Edward J Law (2013)
The name David Shelleman does not figure large in Kilkenny history. He was one of the multitude of ‘ordinary’ citizens who have left little or no mark, just a part of city life in the eighteenth century.
He comes to notice through references in Finn’s Leinster Journal newspaper over 240 years ago. Noticed first is an advertisement which records that he had opened a shop opposite the Tholsel in High Street, having previously kept a standing at the market cross in Kilkenny. This is interesting in documenting a common process in the development of a retail business. A new trader could commence activities on a market-stall, with the minimum of overheads, and, as a clientele was built up, progress to a shop in the same area.
The advertisement goes on to list in great detail a host of items which David had in stock. He concludes his list of some 60 articles with the note “together with several other article in the dealing way too tedious to insert”. This after he had listed a dozen types of handkerchiefs. Among the fabrics were linens, lawns, cambricks, muslins, poplins, calimancoes and gauzes. He stocked worsted and yarn stockings, cottons suitable for gowns and waistcoats and bed ticken. In the hardware line he could supply scithes and scithe stones, reaping hooks, shears and scissors, knives and razors, horse flames and lancets. Among his haberdashery he had garters, pins, needles, threads, tapes and laces. An essential fashion accessory of the time were buckles which he could supply for knee, stock and shoe.
As well as giving extensive lists of his stock David made it clear that he was a dealer. He would take a profit wherever it was to be found. As well as selling geese feathers he sought to buy all manner of feathers and quills and promised highest prices for old gold, silver, brass and pewter. Animal skins were utilised extensively in the 18th century not only for clothing, but for cushions and pumps, and David required calf, lamb, kid, goat, otter, fox and martin’s skins. Other requirements were buck-horns, bees-wax, horse-hair and pigs brushes. Basic items among his stock, as they were no doubt among those of any general dealer, were tea and sugar and writing paper.
The advertisement, which appeared on 5th July 1769, was followed a month later by an announcement of David’s marriage
9th August 1769. Married, last Thursday, at Garrynaman, Near Kells, Mr David Shelleman of this city, merchant, to Miss Anne Comerford, daughter to Mr Richard Comerford of said place, an agreeable young girl with a handsome fortune.
It must have been a period of great excitement for David. The launch of a new trading venture, with prospects that he might someday join the ranks of the great commercial figures of the city, and, sharing the excitement a new, young wife whose fortune, we may suppose, would be of great benefit in the establishment and expansion of the new shop.
How quickly fortunes can change! A week later the newspaper which had carried the joyful news of the marriage had to record the mournful news of their parting:
16th August 1769. Died, last Friday, Mrs Anne Shelleman, wife of Mr David Shelleman of High Street, merchant.
If that devastation were not enough a few months later his resolution was again called on. In April 1770 his creditors announced the sale of his stock in trade, and it seems that the new enterprise on which he had embarked less than nine months earlier was at an end.
Thus David Shelleman comes into our view and passes from it. History; over 240 years ago, but poignant none the less.