Archive of Hodgson, Robinson & Company

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archives of Hodgson, Robinson & Company (previously Green & Hodgson) provide a valuable insight into the workings of a British import/export house in South America during the nineteenth century.

The collection comprises a number of volumes containing financial information, such as ledgers, journals, invoice books, sales books, consignment books, cash books, and ranch account books. Also included among the papers are 12 letter books, some personal notebooks, and a large amount of loose correspondence. Using these materials, it is possible to reconstruct the financial and administrative structure of this merchant house, and gain valuable knowledge of the intricacies of foreign trade and investment during this century.

Unless stated, all items are hard bound volumes.

Administrative / Biographical History

James Hodgson began his career in 1817 as a general commission merchant working in Buenos Aires, although he was abroad at least as early as 1811. His talents were considerable, but he lacked both working capital and profitable contacts in the United Kingdom, a problem which was solved in 1818, when he went into partnership with Joseph Green of Liverpool, an old family friend. Green remained in England, and each of the partners retained control of operations at their end of the business.

By the time this partnership was dissolved in 1829, (apparently due to Green's dissatisfaction with Hodgson's tendency not to settle accounts on time, and his inability to keep his books up to date), James Hodgson had acquired experience, and an enviable reputation. He certainly had expert knowledge of South American trade and politics, and was one of few British merchants actually to speak Spanish.

He returned to the United Kingdom in 1929 to settle the affairs of the ex-partnership, and to attempt to expand his contacts abroad; this he did most successfully by undercutting the rates of commission offered by other Buenos Aires merchants. It was also at this time that he gained the business of Owen Owens and Son, for whom he was to act in Buenos Aires for the next fifteen years.

In 1830 Hodgson formed another partnership, with John Robinson, his former accountant, but this time both partners remained in Buenos Aires, and the business operated through manufacturer's agents.

The markets of South America provided great opportunities, especially for British textile manufacturers and merchants, at a time in which increased mechanisation had led to overproduction. British merchants imported textiles and light consumer goods to Argentina, and in return exported a smaller amount of raw produce, mainly wool, hides, tallow, and dried beef.

The merchant activity of the business expanded into investment in Argentine industry: in 1832, Hodgson and Robinson formed a partnership with Duncan Macnab and Duncan Stewart (British merchants) and Francisco Agell (an Argentine merchant) to conduct a meat storage and meat drying business.

The original partnership also owned several estancias or cattle ranches, which provided additional income to support mercantile activities, and decreased the need to buy produce from other suppliers. These ranches, named Tambito and Monsalvo, in the Rio Cuarto area of Cordoba province, were jointly owned by the partners and the Fielden Brothers, with whom Hodgson had a long and fruitful association.

This ownership of land also led, in the 1830s to Hodgson and Robinson gaining permission from the Argentine authorities to colonise their land in Cordoba province with European immigrants.

Hodgson, Robinson and Company was finally liquidated in 1844, and James Hodgson returned to Liverpool, still in business, and still owning a share in the Tambito ranch in Argentina.

James Hodgson was a skilled man, who, in common with most Buenos Aires merchants, also acted as a broker (in exchange, produce & shipping), an insurance agent, a salesman, and a political and economic commentator and news gatherer.

Hodgson, Robinson & Company operated profitably for so long in an unstable climate chiefly due to Hodgson's ingenuity; he was a clever speculator, with intimate knowledge of South American economics, and used innovative marketing techniques. A far-sighted man, he was also aware of the broad sweep of British trade and economics, rather than concentrating upon short-term profits like many of his contemporaries, and this alone was enough to make him a highly unusual man for his time.

Arrangement

The collection consists mainly of large volumes, some of which are extremely difficult to handle. Amongst these volumes are some belonging to the ranches owned by Green, Hodgson, Robinson and others, but these have not been listed separately, as they were managed through the house itself. The archive has been divided by class and listed in this way.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive.

Related Material

See also the papers of Fielden Brothers Ltd (FDN)and Owen Owens & Son,(OWN) which are in the custody of the Library, which deal with the cotton trade in the same period.

Bibliography

Although there is no one comprehensive account of the firm in existence, much can be gleaned from the following secondary sources:

Vera Blinn Reber, British Mercantile Houses in Buenos Aires 1810-1880, (Harvard University Press, 1979).

B.W. ClappJohn Owens: Manchester Merchant, (Manchester University Press, 1965).

Brian Law, Fieldens of Todmorden: A Nineteenth Century Business Dynasty, (George Kelsall, 1995).

D.C.M. Platt, Latin America and British Trade 1806-1914, (Adam & Charles Black, London, 1972).