Did you know that a Guernseyman is credited with transforming Costa Rica from the poorest country in Central America to the wealthiest in just 20 years?
William Le Lacheur, a Guernsey sea captain, is accredited for playing an important role in the economic and spiritual development of Costa Rica. He did this by establishing a direct trade route for Costa Rican coffee growers to the European market.
Born on 15 October, the 3rd of five children, William was baptized Guillaume Le Lacheur (after his maternal grandfather) in Forest Church in 1803 and educated at the Forest School. His early years were spent working on the family farm in La Corbiere however farming didn’t suit young William so he decided to follow in his maternal grandfather’s footsteps and go to sea to earn a living.
Aged 25, William worked his way up to captain his first ship, the 111 tonne, twin masted St Geroge. Ships of this size were plying routes between England and the Mediterranean, Spain, Madeira or the Balearic Islands to meet the demand for fresh fruit.
William married local girl Rachel Le Messurier de Jersey in the Forest Church, and like his parents had five surviving children.
William partnered with Captain Grace, a good friend and experienced sailor, to form the Le Lacheur & Co. Shipping Company which owned two ships: Minerva and Dart.
Built in Guernsey by James Sebire and commanded by William, the barque Monarch was launched – a much larger vessel capable of journeys further afield. William set sail for the Americas where he learned of about the difficulties Costa Rican coffee growers were having in finding a market for their produce due to transportation problems – mountains and forest – making it very difficult to get the coffee to the Atlantic coast. The Monarch was capable of travelling around the treacherous seas of Cape Horn to get to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
William sailed into the Pacific port of Puntarenas in Costa Rica and met with the coffee producers and agreed to provide a regular service to take their coffee to London.
Loaded with a full cargo of coffee: 5,505 quintals (1,211,100 lbs) in 4,393 bags, William landed the Monarch in London on the 19th of October, as was paid for the coffee in barrels of silver sixpences amounting to 36,700 pesos. William made history by being the first direct importer of coffee from Costa Rica. This direct trade allowed Costa Rican coffee to reach the European market in less than 40 days, compared to the 90 days it took via the traditional route through New York.
At the request of the Costa Rican government, William used the profits from selling the coffee on subsequent voyages to buy goods such as furniture, sewing machines, farm machinery, coffee production items and textiles which improved coffee production. This in turn raised the overall standard of living.
William, a devout Christian, described Costa Rica as a ‘poverty stricken and superstitious’ society. He introduced the Protestant faith into Costa Rica by contacting the British and Foreign Bible Society to obtain and distribute Spanish language Bibles.
Le Lacheur & Co. commissioned James Sebire for the construction of 5 ships designed especially for the coffee trade: Costa Rica (1850); Esperanza (1851); America (1852); Times (1854) and Costa Rica Packet (1861)
Having plundered Nicaragua, William Walker, the Yankee Filibuster and self-appointed president of Nicaragua, tried to invade Costa Rica but was being held back by the dense jungle. William had ordered his ships to be on standby and help the Costa Rican President if needed. His ships the Times, the Costa Rica and the Esperanza quickly transported the Costa Rican army to the border where they were able to successfully defend their country.
At the age of 55, William Le Lacheur retired from the sea and moved from Guernsey to a house in Camden Town, London, with his wife and family.
A further 7 ships were added to the fleet.
William passed away on 27 June and was laid to rest in Highgate Cemetery, London.
The year after his death, the first Protestant church was built in Costa Rica (carried to Costa Rica by his son John) – named the Church of the Good Shepherd but known as the ‘Iron Church’ as it was built out of pre-fabricated iron. The church was rebuilt in 1937 on the original site.
William Le Lacheur’s efforts revolutionised the Costa Rican coffee industry, making it one of the country’s most important exports. Today, Costa Rican coffee is known for its high quality and Le Lacheur’s contribution to the industry is still celebrated…..banknotes and stamps depicting his ships were circulated in the 19th and 20th century.
For more information about William Le Lacheur visit http://museums.gov.gg/lelacheur