One of High Street’s notable residents in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century was the merchant George Garland who owned the house formerly belonging to John Masters (now Nos. 109-113). Born in 1753, he was the son of a successful yeoman farmer in East Chaldon and came to Poole to set up as a corn factor with his elder brother, Joseph. The thriving trade between Poole and Newfoundland meant that there was a great demand for bread to supply the ships and the settlements. In 1779, George married Amy Lester, daughter of Benjamin Lester, the leading Newfoundland merchant trading out of Poole at the time. Lester owned a fleet of ships, and extensive property on both sides of the Atlantic. His only surviving son, John Lester, had poor health and did not play a very active part in the business. George became an employee of the Lester company, travelling widely on the continent to purchase supplies and arrange the sale of cargoes. He was also Mayor of Poole in 1788.
I am not sure when the Garlands acquired their High Street house. After John Masters’ death in 1755, it was occupied by his widow, Sarah who died in 1762. The house was then inherited by John’s niece and her husband, George Olive who were living there at least as late as 1777. By 1800 it was owned and occupied by George and Amy Garland. The couple had eleven children. Perhaps because of his large and growing family, George never travelled to Newfoundland himself but he made sure that all his sons had a thorough grounding in the trade. His eldest son, Benjamin Lester Garland went out to Trinity (the headquarters of the Lester/Garland business in Newfoundland) to learn all about the trade. In 1799, he was captured at sea by the French and spent some time in captivity in Bordeaux. Of George’s other sons, Joseph Gulston Garland entered the navy and rose to become a rear-admiral. Joseph’s twin Francis Penton Garland managed a Poole based iron and timber business which was part of the Lester empire. Another son, Lester died at the age of fifteen while learning the trade out in Leghorn.
In 1801, George followed his father-in-law in becoming Poole’s Member of Parliament, keeping the seat until 1807. In Parliament he took an independent line and was a cautious supporter of Parliamentary reform. He also sought promotion for his son in the navy. Benjamin Lester died in 1802 and George Garland inherited half of the business. Shortly after, John Lester was knighted by George III for delivering a loyal address on the occasion of peace with France, but he did not enjoy his new status for long. In 1805, Sir John died in Bath and the whole of the Lester Newfoundland estate plus most of their property in England came to the Garland family. In accordance with his grandfather’s will, George’s eldest son, Benjamin changed his last name to Lester, becoming Benjamin Lester Lester. He was not a natural businessman and to his father’s disappointment, refused a partnership in the company. In 1809, George secured his election as M.P. for Poole a role which probably suited him better.
The war with France, which had resumed in 1803, provided both risks and opportunities to the merchants. George Garland was an excellent businessman and made high profits, particularly between 1809 and 1815, adding to the family wealth.
After the Battle of Waterloo brought the war to an end, conditions in the trade changed abruptly. Foreign competition entered the market once more, fish prices plummeted and Poole merchants who were supporting large establishments in Newfoundland found themselves struggling to compete. By clever management George Garland continued to make a profit but began to reduce his involvement in the trade by selling ships and giving up fishing rooms in Newfoundland. As an investment and to provide for his family, he bought country estates, Stone Cottage near Wimborne and Leeson House at Langton Matravers. A taxation list of 1811 shows that the Garland High Street house was then occupied by Isaac Steel, the son-in-law of Samuel Rolles (the builder of nearby Beech Hurst). George’s brother, Joseph Garland still lived in High Street, probably at No 125.
In 1817, two more of George Garland’s sons, John Bingley and George junior were made partners in the company. They had both served an apprenticeship in branches of the trade in London, Lisbon and Trinity and shown aptitude for business. John Bingley Garland was to be elected to the Newfoundland House of Assembly in 1832 and served as its first Speaker. In 1822, George Garland was nearly 70 and decided to give up control of the company to his younger partners, although he still remained involved. He also continued to take part in public affairs and served as High Sheriff of Dorset. His charities included the Garland Almshouses at Hunger Hill which he had donated to the town in 1814.
George Garland died in 1825 as a result of a coach accident near Wimborne, having dominated business and public life in Poole for decades. Many of his sons also served on the Corporation and as Mayor. The Garlands gradually withdrew from the Newfoundland trade although they kept a connection through the London company of Robinson, Brooking and Garland. Benjamin Lester Lester inherited the High Street house from his father and continued as an M.P. until 1835. He died in Paris in 1838.