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70,000 tons. In a little less than forty years the
number of these had grown to 1,115, carrying
nearly 180,000 tons. In the year that he had
first settled in Liverpool some 3,600 vessels of all
nations had entered the port. Thirty-six years
later this number had increased to no less than
10,000. Four lines of ships were trading regularly
with New York, and two lines were trading with

140 The Sea Traders

Philadelphia. The case for increasing the con-
veniences of traffic between Liverpool and Man-
chester and the other neighbouring tributary
Lancashire towns, as put before this Committee by
John Gladstone and his fellow-townsman, William
Brown, was unansw^erable, and the result was the
opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway
in 1830.

By this time John Gladstone was a very rich
man, and had bought for himself a Scotch
estate in Kincardineshire ; it was there that he
thenceforward spent most of his time. He had
by no means retired, however, and was actively
interested, not only in the Royal Bank of Edin-
burgh, but in the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee
Railway Company, of which he was the principal

An ardent politician, he was three times a
Member of Parliament — once for Lancaster, once
for Woodstock, and a third time for Berwick —
while he fought Dundee in the Conservative
interest when seventy-three years of age. He was
shrewd, and seemed, as one of his biographers
has put it, "to take the whole map of the world
into his mind at a glance, and almost by intuition
to discover not only which were the best markets
for to-day, but where would be the best open-
ing for to-morrow." But he was also the soul of
generosity, and gave lavishly of his wealth. In
the year of the battle of Waterloo (1815) he built,
for example, at a cost of £14,000, the church of

Great Georgian Merchant Princes 141

St. Andrew, in Liverpool, and two years later
endowed another, with its schools, at Seaforth.
In 1841 he built and endowed the church of
St. Thomas-in-the-Fields, Toxteth, and built a
hospital about the same time for incurable diseases
in the town of his birth, Leith. Here also he
built and endowed yet another church, with its
manse and attached schools.

On his estate of Fasque, in Kincardineshire,
as well as in the surrounding country, he was
immensely popular, and in the year 1846 he was
recommended for a baronetcy by Sir Robert Peel.
It was at Fasque that he died, in 1851, at the
age of eighty-seven, to be well described by one
of the contemporary journals as " the master
spirit of the age in which he lived, every inch a
merchant tradesman, keen, energetic, industrious
and fore-seeing, cautious and prudent, yet withal
liberal and generous, without being lavish or need-
lessly profuse."

Although a much younger man, Alexander
Henry, of Manchester, whom we have coupled for
consideration with John Gladstone, and who was
a contemporary of the latter for many years,
played a very large part in building up the foreign
trade of the great Lancashire metropolis. Of
Irish extraction, he gained his start in life through
the earlier enterprise of an uncle of his, also named
Alexander, who had been born in Ireland in the
year 1766. Like so many Irishmen before and
since, this uncle had fallen under the glamour of

142 The Sea Traders

America, and had emigrated in the year 1783 as
a lad of seventeen. There he had obtained a
position as a junior clerk in the town of
Philadelphia, and some years later had started as
a merchant on his own account in the textile
industry. For some little time he had had a hard
battle to establish his industrial position, and,
with other merchants, a still harder one to consoli-
date that of his chosen town. But he had been
successful in both directions, and when he retired
twenty-four years later he had helped to build up
the prosperity of Philadelphia, besides making
an ample fortune for himself. A man of deep
religious instincts, he was a generous giver and a
far-seeing citizen, and the younger Alexander
could have found no better mentor at the outset
of his own career.

He too had left Ireland at an early age in
order to enter his uncle's American house of
business, but returned to England in 1804 with
a view to establishing in Manchester an agency
for the Philadelphia firm, and also to launching
out for himself in what seemed to him a sphere of
wider possibilities.

Beginning in a comparatively humble way in a
house in Palace Street, Manchester, he found
himself breathing an atmosphere electric with
change and charged with a myriad new ideas.
The enormous possibilities of the steam engine
were beginning to impress themselves on the
minds of all thinking men, and the spinning-

Great Georgian Merchant Princes 143

jenny of James Hargreaves, the spinning-frame
of Richard Arkvvright, and the power-loom of
Edward Cartwright had ushered in an era of
unimagined productivity as far as the cotton
industry was concerned. Goods were now being
manufactured at such a pace and in such un-
dreamed-of quantities that the finding of new
markets and fresh means of distribution had be-
come an imperative necessity ; and it was in this
direction that Alexander Henry perceived and
seized his opportunity.

He was already in close touch with the
American markets, and soon found his business as
a distributor growing so rapidly that he took his
brother Samuel into partnership and moved into
larger premises in Spear Street. Concentrating at
first on their North American connexions, the two
brothers developed these to such an extent that
they had soon established valuable and increasing
agencies in most of the larger North American
cities ; but they also dispatched agents to every
quarter of the globe, to Brazil, Australia and the
South Sea Islands, thereby building up what was
probably the greatest distributing organization in
the world.

Both Alexander and his brother Samuel worked
day and night at this gigantic task, and there was
no detail of their ever-growing and complicated
business with which they were not familiar. Deal-
ing at first almost '^vholly with Manchester cotton
goods, they soon discovered that their machinery

144 The Sea Traders

was equally useful for the distribution of other
fabrics. If their world-scattered agencies, they
argued, could place cottons, why not woollens and
silks and worsteds? Accordingly they decided to
establish collecting stations, as they might be
called, in the centres of these other industries, and
installed themselves at such places as Bradford,
in the heart of the worsted manufacturing district ;
at Belfast, among the linen makers ; at Leeds, in
the woollen area ; at Huddersfield, in the cloth
country ; and at Glasgow, among the Scottish
textile workers.

It was always, however, with the world over-
seas in their minds that they took each forward
step, and it was chiefly in America that they saw
their field of opportunity. They became known,
in fact, as the American House, and much of their
time was spent on the Atlantic. How much can
be guessed from the fact that the average trans-
Atlantic voyage in those pre-steamship years lasted
thirty days, that Alexander Henry was once,
owing to mishaps and bad weather, more than two
months in making the passage, and that he crossed
the Atlantic more than thirty times. It was on
the Atlantic, indeed, that his brother Samuel at
last met his death, four years after the two
brothers had established their headquarters in yet
bigger premises in Portland Street, Manchester,
and had made their house the greatest of any
doing business with America. This was while he
was travelling in one of the earlier American

Great Georgian Merchant Princes 145

steamers, the ill-fated Lexington, that caught fire
on her way from New York to Providence, and in
which almost the whole of the crew and all the
passengers perished. A generous tribute was paid
to him by one of the chief American magazines.
" In his business intercourse," it said, " with
his fellow-men, rigid uncompromising integrity
marked his character. No one knew better the
principal requirements of a merchant, or the
generosity becoming a man, and throughout his
life he ever maintained the strictest consistency of
high mercantile principles and the most generous

To Alexander Henry his brother's death was
a blow of the severest nature. Between them they
had created a business almost Avithout parallel ot
its own kind. But the effect of the tragedy was
only to immerse him deeper than ever in a hundred
various activities. Six years later he entered
the House of Commons as an ardent Free Trader
and Reformer, and he was always an earnest and
practical worker in the causes of educational and
political liberty. A personal friend of the great
Hungarian patriot, Louis Kossuth, he was twice
his host when he visited Manchester. He was
a man who stuck to his views and his friendships
without regard to their popularity.

Like every successful organizer, Alexander
Henry had the instinct of attracting and choosing
capable helpers, and in each branch of his business
was ably partnered by skilled and energetic men.

146 The Sea Traders

To the last, however, he maintained a keen and
personal control, and this in spite of his civic
and parliamentary duties and his philanthropic
interests. It was not until the year 18G2 that he
died, fifty-eight years after he had first come
back from America, and by then the name of
Henry was well known from Siberia to Honolulu.
Almost every day from his vast warehouses pack-
ages were being sent out in various forms — in the
shape of bales of scarves for Demerara, of coloured
shawls for the west coast of Africa, of arctic clothes
for Scandinavia, for mule transport and man
transport through mountain fastnesses or tropical
jungles, to cover or adorn mankind in Boston
parlours, in Samoyede houses, and Zulu kraals.

But after the introduction of steamers
Alexander himself never crossed the sea, and
when he died it was with the knowledge that the
enterprise of his heart was in good hands ; among
the partners were two of his sons, one of whom
was in addition a distinguished surgeon.

Throughout Manchester he was genuinely
mourned, and though in the strictly municipal
sense perhaps many of his contemporary merchants
were more prominent, none had contributed more
practically to the great cotton city's well-being
and progress.



The Rise of Sea-transport as an Independent Industry —
Early Days of Cunard in America — His Conception of
a Trans-Atlantic Steamship Line — The Formation of the
Cunard Company — Competition with America — The Failure
of the ColHns Line — Progress of Steamship Building —
Leviathans of the Sea.

T T has now perhaps become manifest, as we have
■*■ been studying the Hfe histories of these various
pioneers of British oversea commerce, that a pro-
cess of gradual evolution in respect of shipping had
been taking place. We have seen, for example,
that the earlier Saxon, Norman and Plantagenet
merchants were not only men of commerce but also
themselves their own shipowners, as well as being
skilled navigators. In later Tudor times and
during the reigns of the Stuarts, while many
British merchants themselves, as we have noticed,
made long and perilous voyages, they had, as a
class, ceased to be practical seamen, although they
owned the ships that carried their products.

Later still the building of ships and the carriage
of goods and passengers to all parts of the world
tended to become more and more an independent
industry, and with the coming of the steam era
this tendency very rapidly increased. The sphere


148 The Sea Traders

of competition between the East Indiamen and
China chppers of the various individual tea and
produce firms became slowly transferred to that of
a keener rivalry between the growing shipping
companies, or, as we have now come to call them,

It was in the earlier days of the nineteenth
century that this new development first became
notable, and Samuel Cunard was one of its ablest
and most far-sighted sponsors. Curiously enough,
just as Alexander Henry's uncle had been a
merchant in Philadelphia, so had Samuel Cunard 's
father been in business, and almost at the same
time, in this same American city. Later, how-
ever, he had migrated to Nova Scotia, and it was
at Halifax that Samuel Cunard was born in 1787,
just seventeen years before Alexander Henry
returned to set up his world-wide distributing
business in Manchester.

From early days, although he began life as a
merchant, Cunard was interested in shipping, and
gradually he formed a scheme in his mind for the
establishment of a regular line of steamers between
England and the United States. Let us glance
for a moment at the position of the steamer in these
first years of Cunard 's business life. It was in the
year 1802, when he was fifteen years old, that the
first successful practical steamer came into being
in the shape of the Charlotte Dundas, constructed
by Symington on the Forth and Clyde Canal.
She carried an engine, designed by the great


Samuel Cunard 149

James Watt, of Glasgow, which drove a stern
wheel. Her success inspired the American en-
gineer Robert Fulton to build the Clermont ,
in New York, five years later. This vessel,
also engined by Watt, travelled up the Hudson
River in 1807 from New York to Albany, per-
forming the journey of 130 miles in thirty-two
hours. We are told that an enormous and, on
the whole, sceptical crowd gathered to witness the
commencement of what was to prove a classical
voyage. According to an account written in the
New York Evening Sun of July, 1909, the
Clermont " moved out into the stream, the
steam connection hissing at the joints, the crude
machinery thumping and groaning, the wheels
splashing and the smoke^ack belching like a
volcano," while "one honest countryman, after
beholding the unaccountable object from the shore,
ran home and told his wife that he had seen the
devil on his way to Albany in a saw mill." Others
described her as a " monster moving on the water,
defying the waves and the tide, and breathing
flames and smoke."

That was in the year 1807, but it was not until
1819 that the Savannah, a wooden saiHng ship,
crossed the Atlantic to Liverpool with auxiliary
steam ; and it was not until 1838, when the steamers
Sirius and the Great Western travelled from
England to America in little over a fortnight, that
the trans-Atlantic steamer service may be said to
have received its effective initial impulse.

150 The Sea Traders

Samuel Cunard was then in his fiftieth year,
an age when many men are considering retirement,
but it was in this year that he crossed to England
to try to give practical effect to the ideas growing
in his mind. Among his friends was Mr. Melvill,
the Secretary of the East India Company, which
was at that time itself beginning to consider the
advisability of introducing steam into its own
Eastern fleet. Cunard's idea was the establishment
of a regular steamer service running between Liver-
pool and Halifax, a splendid natural harbour, and
from Halifax to Boston. What he wanted was to
get into touch with some enterprising shipbuilder,
and Mr. Melvill gave him a letter of introduction
to Robert Napier of Glasgow. Napier was im-
pressed both with the man and his ideas, and,
having considered them carefully, advised a con-
sultation with Mr. George Burns. Burns was then
a partner, with his brother and Hugh Matthie of
Liverpool, in a line of small coastal steamers trad-
ing regularly between that port and Glasgow — a
business that had been amalgamated eight years
before with that of David Mclver of Liverpool
and his brother. Mr. George Burns, like Robert
Napier, was both interested and impressed by
Samuel Cunard's ideas and ability, and so was his
partner David Mclver, and they agreed to co-
operate with Cunard, provided that the latter
could obtain from the British Government the
contract for the carriage of the American

Samuel Cunard 151

This was, at that time, in the hands of the
Admiralty, and had never hitherto been entrusted
to steamers, although the success and regularity
of the Bristol Great Western Company's sail-
ings had favourably impressed those in authority.
When the contract was advertised in the following
October, this was the company that it was generally
assumed would obtain it. But Cunard 's tender
was so much more favourable that the Admiralty
accepted it, and Cunard, Burns and Mclver there-
fore formed, in the year 1839, the British and
North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Com-
pany, the embryo of what was afterwards to
become the great Cunard Company.

This first contract was for seven years, and
for a sum so comparatively small as £50,000 per
annum the directors agreed to supply three suitable
steamers and to make two voyages every month
from Liverpool to the United States. As a matter
of fact, they constructed four steamers, built on
the Clyde and engined by Robert Napier; they
were wooden paddle steamers of a little over 1,000
tons each, the Britannia, Acadia, Caledonia and
Columbia. They were all of some 400 odd horse-
power, and were capable of a speed of about eight
and a half knots.

With Samuel Cunard in charge of the new
enterprise at Halifax and Boston, David Mclver
at Liverpool, and George Burns and his brother
at Glasgow, the management of the company from
the outset was both bold and prudent. Success

152 The Sea Traders

came almost immediately, and in the year 1844
two more steamers were added, four others of
nearly 2,000 tons each and with a speed of
fourteen and a half knots being sent to sea in

Such prosperity and so phenomenal a growth
was bound to cause considerable jealousy, and
especially on the part of the Great Western
Company, whose vessel had been one of the first
two steamers to cross the Atlantic. The cry was
raised, therefore, that an unfair and injurious
monopoly had been granted to Samuel Cunard,
and a parliamentary inquiry was asked for and
obtained. This resulted in a triumphant vindica-
tion of Samuel Cunard and his partners. It was
clearly shown that the country could have obtained
the required services on no more advantageous
terms, and that the vessels employed were superior
in every way to any others regularly making the

The Cunard Company was therefore not only
well started but well ahead in the trans-Atlantic
shipping trade, and the result of its efficiency was
to provoke a natural and by no means unhealthy
competition on both sides of the w^ater. Generous
as had been the welcome from the people of Boston
and the United States generally towards the
Britannia and her sisters, it was felt that America
was falling behind a little in an oversea carrying
trade of great and growing importance. A line of
American steamships to run between New York

Samuel Cunard 153

and Bremen, calling en route at Southampton was
accordingly resolved upon ; and in June, 1847,
the American steamer Washington left New York
for Southampton ; on the same day the Britannia
left for Liverpool.

It was the first race, in friendly rivalry, between
a British and an American steamship, and it was
won very handsomely by the Cunard Company's
steamship Britannia, with a couple of days to spare.
But the Washington was welcomed very hospitably
at the German port of Bremen, the captain being
invited to a special banquet in the town hall.

A still greater effort was, however, deemed
necessary by the American people if they were to
win the blue riband of the Atlantic. After much
discussion, therefore, it was at last decided to
make an exception in the American Government
practice of opposing subsidies on principle, and
to give substantial Government aid to the forma-
tion of an American line of steamships that might
reasonably be expected to compete successfully
with the great British company. The task of
organizing and supervising this line of steamships,
to which the American mails were to be entrusted,
fell to Mr. E. K. Collins of New York, a man
who had already gained great experience as the
founder of the Collins line of sailing packets be-
tween Liverpool and New York. No expense was
spared, and the American architects, true to a
brilliant tradition, exercised all their ingenuity in
the design of the four pioneer ships of the new

154 The Sea Traders

line, the Arctic, Baltic, Atlantic and Pacific,
each vessel being of about 3,000 tons and 800
horse-power; and, in the year 1850, when Samuel
Cunard was sixty-three years of age, they began
to compete for the trans- Atlantic trade.

For the first two or three years they were cer-
tainly superior, as regards speed, to the existing
Cunard vessels, but the fair promise with which
they started was never destined to be fulfilled. A
somewhat over-lavish capital expenditure proved a
handicap to the immediate financial success of the
company, and it suffered from a series of almost
crippling disasters. Thus, in the year 1854, the
Arctic was sunk in collision with a French steamer,
with the loss of very many persons, amongst them
being Mr. Collins' own wife, son and daughter.
A year later the Pacific disappeared, leaving no
trace and carrying to the bottom nearly two
hundred lives, besides mails and two million
dollars' worth of cargo.

Meanwhile the Cunard Company had not been
idle. In the year 1852 it had added to its fleet
four iron screw steamships, the Australia, Sydney,
Andes and Alps, and in 1855, the year of the
Pacifiers loss, it launched the Persia, a vessel
superior to any other in the company's service,
and one of the most powerful hitherto con-
structed. In the following year this vessel, on
four occasions, travelled from New York to Liver-
pool in a little over nine days ; and it is interesting
to note that, in this year, the average speed


Samuel Cunard 155

of the Cunard vessels was again higher than
that of any of their competitors. In 1858, when
the shareholders of the unfortunate Collins Com-
pany discovered that they were only competing
at a ruinous loss, the days of this undertaking
were seen to be numbered, and shortly afterwards
it collapsed altogether.

It was now clear to the world at large that
in Samuel Cunard Britain had found a shipowner
and organizer of the highest capacity, and, in the
year 1859, at the instance of Lord Palmerston,
Queen Victoria conferred on him a baronetcy.
Possibly the valuable part that the vessels of his
line had played as transports in the Crimean War
may have had some influence in the bestowal of
this well-merited reward. But his prescience and
commercial abihty had been of untold benefit to
the whole industry of his country, and, as we shall
presently see, had been a most valuable stimulus
to many other vast shipping developments.

The Cunard line was now facile princepSf so
far as the Atlantic was concerned, but the com-
pany's policy of cautious enterprise was in no way
relaxed, and, in the year 1862, in the Scotia, it
once more beat its own record. This vessel crossed
from New York to Liverpool in eight days and
twenty-two hours. Powerful as she was, however,
she was a paddle-wheel steamer, and the last of
a dying type ; henceforward the screw-propelled
vessel held the field in new marine construction.

Sir Samuel Cunard was now an old man, and

156 The Sea Traders

in the year 18G5 he passed away, dying in his
London residence at the advanced age of seventy-
eight. He left a son, Sir Edward, to continue
his work, and there were also succeeding to power
in the councils of the company both younger Burns
and Mclvers, all men of sound judgment and great
ability. From the outset, indeed, this pioneer com-
pany was singularly fortunate in its directors, and,
after thirty-five years' trading, and when its trans-
Atlantic fleet amounted to twenty-three steamers
of more than 64,000 tons, it could proudly state
that it had never lost a single life or a single letter.
It was by then responsible for weekly sailings be-
tween Liverpool and New York and between New
York and Liverpool, calling at Queenstown in the
south of Ireland in each case. It was also main-
taining regular services between Liverpool and
Havre as well as with all the principal ports of the
Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Following its
founder's traditions, it continued to keep abreast
of every maritime engineering development; and
in the year 1881, in the shape of the Servia^ it

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