A Blupete Biography Page

Civic-Mindedness, Part 5 to the Life & Works of
Samuel Cunard

Samuel Cunard was public-spirited. He immersed himself in municipal affairs, as did most all the upstanding men of the age did -- without charge, I am sure. There are numerous examples of Cunard's involvement in such matters. For a period of time, during the winters, soup-kitchens were set up to serve the poor. This was certainly the case when Dalhousie14 was the Lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia, 1816-19. During that time, Cunard was one of the trustees of a fund set up by the government to supply soup-kitchens. Another example would be his involvement with the Sun Fire Company to which he became president in 1821. During these years, at Halifax, there were a number of such companies dedicated to saving the town should a fire break out. "The members of these fraternities equipped themselves with leather caps and canvas buckets bearing their club's insignia, and whenever a fire broke out -- which was often ... they grabbed their caps and buckets and rushed off to put it out."

In addition to the civic pursuits just mention, Cunard was involved in the setting up and of the maintaining of Public Libraries, so too of the Mechanics Institute at Halifax.15 He was also a Commissioner of Lighthouses, a position he held for 20 years. In 1846, Cunard was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Throughout his life, Cunard continued to be of service to his community both in Nova Scotia and in England. It is interesting to read, that, notwithstanding all the civic matters in which he was involved, Cunard disliked public appearances.16

Sam Cunard's dislike for public appearances would account for his poor showing when he ran for election to the Legislative Assembly in 1826; he was not successful. He more easily impressed those in commercial and political power rather than the average voter. In 1830, Cunard was appointed a member of His Majesty's Council.

Samuel Cunard had the good practice of responding, usually in person, to any good business proposition. For example, when there was a chance for a postal contract with the British authority, he would go to London, while those at home, such as Enos Collins, would send a letter of interest. The result was that Cunard received most of the contracts that came up. So, certain of the business class were not complimentary to Cunard, who seemed to get so many nods from the leaders in London. The more difficult thing for the broader population is that Cunard got international deals together, and, Halifax (though he tried) was not at the center of the deal. The newspapers spread the word that as for the British Postal Service, Halifax was "merely the touching place for the Cunard steamers, while Boston was selected as the stopping place."17 So, not at all times, was Samuel Cunard appreciated by the citizens of Halifax.

John G.Longley, in his work, described Samuel Cunard's character:

"Despite having only a modest education, Cunard possessed natural business talents, quick perceptions, shrewed judgment, and an easy manner, which easily made him friends."18
Then there was Sam's brother, Joseph: He was twelve years younger than Sam. Joe, I think around the time of their father's death, 1824, together with a younger brother were sent to run the Cunard lumbering and milling operations which they had at the mouth of the Miramichi River in the province of New Brunswick. This operation became increasingly more important to the Cunards. Sam and Joe, while brothers, were quite different as individuals, especially when it came to business dealings. The principal problem for Joe, was his propensity to run up debt.

Joseph had taken to spending winters in England, just as his older brother, Sam did; both taking members of their family with them. It would appear that Sam's time in England was spent more productively than the time that Joe spent. In the spring of 1848, Joe returned from England; but this time, he left his wife and children in England, at Liverpool. On returning to the Miramichi (Chatham) he found that there were rumours running wild that Cunard's operation on the Miramichi was in serious financial difficulties19; the letters from creditors Joe found at his office showed it to be true. No time was lost; he fled the territory back to Liverpool, never to return.20 Joseph died in 1865 at Liverpool. He had disgraced the Cunard name, but Samuel eventually made good for his brother's every debt, though it took 24 years to do so.21

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Peter Landry
2011

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