The Killam Family Built a Business
By the third quarter of the nineteenth century, many Yarmouth companies and their owners were enjoying substantial profits as a result of their investments in shipping and labours as commission merchants, ship chandlers, shipping agents and brokers. Foremost among these entrepreneurs was Thomas Killam, destined to lead one of the several generations of successful Yarmouth merchants and businessmen.
The first Killam vessel was built by John Killam in 1788. Approximately sixty years later his son, Thomas, founded Thomas Killam & Co. on January 15th, 1849. In the early days the Killam family made its mark on the maritime trade as ship chandlers, coal merchants, shipbuilders, importers, and traders. After Thomas Killam's death, his three sons Tom, Frank, and John continued the business under the name of Killam Brothers. Through their efforts the company became one of the largest dealers in hard and soft coal as well as being commission merchants for the West Indies and selling agents for companies producing sail duck and twine. In addition to its activities as a major wholesaler and retailer, the company also became representatives for several major marine insurance companies.
Trade and Shipping Built an Empire
The backbone of the Killam business was its
ships. Between 1835 and his death in 1868, Thomas Killam had assembled a merchant fleet of nearly fifty vessels consisting of ships, barques, brigs, schooners and assorted other types that were either owned outright, or in which Thomas held a substantial share. During the period from 1788 to 1900 the Killam family had interests in over 160 vessels.
Killam Brothers thrived under the management of Tom, Frank, and John. Thomas Killam's sons were to carry on the family tradition as Killam-owned vessels of all sizes and description sailed out of Yarmouth, travelling the world as they "tramped" from one foreign port to another loading and unloading cargoes. Many of the Killam vessels worked out their lives in this foreign trade, never returning to Yarmouth.
Although the business had been built on trade and shipping, the Killam Brothers recognized the decline of the age of sail. As the "golden age" of Yarmouth began to wane, the Killams diversified into more community-oriented ventures which enhanced both their business and the town of Yarmouth. These changes in their commercial activities saw the Killams' coal trade change to furnace oil, and their shipping insurance modified to meet the increasing demand for other types of insurance.
Political Ties, Railway Ties & Business Ties
An avid politician as well as an astute businessman,
Thomas Killam spent nearly twenty years in public life as a servant of his community and his province. Committed to a mercantile economy based on inter-continental trade offered by shipping, Killam opposed the idea of intercolonial trade through an expanded railroad which was offered by the Conservatives under Sir John A. Macdonald.
Thomas Killam was elected to the first parliament of Canada as a Liberal and an avowed anti-confederate. A contemporary of Joseph Howe, he was instrumental in the success of the anti-confederates in Nova Scotia's provincial election of 1867. Long a champion of a seafaring economy, Killam died on December 15th, 1868, at the age of sixty-six. His legacy, however, remains a valuable part of the heritage of Yarmouth.
As he followed his father in business, Thomas's son, Frank, would follow his father into politics and win his seat in the House of Commons.
During the five year period which ended with the death of Thomas Killam, exports from Puerto Rico alone included 139,364,796 pounds of sugar, 5,028,012 gallons of molasses, 18,306,014 pounds of coffee, 3,850,022 pounds of tobacco, 734,554 pounds of hides, 1,454,523 pounds of cotton and 22,304 gallons of rum - a total value of approximately $10,000,000,000.
"The United States took about 4/5 of the sugar, nearly all the molasses, no coffee, no tobacco, no hides.... In 1868 $307,807
of the cotton went to British North America. The United States get the Rum & Germany the tobacco..."
The Killam Brothers file YM54 102 N1
"To Captain George Washington Churchill of the "Research",
1459 tons of Yarmouth, N.S.
In conformity with a resolution passed by the committee of the Liverpool Underwriters Association, we are directed to express to you their appreciation of the energy, courage, and perseverance which you displayed in navigating your vessel, the 'Research', across the Atlantic in a disabled state from loss of rudder, during the heavy gales of December and January last, and in bringing her safely to the Clyde without receiving any assistance beyond a supply of provisions from three vessels that passed you on the voyage, notwithstanding the wish to abandon the vessel urged upon you by the whole crew, excepting the Chief Officer Mr. Aaron Churchill and Boatswain Mr. Geo. Marshall, who bravely assisted you in your arduous and protracted struggle.
Liverpool, Feb. 20, 1967."
[Image captions, from left to right, read]
· Interior of the After Saloon on the "Sokoto"
· The Killam Brothers Wharf in 1874 with the ship "N. W. Blethen" tied alongside.
· The ship "N. E. Gardner" moored at Chincha Islands, Peru
· Painting of the barque "Mary Killam"
· Painting of the ship "Thomas Killam"
· Mr. John Killam
· Mrs. Thomas Killam
· Mr. Frank Killam and his wife, Ellen (Hood) Killam
· Interior view, Killam Brothers office
· Killam Brothers building
· Main Street - Yarmouth
· Painting of the Killam Brothers ship "Research"