4 FEB 2021

William Le Lacheur

The transformation of Costa Rica

After its independence in 1821 Costa Rica was a poor nation with very little outside trade but one man, from a small island halfway around the world, would change that. This episode we tell his remarkable story.

The greatest gift

William Le Lacheur, born 1802, was a merchant and sea captain who is widely credited with transforming Costa Rica’s economy through the coffee trade.

Commanding a fine fleet of ships he would not only bring trade to a nation but also education helping pull them from poverty and even support the fight against American filibusters.

Guernsey never gave birth to a man of whom the island had more cause to be proud or who has deserved to be more lamented than him whose decease we record. By his industry and intelligence and his Christian virtues he entitled himself to the highest esteem which society can confer.

Obituary from The Star newspaper

William had a fleet of fantastic ships including the Costa Rica Packet which set the record sailing time between London to San Francisco of 131 days in 1868. The ship was built in his native Guernsey. A San Francisco newspaper reported: ‘She is the best built ship to ever enter this port.’

They recommended that merchants and ship builders go and see the vessel calling it a ‘noble specimen of marine architecture’.

His ships have appeared on Costa Rican money and stamps.

The Iron Chruch

Pictured is the modern replacement built on the site of the original ‘iron church’. William Le Lacheur was key in introducing Protestant worship to Costa Rica.

If you listen to the episode the background music and effects are from a real service in the modern church.

[William Le Lacheur was responsible for] raising Costa Rica from the lowest position culturally, socially and economically in all of the Latin America states to the highest.

Costa Rican historian


We were very lucky to be given a copy of the book Occupied! by Blue Ormer Publishing. It’s tells the amazing story of the occupation of Guernsey during WW2. Aimed at kids it features fascinating facts and beautiful illustrations. You can order a copy on their website.

Saviour of a nation

In March 1856 American filibuster William Walker (pictured - Anton and I may of drawn on him!) invaded Costa Rica with a mercenary army. William Le Lacheur made his ships available to transport the Costa Rican army up the coast to meet this threat.

Further reading


This transcript is automatically generated so may contain errors.

Welcome to the curiosity of a child episode 25. Unfortunately, hear in Guernsey we back in lockdown After many, many months of being nearly COVID free and able to walk around. we're in lockdown.

So it's back to home schooling.

Which isn't too too bad.

Yeah, we kind of get on with it lately, but I hope all our listeners are keeping safe so we get on with the show.

Yep, under the show.

Today we're going to talk about a man who helped change the course of a nation. He lifted it from poverty, transforming it from one of the poorest countries in Central America to one of the richest.

He did this sailing from the most dangerous waters, including those of Cape Horn, which claimed over 800 ships.

That's a lot.

This is to transport coffee halfway around the world.

The country is Costa Rica and the man is William Molossia.

There's no problem, I'm not.

I know I'm the man is William Latasha yes.

William Molossia is probably better remembered in Costa Rica than here in his native Guernsey, so they really remember ever doing anything about him at school or having a mentioned. But at school you been doing I'm having one.

We were meant to be. It's probably just that we just started the topic and before you went into lockdown.

That's true, yeah yeah.

Now William, he was born on the 15th of October, 1880.

And his first name was really GM, which is French or Norman French for William.

I didn't know if he anglicized his name as at the time, had a tendency of fighting the French.

So yeah, it's pretty way he went by the name of William.

Yeah, does sound better than GM jam jam jam.

I had a brother and a sister, but here's the middle child. There is a history of seeing his family and one of his grandfathers was actually a privateer and it's also called William Lasher, but his parents are farmers and there's little else known about his early life, but he would have worked the land with his father and probably received some kind of sort of basic formal education and.

I'm pretty sure he was born in the parish parish of Forest.

Yes, right yes.

However, the call of the sea was strong and he followed in this grandfathers footsteps and decided that he wanted to go to see.

That sounds a little bit like Moana Moana it. There's nothing like that, OK?

I'm releasing is much better Moana.

And he must have worked and studied hard beats. In 1827. He was a captain on an 811 ton Brig called the Saint George.

That's heavy, nice name though.

And even though he had spent years of his life at sea, he still found time to have seven children with his wife, who Rachel he married in 1830. But sadly, two of those both called William died when they were young.

For William William Williams, yes.

When he was captured, the Saint George, he was probably only about 2425 years old.

I have like a theory about that William, once it has to be the Gran dad for the next child to be called William, not the Dad Casino.

Skips a generation. Yes it's bad luck. Yeah, yeah. So he was 2425 when his captain. So I was thinking that seems quite young to be a captain. Yeah, so I tried to do some research on the average age and I couldn't find it exact dates or places, but in the 1700s.

The average age of a row Navy Sea captain was about 32, then the second half of the 19th century sailors aboard Scandinavian merchant vessels has an average age of 25. When they first went to see to to be a captain at his age, that's rare. Yes, it seems like he was probably pretty good at sea.

So maybe just a natural, and it seemed that this would serve him well in the future, and in 1830 he became captain of another ship, a 55 ton Carter called the Riviera.

No, the Minerva.

And this is most likely carrying fresh fruit from the Mediterranean, Spain, Madeira, and these ores back to England. It's really important that they shipped out quickly, so we don't want it to rocks whilst IT support.

And you definitely don't want bananas with extra with the other stuff will start rotting.

That's right, yeah.

There must be like specific banana boats and what they would be called, but then bananas do kind of like.

About yeah, maybe they just sell their bananas themselves.

Or you can make a banana raft and then just push it in the direction that you want.

Having gained experience, and I daresay reputation as a fine Captain, William founded, the Lation came in 1836 with another captain.

Captain Grace, with another captain, called Captain Grace.

Grace, he had expensive carrying sugar and goods from the West Indies in South America, so he had been sailing across the Atlantic already. That's good. Well, what do you need if you want to own a shipping company?

Ships with three exclamation marks.

Yes, ships you're not gonna read the answer when I pluck that from your brain.


Now, do you know what the difference between a ship innovators?

Ships are bigger and boats are smaller than ships.

OK, I think.

Yeah, well there seems to be lots of different spelling spelling. There simply is. There seems to be lots of different definitions and I'm not sure there's a strict exact one, but I found a couple here. Then among sailing vessels, the distinction between ships and boats is that a ship is a square rigged craft with at least three masts and a boat isn't.

With regard to mate Wizcraft, a ship is a large vessel intended for Asian going, or at least deep water transport and debate is anything else.

But I prefer this one.

One answer to that is a ships Captain gets annoyed if you refer to his best was a boat, but the boat's captain does not get annoyed if you refer to his vessel as a ship.

So what's the submarine?

Um, it's like.

Is it battleship?

It needs oh, it's a boat because it's anything other than a ship. Yes about yeah.

Anyway, as fortune would have it, another guarantee man, James Sabir, had recently came into the shipyard in 1839.

And he produced very fine vessels, and we've got a little bit about them here, haven't you, Yep.

James should build 8 vessels in total for William between 1840, one 1861. The first ship he constructed was the Lady Munselle, which survived until 1885 when it was wrecked, said the shipwrecked.

The last ship that was built, the Costa Rica packet set the London to San Francisco speed record of 131 days. Yeah, a San Francisco newspaper reported she is the best built ship to ever enter this port. That's pretty impressive trees, yeah, and they recommended that merchants and shipbuilders go and see the vessel and Noble specimen of marine architecture.

Yes, that's pretty amazing so.

A really fine shipbuilder from this tiny island. Andy. Yeah they ship the Costa Rica packet. It's actually got a very fascinating history after it was sold.

The captain who bought it, he caused little incident, which we might do a special episode on.


The first of his own ships that William would captain, which caused the monarch, which is a park which he would sail to Brazil, now got two conflicting sources here about the exact order of events of what happened.

So it might be over one or two voyages, but the basic story in fact seem correct.

At the time there was a global recession going on, so that means that the economy and businesses were struggling.

So when Williams it off, he decided to actually sell around the South tip of America Cape Horn. Just like really dangerous and difficult.

Season, as you said earlier, 800 shipwrecks.

Exactly, yeah, so you can see that how rough the seas are so he woulda selves from say going to London, the UK I think via Liverpool. Actually on the strips. Obviously a major port and they sailed down so the case of Europe then to the Azores. Then they cut straight across the Atlantic to Brazil. Then they sell down the case and then round Cape Horn button here cut it quite wide.

See I want to place to Rockstar, then up the West coast of Chile.

South America, Chile, Peru and then passed Ecuador.

That's right now and into Central America.

So a really long voyage. So could you imagine sailing that in a wooden boat? I mean you have to trust it's well made here.

The first voyage lost from February 1841 to September 1842, and he returned to London.

So you not see for so long guarantee.

But um, I saw there was another boat which was also built in 1841, so that must be a little bit later. Or maybe he went out on that 1841 boat to return to another way to be like or like this poop.

Yes, it's long term to be at sea. It's really important to understand this so.

The length of time it actually took to ship goods.

Back then, really added to their value. Yeah, it's so hard to get hold of. I mean not anybody could go and do this and then sailing around the southern tip of America added.

Several months to the journey time.

Yeah, but could have just like cut through or just guns.

Straight now did you have to go with?

Where my, well, he's kind of looking for opportunities. Then he'd heard when he was in Mexico of the Costa Rican coffee trade. But that was all in the Pacific coast, not the Lantic coast, and there was no easy way, even though it's quite a narrow country. There is no easy way for them to transport their goods to the Atlantic coast at the time.

And covered with that later, actually. So we have to go all the way around to get it. And yeah, traveling by C was easy until you had good roads or aircraft or railways ready.


That's why if you look at the Roman Empire, it's around the middle training which it was easier for the ramen, say today from Italy to Carthage, North Africa. Then it would be from, say, rain to Paris in France, even though today and think different right where where we.

So during his voyage he stopped at the port of Matt Salon on the Pacific coast of Mexico asset, and there he learned about the Costa Rican coffee growers and they were struggling to find buyers with whom to export their product. So he decided to investigate.

And then again, the sources have very on. If this is the first or second voyage to America.

Not everything was so clear.

And then when we were researching.

Yeah, actually managed to get hold of an old kind of book from the library that go into the secret archive to get this for me. And actually I've also got hold of another St. We don't have time to cover today about some of these actual time aboard one of these ships that's so may recover in the future, so it's a good story that, well, this is a sad story.

But I think we covered that. Next time has maybe little kind of short feature. Yeah, so there's no direct shipping of coffee from Costa Rica to London.

Everything had gone through European merchants up until now, but not particularly successfully. And London was when the centers of the coffee trade, then Costa Rica, the Pacific side of the country, they produced some of the best coffee there was in the world at the time. So the enterprising William decided that this was a nice he could exploit. Yes, after his first voyage, where heads pretty amazing. Contacts with coffee growers.

Turn time to London and then about a month later he left again on the 30th of October, heading back to South America, then by March 1840, three had reached the Pacific side of Costa Rica.

And after another year of kind of being at sea and sailing and trading, it returned to London for the first direct shipment of coffee from Costa Rica. So he had begun his trade proper.


During his time in Costa Rica, made lots of important connections with local coffee growers in San Jose is the capital and he would have written probably in horseback.

Costa Rica cowboy.

From Port Punta Arenas to capital in land now. Interestingly, the son of one of the families here we chat AT and actually studied in England under George Stephenson. And you know what he's famous for.

No, he was the inventor of the rocket.

You know the.

Market, yes it was a steam train.

Yeah, it's not the first train. Yeah, and railways they have a big effect on shipping in the future as kind of you hinted at before. Actually when we were talking and you could also speak English which is really helpful as it allowed William to speak with the local says he didn't know any Spanish himself so negotiations were made with support from the British Council and William was prepared to actually risk is a money on the venture as well so that kind of the locals more confidence to deal with him.


But then when he was kind of retiring, this first shipment of coffee was actually delayed by bad weather.

And it took him two months longer than he thought it would, and that caused a bit of concern with the local Costa Rican's because they thought they'd be wrong to trust him. He's not actually paid all of them yet to go from Seoul.

The coffee and then if you bring it.

Back and obviously they wouldn't know that it's too late.

Yeah, you can't just transfer it with the Internet.

This type of trade is difficult. I mean, these delays could have a big effect.

The monarch strip that he was captain carried over half a million kilograms of coffee.

That's a lot of coffee.

Yes, I think it must have been something really low in the water.

Would be not to smell it as well.

Yeah, I mean I guess I would get rid of like the seasonal fever tonight that.

That's nice.

If people die if people don't like it, yeah, sorry.

But as I said, he did return on the locals. They were right to trust him, and there's a article by Luis Fernandez who raped for one of the Costa Rican newspapers in 1933, telling the story of one family here.

I think it might be the same family, same surname.

There are many who believed that the Fernandez family were taking two greater risk, but the risk was worthwhile.

SMS declared that it was a crazy adventure. Only the word of an English sea captain and when he doubted that Captain Latter would keep to his word and return.

When there was a delay, many and bitter weather commentaries, but Captain Alasha returned with many money and goods. The price received by Fernandez was a revelation. The feature richness of the country was established.

In 1849 Gudino Fernandez died, but his wife succeeded him and continued, in spite of having a large family to bring up and educate.

To deal with Captain Alasha ensured the family of prosperity and when she died in 1890, the family fortunes were firmly established. Mademoiselle Rodale Fernandez is a neighbor example of a Costa Rican wife.

Yeah, and I notice in there it mentioned about how like about the richness of Costa Rica becoming make it one of the poorest to one of the richest countries.

And it's actually Costa Rica in Spanish. I think it means Rich Coast.


And Louis, he even raped the last family in London saying be Costa Rican's, we always have a fund memory of your Gran father. I myself remember the family tradition.

That's in 1933, so it's quite long time after shipping, isn't it? Yeah, but you still remembered so the impact he had amazing.

There was like at school, there was a visitor who came in and.

It was an evacuee from Guernsey, and they went to England, and they met someone the same age as them, and they kept in touch for like the next 70 years or something.

That's amazing. It's friendships that were made.

Yes, as you've just said. Actually Costa Rica, it was when the poorest countries in Central America and at any gained its independence from Spain from 20 years earlier. So this new trade had the potential to revolutionize their economy and they didn't have any regular route or coffee trade with Europe since becoming independent, so they were struggling to survive early, yeah?

But the Costa Rican independence. It's actually a little bit more complicated than that. But Mexico declared independence from Spain in 1821. Costa Rica became part of the Mexican Empire, but that didn't last very long, and in 1823 at how it creates the United provinces of Central America. But instability with the other Member States cause them to leave in 1838.

Lots of things happening.

Yeah, so turbulent times for the people. Yeah, but William, he wasn't just taking coffee from Costa Rica to London. The Costa Rican government that actually used the profits that they made from selling the coffee to buy machinery and equipment and goods and all sorts of things and then import those back into the country which improved the coffee production and also the Avril kind of.

See just well being you keep.

Looping that too until you get like more and more money so you can make more coffee so that they will buy more exactly just keeps going up that.

Yep, Yep, they really improve the quality of life of people and it's actually good to see such wise investing from a government which we don't always get.

But it wasn't only coffee and machinery and things that he carried was it?

No, he carried school kids. That sounds really well.

So funny so tell me more.

He took the boys of prominent Costa Rican families to England, and so that they could study and get like a proper education, OK?

There were 16 in total and he made sure that they are well looked after his equipped over to you.

He took young Costa Rican's to England and installed them in professional schools, fretting over them like a parent and taking him back to Costa Rica prepared to fill important roles as professionals.


thank you.

No problem.

The education they received helped to make Costa Rica stronger as they were able to use their skills and knowledge to help improve their country. When in England they also fell in love with the game.

Between what games that?


Yeah, yeah, it's a good game.

When the boys returned to Costa Rica, they took football with him and it soon spread.

And in 1990 they qualified for the World Cup for the first time. So that's like the Costa Rican national team.

Their chances of winning.


1000 to one.

Anyway, they didn't win the World Cup, but they did beat Scotland. Sorry, Liam.

And Sweden, yeah, I like Sweden anyway. Here's the first ever World Cup goal and it's with Spanish commentary as it's much better.

Oh Backhill and nice finish I was.

Really good.

Go oh it's IRA. They do go on forever and look how dejected the Scottish keeper looks the same.

Yeah, so massive moment for them in their footballing history here. Let's watch again. I'll be back. Here is a great backheel chip to the goal is he done really funny?

Oh, that one just looks beautiful, nasty.

For the finish.

Right, William Lasher is.

Sort of indirectly.

Responsible for.

Bringing beating Scotland being introducing football to Costa Rica. Yeah, I wouldn't. Actually with the other South American countries how spread their wonder how if they were already planning it or not, yeah.

But back to our story. So for some.

People football is a.

Religion isn't it? Yeah, but for William it was a bit different and upon first arriving he described Costa Rica as poverty.

Stricken and superstitious.

Now use a Spanish rule. Had meant that much of the population had adopted, so Catholic worship have a William, he decided.

In 1844, to take Protestant Bibles on his next voyage, yeah.

And a letter of recommendation was.

Sent to the British Foreign Bible Society recommending William on this course of action, and it says.

Counting the Lasher is a member of my church. He is about to return to Costa Rica. I know of no man in this Kingdom of Great Britain, to whom you may have more confidence to Intrust Spanish Bibles.

Are pretty high praise, yeah?

In the first Bibles they arrived in January 1845 and a small community seem built up around them, and within spent 4000 pesos buying a house in San Jose, which was probably used by the Protestant worshippers. That's kind of their first sort of based off their congregations. Yeah, yeah.

And the actual the opposite cost price making no money for himself, but with Costa Rica being a Catholic country, the religion that was actually protected by the government itself. So we needed to get permission from them to hold this president congregations. But such as his weight for the Costa Rican government after.

Kind of all he had.

Done more than that of any other foreign aid, permission was given. There is also thought that this may have led to the considerable religious Liberty that's.

Allowed by Costa Rica's 1848 constitution.

Which is good.

Yeah, so that's important if you don't want persecution for peoples beliefs. I mean whatever you believe is just accept that other people have their own beliefs as well.

Yeah, and William even sent a viable 2 presidents Jose Maria Costa Costa. I guess what that's I think I typed his name wrong. I guess that's where San Jose is. I think since he was already named.

I need that.

Yeah, so you sent letter in 1849 and he received a letter. Great appreciation in reply, but there wasn't actually a Protestant church built in Costa Rica until after Williams death and his son John John Lascia. John took over the trade.

And in 18.

64 he carried a prefabricated church made of iron on board with this ships Costa Rica and Iron Church. Yeah, and then so much so heavy, that is yeah, and it was taken to Costa Rica. And then it was assembled and put together.

Would have had some wood.

Boards and things in there probably. But the.

Mainframe was iron and this is the Church of the Good Shepherd. But it was nicknamed for obvious reasons. The Iron church.

And that lasted pretty well, but in 1819, eighteen but in 1937, and is replaced with a new kind of more traditionally built church and includes a plaque that memory it's William. Yeah, here's a photo of the church. Yeah, it looks a little bit like the Castle. It's not, it doesn't have a steeple or anything.

That's the Iron church there.

It doesn't look like it's made out of iron really, but it is not perfect. Perfect photo. Yeah, it's hard to tell from that.

But in our story, Williams not dead yet, no? So the William we're talking about my sons, right?

Cool man yeah so with his growing success William Commissions Jeans appear to build more ships, allowing him to transport not anymore goods but transport them faster. And we know we made far ships with this. He helped further raise the quality of life of many Costa Rican's and raise the wealth of the of the country as a whole.

And his ships, their features and pasted stamps, and even banknotes shows how important is the country.

Remember, you show me a picture of one of the banknotes actually put them in here, but you see them over the. They haven't you, but it's time for a quick advert.

I thought advert time for a quick advert exact.

We are very generously been sent a book from Blue Ormer Publishing and they are a local publisher with lots of really cool books about.

History and guns in the bailiwick.

And what do we have here?

It could occupy it, and it's a book about the occupation of Guernsey Giron MoD.

Or two and the.

Germans came over for five years and it Scott from the beginning when it ordered, the evacuees were sent.

Away until we were liberated in 1945.

Yeah, it covers lots of cool things like commando raids evacuation. We were using secret radios, the building fortifications, and all sorts.

And it's written by a local tour guide and illustrated.

By them T called.

Victoria Robinson, yeah, it's really cool.

Illustrations this makes it's aimed at kids your age so highly recommended, and if you want to get hold of this book or any of the other blue or more books then go to blueormy.co.uk.


BLUEORME r.co.uk

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Yeah, so he's done a lot of the country so far, hasn't it seems.

Yep, Yep, makeup.

Even reviews diamonds.