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The Hudson's Bay Company

Formed in 1670, the Hudson's Bay Company held a monopoly over trade in the region around Hudson's Bay in Canada.

Founded by Prince Rupert - a cousin to King Charles II - and 17 other noblemen and gentlemen, the "Company of Adventurers", as they preferred to be known, were granted a Royal Charter by Charles II of England to "exploit sole trade and commerce" at the mouth of the Hudson Strait.

In its vast territory - eventually known as Rupert's Land - the company had the power to establish and enforce laws, erect forts, maintain ships of war, and to make peace or war with native peoples.

After an unpromising beginning and parliamentary threats to revoke its charter, the company became hugely profitable.

The British conquest of Canada in 1763 resolved conflicts with the French over the fur trade and made the company's territories accessible from the south as well as from the sea. In 1783 a group of speculators formed the North West Fur Company of Montréal and competed fiercely with the Hudson's Bay Company. Eventually, in 1821, the two great companies merged creating a combined territory that extended to the Arctic Ocean to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

In 1859, however, the trade monopoly was abolished.

In 1870 the company's territories were acquired by the Dominion of Canada in return for an indemnity of £300,000 and a land grant of 2,835,000 hectares - about seven million acres.

Parts of the company's once vast land empire were sold, the income from these sales added to the assets of the company for enterprises in new fields including a steamship line and department stores.

The Stromness connection

Orkney had strong links with Hudson's Bay Trading Company.

From the company's early days, their ships regularly called into Stromness for supplies and to hire labour - an important source of employment for the islanders was the "Nor-Wast" and from around 1702 the company recruited in Stromness.

In 1791 they appointed David Geddes, a Stromness merchant, as their local agent.

By this time - the late eighteenth century - three-quarters of the Hudson's Bay Company workforce in Canada were Orcadians. In 1799, of the 530 men working in the Hudson's Bay Company post in North America, 416 were from Orkney.

Such was the draw of the Nor-Wast, and the subsequent drain of resources from the islands, that not all Orcadians welcomed the company.

Writing in the Old Statistical Account, for Orphir, the Reverend Francis Liddell complained:

"Instead of offering an honourable service to their King and country, or staying at home to cultivate their lands, and protect their wives, their children, and their parents, for the sum of £6 per annum hire themselves out for slaves in a savage land."

Hudson's Bay ships watered and took on stores in Stromness until the early 1900s.

At the south end of the Stromness' single winding street is Login's Well. This watering hole supplied water to ships calling at the port but was sealed in 1931.

A stone by the well bears an inscription proclaiming that water from the well was used to supply Captain Cook's Discovery and Sir John Franklin's arctic exploration vessels as well as the ships of the Hudson Bay.

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