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British Industrial History

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Samuel Cunard

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Samuel Cunard (1787-1865), ship owner

1787 born on 21 November at Halifax, Nova Scotia, the son of Abraham Cunard, merchant, of Philadelphia, and his wife, Margaret Murphy.

Went into partnership with his father as Cunard & Son, and bought their first small vessel.

1815 married Susan Duffus, daughter of a prosperous Halifax merchant; they had nine children.

1823 After the death of his father, he traded as S. Cunard & Co. with the West Indies and South America, making contacts during his frequent visits to London, Liverpool, and Glasgow, and acting as colonial agent for several British concerns.

By the early 1830s, Cunard had stakes in coal, timber, China tea, whaling, and banking, and a fleet of forty vessels.

1838 After the SS Great Western showed that the possibilities of steam power for shipping, Cunard determined to build a steam fleet of his own.

A friend in the Admiralty advised him to talk to Robert Napier, who not only agreed to build ships but introduced him to the partners of a thriving coastal trading concern, George Burns in Glasgow and David MacIver in Liverpool.

With capital provided by them and their friends, Cunard formed the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co, which was granted a mail contract.

For a decade Cunard had a monopoly of steam on the Atlantic

1850 the Collins line, with a subsidy from the American government, began to compete strongly. Rather than waste money on a rate war, Cunard made a secret agreement with Collins that lasted until 1855. Collins went bankrupt three years later but by that time, with the appearance of several new British and continental companies, competition had come to stay.

1851 Cunard joined the successful enterprise in the Mediterranean and the Levant set up by MacIver in 1849

1855 became a partner with MacIver and Burns in the British and Foreign Steam Navigation Co.

1856 Arrangement with the European and Australian Royal Mail Co to serve the Australian market but this came to nothing

1859 Made a baronet for his work in linking North America to Britain.

1865 Died in London. Buried in Brompton Cemetery


See Also

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Sources of Information

  • Biography of Sir Samuel Cunard, ODNB