CRUICKSHANK, ROBERT, silversmith, merchant, office holder, and militia officer; b. c. 1748, probably in Aberdeen, Scotland; d. at sea 16 April 1809.
The paucity of sources has led to various hypotheses about Robert Cruickshank’s origins; according to the most plausible one he was born in Aberdeen, where the family name was common. Cruickshank appears to have learned the silversmith’s craft in the British Isles. He may have visited the United States: an Alexander Crouckeshanks, who came from London, opened a silversmith’s shop in Boston in 1768; it is conceivable that he was one of Robert’s relatives and that Robert worked with him. Whatever the case, by 1773 Cruickshank was settled in Montreal. A year later he signed a petition to the king asking for the restoration of habeas corpus and trial by jury in civil suits, which had been abolished that year by the Quebec Act.
By 1782 Cruickshank was solidly established in business. He owned a house on Rue Notre-Dame, next to the former prison; his resources and the volume of his affairs made it possible to undertake building and renovation on a large scale. To his property he added a shop measuring 23 feet by 12, with an impressive “forge chimney.” Thus, just as Ignace-François Delezenne* had done in 1758 and Pierre Huguet, dit Latour, would do in 1803, Cruickshank progressed from a craftsman’s shop in his own house to an enterprise requiring premises separate from his private residence, in which to install a workshop and store. These three were the only silversmiths in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to make the transition. The change was not wholly fortuitous: they were forced into it by the phenomenal volume of orders for trade silver. In moving from the status of craftsman to that of bourgeois they had to provide a workshop and suitable tools for their numerous apprentices and journeymen. Their large clientele also had to have access to adequate premises – hence the store.
Judging by his partnerships with other craftsmen and the number of apprentices he took on, Cruickshank led a busy professional life. A soup-tureen in the museum of the church of Notre-Dame in Montreal, which bears the marks of Cruickshank and Jacques Varin*, dit La Pistole, suggests that the two silversmiths collaborated. In 1777–78 Cruickshank seems to have had Michael Arnoldi as an apprentice; they later became partners. The firm of Cruickshank and Arnoldi, which may have used the mark CA, was not finally dissolved until 1789. In 1790–91 Cruickshank was in contact with the silversmith Jean-Henry Lerche, whose mark JHL imitated the style of writing in the mark RC. Cruickshank seems to have gone into partnership with Peter Arnoldi around 1793–94, for a tea service in the Henry Birks Collection bears their respective marks. Cruickshank was also connected with clockmakers, jewellers, and engravers: his “good old friend” John Lumsden until 1802; Charles Irish, who had been hired in London in 1803 for a three-year period; and perhaps Charles Arnoldi, Michael’s brother, who is believed to have replaced Irish. In addition to silverware, therefore, his store carried clocks, jewellery, trinkets, and hardware, and certainly included many objects imported from England. Cruickshank took on the following apprentice silversmiths in turn: Michel Roy in 1791 for six years, Frédéric Delisle in 1795 for seven years, René Blache in 1796 for four years, Peter Bohle, son of the silversmith Charles-David Bohle, in 1800 for seven years, and Narcisse Auclair in 1805 for seven years. (Auclair’s apprenticeship papers were transferred to Nathan Starns, his brother-in-law and guardian, on 16 Oct. 1807.)
Cruickshank belonged to the Montreal group of silversmiths. There was a clear division between this group and the one in Quebec: the former were businessmen, the latter primarily craftsmen. The marks of François Ranvoyzé, Laurent Amiot*, and François Sasseville* belonged to craftsmen who did their own work; Cruickshank’s and Huguet’s can be called studio marks, because an associate, journeyman or apprentice, may have made the piece. With the Quebec silversmiths it is possible to follow the logical evolution of the craftsman’s style, but study of the Montreal group becomes very complicated, since ten pieces of work bearing the same mark may have been executed by as many different silversmiths. Furthermore Cruickshank seems to have put his mark on imported objects. Nevertheless his work, which is characterized by refinement, shows greater homogeneity than does Huguet’s. That was an inevitable consequence of their respective training: Cruickshank was a professional silversmith, but Huguet was a wig maker who became a silversmith overnight around 1780.
In addition to conducting his trade Cruickshank served as a banker, issuing promissory notes and lending money at interest. He proved a skilful, well-organized, meticulous administrator. Towards the end of his career he was, moreover, active mainly as a merchant. His full professional life was matched by an intense social one that gave him a place among the important people of Montreal. He made a contribution to the paving of the Place du Marché in 1785–86 and to the Agriculture Society in 1791. He held the office of justice of the peace (1795–1809) and served in the militia, first as a lieutenant (1788–97) and then as a captain (1800–9), in the town’s 1st Militia Battalion. As a magistrate he signed a petition to Sir Robert Shore Milnes* for the reconstruction of the Montreal prison, burned in 1803. His name also appears on the list of founders of Christ Church in 1805 [see Jehosaphat Mountain]. Although less is known of his private life, he associated with the English-speaking élite, particularly James McGill, Edward William and Jonathan Abraham Gray, Joseph Frobisher, and Stephen Sewell*.
In August 1789 Cruickshank married Ann Kay, a widow with eight children; she died the following year. His only daughter, Elizabeth, married the merchant Arthur Webster in 1803, at which date the couple were both of age. Webster quickly won his father-in-law’s confidence. Just before leaving for Great Britain in October 1807, Cruickshank left him full power of attorney to run all his business affairs “wherever they are in Upper or Lower Canada or the United States of America.” The exact reasons for his trip are not known, but both business matters and his private life were probably involved. No doubt Cruickshank had to import many articles from London suppliers. During his return voyage in 1809 he died on board the Eweretta.
All of Cruickshank’s estate must have gone automatically to his daughter and son-in-law; thus there was no inventory after his death, which would have been of considerable value. It may be hazarded, however, that he owned a very large business, comparable to Huguet’s. In addition there were certainly numerous properties, including a piece of land bought after the Château de Vaudreuil burned in 1803. But his departure in October 1807 had already marked the end of the career of one of Lower Canada’s most important silversmiths who had initiated a profound change in both the product and its marketing. He had introduced a new treatment and a new aesthetics that met with great success and enabled his production to compete with contemporary English and American work. With him the silversmith’s craft in the colony had moved away from French influence into the British tradition.
ANQ-M, CE1-63, 14 Aug. 1789, 12 Dec. 1790; CN1-16, 13 déc. 1802; CN1-29, 2 Sept. 1786, 17 Feb. 1789, 11 Sept. 1795; CN1-121, 2 nov. 1796; CN1-128, 1er juin 1801, 20 déc. 1803; CN1-184, 14 Aug. 1789; CN1-185, 31 Dec. 1800; 21 Sept. 1803; 7 Jan. 1804; 4 Nov. 1805; 15 Oct. 1806; 9, 16 Oct. 1807; CN1-313, 19 avril 1782; 21 janv., 6 sept. 1791. MAC-CD, Fonds Morisset, 2, C958.8/R639. PAC, RG 8, I (C ser.), 77: 101–6a. Quebec Gazette, 14 Oct. 1784, 22 June 1809. Quebec almanac, 1791, 1795–1809. Robert Derome, Les orfèvres de la Nouvelle-France, inventaire descriptif des sources (Ottawa, 1974); “Delezenne, les orfèvres, l’orfèvrerie, 1740–1790”