the very profitable cod-trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. The project is centred around cod-merchant Charles Robin who founded the most successful Jersey firm on the Gaspé Coast and the extraordinary photographic archive and unpublished fictional biography of Robin’s life based on his own diaries written by Phyllis Ross in the 1950s. Using her manuscript of some 275,000 words as a narrative structure and probing this important history of Jersey’s maritime identity through a photographic discourse my interest is in the creative potential for image-making between the fictional and non-fictional story about Robin's trading posts in the new British colonies in North America, which he established in 1766 soon after the French defeat in the Seven Years War and the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763.)
The Jersey firms, and especially Charles Robin & Co were successful because they developed an economy in the Gaspé where resident fishermen bought essential supplies on credit from a company store against future catch. The ’truck’ system, as it was known caused huge resentment between the Jersey and French population as they saw these firms exploiting their honest labour. Charles Robin was synonymous with either being an evil imperialist or viewed as a brilliant businessman and entrepreneur who made extraordinary fortunes in difficult circumstances, not only for himself, his business partners but also the island of Jersey who benefitted enormously from the Canadian fisheries. In one sense this new project also leads into the Masterplan project - A Visual Record of Finance in terms of how a legacy of one industry transforms and impacts an island identity, economy and culture. There are numerous similarities between fish and finance, e.g. at the height of the fisheries in the mid-19th Century it employed 6000 people (4000 in Jersey and 2000 seasonal workers in Canada) at a time when the population in Jersey was approx. 55.000. Compare this to 2017 where over 13.000 people are working in the financial services in a population of 104.000.
The North-Atlantic fisheries is another example of Jersey operating as an entrepôt – a trading post and as an international business enterprise can be viewed as a blueprint for a future offshore island finance industry. Interestingly enough it was a collapse of the Jersey Banking Company in 1886 that ended the North American fishing adventures with Jersey firms no longer being able to receive credit, including Charles Robin & Co. The project has the potential long-term to further explore outposts operating as part of the trade triangle established between Jersey and the cod fisheries in Canada that included the West Indies, South America and the Mediterranean where commodities such as fish, agricultural products, manufactured goods were traded as part of a global network of merchant flow of capital.