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The Lester-Garland family, an English-based merchant family, was involved in the Newfoundland fish trade in the second half of the eighteenth century, with primary headquarters in Poole (England) and Trinity (Newfoundland). Like many businesses of the time, the Lester-Garland familial ties were reflected in the Lester-Garland enterprises. The principals in the Lester-Garland family were Benjamin Lester (1724-1802), brother Isaac Garland (1718-1778), son John Lester (d. 1805), son-in-law George Garland (1753-1825), grandsons Benjamin Garland (later Benjamin Lester, died), George Garland Jr. (d.) and John Bingley Garland (1791-1875).
Benjamin Lester (1724-1802) was born in Poole, Dorset, the son of Rachael (Taverner) and Francis Lester. His mother, Rachel, was the daughter of William Tavernor, Bay de Verde (Newfoundland) and his father, a former mayor of Poole, was involved in the Newfoundland trade. Lester married his cousin Susannah, daughter of Jacob Taverner (Trinity). He had six children, including one son, John, who survived him.
Following the death of his father (1737), Benjamin Lester relocated to Newfoundland where he was employed by his uncle, John Masters, a Poole-Newfoundland merchant, and Irish partner Michael Ballard. Lester became an agent for Masters at Trinity. By 1748, he was himself a leading planter and merchant, having received the substantial Trinity fishing premises, "Taverners" from his father-in-law. By the early 1760s, Lester and his brother Isaac were in partnership: Benjamin purchased Newfoundland codfish from planters and fishermen whom he also supplied with fishing gear and provisions; Isaac managed the Poole end of the enterprise by securing vessels, shipping supplies and fishing servants to Newfoundland and marketing incoming cargoes of Newfoundland fish, oil and pelts.
Benjamin Lester returned to Poole in 1767, but he continued to visit Trinity regularly to direct the company's Newfoundland operations. By the early 1770s, the Lesters owned an ocean-going fleet of 12 vessels and established mercantile premises at Trinity, Bonavista, Greenspond, and Tilting. They constructed vessels at Trinity and New Harbour, Trinity Bay, and became involved in the offshore fishery on the Grand Banks as well as the salmon fishery and the cod fishery along the French Shore and the Labrador coast. They also employed large numbers of men in cutting wood, trapping furs, and sealing.
After the death of Isaac Lester in 1778, Benjamin Lester continued the Poole-Newfoundland operations. By 1793, he owned 20 ships, the largest fleet operated by an English-Newfoundland merchant in the eighteenth century. He also accumulated substantial property in Poole, including Mansion House, Stone Cottage and two country estates.
One of the major concerns of Benjamin Lester was the continuation of his company as a family business under the Garland name. Son John had little interest in the Newfoundland trade and no male heirs. Daughter Amy married George Garland (1753-1825), who was employed as Lester's counting-house manager in Poole. As Lester became increasingly involved in British politics in the 1780s and 1790s, Garland assumed more direct responsibility for the trade. By his will, Benjamin Lester left the Newfoundland trade in half shares to his only son John Lester and to George Garland, to be operated as Benjamin Lester and Company. He also arranged that much of his Poole property should go to his eldest grandson, Benjamin Lester Garland (1779-1839), on condition that he would take the Lester surname. Benjamin Lester Garland changed his surname to Lester and received his inheritance, but took no interest in the Newfoundland trade. The firm Benjamin Lester & Company continued until the death of John Lester in 1805 when George Garland assumed control. In 1819, Benjamin Lester was replaced in the firm by his brothers, George Jr. and John Bingley Garland (1791-1875), first Speaker for the Newfoundland House of Assembly.
Sons George Garland Jr. and John Bingley Garland were sent to Trinity to manage the company's Newfoundland assets. In 1821 John returned to Poole where he managed the Poole headquarters until his return to Newfoundland in 1832. Following the retirement of his father (1822) and the departure of George Jr. from the family business (1830) and his death without heir, John Bingley Garland became sole proprietor. He established a partnership with St. John's merchants George R. Robinson and Thomas Brooking. He returned again to Poole following a brief political career, and dissolved his partnership with Robinson and Brooking. The Garland premises at Trinity operated under a variety of names until 1906 when it was purchased by Ryan Brothers (Bonavista).