Tuesday, November 10, 2015

BOISSEVAINS USA | 3A. Robert, Jan, Eugen, Olga (Updated Mar. 26, 2016)

Boissevain & Co. was located at the top of the Whitehall
Building, the big building in the left foreground,
overlooking the piers and NY Harbor. It flourished
in the 1920s. Source: Anne Deterling Boissevain's album.
The following post overlaps with a later one that includes more Boissevains in the USA.

Four of Charles Boissevain's 11 children emigrated to the United States:

Robert Walrave Boissevain was shipping manager for the United Fruit Company and knew the business. He seems to have been the moving force for the New York City firm of Boissevain & Company. He was also the first to emigrate to New York City. His firm became extremely successful in the postwar, 1916-29, era.

Jan Maurits Boissevain assisted Robert by going to Java and negotiating with the coffee growers.

Eugen Boissevain appears to have focused on the selling of the coffee that they imported. He had ideas for delivering milk and fresh coffee at the same time.

How Boissevain & Co. (New York) Worked

Guglielmo Marconi hired Eugen
 and introduced him to Inez, Marconi's
ex-fiancée who became Eugen's wife.
In 1912 Robert W. Boissevain was general European freight and passenger agent of the United Fruit Company in London, where Eugen was working for Guglielmo Marconi. Robert had left Amsterdam, where he had a family with six children. He had problems with his wife that are discussed elsewhere. He first left Holland for London and then moved to New York City.

In 1913, Robert was appointed general traffic manager for United Fruit in New York City, succeeding W. A. Schumacher, who was lured away by a dispatching company. (Source: Exporters' Review - Volume 15, p. 39).

The following year,  Robert W. Boissevain resigned his position as general traffic manager of the United Fruit Co.

The same year, Jan Maurits Boissevain, his brother, went to Java to look at coffee farms.

At this time, we know that Eugen was in the business of importing tobacco from Turkey, and he was not doing terribly well given shipping problems on the Atlantic, a topic of discussion with his father-in-law John E. Milholland.

Eugen eventually joined his brothers in the business of importing coffee from the Dutch West Indies, and after Inez's death in 1916 this business began to be extremely successful. During the 1917-23 period, Eugen purchased a house on St. Luke's Place with space he rented to Max Eastman and Charlie Chaplin. Robert stayed there in 1921.

By the 1920s, the brothers became very wealthy. Eugen said once he couldn't believe why people would pay so much for the coffee that he bought so cheaply. One answer is that through his Dutch family connections he had access to the Java coffee supply, which wasn't so available to non-Dutch people.

M.S. Boissevain (1937), plying trade routes to
the Dutch West Indies and East Asia.
In February 1922 Boissevain & Co. moved into the Whitehall Building, overlooking New York Harbor. They were first in Rooms 2627 and 2628, on the 26th floor. In 1928 they moved up two floors and took six rooms – 2826 through 2831.

Their expansion in 1928 was their peak. Wally van Hall came to New York City in August 1929 and expected to get a job in shipping. It may have been with Boissevain & Co.

The October 1929  stock market crash meant huge losses for the company and its value. The company continued during the Great Depression but its profitability was reduced. Eugen describes himself as retiring from the business in 1929. World War 2 disrupted supply lines and after that  the Dutch gave up their Indonesian colony. Under Sukarno, it became harder for Dutch traders to make as much money.

Boissevain & Co. continued, but its best days were over. Robert spent his time on his chicken farm and Eugen devoted himself primarily to looking after Edna (who had several addictions) and booking her speaking engagements.

See photo from 1937 of one of their ships, the M.S. Boissevain.

Personal History of Robert W[alrave] Boissevain

Robert Boissevain was born March 12, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. His father was Charles Boissevain, editor of the Algemeen Handelsblad and his mother was Emily Heloïse MacDonnell, the Irish rose among the tulips as my mother called her.

For ten years, Robert was with the Dutch Navy, honorably discharged in 1900 as a Luitenant-ter-zee. After discharge he married Ethel Rose (Rosie) Phibbs (1875-1937) on September 25, 1900, in West Brompton, London, England. From 1900 to 1905 he was buying agent for J. Daendels & Co., Batavia, Dutch East Indies, where the first three of their six children were born.

He had six children by Rosie Phibbs: Theo[dora] Jacoba, b. August 14, 1901, Batavia (West-Java), d. January 31, 1958, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Cornelius Alfred, b. 28 December 28, 1902, Semarang, d. June 24, 1963. Frederick William, b. September 13, 1904, Batavia, d. June 23, 1943, Canada. Hester (Hes), b. October 23, 1905, Naarden, d. February 18, 1999, Zoetermeer, Netherlands. Adrienne, b. April 27, 1908, Amsterdam, Netherlands, d. February 23, 1988. Kathleen, b. September 27, 1909, Blaricum, Netherlands, d. August 26, 1930, Singapore.

From 1905 on he was a Director of Labouchere, Oyens & Co., Bankers, Amsterdam. In about 1912, he left Amsterdam and lived in London, separating from and then divorcing Rosie Phibbs. From London he went to New York. He worked first in New York City, then – after accumulating some capital in the shipping business – moved upstate to create a chicken farm.

His second wife was Anne Willemina Deterling, May 27, 1919; they were married in Brooklyn, N.Y. They had two children - Robert Fergus, b. November 27, 1920, Paris, France, d. May 5, 1997, Florida. Alfred Gideon Jeremie (Al), b. February 7, 1923, New York, N.Y.; living now in Bloomington, Ind.

From 1908 to 1912 Robert was Director, Royal West Indies Maildienst ald. 1912-14. He was General Manager, United Fruit Company, New York, N.Y.  from 1915 to1918. He was a Director of Boissevain & Co. in Soerabaja, Dutch East Indies. In 1918 he became a Director of Kerr Steamship Co., New York, N.Y. 1921-1930; Directeur, Comp. Commerciale Nord-Americaine, Paris, 1921-38; and President, United Steam Navigation Co., New York, N.Y. He died April 23, 1938 in Montreal, Canada.

Letter from Rosie Phibbs
Robert W. Boissevain with three daughters,
Kathleen, Hes and Attie. Source: Anne
Deterling Boissevain's album.

Posted below is an unusual letter that is being posted for the family for the first time 95 years later, because of the emotional nature of the content.

At the last Boissevain Reunion in Holland, I met some of the descendants of Robert (Robby) Walrave Boissevain (1872-1938) and Rosie Phibbs (1875-1937). They seemed still resentful of the fact that Robert left his wife Rosie and their six children behind in Holland and moved to England and then to the United States in search of a new career and a new life.

This letter may help bring closure.

Robert told my mother, his niece, many years later when she was visiting him on his chicken farm in Essex County, N.Y.

He told her that he still felt the weight of having left his children in Holland. I wrote down my mother's quote from her uncle at the time, and I believe I posted it many years ago. It was to the effect:
I have made a good life in the United States, but, oh! What anguish I left behind!
His children by Rosie seem to have remained in communication with him. I found a good photo of him with his three youngest daughters in Anne Deterling Boissevain's album that I have posted above.

My mother said that Robert got into a spiraling contest with Rosie, who took her case to the court of public opinion in Holland and won, but meanwhile lost Robert as he escaped by leaving Holland. This would have been after the birth of his sixth child. Robert told my mother that his mother Emily never said a harsh word to him about his having left Rosie and Holland – even though, my mother told me, Robert and Rosie's children were Emily's favorites because they were the most Irish.

In the interest of providing a better understanding of Robert and Rosie to his grandchildren and their descendants, I am posting here a letter from Rosie to Robert that is among papers entrusted to me to disseminate when I think the time is ready, as best as I am able.

The letter is dated December 15. It appears to have been written in 1920, the year when Robert Fergus was born by Anne Deterling. In the letter she congratulates Robert on having found Anne and wishes the best for their "wee son" Robert Fergus (1920-1997). Rosie died in 1937, and Robert died a year later.

I think this letter puts both Rosie and Robert in a better light than do the bare facts of his flight from paternity. Here are the first and fourth pages:

If someone wants to type this up I will post a typed version, but the letter's penmanship is itself of some beauty and the way the letter is written shows the intensity of the emotion of forgiveness that Rosie must have been feeling when she wrote it. Here are pages 2 and 3.


Wally van Hall came to New York in August 1929: Aad van Hall, his son, email to Charles (twin of Hester) Boissevain, March 2016.

Letter from Rosie Phibbs to Robert Boissevain: Anne Deterling Boissevain's album.

© 2015, 2016 by JT Marlin.  This is part of a book in the pipeline.

No comments:

Post a Comment