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?

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