Lieutenant Joseph William Hobbs (RCNVR) – Entrepreneur and ‘Exporter’

by John M. MacFarlane 2013

Joseph William Hobbs

Lieutenant Joseph William Hobbs RCNVR

Joseph William Hobbs was born in Newbury UK in 1881. Hobbs was trained as an engineer and emigrated to Canada before World War One. He moved to Alberta and undertook a career in ranching before moving to Vancouver BC. He was one of the most colourful characters to serve with the Royal Canadian Navy.

He joined the Royal Naval Air Service and was appointed as a Probationary Flight Sub–Lieutenant (Temp.) RNAS 1915. He was appointed as Flight Sub-Lieutenant (Temp.) RNAS. He was appointed as Flight Sub–Lieutenant RNAS 1918. He was a member of the British Naval Air Mission which supervised the construction of a naval air station at Sydney NS. He was demobilized at the end of the War and transferred to the RCNVR.

He was appointed as an A/Lieutenant RCNVR on April 15, 1924 and was appointed as the Commanding Officer of the Vancouver Half Company RCNVR serving from 1924–1929.

During this period Hobbs was involved in the building of the twenty–two story Marine Building in Vancouver BC which opened in 1930. The building cost $2.3 million to build – about $1.1 million over budget and was not a financial success. It was finished in time to coincide with the financial collapse that brought on the Great Depression. Hobbs lost much of his investment when it was sold to the Guinness family of Ireland for $900,000.

Hobbs was an agent for the Distillery Company Ltd. in Canada. He also used his commercial concern, Hobbs Brothers Ltd. in Vancouver as a front for the ownership of the vessels he employed for smuggling. After the start of Prohibition he bought a steamship called the Lillehorn. He started running whisky (mainly Teacher’s Highland Cream whisky) through the Panama Canal to the coast of California. The whisky was shuttled ashore by bootleggers to customers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.


H.M.C.S. Naden in her days serving in the Royal Canadian Navy before she was the personal yacht of the Commanding Officer of the RCNVR Division in Vancouver BC.

Hobbs purchased the former naval schooner H.M.C.S. Naden for use as a yacht after she was paid off from the RCN. He also owned the former armed yacht Stadacona and she was said to have been involved in the export of alcohol during the prohibition period renamed as the Moonlight Maid. In 1931 Hobbs saw that the days of Prohibition in the USA were numbered – but he also observed that a boom in legal alcohol sales was coming soon. With the end of prohibition Hobbs gladly went ‘legitimate’.


Stadacona – once a commissioned ship of the Royal Canadian Navy, later turned rum runner. (Photo courtesy of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia MMBC-2031)

He was appointed as the Manager of the Canadian Development Co. Ltd. He established the Great Glen Cattle Ranch in 1931 in the West Highlands of Scotland as well as seven Scotch whisky distilleries. He returned to Scotland and the Glasgow firm of Train &McIntyre he purchased seven distilleries: Bruichladdich, Glenury, Royal, Glenesk, Fettercairn, Glenorchy, Benromach and Strathdee. Hobbs was in partnership with Hatim Attari &Alexander Tolmie with the National Distillers of America (which owned Associated Scottish Distillers Ltd.)

Hobbs and his American backers ran the distilleries until 1954 when most were sold to the Distillers Co. Ltd. He sold out in 1961 and retired to Inverlochy Castle which he made his home. He was apparently also a great success as a cattle farmer in Scotland and introduced modern approaches to grazing, as well as improving the breeding stock. He was made a Freeman of the City of London and also by the City of Fort William Scotland. He was a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights.

Whether the shadowy origins of his fortune were publicly known at the time of these honours, he was presented with a testimonial whose address began:

"To Joseph William Hobbs, Commander of the Venerable Order of St. John, Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights, Freeman of the City of London, in recognition of his pioneering achievements in industry, agriculture and stock–breeding, unprecedented in the history of the local economy ..."

Hobbs died in Scotland in 1963.

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2013) Joseph William Hobbs – Entrepreneur and Exporter. 2013.

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