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José Romero aka Joseph Rosemary (1822-1863)


Mount Teide, Tenerife (Canary Islands)


José Romero was one of the earliest residents of what would become Liverpool's thriving Hispanic waterfront community. Born in the Canary Islands, he had arrived in Liverpool by 1850, when his first child was born. His family name, Romero, is the Spanish word for Rosemary, and Catholic priests in Liverpool sometimes recorded the English version in the family's birth, marriage, and death records. We can't tell, today, whether that was the priests' misunderstanding, or José's own initiative - he did describe himself as an 'interpreter,' after all!

We know relatively little about José's life in Liverpool, but he seems to have had connections among both Spanish and Irish families. His wife, Catherine O'Brien, was born in Ireland in 1831. They had at least 6 sons, almost all of whom were given Spanish names: Joseph Francis (1851-1883), Emanuel Angelo (1852-1911), Christopher Gregory (1854-1894), Francis Valentine (1858-1870), Bernard Conception (1860-1866), Ignacio Cosme (1861- aft.1914). A daughter, Rachel, died as a baby in 1863. Most of the children had Spanish godfathers and Irish godmothers, perhaps reflecting their parents' respective social networks.

José lived on Drury Lane, in the heart of the old waterfront community. In 1851, we find him at no.32, described as a 'cooper' - which may well have been his original trade, as several of his children state this as his profession on their marriage certificates. However, it is likely that he and Catherine were also running a sailors' boarding house, since their household on census night included ten Spanish and Portuguese sailors. Ten years later, in 1861, the family are at no. 26 (which may be the same property, differently numbered), now with only two boarders, both Spanish master mariners. José is described as an 'Interpreter,' which probably means he worked at the docks or for waterfront businesses, interpreting between Spanish and English workers, sailors and merchants.

José appears to have been something of an entrepreneur, albeit not a terribly successful one. In 1853, the Liverpool Mercury recorded that he had left his role as a partner in J Romero, J Meads, and T Sampson, ship chandlers (15 March 1853). The following year, he and Antonia [sic] Gallindo, described as 'freighters, Drury-lane', went to court to try to recover £50 they were owed by the shipowner Thomas Prestopino. Apparently, Gallindo and Romero owned a steam-tug, the Royal Tar, which had gone to the assistance of the passengers of a stricken ferryboat belonging to Prestopino, losing a commission of their own in the process. Prestopino had refused to compensate them, and they were demanding a payment of £50. The judge was sympathetic, but felt £50 was exorbitant for 'what appeared to be about an hour and a half's work', so awarded Gallindo and Romero a payment of £10 10s (LIverpool Mercury, 17 Feb 1854).

A few years later, we find José running an unspecified pub on Atherton St, which ran N-S between Paradise St and South Castle St (where Liverpool One now stands). In 1858, José found himself on the other side of the law, accused of Sunday selling. His defence was that 'the person who was seen to have been served begged some whiskey, as he was sick, and paid no money for it,' but this time the judge was not sympathetic, and he was fined 10s (Liverpool Daily Post, 18 Sep 1858). The case seems to have put José off the beer trade temporarily, as the Liverpool Mercury for 1 April 1859 records that he had transferred the license for the Atherton St premises to one Santiago Francisco. He was soon back at it though, at least briefly - a later license transfer to one Alexander Morris, due to take place in January 1862, was withdrawn when 'no person appeared' (Liverpool Daily Post, 10 Jan 1862).

José Romero died in 1863 at the early age of 42 and was buried at St Oswald's cemetery in Old Swan. His widow, Catherine, disappears from the record after his death, and I can find no further mention of her. Of his surviving children, Bernard died in 1866 at the age of six, and Francis, who lived at the Boys' Home on St Anne's St, in 1870. The remaining sons married and settled in Liverpool, including Joseph junior, who followed in his father's footsteps and, before his own early death in 1883, was landlord of the Duke's Vaults public house on the corner of Orford St and Wapping, in the heart of the now booming Hispanic waterfront community.