The Larrinaga family: from Mundaka to Liverpool

This post introduces the second of the Anglo-Basque merchant families whose trans-imperial networks are at the heart of the Imperial Entanglements project: the Larrinaga family of Mundaka and Liverpool.

Mundaka and the Urdaibai estuary, by I Telle (Wikimedia Commons)

Early in 1861, a young Basque couple arrived at Ann Jones’s boarding house in Liverpool’s St Paul’s Square. Ramón de Larrinaga, aged 28, was a master mariner from the small Vizcayan fishing port of Mundaka, on the Urdaibai estuary; his wife, Telesfora de Luzárraga, also from Mundaka was just 21, and they were accompanied by 17-year old Ynés A. Echevarría, probably Telesfora’s maidservant. The 1861 census captures them at the bottom of Mrs Jones’s list of nine boarders, who included a shipwright, a chemist’s assistant, a police officer and another master mariner – an unsurprising combination for this eighteenth-century square just a few hundred yards from Liverpool’s busy waterfront.

Ramón and Telesfora’s appearance on the 1861 census is the first documentary evidence of the Larrinaga family’s arrival in Liverpool; later in the same year, we find a newspaper reference to the firm Messrs Larrinaga of Bath Street, one of whose (English) clerks was accused and later convicted of embezzlement (Liverpool Mercury, 16 Nov. 1861: 5). In the summer of 1862, Ramón dissolved a short-lived sailmaking partnership with A Bertrem and put the company’s Bath Street premises up for rent (Morning Post, 9 Jul. 1862: 7). By August of the same year, he had joined his brother-in-law and fellow sea captain and Mundakan, José Bautista de Longa at 4 Goree Piazzas, José’s existing premises close to the waterfront (Liverpool Daily Post, 29 Aug. 1862: 2).

The collaboration between Ramón and José would become one of the most influential Anglo-Spanish firms of the late nineteenth century: Olano, Larrinaga & Company. Founded together with their fellow Basque, the ship’s chandler José Antonio de Olano, the company began life as a commission agency, merchants’ office and chandlery. Within a year of the company’s foundation, in September 1863, the partners took delivery of their first sailing ship, the 48 ton, Belfast-built clipper Olano, captained initially by Longa and later by Ramón’s brother Florentino de Larrinaga. It would soon be joined by the Feliz (1864), Trinidad (1866), and Cosmopolita (1869). These ships, sailing under the Spanish flag, plied the route between Liverpool and Manila (with occasional trips to Havana), carrying cargoes of gum mastic, hemp, coffee, sapan wood, tobacco and other commodities.

Houses in Shaw Street, Liverpool, by Kirsty Hooper (2009)

During this period, the three founding partners and their families settled in Liverpool, although they made regular visits home to Mundaka. Ramón and Telesfora had seven children during this time, five christened in Liverpool and two in Mundaka: Feliz Ramón (b. 1861), Pilar Telesfora (b. 1863), Concepción Victoria Josefa Juliana (b. 1865), Anselma Josefa Ventura (b. 1868), María Florentina Fermina (b. 1870), Miguel (b. 1873), and Domingo (b. 1875). The 1871 census records all three families living close together in the elegant hillside district of Islington: the Larrinagas at 167 Islington, the Longas at 54 Stafford St, and the Olanos at 79 Shaw St.

The company’s fortunes were transformed with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, which dramatically reduced sailing times to Manila. Beginning with the Buenaventura and Emiliano in 1871, the company invested in a fleet of large, modern steamships, crewed largely by Basque, Galician and Filipino sailors. The Buenaventura, captained by Florentino de Larrinaga, is often celebrated as the first Spanish ship to pass through the Suez Canal, although in fact this honour fell to the Ebro, which passed through some months earlier on its way to Bombay. The Buenaventura, however, did make its maiden passage under the pilotage of the canal’s architect Ferdinand de Lesseps himself, and over the following two years, she and her six sister ships would transit the canal on more than 80 occasions – more than any other Spanish company.

Within a decade, the Larrinaga, Olano and Longa families were at the centre of a thriving Hispanic Liverpool community, drawn principally from the Basque Country, Galicia and the Philippines, and above all from the fishing ports lining the Urdaibai estuary close to the Larrinagas’ home town of Mundaka. Hundreds of Basque, Spanish and Filipino sailors came to the city to work for the company, not only at sea, but also on land. Some brought their families from home, while others married local girls and settled down in the city. Many Basque and Spanish women also travelled to Liverpool, to work as lodging house keepers, domestic servants, shipstore keepers, seamstresses and laundresses. The descendants of many of these families still live in Liverpool today.

As part of the project, we are holding a drop-in afternoon at the Museum of Liverpool, to learn more about the Larrinaga legacy in Liverpool. We’ll be at the Museum on Saturday 2 June from 1-4pm and welcome visitors with questions to ask or stories to tell. Visit our events page to find out more!

KIRSTY HOOPER

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