On today’s date in 1865, Samuel Cunard, a Halifax-born shipping magnate, died in London, England’s affluent Kensington neighbourhood.
Cunard’s life began 77 years earlier, on Nov. 21, 1787, when he was born in Halifax. At age 17, he was hired as the manager of a local general store before later joining, and growing, his father’s timber business.
During the War of 1812, Cunard rose to the rank of captain as a volunteer soldier with the 2nd Battalion of the Halifax Regiment militia. After the war ended in 1815, he eventually rose to further prominence as a businessman in various frontier industries. In 1825, he also co-founded the Halifax Banking Company.
By the 1830s, with Cunard’s focus now on shipping, he began working with the steam pioneering services aboard the Royal William and ran a steam-powered ferry service on Canada’s east coast. He later relocated to Britain to vie for a government tender for a steam-powered Royal Mail contract, which he eventually won. The service contract for Liverpool, England, to Halifax, Québec and Boston gave Cunard £55,000 a year for 10 years.
With his partners, he formed the British & North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, later known as the Cunard Line. Cunard’s first crossing was made in May 1840, and regular mail service began in July, when the Britannia sailed from Liverpool to Halifax and then on to Boston in 14 days and eight hours.
In 1859, for his contributions to British shipping, Cunard was created a Baronet by Queen Victoria.
He died the following decade, on April 28, 1865, after leaving control of the Cunard Line to his son Edward.
2004 CUNARD STAMP
In 2004, Canada Post featured Cunard alongside fellow shipping magnate Sir Hugh Allan on a se-tenant pair of 49-cent commemorative stamps (Scott #2042a).
The stamps, which honour the duo who introduced a transatlantic mail service alongside their ocean-going steam vessels, were released as part of Canada Post’s “Pioneers of Transatlantic Mail Service” issue. Printed by the Lowe-Martin Group on Tullis Russell Coatings coated paper using five-colour lithography and two varnishes, the Cunard stamp (SC #2041) has general tagging along each side.
An official first-day cover was also cancelled in Halifax.
Created by designers Dennis Page and Oliver Hill and illustrator Bonnie Ross, the stamp celebrates the 19th-century milestone of fast and consistent trans-Atlantic postal service by depicting the increasing volume of mail that began to cross the Atlantic by steamship at this time.
Photographs of actual letters from these trips fill the lower portion of the frame. Cunard’s portrait is illustrated in the popular formalized period style alongside an image of Britannia on the rough Atlantic seas. The cancellation mark represents the date of the arrival of Cunard’s Britannia in Halifax in 1840.