HILYARD, THOMAS, shipbuilder and lumberman; b. October 1810 at Saint John, N.B., son of Thomas Hilyard and Margaret Miles; m. Matilda Dyer and had 13 children; d. 22 June 1873 at Saint John.
Only a few details of Thomas Hilyard’s activities prior to 1852 are known. In 1842, described as a shipwright, he is listed in the Saint John shipping register as the owner of a minute schooner, the Nevermind. From 1848 to 1850 Hilyard owned the large new ship Patriarch. With the construction of two big ships in 1852 he started building on a large scale. He obtained, first by lease and later by purchase, a shipyard in Portland, N.B. At the end of 1854 he bought the adjoining steam sawmill which would give him not only cheap supplies of shipbuilding timber and ready cargoes for his new ships on their maiden voyages, but also the means to maintain his business during the frequent ebbs in shipbuilding. The latter aspect must have been particularly important because Hilyard, unlike most of the long-term successful shipbuilders of Saint John, did not invest to any extent in shipowning. In 1856 or 1857 he further expanded by initially leasing and subsequently purchasing a neighbouring shipyard from John Haws*, for decades a leading shipbuilder in the area.
Hilyard launched at least 48 vessels – a number surpassed by few Canadian builders. An early vessel laid down at Portland in 1853 was his largest, the three-decked ship Clas-Merden of 1,768 tons. Most of his 28 or more large ships, from about 900 tons upward, were sold to major shipowners at Liverpool, England. These ships went into service in the 1850s carrying emigrants to Australia and later as merchantmen in the bulk trades. Hilyard’s smaller vessels were generally sold locally, some for use in the West Indian trade. Near the end of his life Hilyard extended his business to include ship repairing. For that purpose he constructed in 1870 a marine railway to carry vessels out of the water.
Hilyard gained a high reputation as a shipbuilder. The Canute, 1,391 tons, built in 1863, was advertised for sale 16 years later by one of England’s most reputable shipbrokers as “The very fine St. John built ship . . . built under special survey, by Hilyard. . . .” The ship was still afloat in 1905 in the United States as the barge Nyack. The quality and quantity of his ships and the extent of his sawmilling operations made Thomas Hilyard a leading figure in the economic life of the Saint John region. The business continued under two sons, Thomas K. and Henry, until 1915.
N.B. Museum, Hilyard family papers, 1788–1955; Ward family papers, 1755–1850. Registry of British Ships, HM Customs and Excise, Custom House (Liverpool, Eng.), Liverpool Registers, 1850–52. Daily Telegraph (Saint John, N.B.), 23 April 1874. Liberal Review (Liverpool), 4 Oct. 1879. Biographical review: this volume contains biographical sketches of leading citizens of the province of New Brunswick, ed. I. A. Jack (Boston, 1900). Census of Canada, 1870–71 (5v., Ottawa, 1873–78), 111. F. W. Wallace, Record of Canadian shipping: a list of square-rigged vessels, mainly 500 tons and over, built in the eastern provinces of British North America from the year 1786 to 1920 (Toronto, 1929). A. B. Lubbock, The colonial clippers (new ed., Glasgow, 1948). J. R. Rice, “A history of organized labour in Saint John, New Brunswick, 1813–1890,” unpublished ma thesis, University of New Brunswick, 1961. Donald Ross, “History of the shipbuilding industry in New Brunswick,” essay awarded the James Simonds prize in history by University of New Brunswick, 1933 (copy in N.B. Museum). S. T. Spicer, Masters of sail: the era of square-rigged vessels in the Maritime provinces (Toronto, 1968). Wallace, Wooden ships and iron men.