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  De Castro Story - Diamonds and coral

Diamonds and coral

Solomon and Rachel had seven sons. As already stated there is no record on any tree of any daughters. We know of the birth years of two of those children Samuel born in Dublin on 17th June 1725 and Daniel born in 1733. Both these are recorded in the Royal College of Heralds registers. The Keith tree gives some dates for the others. As said in the opening chapter the sequence of the children changes from tree to tree. I have 5 trees, two I know were copied from the same document, and all give differing sequences for the children's births.

Assuming that Solomon named his children according to custom and that he named them in the order required by custom then the rules of patriarchal precedence have been applied to sequence the children and these seem to agree with the dates given on the Keith tree.

Thus we have:
ABRAHAM. Born about 1710.
ISAACK. Born about 1710.
JACOB. Born about 1715.
MOSES. Born about 1715.
DAVID. Born about 1720. Died 1765
SAMUEL. Born on 17th June 1725.
DANIEL. Born in 1733.

This sequence differs from tree to tree but I feel that the sequence above would be correct and until other evidence comes to hand then this is the order that will be used.

Data obtained from the LDS records also gives another series of dates but these have not yet been verified as they are probably from the Bevis Marks Synagogue and may not actually be birth dates.

Samuel is our ancestor but a reasonable amount is known of the others. The following account of the seven brothers activities was summarised in a note Paul de Castro lodged with the Jewish Museum.

Isaac de Castro moves to Leghorn in Italy to arrange for the export of Coral to David and Abraham in St Mary Axe in London. David ships coral to India (in 1744 he consigned 12000 pounds worth). Samuel (1725-79) repairs to Fort St George (Madras) India arriving on July 1749 by the ship BRITANNIA as a Free Merchant (i.e. not one of the merchants employed by the East India Co.) to look after the sale of coral. Taking payment largely in diamonds Samuel sends the gems to brother Jacob in Amsterdam to get them cut and polished. Daniel (1730-1790) also arrives at Fort St George as a Free Merchant on 6th Sept 1757 by the ship Boscawen and acquires the details of the business s from Samuel. Samuel (probably desirous of a suitable wife) returns to England in 1759 and marries Sarah Lara in 1761. In 1766 Moses comes to India from Curacao probably via England) by the ship Lioness and releases brother Daniel, who hurried to England and married his deceased brother David's daughter, Sarah Judith. On 8th August 1768 Moses gets permission to build a house for their business s in Fort St George. By 4th Feb 1780 Moses de Castro is one of the chief consignees of coral in Madras.

The family business in the 1700's was deeply involved in the export of Coral to India where it was traded for diamonds. These were shipped back to London where for the most part they were sold in London although Paul de Castro's account suggests that via the family links in Amsterdam they were also involved in the cutting of Diamonds.

The book DIAMONDS AND CORAL by Gedalia Yogev published by Leicester University Press 1978 gives an account of this trade and the above members of the de Castro family are mentioned throughout the book.

It would appear that this trade had been going on during the 1600's and possibly before. The British East India Company had a monopoly on the English trade with India; indeed at one time this Company virtually ruled large parts of that country.

The movement of Jewish diamond merchants from Holland and Portugal to England in the late 1600's resulted in this trade being established in London. In 1684 the minutes of the East India Company mention the growth of this trade that was legalised round 1673. By 1695 it is said the centralisation of the trade in England was regarded as an accomplished fact.

It is not known when Samuel came to England but it is possible that because of his subsequent involvement in this trade in England he or his family could have been involved elsewhere and the monopoly being established in the trade and in shipping by the East India Company possibly prompted Solomon's move to England.

Gedalia Yogev in her book (pp70) states that:

"In the century which elapsed between the arrival of the first Jewish merchant James de Paiva - at Madras in 1688, and the departure of the last one - Moses de Castro - in 1786, there were only short periods without at least one Anglo-Jewish diamond merchant at Madras"

She goes on to quote a petition to Parliament made by the Jews of London: -

"That the market for diamonds in the East Indies (India) was formally at Goa (belonging to the Portuguese) and by that means and industry of the Jews the market hath been brought to the English factories, and by that means England has in a manner the sole management of that precious commodity, and all foreigners bring their monies into this Kingdom to purchase the said diamonds"

It should be noted that up to the second quarter of the eighteenth century the only known sources of uncut diamonds were India and, to a lesser extent Borneo. Later this changed with the discovery in Brazil and this had a serious impact on the English-India trade although in the end it is said the majority of the diamonds from Brazil were also sold on the London market. There was also a secondary supply in the main via France where Diamonds captured from English ships were sold

The export of coral to India would seem like exporting coal to Newcastle? After all India is in tropical waters and its coasts abound with coral reefs.

Gedalia Yogev explains (pp103):

"After the early sixteenth century diamonds were the main item in jewellery imports from India, and coral took first place in exports to the east, for a long time being an essential commodity in all trade with India. The western Mediterranean was the only source of red coral, the kind needed for the Indian market, Marseilles, Leghorn, Genoa, and Naples were centres for coral fishing and coral industries…In India it was used for jewellery and in cremation ceremonies, and served also as a symbol of social standing."

(Pp 104)

"Leghorn's importance as a centre of the coral trade and industry was described by a Jewish coral merchant from that place named Abraham de Castro it is common for the coral fisheries to bring from the islands adjacent to Leghorn from six to eight thousand pounds weight of coral each boar…about three hundred of such boats are employed in collecting in each of the coral fishing seasons for the market of Leghorn, besides which great quantities of coral are from time to time imported at Leghorn from France"

The de Abraham de Castro referenced here was probably the son of Isaac and as it was Isaac who seems to have been based in Leghorn this makes further sense. A reference relative to the last quote on page 291 states

"de Castro was also buying coral from Neapolitan sellers and the reference is dated 22nd October 1779"

Generally the coral was manufactured into beads and then exported from Leghorn to London on East India ships that had exported pepper to Italy. However this only accounted for part of the trade. It must be born in mind that the East India Company had by Royal Charter a monopoly on the trade so if you were English and wanted to export to India you did so on the East India Coy ships and the same applied if you were importing from India.

It is explained that Europe had very little in the way of merchandise that was of any interest to India so the coral trade was important. It must not be assumed that only Jewish merchants were involved and all the coral was traded for diamonds, it was the only real commodity that had any value so was used in general trade. The Jewish merchants had however a virtual strangle hold on the diamond - coral trade.

As the East India Company charged the usual passage and freight costs it also charged a levy and duties on goods shipped so not all the trade was above board and a considerable amount of smuggling was involved Gedalia Yogev comments in 1765 a case of large scale diamond smuggling was discovered and of the 19 firms involved 8 were Jewish. It appears the blame for this was put on the agents in Madras and on the Governor. One of the three named agents was Daniel de Castro.

Another factor that should be born in mind was that the merchants had to purchase the coral in Europe then ship it to India where it was sold, where hopefully there was not a glut and the price received was reasonable. This process took several months. Then the diamonds had to be purchased and be shipped back to England and these were then sold, again the merchants hoping there was not a glut on that market and some was willing to purchase the. There was no banking system, as we know it in those days, no exchange rates so huge risks were involved and many lost considerable sums. Equally so some made considerable fortunes especially if every thing was in their favour namely a shortage of coral in India and a shortage of diamonds in England. It would seem that among others the de Castro family joined forces with others and soon started acting as middle men and started to act as agents taking their cut in the middle without taking the risks at either end of the market.

The trade up till about 1770 was in the hands of the Jewish families originally from Portugal however the Ashkenazi Jewish families, from central Europe started to enter the business, While these families generally got a foothold in the diamond business few managed to break into the coral side of the trade.

Gedalia Yogev on page 154 comments that the brothers Aaron and Solomon Norden, who consigned coral to India on 10th December 1765 wrote to their agents in Madras - Moses and Daniel de Castro as follows:

" The coral which is for our account we bought of your brother Mr Samuel de Castro who warranted us that it would do for your place, as we know nothing of the coral trade and are not judges thereof"

Gedalia Yogev in her book in chapter eight delves into the origins of the trade and the principal families involved and she comments on page 159 as follows:

" The third family to be represented in Madras by a consecutive line of agents were the Sephardi de Castro's. They came to Madras in the middle of the eighteenth centaury and were represented there by one generation only: still their activity in India covered almost 40 years, and Moses de Castro, who returned to England in 1786, was the last of the Jewish diamond agents at Madras. The family had been active in the diamond trade for a long time before Samuel de Castro sailed east in 1749. Samuel's father - Solomon de Castro - was already importing small quantities of diamonds around 1720 but by the 1740's the house suddenly became a major exporter of coral to India rivalling the Salvador's and Franco's. (The first two families) They maintained their importance till about 1760, when their exports diminished as suddenly as they had expanded some 15 years earlier.
It was not a matter of fluctuating fortunes or of switching to another branch of commerce; the de Castro's continued to be active in the diamond-coral trade for another 25 years, but mainly as agents in Madras, not as importers in London. It appears that the large quantities of coral exported by the de Castro' in the 1740's and 1750's were not their property, but belonged to Benjamin Mendes da Costa, one of the wealthiest Jewish merchants of London. This is shown, in the first place, by the fact that, while the de Castro's exported large quantities of coral, they imported only an insignificant quantity of diamonds. Benjamin da Costa, on the other hand, was one of the greatest importers of diamonds throughout this period, although no corresponding exports can be traced. A very plausible explanation for this state of affairs is that the coral really belonged to da Costa, who was perhaps making use of the de Castors' connection with Leghorn in order to purchase his coral on favourable terms, and so had to re-export it to India under their name in order to get the draw-back. This arrangement seems to have come to an end in 1761, when, on the death of David de Castro, Benjamin's nephew Hananel began to export coral under his own name.
That there was in fact such an arrangement is all the more likely in view of the close ties that existed between the Mendes da Costa's in London and the de Castro's in India. The last named functioned primarily as the India agents of the house of Mendes da Costa. When Samuel de Castro and David Lopes Fernandes applied to the East India Company in 1749 for permission to settle in Madras, Benjamin Mendes Da Costa and David de Castro gave the required security. Out of the 30,830 pagodas (Madras currency approximately equal to a pound but not always) of diamonds sent to England by Samuel de Castro and David Lopes Fernandes during their first year in India, over 80 percent was consigned to Benjamin Mendes da Costa. When the 24-year-old Daniel relieved his brother in India in 1775, Benjamin Mendes da Costa and David de Castro again gave the security

This passage gives important information regarding the family and there are two references in the passage which link to notes in the back of the book. While this is Gedalia Yogev's interpretation of the connection between the families it is very obvious there was a very close relationship between the two families. It is obvious to me there was some sort of partnership between the two families, don't forget that the de Castro's seem to have had the coral side tied up and without this the Mendes Da Costa's could not trade for diamonds so the de Castro's presumably made money selling the coral in the first place. Then there was the de Castro's in India who traded the coral for diamonds so again as middlemen they would again have made a cut, and finally the Mendes Da Costa's used the de Castro's links with the East India Company to get a draw back on his costs and again I would suggest this was not given away. So while the Mendes da Costa family ended up with the diamonds to sell on the fickle London market the de Castro's would have benefited from these transactions without the risk at the end of having to sell the diamonds at a price so as to turn a profit. The da Costa's also stood an additional risk and that was the possible loss of the coral on the way to India and the same with the return of the diamonds to England. The fact that Benjamin became a guardian for Judith de Castro on her father's death and that Moses married Benjamin's daughter shows how close this relationship was, especially as already stated marriage between families like these in those days was a business venture and rarely had any thing to do with love.

The references in the Notes in this book to the above passages on page 303 states:

" In 1710 de Castro (Solomon) married Rachel, daughter of Abraham Bravo. He (Soloman) was Secretary of the Portuguese Community in London from 1732 till his death in 1740."

"Isaac de Castro - a son of Soloman de Castro - settled in Leghorn. It is probable that the Abraham Isaac de Castro, who exported coral to India in 1780, was his son."

The book delves into the relationship between the Jewish Merchants and their trading houses in Madras and the process they had to go through to get to madras. There is an interesting footnote to this as follows:

"In 1744 the Committee of Correspondence (of the East India Company) recommended that permission be given to Samuel de Castro and David Lopes Fernandes 'to reside in India as free merchants in the coral and diamond way', but there is no evidence that such a category of merchants was ever formally recognised or that Jewish merchants in India were restricted to diamond and coral business"

If this status as free merchants was given to these two then it was a very special one as it was not given to any other trading house.

The passage on the family continues from the above:

"In 1763 the two firms sent out a certain Joseph Dias Fernandes to relieve Daniel. Who wanted to return to England in order to marry the daughter of his deceased brother? But Dias Fernandes died during the voyage and the houses in London had to find another agent. They came to an agreement with Moses de Castro - apparently a nephew of Daniel - and signed a contract with him, in Daniels name, promising him a gradually increasing share in the latter's business. Samuel de Castro wrote to his brother, Daniel, on 10th December 1765 as follows
Dear Brother Daniel de Castro,
By last years shipping I wrote you several letters, which I hope you received. Since which I received yours of 25th October, 12 January and 29 January, 6 February and 26March. I was very sorry to hear of the death of Mr Dias, your intended partner, as I thought him to be a very good young man, and of a temper that I know you would agree with. But man proposes and God disposes. We must have patience and hope that this goes, Mr Moses de Castro, may have better luck, and that you may approve of our choice, for he is really, I believe, a worthy young man, good natured, and with a little of your polishing will be in time, please God, almost as clever a fellow as my Danny. The agreement: a copy goes enclosed, by which you'll see it is made to your desire, except the article you objected to, that in case of death to lose all share of commissions, which he could not with any conscience agree, as if so in your case of Mr Dias, his friends will not only have the great loss of their relation, but would also be behind hand the charges of the voyage, upon which footing, you may be sure, no body would venture. So I don't think you will consider it and think that I am a brother, and Mr Hananel Mendes da Costa as a true friend that you'll always found him {sic}, have done in justice we thought right.
Whenever you come back to England, you may be sure I shall be glad to see you, but for all that I must advise you to have a year or two more patience, that your partner who goes out in these ships may, please God, have time to have some experience of the trade, as also that, as we have wrote you last year, we wait for an answer which we expect by the first ship home for to get another person to send out, as trusting to one person alone is not satisfaction to our friends, so I do hope you'll consider this , that the future character of your house will not suffer. To be sure, thank God you have a handsome fortune but for all that, as I say above, a year or two more will not hurt you, your age to (sic) is not so advanced neither.
Samuel de Castro

This nephew of Daniels sailed to Madras on the ship the Lioness Paul de Castro in his notes states it was the brother Moses who sailed on the Lioness and that this ship sailed from Curacao At this point I would suggest he was incorrect for among other matters a search shows the Lioness was only involved in the English - India trade The passage goes on to say that as hard as others tried, however they failed to persuade Daniel to stay in Madras at least till Moses de Castro had gained some experience in the trade. Daniel did not even await his arrival, but hurried back to Europe. He did so, so that he could his deceased eldest brothers daughter who was just over 14 at the time. Paul de Castro's notes say Daniel arrived in India on the Boscawen on 6th September 1757 this meant he was 24 or 25 years of age at the time. When he left his future wife was 7 years of age so it is somewhat of a mystery as to why he was in such haste to get back to England to marry his 14-year-old niece who he had last seen as a seven year old??

There is another important comment in this narrative that has caused some confusion in that it is stated the family connection in Madras was of ONE generation. Yet we find the Moses who took over from Daniel was not his brother, as one would suppose but his nephew. Now the major problem we have with this comment is that there is no nephew named Moses on any tree that I can find. In searching the Internet I have found one Moses said to have been born in London in 1729. Now this is not the one we already have a record of as being one of the 7 brothers. These seven were born between 1710 and 1723 so it is unlikely he was a child of these seven so unless it is a record of the brother we have but with an incorrect birth date then we don't know who he is. As none of the brothers had a son called Moses then as far as can be seen at this time the Moses mentioned in the letter and text in the book simply could not have been a nephew so he must have been a cousin of some sort which adds to the case that Solomon when he arrived possibly came with other family members. It seems obvious from the letter written by Samuel to his brother Daniel that the Moses he was referring to was not their brother, so who was he?. At this point of time and in accordance with the information given by J Paul de Castro in his family tree and notes it seems reasonably certain that the brother Moses at some time went to Curacao in the Dutch West Indies and we seem to have made a link to his descendants. So all this is another little mystery we have to solve.

Gedalia Yogev continues by stating that Daniel returned to India with his young bride and so broke a long tradition of bachelordom maintained by the Jewish diamond agents in Madras. It is said he remained this time for only three years, while Moses remained in India till 1786. In 1784 Moses married Judith the daughter of Hananel Mendes da Costa, and so sealed the long-standing business connection between the two families.

As an interesting insight into the Madras trading houses Gedalia Yogev gives the following information with regard to the fact that the London families took servants with them to Madras under contract:

"The other contract was between the merchants Samuel se Castro and David Lopes Fernandes and their servant Abraham Jacobs. Jacobs was engaged in England in 1748 as a cook. He was to receive 20 pounds for the expenses of the voyage and 20 pounds per annum in India or 15 pounds plus clothing. He was to enjoy all terms granted to his servant by Isaac Cohen Delmonte (who had been sent out the by the Franco's and perished when his ship sank). De Castro and Lopes Fernandes also promised to send Jacob home at their expense " if the climate of the country does not agree with his health", or should they discharge him within three years. Because the contract was not throughout specific as to the terms agreed on - referring, as it did, to the late Delmonte's contract - a dispute arose between Jacobs and his masters. The case came before the Mayor's Court of Madras, and in the course of the proceedings an interesting custom came to light, namely that the Jewish merchants at Madras used to deduct one-quarter of the brokerage fees due to the Indian diamond broker for stones purchased through him, in favour of their Jewish servant. It was stated explicitly that this was only done when the servant was a Jew."

The question is asked about how these families faired in this trade, some did not prosper and some made very considerable fortunes:

" The house of De Castro, too, seems to have benefited by the activity of its members in India. Daniel de Castro was described by his brother as having a fair fortune - eight years after he had come to India at the age of 24. Moses de Castro, who took Daniel's place when he returned to Europe, became a partner in one of the best Madras houses and the firm of de Castro was described as very respectable by David Prager in 1787 - a serious complement coming, as it did, from a quarter where it was usual to regard Sephardi houses with a mixture of contempt and suspicion".

So from these references it can be seen that shortly after Solomon was married he was noted as being involved in the Diamond trade. The major move by the family seems to have occurred in the 1740 - 50's and as Soloman had died in 1740 then it was the 7 sons who made the move. It would seem in later times Samuel was the major influence in the business.

There is more out there still to find about these activities and as additional information comes to hand it will be added

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