Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Even Lawyers Get Duped Now and Then

While examining the letter books of the law firm of Purves and Archibald, of North Sydney, Nova Scotia, as part of my research into the operations of Charles Robin and Company in Cape Breton, I came across this letter of 21 April 1877.
Editor of the 'Illustrated Weekly'
New York
Dear Sir,
I am a subscriber to your valued paper, paid up till Nov. 7, 1878. In the issue of the 10th March last appeared an advertisement from the Standard Silverware Company of New York, offering on good terms certain wares upon payment of a fixed sum, and the forwarding to their address of a coupon. As will appear by the enclosed copy, I in good faith forwarded the sum of four dollars American currency and faithfully complied with the terms of the advertisement. I am without any reply and now write to ask you to make such inquiry as may appear necessary to you. If the advertisement is a fraud, I shall take care to have it exposed in the Nova Scotia papers, with the certain result of eviscerating the circulation of your Illustrated Weekly in this vicinity.
An early reply will oblige.
Yours very truly,
S. L. Purves
Barrister at law
Clearly, this letter has nothing to do with the Robin Company. What drew my attention to it in the first place was that, rather than being written in the interest of a client, the lawyer was writing on his own behalf. Further, rather than reflecting the objective matter-of-fact tone that one might expect to find in legal correspondence, this letter betrays more than a hint of hostility and emotional involvement.
Does this letter constitute a threat? It might sound like it to many readers, but the legal safety valve is contained in the use of the word 'if'. The lawyer is merely stating a potential consequence, if in fact the situation is found to be fraudulent. However, can the proposed action to negatively impact regional subscriptions really be considered a proportional response to the loss of four dollars, even if it was in US funds? I don't think so. Instead, I think that what we have here is a simple case of bruised ego being partially soothed through the expression of righteous indignation. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Risky Business

While searching for information related to Charles Robin and Company outside of their own documents, I came across this letter from the law firm of Purves and Archibald of North Sydney, to a William Boww, Cow Bay, Nova Scotia, on 9 May 1871. 
My Dear Sir,
Your application for insurance on 'Dolphin' was laid before Directors yesterday, and after deliberation they decided they would not accept any risk upon 'fishing' vessels this season. In consequence of which your application was declined.
Yours truly,
S. L. Purves 
What initially drew my attention to this letter was the reference to a ship named 'Dolphin', which was also the name of one of the ships operated by the Robins in Cape Breton in this same time period.

Even though the ship mentioned here was not the 'Dolphin' I was looking for, the letter is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it contains a remarkably concise and blatant condemnation of the fishing industry, which is surprising when you consider the fact that fishing was one of the primary economic activities being carried out in Nova Scotia in the nineteenth century. Second, the refusal to insure the vessel runs contrary to the whole rationale for establishing marine insurance in the first place. The modern era of marine insurance was established by Lloyd's of London in 1774, as a cooperative of ship owners and other interested parties to distribute the high risk associated with moving goods by sea. What business did these 'Directors' think they were in?