PIERS, TEMPLE FOSTER, army officer and businessman; b. 9 Dec. 1783 in Halifax, second son of Temple Stanyan Piers and Mercy Foster; m. 15 Feb. 1807, in St John’s, Elizabeth Thomas, daughter of prominent merchant William Bevil Thomas; d. 19 April 1860 in Halifax.
The paternal grandfather of Temple Foster Piers had been one of the original settlers of Halifax under Edward Cornwallis* in 1749, and his father, who died when Piers was two years old, was a moderately successful merchant of the town. Apprenticed to John Lawson, also a Halifax merchant and a relative by marriage, Piers later worked for Charles Hill*, his father’s former partner. On 15 May 1806, through the influence of Hill and Richard John Uniacke*, he obtained an ensign’s commission in the Nova Scotia Fencibles. He joined the regiment at St John’s, Nfld, and, after being appointed its paymaster, was promoted lieutenant on 2 Aug. 1809. The following April, however, he resigned his commission and entered into business in Halifax with his younger brother Lewis Edward. They established themselves as general merchants and importers of British goods in premises between Bedford Row and Water Street, aiming mainly at the market provided by the fisheries. In May 1810, for example, they advertised for sale cordage, sailcloth, nails, and spikes, all imported from England.
Although continuing as merchants, some time in 1826 the Pierses decided to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the expansion of shipping and the fisheries and established a rope factory on the Stanyan property, six five-acre lots in the north suburbs of Halifax left to Temple Foster by his father. Unlike their New England counterparts, the brothers did not turn to local sources for workers or capital but imported skilled Scottish spinners and their families and arranged to purchase all their hemp from the Scottish firm of William Kidston and Sons in exchange for long-term credit. In addition, stock and machinery “of the most approved and superior construction” were shipped from Britain at a total cost of £8,000.
By means of surviving documents it is possible to describe some details of the enterprise. Producing staple cordage, bolt-rope, prepared yarn, and 18-thread cod lines, the brothers generally employed a foreman and about 20 spinners, both skilled hands and apprentices, who worked from 5:30 in the morning to 6 at night in the summer and from 6 to 6 in the winter, with about two hours off for meals. A constant hourly production rate was demanded and in return the employees were granted a high degree of job security for the period. The original manufactory depended on horses to power the rope-making machinery but by 1837 the Pierses decided that the rope-works required water power, “for horses are too expensive & irregular in motion.” In the spring of that year they obtained from the estate of Anthony Henry Holland* a five-year lease on the paper-mill at the foot of Paper Mill Lake at the north end of Bedford Basin and moved some machinery there.
When the Pierses began operations, there was minimal local competition, but the success of the Stanyan Rope Works, as the enterprise became known, depended on factors beyond the brothers’ control. The hemp used for making rope was initially admitted duty-free but in 1829, under new imperial laws, a duty of seven and one-half per cent was imposed. Despite this additional cost, the Pierses’ average price of 65 shillings per hundredweight of cordage was still 5 shillings lower than that of British-made rope but could not compete with Russian rope priced at 55 shillings. The brothers therefore petitioned the provincial legislature to request the British government to repeal the duty on hemp and, although they were unsuccessful, they were granted a subsidy of £300 to pay the duty on hemp they had imported in 1829. Since competition from foreign imports continued to harm the rope-works throughout the early 1830s, in 1836 the brothers petitioned the legislature for tariff protection, arguing that imports duty-free or at very low rates lessened both provincial revenue and production. This attempt similarly failed.
The commercial difficulties of the early 1840s and the firm’s continued inability to compete with foreign imports (caused in part by the brothers’ refusal to lower prices) placed the Pierses in dire financial straits, and in 1844 they were forced to sell their waterfront buildings to William Machin Stairs*. The same year they mortgaged the Stanyan Rope Works to the Kidston firm, their largest creditors, for £5,195. Persistent problems over the next decade resulted in the brothers transferring the mortgaged property in 1855 to the Kidstons, who were anxious to dispose of it and turned over its supervision to Stairs. The following year he closed the rope-works and dismantled the machinery.
Despite the failure of the rope manufactory, the brothers remained in business, operating a grist-mill at Mill Cove on Bedford Basin which they had taken over in 1842 from Temple Foster’s son William Bevil Thomas Piers. When the Halifax and Windsor Railway was being constructed in 1854, its contractors agreed to leave an opening in the planned embankment across Mill Cove to allow vessels access to the mill. This promise was not kept, however, and grain had therefore to be trucked across the railway to the mill. This operation required much extra labour and played havoc with the firm’s costs. The brothers estimated in July 1857 that their losses had amounted to £2,350; the operation of the mill had been suspended for 15 months and a new wharf and storehouse had been constructed at a cost of £250. On 1 Aug. 1857 they were finally awarded £1,150 in damages by the Halifax County grand jury.
Temple Foster Piers continued to supervise the operation of the mill until he died of a heart attack in April 1860. In his will he left a cottage in Halifax to his wife and surviving daughter and equal shares in the mill to three sons, two of whom had aided him in the business. A Sandemanian by religion, Piers seems to have taken little part in community activities other than his involvement in the volunteer fire company. Although he was neither successful nor prosperous, Temple Foster Piers is representative of the new class of manufacturers which appeared on the provincial scene early in the 19th century.
PANS, MG 1, 753, no.1, pts.v–vi; MG 100, 215, docs.17–17m; RG 1, 290, doc.49; 292, doc.147; 293, doc.20; RG 28, 18, no.11. “The Stanyan Ropeworks of Halifax, Nova Scotia: glimpses of a pre-industrial manufactory,” ed. D. [A.] Sutherland, Labour ([Halifax]), 6 (1980): 149–58. British Colonist (Halifax), 26 April 1860. Novascotian, 4 Jan. 1827, 23 Oct. 1843. Weekly Chronicle (Halifax), 10 April 1807; 25 May, 15 June 1810. A. A. Lomas, “The industrial development of Nova Scotia, 1830–1854” (ma thesis, Dalhousie Univ., Halifax, 1950), 310–15, 359–66.
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