The difficult road to success through the apprenticeship of Antoine Baumgartner (1832-1856)

      We have, for the middle of the 19th century, the rare testimony of a young Genevan apprentice named Antoine Baumgartner placed abroad by his father to do an apprenticeship in the trade. This atypical life course is nothing more than a particular illustration of general phenomena. More precisely, this testimony highlights a cluster of problems: the arrival of new elites, bourgeois pressure on children, the importance of family networks for education, are all subjects present in this micro-history excerpt. We believe that the richness of this testimony deserves an important place in this chapter.

      Antoine Baumgartner (1832-1856) is particularly well known to us thanks to rich family archives, well preserved and still unexploited.  But the reader will probably be surprised to find below a long presentation of the Baumgartner family, which is neither a family of bankers nor a family of rich merchants. Antoine Baumgartner's experience is symptomatic and perfectly illustrates the secondary education abroad for an honorable position. The archives of this family highlight the journey of the young son of the family in search of training. Moreover, although the Baumgartner family does not directly touch the business world of the 19th century, it is part of the elite, as a bourgeoisie of Geneva. Finally, Antoine Baumgartner is none other than the son of Dr. Baumgartner, who is a 19th century Geneva personality, politically engaged, and a fine observer known for his polemical publications.(ed - "A Refutation of Radicalism", 1847, and "Persepolis: essays on the improvement of the city of Geneva", 1873.)  In fact, Antoine Baumgartner found himself in a situation that bears many similarities to that of Alexandre Prévost, almost 40 years earlier. Both came from a bourgeois family, without great fortune, whose father was installed in a respectable profession, but which was not a vector of wealth, if not intellectual. If the desires are the same (to embrace a profession linked to banking and commerce), the destinies of the two young men are quite different.

      In the summer of 1848, when he was only 16 years old, Antoine Baumgartner was placed by his father as an apprentice with the Moilliet family in England, relatives of the Baumgartners. Behind this harmless event, there is a particularly interesting family network, and an exciting individual trajectory, entirely turned towards paternal aspirations, which we will highlight. Beforehand, it is necessary to place the different protagonists who played a direct or indirect role in Antoine's formation. We will therefore draw up a quick overview of the Baumgartner family and its ally Moilliet, before talking in more detail about Antoine's apprenticeship.  The apprentice sent to England is his son, also named Antoine. (To avoid confusion in this paper, we shall call his father, b. 1803, 'Doctor Baumgartner'.)    

Genealogical Diagram : Baumgartner and Moilliet family trees before 1856

The Baumgartner family

    The Baumgartner family originated from Liestal in the canton of Basel.  Since Johannes, the family has mainly consisted of doctors, a profession passed down from father to son. Born in Liestal, Johannes (1702-1790) bought the bourgeoisie of Geneva in 1734. The first Baumgartner born in Geneva was Jean's son, Jean-Louis (grandfather of the Doctor). The latter broke the hereditary transmission of medicine within the family by turning to trade and emigrated to England. This emigration is the starting point of the young Antoine's story, but it is also rich in lessons about the model we have established for training.

 Jean-Louis Baumgartner (1730-1795)

      The story of Jean-Louis Baumgartner is only known to us through the stories told by members of his family, especially Dr. Baumgartner. It is therefore quite possible that this story has been embellished over time. Nevertheless, it remains exemplary.

      Jean-Louis Baumgartner spent the first part of his career in Geneva, in a trading house specializing in silk. This company had enough confidence in him to send him to Italy to manage the business and organize the trade. After a time spent in Italy, Jean-Louis decided to try his luck alone in England. He went to Birmingham and tried to make a place for himself in the metal parts trade. His business prospered. His marriage to Dorothea Room, the daughter of a wealthy local merchant, was certainly not in vain.

      Jean-Louis Baumgartner found himself in the heart of the Industrial Revolution, in a sector (trade) in full expansion, and was noticed for his honesty. Unfortunately, a difficult period intervened, and he found himself in trouble. He went bankrupt. Having obtained a delay to pay off his debts, thanks to the confidence that the bankers had in him, he decided to join the Compagnie des Indes to go overseas to make a fortune. According to Dr. Baumgartner, it was thanks to his knowledge of the silk trade that he easily found work in the Indian Company, which sent him to Bengal. There he took the opportunity to trade for his own account in parallel with his activities. After ten years spent in Bengal, his fortune was enough to pay off his creditors. He then returned to Birmingham, paid his debts, and set up a new business, this time with the help of his son John and his son-in-law Louis Hofstetter. But he died suddenly in 1795 at the age of 65. He had been a British citizen since 1767.

      Jean-Louis Baumgartner's journey shows how, in the 18th century, one could succeed but also lose everything quickly. The great mobility and the strength of Jean-Louis to seek his fortune elsewhere (in Italy, England, and even India) is characteristic. He embodied the proverb of fortune that smiles on the bold, and naturally found himself in a position of example for all members of his family, which can be seen in the pages of the Memorial dedicated to him.

      Jean-Louis Baumgartner, married and settled in England, had two children who came from the same family. His daughter married Louis Hofstetter, and moved with him to London. His son, Jean (John), who married a first cousin, stayed with his father. The business was thus divided between Birmingham and London.

Jean (John) Baumgartner (1764-1838)

When Jean-Louis Baumgartner died, his son took over the business with his brother-in-law. John had, as a child, never lived in Geneva, but through his wife he maintained a strong attachment to his home town. Indeed, he married one of his first cousins, Suzanne Moilliet, from an old Protestant family in Geneva.

      In 1795, when he took over the family business, things were complicated by the continental blockade, which ruined the Baumgartner's trade, which was certainly oriented towards continental Europe. But John was not discouraged, and began at the bottom of the ladder as a simple clerk, while his entire English family had remained comfortable. This difficult situation was not to the liking of his wife, who convinced him to return to Geneva, which he finally decided to do in 1812.

      Once in Geneva, he managed to get by financially thanks to two providential aids. Firstly, he was able to benefit from the help of members of the Moilliet family who remained in Geneva. Secondly, he was able to take advantage of the English fashion, then in force in Calvin's city, and materialized among other things by the creation, then the success of the British Library. Thus, he found an unhoped-for income by giving English lessons to the Genevans, who were delighted to be able to learn the language of Shakespeare with a true English-speaking teacher, even of English nationality.

      Jean had three children. The eldest of his daughters, Marianne died a bachelor in 1823 at the age of 19. The second, Elisabeth, married André Sayous, and had a daughter, Jeanne-Suzanne, nicknamed Lisy. The latter lost her mother at a very young age in 1832 and was taken in by Jean's eldest son, Doctor Baumgartner, her uncle. In 1846, André Sayous, Academy professor, was a victim of the purge carried out by the radicals. Deprived of his fortune, Pierre André Sayous was forced to seek the means of existence outside his homeland that he had just lost in such an unforeseen way (...) forced to expatriate himself, he went to Paris'.  It is because he does not want his daughter to follow him into this uncomfortable exile that he entrusts her to his brother-in-law.

Dr. Antoine Baumgartner (1803-1893)

    Doctor Baumgartner was born in Birmingham, but returned with his parents to Geneva at the age of 5. He studied at the Collège, then at the Academy, at the Belles-Lettres auditorium and then philosophy. In 1828, he went to Paris to study medicine, which he completed in 1833 at the Charity Hospital. His family biography skillfully ignores his first marriage and the tragic destinies of the children of this union, and only evokes his family life after 1856. We do know, however, that he first married Adèle Lemaire, which has not left many traces in the public archives. A divorce put an end to this union, while Adèle Lemaire was interned in the asylum for the elderly, with a pension offered by Dr. Baumgartner. They had two children: Antoine and Adèle. The latter died tragically following an illness at the age of 8.

      Dr. Baumgartner has always aspired to great destinies for his children. Like his grandfather Jean-Louis, he undoubtedly held the commercial professions in high esteem and wanted his son to become a merchant. At first, he educated him himself, then, when his son was old enough, he placed him with his first cousins, James and Theodore Moilliet, in Birmingham.

The Moilliet family

    The Moilliet family came to Geneva to seek refuge just after the reformation, and very rapidly gained acceptance into the bourgois of the city. (ed. - From a notebook belonging to a Moilliet descendant from the late 1800s , "The first of my aancestors to the best of my knoledge was Jacques, son of Michel Moilliet of Arrache in Savoy, who arrived here after renouncing Catholicism in line with the reformation. He was received as a resident on March 18, 1566 and became a bourgois in May 6, 1577, in return for 4 gold ecus and a leather bucket.) The family branch we are interested in is the one that is created in 1711, by the marriage of Marie-Olympe Dassier (Pallard) with Abraham Moilliet. Their son Daniel married Marie Baumgartner, sister of Jean-Louis. Daniel Moilliet's youngest daughter, Susanne, married her cousin Jean (John) Baumgartner.

Jean-Louis Moilliet (1770-1845)

      The Moilliet and Baumgartner families are related by kinship, strengthened by spiritual bonds. Of the two sons of the marriage of Daniel Moilliet and Marie Baumgartner, one is called Jean-Louis Moilliet (1770-1845), and was the godson of Jean-Louis Baumgartner, his uncle. Taking advantage of his godfather who had made his fortune in England, Jean-Louis Moilliet planned to enter the navy, thanks to a place obtained by Jean-Louis Baumgartner. But this did not come about, and Jean-Louis Moilliet finally decided to do an apprenticeship with his uncle. In the words of Doctor Baumgartner, he even said: 'I want to be a merchant, and I will not return to Geneva until I have made my fortune'.  A few years later, he did indeed make a fortune.

    He married around 1800 to a young lady Amélia Keir, daughter of a learned chemist, not rich but of a large family and well known [...]. His fortune grew rapidly. In 1815, he made a huge speculation on French funds. It succeeded marvelously. Later, he established an iron foundry with Mr. Bullock, who then kept it alone and got rich there. Then he had a bank with his two sons.

      Jean-Louis Moilliet had thus realized part of his plan. Having become rich, he did not, however, come back to settle in Geneva. His business was flourishing in Birmingham, and consisted of both financial and commercial affairs. However, he visited Geneva frequently. The Moilliet family spent all their summers in Les Pâquis, in a sumptuous property: the Empress' country estate, acquired by Jean-Louis Moilliet in 1816.  "....In 1816 my uncle bought it from Queen Hortense, daughter of Josephine and mother of Napoleon III. The price was 120,000 francs. That was nothing, for it consisted of 108 poses (local measurement = 29 hectares = over 70 acres) in a magnificent position. An imposing beach, (on the Lake), a harbour and fishing lodge, a huge historic chateau, attractive outbuildings and an excellent vineyard. Three walled terraces were laid out nearby, one in front of the house. I spent many agreeable days there when the Moilliets arrived for the summer. All society gathered there, even the highest, for my uncle was regarded as a great nobleman, not only for his wealth, but for his manners, his education and his high ideas.

    It is difficult to define precisely where Jean-Louis Moilliet wanted to live. It seems certain that he felt at home in Geneva, his homeland, but in reality, he never left England for good. In this subject, we can notice that he bought four properties between Switzerland and England, and that he bequeathed to each of his two sons one property in each country.

     My uncle left several million, houses in Birmingham, two huge estates in England, Abberley to his son James and Skilts to his son Theodore. Then in Geneva the Empress' campaign in the first and the Pesay campaign in the second.  He also left a lot of public funds and money in trade. Finally, very considerable building plots'. 

      Jean-Louis Moilliet, who has never been able to decide between his two homelands, no doubt wishes to offer his children the possibility of living like him between two countries. Uprooted in his youth, he could not choose between his homeland of origin and his adopted country. He died suddenly, probably of a heart attack, during Christmas dinner in 1845. Jean-Louis Moilliet had eight children: Amélia (1802-?), John Louis (1803-1828), James (1804-1805), James (1806-1878), Suzanne (1807-?), Théodore (1810-?), Francis (1812-1812) and Albert (1817-1830).

Moilliet businesses in Birmingham

     Jean-Louis Moilliet had set up his commercial business in Birmingham, the Mecca of the Industrial Revolution. Once he became too old to manage his business alone, his two surviving sons, James and Theodore, took over. Jean-Louis Moilliet was immensely wealthy at the time of his death. The simple fact that he was able to acquire a property such as the Empress' countryside to spend a few weeks a year there is indicative of the immensity of this wealth. The exact nature of his business is unknown, except that in 1848, each of the Moilliet sons managed a part of Jean-Louis' inheritance. The Moilliet family business was nicknamed by Antoine Baumgartner le Comptoir, from his real name Comptoir Moilliet & Gem, after a partner who co-owned the business in 1848.

    In a letter, Antoine Baumgartner (son) gives the following description of the Comptoir's activities: 'It is almost unbelievable how many items are in this business. (...) We sell not only iron & steel articles, but also porcelain, carpets, leather, woollen articles, yarn; but the main branch is the Sheffield cutlery business. It is also inconceivable what is consumed of steel nibs. We have recently received a commission of 12'000 francs of steel nibs from Germany.  It is impossible to know if this association already existed in the time of Jean-Louis Moilliet, or if Gem, then a simple employee, only really entered the business after his death. It was James Moilliet who inherited the Comptoir. The family bank, whose real name was Moilliet & Sons, was taken over by Théodore Moilliet. No mention is ever made of a possible partner, which suggests that the bank was entirely in the hands of Theodore. The name Moilliet & Sons even suggests that it was created by Jean-Louis Moilliet and his sons, Theodore and James.

     (ed. - The owner of a saw, labeled Moilliet and Gem, suggests Edward Gem may have been a manufacturer after his breakup with Moilliet, the partnership is described in the 1852 and 1856 directories as being merchants, and so they had the saw (at least) manufacturreed for them. The following information concerning Gem comes from - "In the 1850s a merchant named Edward Gem ran a hardware business in Birmingham, but teamed up with two gents called Moilliet to form 'Moilliet & Gem' to open a sheffield office. The partnership didn't last long, being dissolved in 1858, but Edward Gem, now styling himself as 'successor to Moilliet & Gem' now had a foot-hold in Sheffield and was manufacturing cutlery and knives, particularly Bowie-style knives.)


Pictures of a straight rezor recently offered for sale on the internet. Just one example of the many hardware items marketed by Moilliet and Gem.

     Antoine Baumgartner enters as an apprentice at the Comptoir in the summer of 1848 at the age of 16, i.e. with James Moilliet, who becomes his boss. The original situation is therefore both simple and complex. Antoine Baumgartner is indeed in a company attached to a family network, but this one, after the death of Jean-Louis Moilliet, is not very solid because the ties that Theodore and James Moilliet may have in Switzerland are much less than those maintained by their father. The coherence of this network existed as long as Jean-Louis Moilliet was alive, since he regularly went to the Pâquis and was frequently in contact with Doctor Baumgartner. It is certain that the latter held his ancestor Jean-Louis Baumgartner in high esteem. And when the family's history highlights such prestigious figures, it is logical that the aspirations of his children are affected. We hypothesize that this apprenticeship was negotiated between the Doctor and Jean-Louis Moilliet, during one of the latter's stays in the Empress' countryside estate. Jean-Louis Moilliet may even have been the originator of an apprenticeship proposal. In the minds of both parents, it is quite possible that Antoine's apprenticeship was seen as a service that Jean-Louis Moilliet, who had benefited in his youth from similar help from a Baumgartner, could render. The sudden death of Jean-Louis Moilliet does not change the arrangement, except that it is now his sons, and more particularly James, who must take over Antoine's apprenticeship. (ed. - Famiy history has always held that Daniel Moilliet gave Jean-Louis a considerable sum of money to get established in England and it was Jean-Louis Baumgartner who, already lived there, had introducd him to the Birminghaam industrialists such as Mallhew Boulton, James Watt and his future father-in-law, James Keir.)

The Expectations of the Learning Abroad

     We do not know much about Antoine's early years, except that he was educated, at least in part, by his father. He did, however, spend a few years in Germany, between the ages of 8 and 11, presumably in a school institution in Königsfeld.  From adolescence, Antoine Baumgartner's career path is a model that corresponds to many young adults of the 19th century. At the beginning of the process that tends to give access to a good economic and social status, Antoine Baumgartner, like many other young people, finds himself in a difficult situation, even a crisis situation. The untimely death of his younger sister, and the illness that certainly already affects his mother, means that an enormous weight rests on his shoulders alone: the future of parenthood, which involves access to the fortune that his father never knew and that his grandfather had lost. In addition to this heavy personal situation, there are also external upheavals linked to the major political unrest in which the Doctor is heavily involved.

      In the summer of 1848, the Doctor brought his young son Antoine to his cousins for his apprenticeship, convinced that he could climb all the steps to the top of the Moilliet. For eight years, father and son will exchange extensive correspondence.  This correspondence will allow us to understand the evolution of learning in the minds of Antoine and his father, who supervised the life of his only son from a distance.

The Aura of Business

      The trades are brilliant, because they brought so much wealth during the eighteenth century, that they still represent in the nineteenth century for many families the ideal passage to wealth. Jean-Louis Moilliet is cited as an example by the Doctor to his son. Without the Doctor's letters being present in the archives, the numerous allusions that his son puts on paper concerning this model ancestor leave no doubt, as the two following examples, taken from letters written more than two years apart, show: "Your excellent letter has given me inexpressible pleasure, and I can flatter myself that the good hopes you have for my future will not be deceived. At least, if fate does not destine me to a career as brilliant as that of the late Mr. J.L. Moilliet, I will try by my conduct to make it honourable. There is certainly something to encourage at work, in the description you give me in your last letter (2 current), of the way our uncle Jean-Louis Moilliet fought against the difficulties of the position & of his time, & overcame them". 

      The determining element that explains Antoine's aspirations about the Comptoir comes from the descendants of the Moilliet brothers. James was widowed when Antoine began his apprenticeship, and none of his children seemed interested in the trade.  James second marriage was to Lisy Sayous, niece of Dr. Baumgartner, in 1853.  His brother Theodore is married and has several children, including four sons, a little younger than Antoine. Logical successors, these sons are looking to a different future than their father, and it seems 'highly unlikely that any of them will give their attention to business. One may be astonished by such behaviour, either from the children themselves or from the two Moilliet brothers, who do not seem to be exerting any pressure to make their children successors as the head of the family business. This would tend to show that the commercial sector is not the most desirable in the eyes of the Moilliets. Paradoxically, a distant cousin is trying to break into a busines where his cousins are better placed than he is to make a career out of it, but thy are turning away from it. If this phenomenon of crossbreeding is original, the tendency of the English elites to withdraw their descendants has been explained by François Crouzet: 'Another danger for the dynasties is the withdrawal from business, particularly in Great Britain. The businessman lives in a tiring hustle and bustle and for a long time his trade lacked prestige. When a family had made a fortune, at least some of its members were tempted by more pleasant, more considered, more gentlemanly ways of life: land ownership first, but also the professions, the civil service, the army and politics. Land acquisition by members of the Moilliet family is found at different levels. The example of Jean-Louis Moilliet, who has at least four large estates between England and Switzerland has already been given to his two sons also invest in the land, but only in England, and eventually sell the Geneva properties. Theodore 'has built a [new] house in Skilts, where he will live'.  He has large properties in this neighborhood.  The second Moilliet property in England, which his brother James inherited from his father, the 'Elms' property at Abberley, also remains in the family. James Moilliet lives there with his mother, widow of Jean-Louis Moilliet. The Elms seem to be the central property of the family, where important celebrations take place. (ed. - Today the Elms is a luxury hotel. He makes no mention of the Abberly Hall estate also inherited by James. Today it is a co-ed preparatory school.)

      The aura provided by real estate also affected Dr. Baumgartner, who did not hesitate, in April 1853, to ask his cousins for advice on the possible opportunity to purchase land adjacent to his Saint John countryside.  This request meant that the Doctor still had some small capital, placed then in France, presumably from public funds.  The hesitation stems from the fact that the Doctor wishes to keep some capital available to ensure his son's future. To this hesitation, the answer is clear: 'By sacrificing the purchase of the lower land, you would lose a certain present asset, in anticipation of an uncertain future advantage'.  Is it this first admission of uncertainty that puts a doubt in the Doctor's mind? Still, the purchase of land did not happen.

      The Moilliet family business has only been in existence for two generations, so we cannot speak of a dynasty, even though all the conditions, at the beginning, were met. The logic behind the thinking of Theodore Moilliet's sons is therefore simple: the trade can be lucrative, but it is not stable. On the other hand, the family is sitting on a comfortable fortune, which it would be superfluous to increase. These two conditions are therefore sufficient to explain the lack of interest of the next generation in taking over the family business. As the commercial professions had little prestige, Théodore Moilliet directed his children towards more highly regarded careers. They will be ministers, soldiers & doctors or perhaps also lawyers, but not traders.  All the professions that Antoine quotes have a prestigious character. The most paradoxical is certainly to find medicine in them, since Doctor Baumgartner is himself a doctor, but his son breaks the filial transmission of this profession to become a merchant. The crossing of interests between the two generations is motivated solely by economic issues, because unlike the Moilliet brothers, Dr. Baumgartner has no fortune. He did not gain access to a significant capital until 1856, after the sale of part of his estate in Saint John to the railway company. In order for his aspirations of fortune to be realized for his son, Antoine had to embrace a commercial profession. His ancestor had done so, he had to, or could, do so.

      But the situations of the two Baumgartners, more than a century apart, are radically different. Increased competition has reduced the possibilities for speculation, as Antoine explains in one of his letters. This competition, unknown in the 18th century, made business more complicated. Antoine points out to his father that Jean-Louis, although he was a merchant during an unstable political situation, almost enjoyed a monopoly, whereas now competition dictates a completely different law. Now it's one of the great obstacles to the expansion of our trade. Then [in the time of Jean-Louis Moilliet], there were perhaps two or three companies supplying Italy; today there are dozens of them. This sluggishness of business does not help to attract the future generation of Moilliet's to the family business

The need to build a business network

    In addition to the opportunity offered by the lack of succession in the Moilliet family business, Antoine was also interested in doing his apprenticeship abroad, in an establishment located in the heart of the economic power of the time, where he could virtually weave numerous business ties, just like the two Jean-Louis. However, this process of forming his own business network can only be achieved if Antoine remains attached to the Moilliets, from which he expects introductions to honourable people, who are potential targets, sometimes subject to disappointment.

     "At the moment I know only our cousins as distinguished people, and only one or two of their friends, educated people, whom I have seen in their homes. The latter are casual acquaintances, and of little relation."  How did Mr. Jean-Louis Moilliet do it? Our cousin told me. He did not associate at all with the Birmingham family. He had a business affair with the Galton family, and hardly mixed with any other company than the ones he had in this house. This is how he formed his friends and marriage relationships. That is how he got to know Mr. Keir".

      The expectations placed on Moilliet parents are therefore of several kinds. If the only part of pure commercial training is simple to put in place, in agreement with the host family, this is not the case for the expectations concerning the introduction of Antoine into a network of relationships. It is impossible for Dr. Baumgartner to make such a request to his English parents, by the simple play of convenience. The insistence with which the Doctor asks for news of the relationships his son is having in England shows that a real concern of this nature exists.  There lies the difficulty of the present situation, contrary to what may exist in other families where the ties are closer. The closer a parent is, the greater his interest in the apprentice entrusted to him.

The strengthing of family ties

     To ensure that Dr. Baumgartner's expectations are met with success, he maintains good family relations by regularly inviting his English parents to spend some time in Saint John. On the occasion of a trip to Switzerland with the young Antoine, James Moilliet negotiated with Dr. Baumgartner a stay in Saint John for his two young daughters from his first marriage.(ed. - The girls would be Frances Ann Adele 'Delly' and Emma-Sophia. Emma mentions several visits to Saint John in her Reminicences.) "The arrangement that Mr. Moilliet made with you to have his daughters in Saint John, seems to please them all very much. Indeed, it must be much more pleasant for these young ladies, to be among two close relatives, who affectionately care for them, take an interest in their welfare, and will do everything possible to make them happy and comfortable, rather than to go and settle alone with a governess for whom they do not seem to have a very special affection in a place where they would be completely strangers and isolated, like Fontainebleau. Moreover, our cousin and his daughters are enchanted with Saint-Jean and its inhabitants. Because they recognize all that you have done to make their stay pleasant & Monsieur Moilliet has (I am sure) more real affection for you than for any of his parents. My good grandmother inspires them with love mixed with respect, & the good and sweet Lisy pleases them very much". 

      James Moilliet wanted to place his daughters on French-speaking soil. Until then, they were in boarding school in Wiesbaden. It is easy to imagine that he then spoke to the Doctor about it during his own stay, and that the latter kindly offered his home, which he did on numerous occasions

     (ed - It was a large and comfortable house at St. Jean where Antoine's grandmother and his cousin Lisy Sayou also lived with the doctor. This is of some signifigance, for Lisy is later to marrry James Moilliet and she joined James and Antoine on the trip back to England. According to Emma Sophia the marriage to Lisy cost James his social standing in Geneva society. Similar, as the family history goes, Daniel Moilliet lost his social position when he married Maria Baumgartner. The family had settled in Geneva from Basle, where they had a good position, but were not admitted into 'high society' in Geneva and were compelled to associate with the shop people - those in trade, or remain isolated. It seems several of the Moilliet ancestors were goldsmiths and watch makers, One being an emissary, Jean-Jacques Moilliet - 1548 to 1608 -, to the court of Queen Elizabeth).

     This exchange of good practices seems extremely important to Antoine, as the following passage shows: 'I hope that the Saint John air and the (not too long) walks you will make them do, & the exercise they will get, will benefit them. I wouldn't want them to look pale and thin when they leave St. John's, like when we went to find them in Wiesbaden'. Then, in January 1852, Antoine indicates that 'Mr. Moilliet, I believe, will have his daughters return towards the end of next month without staying longer beyond the Channel. They talk a lot in their letters about the happiness they enjoy in Saint-Jean, which I am very happy about'.  The stay of the Moilliet daughters will thus have lasted about 5 months, between September 1851 and February 1852.

      Dr. Baumgartner's invitations also reach people outside the family, some associated with the business, such as Mr. Gem, to whom the Doctor offers his roof. This proposal is however refused.

The reality of the learning

The delegation of authority within the familly network.

     Antoine's apprenticeship reveals a real delegation of power from a father who is too far away to supervise his son, over to cousins, in whom the father puts all his trust, without losing interest in his son's behavior. This is the main difficulty of this kind of training. The target family inherits a real responsibility over the young man, who nevertheless continues to be dependent on the paternal straitjacket, or even feeds him. The triangular relationship that is established is unclear, and probably varies enormously from case to case. The information between the Doctor and his Moilliet cousins generally passes through Antoine through letters exchanged monthly, except in rare cases where a letter is directly addressed to James or Theodore Moilliet.  On the other hand, the Moilliets often communicate with the Doctor through Antoine.

      Distance makes learning uncontrollable by the father. The family network thus acts as a training agent at two levels, both from the point of view of professional learning and from the point of view of uses. This last point should not be neglected, since distance makes direct parental intervention impossible. Above all, parents must delegate this learning.
"You express your hope that I have learned the use of the world, ease of manners & proper language. No doubt, as you rightly say, I have had in our cousins perfect models to imitate, & you can believe that when I am in their company, I try to take advantage of them. But, alas, how can one learn the ease of manners & the use of the world, buried in a hardware store, where one can learn nothing good in terms of manners, & nothing at all about the use of the world?"

      Throughout his apprenticeship, Antoine is fully aware of the importance of the family network for his career: '[...] "I am sure that through the Moilliet family, I will find everything, everything that can fulfill your wishes, everything that can make me happy". He also knows that a good marriage can open the doors to a situation that is almost impossible to achieve alone. He knows that the Comptoir, and even more so the family network, is a unique opportunity for his career: "My hopes are all set on our cousin. What he will do will have a powerful influence on me."

      School education, unlike social education, remains under the absolute control of the father. Throughout his apprenticeship, Antoine is closely and continuously linked to his father, to whom he gives regular updates on the progress of his education. His father, from Geneva, also dictates his orders to him on the nature of the knowledge to be acquired. "You ask me what my duties are in detail. I hope to satisfy you by telling you how a day's work goes. I get up in the morning around 5:30 o'clock. As soon as I am dressed and have said my prayers, I do some of my studies. At 8:00 a.m. I have breakfast and then I go to the Comptoir where I stay until 1:30 p.m., which is dinner time. After that I stay until 6:30 hours, and the rest of the evening is spent studying. This is how the six days of the week are spent. On Sundays I go to church twice with the family I live with. The rest of the time I stay in my room and read or go for a walk. (ed. - He apparently was not living with either of the Moilliet fmilies.)

      The subjects under study are also the reason for exchanges of points of view between father and son. From Geneva, the Doctor supplies his son with books and reading advice. Algebra seems to have Antoine's preference and he will take private lessons.

      The young apprentice's dual training, social and academic, is closely monitored from a distance. This supervision also relies on family networks. Dr. Baumgartner obtains information about his son's behaviour from friends who are passing through England and who have had the opportunity to travel to Birmingham, albeit for a different reason. There are several corroborating testimonies that England and its industrial regions were favoured destinations throughout the 19th century for anyone who wanted to observe progress first-hand. "I went to Manchester to see a machine factory. I saw iron melting, which is very curious". Antoine himself will be doing a service to visiting Genevans by showing them some of Birmingham's industries. This is the case, for example, of Mr. Sayous, Lisy's father, who, passing through London, makes a quick half-day stop to see the factories.  He doesn't even have time to visit his first cousins by marriage. The latter also regularly take visiting foreigners on a regular basis to visit the important places of industrialization. James Moilliet, for example, took a young Vernet to see the iron mines, before Antoine showed him 'the most interesting factories of this city'.

      But these visitors can also report to the Doctor about Antoine's conduct. This approach seems quite natural. It is part of a set of social practices that puts a young person under constant pressure from the environment that surrounds him. In many letters, Antoine has to justify things reported to his father by a third party. These people may not have had any particular assignments given by the father, but they are, for the Doctor, valuable witnesses to give a precise account of a reality that no letter can provide. Thus, clothing, hobbies, and other elements of daily life were scrutinized: "I will try to make the most of the observations that Mr. Sayous made about me." No facts and actions of Antoine seem to be spared, until his writing, which is severely criticized by his father.

The Financial Support

      At the heart of an approach that tends to put the keys to economic success in the hands of a young man, the indispensable financial support of the family cannot be overlooked. However, there is no information on whether the apprentice was expected to be paid before the start of the apprenticeship. In the first letters, this question simply does not appear, Antoine simply indicating that his father assumes his pension.  It was not until December of the same year that Anthony said he would have to wait 'a number of years before [he] would be paid for his work'.

      The arrival of the first salary, the amount of which is undetermined, comes suddenly and indirectly in October 1850.  However, this salary does not yet allow Antoine to be completely financially independent from his father, since the Doctor's payments continue and on June 15, 1851, the announcement of a first salary increase makes it possible to know the amount, i.e. £50 per year. Henceforth, the Doctor only assumed part of the housing, leaving his son to assume financially the other expenses. This sum seems to be modest, since it is increased in May 1852 to £60 per year. "This salary arrangement, which you do not like, does not satisfy me too much either. As you say, £5 a month is not enough, in case I have to depend entirely on my salary. For I count my needs this way: Accommodation, food, etc, £60; Clothes and all extras £30; per year £90".  The Doctor has certainly expressed his dissatisfaction with this remuneration several times, as Antoine justifies his choice of bosses in the following letter: "Mr. Moilliet having asked Mr. Gem what he thought my salary should be this year, the generous Mr. Gem decided that I would receive £60 & that it was much more than I deserved. So I get £60, & do work like those who get £70, £100 or more".  Finally, at the beginning of the following year, Antoine's salary was raised to £75 a year, which was the last increase.

Disappointed hopes at the Company

      Unfortunately during the apprenticeship, the future of the young Baumgartner seems to be closing in on the Moilliet family's side of the family. The wage issue provides a glimpse of the difficulties that arise, caused mainly by James Moilliet's business associates. Theodore, who is not part of Moilliet & Gem, is losing interest in his future. "As for Mr. Theodore Moilliet, he doesn't have the slightest objection to my success, but it would be too much trouble for him to help or encourage me".  If James seems to be closer to Antoine, and more concerned about his future, it is necessary to take into account his associates, with whom he does not seem to have any family ties.

      It is significant to note that the company behind Jean-Louis Moilliet's fortune, the hardware store, ended up in the hands of his son James, while the Theodore runs the Moilliet & Sons bank, both apparently owning at least part of each entity. This arrangement gives greater importance to the bank than to the hardware business. The latter, less profitable because of the many competitors Antoine talks about, has developed with a partner named Gem. The latter, a stranger to the Baumgartner and Moilliet families can only act as a disruptive element. He has no interest, and no doubt no desire, to see a young foreigner break into the company he co-manages. However, Antoine apparently does not come into conflict with someone close to Gem, since the latter is recently married, and there is never any mention in any correspondence of a possible stumbling block of this nature. But Antoine describes Gem as a man very attached to his business, 'the atmosphere of the Comptoir seems to be satisfactory for him to breathe freely, even on the lakeside of Cumberland [where he spends his honeymoon]'.

      The association of Moilliet with third parties, Mr Gem but also a Mr Hoerner, can only be explained by James and Theodore's disinterest in a company that requires a lot of activity for a mediocre return. In spite of all the art they have acquired, these people cannot overcome the natural difficulties that lie between them & their independence from their opulent superiors. They don't have the funds, Mr. Gem doesn't have the stamina, Mr. Hoerner is too old, to start over on their own. The ambition of the latter is to find a place at the bottom level of Moilliet & Gem, not to move up, and to keep out any intruder, such as me for example'.

      In the course of the letters, the impasse in which Antoine is engaged appears clearly. In the first place, the young Baumgartner is not making enough progress in the company. At least not fast enough in his eyes. Secondly, the company seems to be in difficulty as a result of the strong competition in its market. In the middle of the 19th century, England's lead in the market shrank and competition began to make itself felt. Antoine says that margins are shrinking for industries, which are forced to mislead their customers.  His judgment on Comptoir Moilliet Gem & Company is clear: 'Business is not good, people are not good'.  The Moilliet brothers talk about leaving the Comptoir in the spring of 1853.  This decision would have serious consequences for Antoine, because without the Moilliet brothers, his chance of ascension to the Comptoir was nil, and he himself did not feel ready: 'I am extremely far from having sufficient knowledge of our business to dare to undertake business on myself for a long time to come, much less still if your capital, your reserve were to be involved'.

      The Moilliet brothers and Mr. Gem then entrusted Antoine with a job that had to be done in Brussels on behalf of the Comptoir. Antoine went there for a few weeks at the end of June 1853.  The work is very simple and concerns goods forwarded to a customer and that the company would like to recover. Apparently, for Antoine this was only an inventory work. The excellant way in which he will carry out this task will give birth to an ambitious project.

The Australian Project

      Following the difficulties encountered by the Comptoir, and the observations made by Antoine in Brussels, a simple project was born in Mr Gem's mind: to send Antoine Baumgartner to Australia, entrusting him with the merchandise recovered thanks to his work in Brussels, with the task of selling it on the spot and informing the Comptoir of the colony's needs. Antoine would make the trip with another young man named Short, who knows Australia and Mr. Gem.

      This trade project with Australia, in which Antoine would have a central role, will bring together the energies of the various players around him. With this project, the Moilliet brothers would find a suitable way out for Antoine's apprenticeship. Mr. Gem would see the young Baumgartner leave the Comptoir, and his company would benefit from an additional market, without much risk since the goods recovered from Belgium were considered lost. Dr. Baumgartner must certainly be convinced of the merits of the project, but there is no reason for him to refuse. The project seems risk-free, except for the risks inherent in the long journey, and the approach bears a curious resemblance to that taken by Jean-Louis Baumgartner, who had joined the Compagnie des Indes to pay off his debts. The Doctor cannot serenely set the example of his grandfather and at the same time condemn an identical step that his own son wishes to take. The latter could also be seduced by the responsibility given to him, and by the independence that this project implies with respect to Mr. Gem.

      Addressed on September 21, 1853 from Birmingham, the request found a favorable responce very quickly, since the Doctor gave his agreement in a message dated September 25.  This very short delay even signifies a certain enthusiasm from Antoine's father, no doubt too happy to learn that his son will no longer be directly dependent on the Comptoir. This willingness motivates the Doctor to propose that Antoine should also bring Swiss goods.  From that moment on, the project originally evoked by Mr Gem will gradually change. It is going to grow on two levels: the shipped goods will have several origins, other than the Counter. In addition, several people will 'enter this company' for a small amount of money. These two changes are important because they put Antoine under pressure that was not present with the only goods in Brussels.

Emigration and National Identity

      "I say emigration because it is nothing less. If I succeed there, it is clear that I will settle there to continue. If I don't succeed, where will I succeed, & what's the point of looking elsewhere for the success & fortune that flee me in this country of discovery and enterprise?

      Antoine's planned departure for Australia raises the question of the link between the formation process that takes place abroad and the strength of the sense of national identity that inhabits it. His family's history is marked by emigrations, each time with a definitive character. The letter concerning the possible expansion of the property in Saint John is the only time Dr. Baumgartner seems to be interested in the sense of the national identity of his son, who began his apprenticeship at the age of 16. The latter's answer is unambiguous: :It would be absurd for me to claim to have become attached to Geneva in 4 years out of 20. I am attached to it by you & by my grandmother. That being said, I am no more attached to it than I am to Koenigsfeld or Vandoeuvres (...) This being the case, I declare myself a patriot, but an English patriot by preference".  Antoine had expressed the wish, exactly three years earlier, that in the event of the death of his grandmother, his father would abandon 'a country (Switzerland), which, although perhaps the most beautiful in the world, is governed & inhabited for the most part by scoundrels' and to come and settle permanently in England.

      The evolution of this possibility is not surprising. As a result of his political positions, Dr. Baumgartner was a target of radicals after 1847. On November 12, 1849, when he went to St. Peter's to vote, he was violently attacked by the crowd.  Truly in danger, he owes his salvation only to the providential intervention of Balthasar Decrey, a radical State Councillor, helped by the troops. With his clothes in tatters, he has to take refuge for several hours in the prison next to the Cathedral to escape the lynching. Following this unfortunate episode, his consideration for his homeland is seriously diminished. In fact, his old mother and the property of St. John, which he had laboriously unified, were two strong arguments for his decision to stay in Switzerland. This position does not prevent him from taking steps to obtain recognition as an English nationality, on the basis of his father's nationality. However, this attempt is a failure.

The Manufacturers Tour

      The Doctor will be involved in the project in a comprehensive way. It is clear that the idea of shipping Swiss goods does not appeal to the people at the Comptoir, who try to discourage Antoine: 'It is said that Swiss watches are not suitable for Australia, that they are not resistant to the climate'. This discouragement does not come from James Moilliet, who himself makes contact with Geneva watchmakers, and can therefore only come from Mr Gem.

      "It seems that several of your friends have offered to put £100 each in a first expedition. Moilliet and Gem agreed to enter into this venture for the same sum".  With this support from various 'consignors', Antoine went to Switzerland between the end of October and November 1853 to organize his trip with his father and make contact with Swiss manufacturers. What Antoine negotiated was the provision of free samples in return for a promise to establish a stable business if the market proved to be a real one. In fact, many of the companies he contacted are not willing to provide samples free of charge. Watchmakers in the Vallée de Joux are 'unable to bear the risk (...) that a consignment requires'.  Among the Basel ribbon manufacturers, 'no one wants to make a deposit'.  Only the watchmakers from La Chaux-de-Fonds, Schneider & Company, Perret-Gentil & Company, and two watchmakers from Geneva, Meyer and Boissonnas, entered the business on the agreed terms. Dr. Baumgartner still negotiates with cheese manufacturers, who entrust him with the wheels of Gruyère cheese. 

    Compared to the initial project, the modifications are significant. Swiss goods are in the majority, and those of Comptoir Moilliet Gem & Compan represent almost nothing anymore.  The Doctor's pressure on take-out items is obvious. Apart from the cheese boxes, the Doctor also proposed to his son to take Swiss chalets with him, without the latter's consent. No Swiss chalets for Australia, please, but good & simple houses without this baroque name.  All goods are consolidated in London before being shipped to Australia. Antoine takes with him on the same boat 'only' samples, 'watches, jewelry, fabrics, music [boxes], two cases of cheese (one of each quality) and nothing else. The rest will follow'.

The desire to succeed stronger than the reason

      The enthusiasm of Antoine and his father are to be put in parallel with several clear and concordant signals, which show that the project is very difficult to achieve in a colony that is suffocating under imports. Even if father and son have such signals, neither of them are alarmed, sometimes demonstrating an obvious blindness. "I have carefully researched all the news we receive from Australia: they are not very satisfactory. Unbridled & injudicious speculators have been sending out one after the other shipments of English goods of all kinds, wheat supplies, from which the markets of this colony are 'glutted', that is to say, overflowing. Several thousand barrels of wheat will return, almost all the articles of English industry are bought at ruinous prices for those who sell. All this is bad enough, but the ruinous speculators will learn, or rather must have already learned, not to make these crazy shipments anymore, & as soon as the Australian markets have dried up, & have been brought back to a reasonable level (which is happening rapidly every day), prudent traders will have a field which perhaps does not exist anywhere else, to make a lucrative and durable extended business". 

      On the eve of his departure, Antoine writes once again to his father that 'the news from Australia is not very bright'.  Again, this information is not taken into consideration. In fact, father and son only have in mind the family models ofJean-Louis Baumgartner and Jean-Louis Moilliet, with the difference that Antoine has a father who helps him financially.

From failure to death

      On the spot, however, his attempt comess up short. Australia is saturated with products from the metropolis and prices are at their lowest. Many traders had the same idea as Antoine. In addition, no Swiss products are in demand by consumers who are exclusively interested in English products. Antoine tries to get by despite the difficulties, not wanting to return a failure. His father realizes that the business is turning into a fiasco. His attitude is ambiguous. He demands the return of his son, while suggesting other solutions, such as trying to sell his products in Sydney.  After a year spent in vain to sell his products in Melbourne, Antoine tries his luck at the gold mines.  This decision provokes a violent reaction from his father, because he can't bear to know that his son, who was destined to be a trader, has to stoop to the mining business.

      On his return to Melbourne, Antoine was shocked by his father's admonitions. He wrote him five letters within a little more than three weeks, explaining his situation in detail. "I must tell you that your letters do not encourage me to return to Europe. Instead of giving me confidence, they frighten me with threats".  On July 3, 1855, Antoine closed the discussion about his return: "I have resolved to stay in this country for some time. It is impossible for me to go back to Europe to see all the unpleasant faces that will appear on all sides".  He did not write any more letters to his father until December 31, 1855. The message has not changed: "You will easily understand that I cannot and do not want to go to Europe & to meet all these icy faces, all these sulks, all these reproaches, all these mockeries which would receive me everywhere, in England & Switzerland".

      A few weeks later, in March 1856, Antoine Baumgartner killed himself in a public park in Melbourne.  The last letter written by his father on February 23, 1856 was returned to its sender. In this letter, Doctor Baumgartner announced to his son that the sale of part of his land to the Lyon-Geneva railway company had enabled him to pocket a comfortable sum of 140'000 francs, assuring his son's future

The weight of the Vocation

     In the dramatic story of Antoine Baumgartner, the bar was set very high by a father who wanted his son to succeed immediately. He firmly believed that the recipe for fortune in the 19th century was the same as in times past, thus condemning his son to a difficult success. The family network was intended to give the young apprentice a future as a trader. Based on a service rendered by his grandfather to Jean-Louis Moilliet. Doctor Baumgartner made an arrangement with the latter. But the family network was not strong enough. Dr. Baumgartner brought this network to life by urging his son to succeed. With Jean-Louis Moilliet gone, James and Theodore did not, in the eyes of the Doctor, give Antoine the necessary attention. The guarantee expected from the family network did not work because the two parties did not get along well enough. From then on, Antoine found himself condemned to failure.

      Convinced that his wealth lay beyond the seas, he then tried his luck, as his father's models of Jean-Louis Moilliet and Jean-Louis Baumgartner had successfully done. A failure, Antoine's suicide in Australia, shattered the Doctor's dreams. From that moment on, all contact with the Moilliet family in England was broken. James and Theodore Moilliet's business ventures have had varying fortunes. The store closed down a few years later, perhaps for lack of a successor, but mainly because of market developments. The bank, for its part, 'was very successful and merged around 1860 into a large provincial bank called Lloyd's' Bank.

(ed. - The paper continues to make observations of this sittuation, drawing comparisons to others, in order to press his thesis.)


The following is a letter from Doctor Baumgartner to his aunt, Amélia Moilliet (néeKeir), about Antoine's death in Australia (1856)

To widow Madam Moilliet, née Keir, in Abberley near Worcester (England)
Saint Jean, July 28, 1856


Sir,  for me the cause of the most terrible of misfortunes is at the moment of breaking apart forever with parents, I believe I owe a farewell and an explanation to you who have shown your kindness to my unhappy son, to you whose character I have always respected. I easily believe that, through false sentiment  too often used among the happy of the century, that you are oblivious to the catastrophes that destroy my happiness and leave me to suffer on this earth alone.  So it is my duty to inform you what is going on, you are not alone  in ignoring it when all of our friends and family in Geneva have received an ear full of my just complaints and their hearts full of resentment towards the egoists and hypocrites who murdered my son.

You saw him leave for Australia, Antoine who was so good and honest, full of passion and hope.  This trip was already a disgrace to its leaders, who had made so many beautiful promises, and who wanted to keep none.  Antoine saw it as a way out of a house where a future was being created for him.  Then, the trial began; happy he took advantage of his chances and stayed a few years at the other end of the world; unhappy, he had to return immediately.  In early February 1855, having received letters from my poor child, which bear witness to his immense desire to return to Europe, I immediately wrote to both Mr. James Moilliet and Mr. Gem, to tell them all the reasons why they should recall our young friend, our child, and to urge them to join me in this decision.

I received nothing from these two men, one of whom is my closest relative who certainly had nothing to complain about me given the many services I had provided him but was only met with insulting answers.  I have kept them and copies of my letters.  I had them copied and circulated among my many friends in Geneva and among my relatives in England, to whom it is important for me to prove that the horrible death of my son is the work of heartless parents and that I did my best to try and save him.

At the same time that my unfortunate child was receiving urgent letters from me to urge his return, he was also receiving much more threatening letters from his good friends in Birmingham, Mr. Moilliet and Mr. Gem, to force him to stay.  No doubt that his sacred sense of filial obedience, the principle of duty, respect and trust for his father was shaken in him.  No doubt that he was presented with the notion of returning home as being shameful when the return home could have saved him.  We have done all too well in this perverse conspiracy against his morality, against his life.  Unfortunately, Antoine had changed his mind, he no longer wanted to obey me.  He received twenty pleading letters from me, but nothing affected him, and all was in vain.  He wanted to try everything but succeeded in nothing.  He was soon met with despair as he was pursued by the vengeance of God which attaches itself to disobedient children.  In this dreadful state he received one last letter from Mr. Moilliet, the most revolting one of them all, and this letter armed his guilty hand against his own life.  My only son, my Antoine, the one I have raised with such care, the one to whom I have dedicated 24 years of my life, the one on whom all my hopes were based and that of his respectable predecessors, the one whom happiness, peace and ease awaited here, committed the unforgiveable crime of suicide.  He killed himself in Melbourne on March 18th [1856].

This is Madame, the statement of my misfortunes, in which I believe were carefully left for you to ignore.  But as for me, I have no reason to keep it a secret, having no trial to answer to, other than that of not having gone to retrieve my son at the other end of the world, instead I restricted myself to writing him letter after letter.  May the author of this assassination enjoy his wealth in peace and the success of his large family!  May God forgive him for the evil he has done to me by his cruelty, greed, and lack of intelligence!  Many people, perhaps everyone in your country,  will think that it was only natural that poor Antoine Baumgartner should sacrifice his life and that of his unfortunate father, to guard some of the goods belonging to his relative, the rich James Moilliet.  It is too much honour for this unknown child to be offered as a sacrifice to such a beautiful cause.  As for me, who, at the age of 48, has been now deprived of any hope of future happiness, by the loss of my only child.  It will be permitted of me to hate those responsible for my ruin and the hopelessness I feel, to feel resentment towards a cold-hearted niece who had no pity for me, who read all my letters and with one word could have had my son returned to me, but would not say it.
Forgive me, Madame, for having disturbed your peace and troubled you with my complaints in which have no remedy.  I hope I am not accused of ever disrespecting you, and though I may be separated from your sons forever, I will remember the interest you have shown me.  A few memories and an 84-year-old mother, that’s all I have left.  I wish you happiness, and here I end all ties with a family which in less than a century has allied itself with mine three times, and for which I have had such fond feelings, I remain, Madame, your most humble servant,

Ant. B. D. Mr

Source: AFB, letter from Doctor Baumgartner to his aunt, Amélia Keir Moilliet, about the death of his son Antoine in Australia , 28 July 1856.

Private archives of the Baumgartner family