Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cunard, Samuel
CUNARD, Sir SAMUEL (1787–1865), shipowner, son of Abraham Cunard, merchant, of Philadelphia, by his wife, a daughter of Thomas Murphy, was probably born at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 21 Nov. 1787. He was for many years a merchant at Halifax, and the owner of whalers which went from Nova Scotia to the Pacific. In 1830 he contemplated the establishment of a mail service between England and America, his original plan, which he afterwards carried out, being to run steamers from Liverpool to Halifax, and thence to Boston in the United States. In 1838 he came to England, with an introduction from Sir James Melvill, of the India House, to Robert Napier of Glasgow, the eminent marine engineer. The result of an interview with Napier was that Cunard gave him an order for four steamships, each of 1,200 tons burden and 440-horse power. The project then assuming a proportion which was beyond the resources of a private individual, he joined with Mr. George Burns of Glasgow and Mr. David MacIver of Liverpool, and established in 1839 the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. The government on 4 May 1839 entered into a contract with Cunard for the conveyance of the mails between Liverpool and Halifax, Boston and Quebec, for seven years at 60,000l. per annum, stipulating at the same time that the ships should be of sufficient strength and capacity to be used as troopships in case of necessity, and to receive a fitting armament. The first voyage of this line across the Atlantic was made by the Britannia, which in the presence of an immense concourse of spectators left Liverpool on 4 July 1840, Cunard himself sailing in the vessel. She arrived at Boston in fourteen days and eight hours, where on 22 July he was entertained at a public banquet given to celebrate the establishment of steam postal communication between America and Great Britain. During the next seven years the service was conducted by six boats, but at the end of that time the government determined to have a weekly mail, and four more ships were added to the fleet. The first iron boat used in this service was the Persia, built by R. Napier & Son in 1855, which was not only the largest of the ships, but surpassed in speed all the other vessels. The success of the iron steamers was from the first undoubted, and in course of time it was found advisable to abandon paddles as the propelling power, and to rely entirely on the screw, and no paddle-wheel boats were built after 1862, when the China was the first large ship sent across the Atlantic with a screw movement. On 9 March 1859, in recognition of the services which he had rendered to this country by the establishment of the Cunard line of steamers, her majesty, upon the recommendation of Lord Palmerston, conferred a baronetcy on Cunard. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1846. He died at his residence, 26 Princes Gardens, Kensington, London, on 28 April 1865, and his personalty, on 27 May, was sworn under 350,000l. He married, in February 1815, Susan, daughter of William Duffus of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She died at Halifax on 28 Jan. 1828.
[Lindsay's History of Merchant Shipping (1876), iv. 178–86, 217–20, 226–50; Fortunes made in Business (1884), ii. 325–71; London Society (1880), xxxviii 33–47; On Halifax and Boston Mails—Parl. Papers, xlv. 195–231 (1846), and li. 37 (1851).]