Saturday Story 25: Trader Fred
The news came on a blustery winter afternoon, and it was not good. Yet another shipment had reached Cuba, but the cargo was not saleable. Well, some of it was, but not enough to make a profit. Frederick Tudor stared out of his window, at the children skating with abandon on a pond of ice, and sighed.
“Only an idiot would get into a business such as this. ’Tis madness,” his father had pronounced, with finality.
Indeed, it was madness for any Tudor to turn his back on Harvard University, where the family name was all that was needed for admission. A comfortable life as a man of letters, with a graceful wife to produce little Fredericks and Francescas – what more could a man ask for. Well, apparently, this young chap had his own ideas.
He tried to reason with his father, for in his mind’s eye it was as clear as day. Where there is a demand, there must be supply. Why is no one else in this line of business? Well, it has some risk for sure, but show me a man who has made a fortune, sitting comfortably in his armchair. Perhaps the wrong thing to say, under the circumstances…
For Frederick Tudor Sr was actually seated in a leather high-back, in his wood-panelled library, smoking an expensive cigar. At that instant, the son realised, he would not get a penny from his father. Never mind, he will live to regret it. I am going to make a great deal of money. I know it! I am sure of it!! And yet… the debts were piling up.
“You are under arrest, Frederick Tudor, for failing to fulfil your fiduciary obligations,” pronounced the court, later that year.
The cell was bleak and airless. No one came to visit for he was – quite literally – the laughing stock of Boston. As he stirred watery gruel in a battered tin plate, Frederick Tudor reflected. Was he a fraudster, like the majority in the prison? No, for he had never set out to cheat anyone. There were more obstacles on the path, than he had anticipated but he knew, in his bones.
My vision is grand but it is achievable.
A year later, Frederick Tudor walked out of prison with his head held high. He summoned his trusted foreman and put forth the problem in front of him. ’Tis difficult but not impossible, let us together find the way. Day and night they wrestled with it, experimented with new forms of packaging. Finally, a way was transport to transport the goods with minimal spoilage.
Ten years to the day he embarked on this mad adventure, Frederick Tudor was running a profitable business. Shipping a precious commodity native to New England to the Caribbean. Over the years, the business grew and grew. Raw material was plentiful, production was bountiful. But life had become rather dull and steady.
That’s when the ever-restless Frederick discovered a neat little side gig – speculating on coffee futures. It was as much for the thrill, as for the money, of which he made a considerable sum.
Until, one fine day, his luck ran out.
“You owe us ‘alf a million,” the broker said. “Pay up or else…”
The prospect of another prison stint did not sit well with the portly gent who liked to nurse his whisky each evening. He had to raise the money, and quick. That’s when fellow Bostonian Samuel Austin came up with a proposal. He had an agent in a virgin territory who was ready handle the
shipment. If Tudor would supply the goods, that is. In Calcutta, 16,000 miles away.
The foreman scratched his chin and said, “The voyage’ll take 4 months!”
It was a risk, a big, big one. But one shipment would wipe out his entire debt. Besides, the bigger the challenge, the more it fired up ol’ Frederick. And so, using the best packaging material possible, the SS Tuscany sailed out of Boston harbour. With 180 tonnes of an item that was a rare luxury, even for the maharajas.
On September 13, 1833, the SS Tuscany sailed down the Ganges, into Calcutta harbour, to be greeted by a large crowd. Some were prospective buyers, others simply onlookers. They had heard the rumours but didn’t believe it. No until they saw it with their very own eyes. When the hold was opened, the crowd gasped.
“I must touch it and see if it’s real,” said a local, lunging forward. His hand recoiled from the unfamiliar substance, as if burnt. Wild clapping and cheering followed. Anyone who was someone wanted a chip off the old block. Of 180 tonnes shipped from Boston, 100 tonnes had arrived, safe and sound. Enough to make Frederick Tudor a huge pile of cash.
“Ah, this is the life,” said the burra sahib at the Calcutta Club that evening, swirling his whisky on the rocks. Thanks to the Tudor company. Whose sole business was shipping ice.
Harvested free of cost from the freshwater ponds of Massachussetts, carefully packed in industrial sawdust. ’Twas madness for sure, but a glorious madness.
Because when Frederick Tudor stared out of his window, at the children skating with abandon on a pond of ice, he saw what no one else did. A goldmine.
Truth or fiction? You tell me 🙂