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CUNNABELL (Cunnable), WILLIAM, printer and publisher; b. 24 May 1808 in Halifax, N.S., son of John Cunnabell and Nancy Leonard; m. 7 Aug. 1842 Margaret Athol, née Dechman, and they had six children; d. 31 Dec. 1868 of dropsy in Halifax.

William Cunnabell shared what seem to have been family characteristics of quiet integrity, willingness to innovate, friendliness, and a dislike of contention and discord. He served his printer’s apprenticeship in Halifax with Philip J. Holland of the Acadian Recorder, and about 1836 took over the printing and publishing business of his brother, Jacob Sparling Cunnabell, which had originated in 1824 with the publication of the first monthly newspaper in Nova Scotia, the Acadian Magazine; or, Literary Mirror. During his 30-year business career, William Cunnabell was associated with the publication of a host of newspapers in Nova Scotia, though he seldom assumed much editorial control. One of these, the Morning Herald and General Advertiser, which appeared in the early 1840s, was the first penny paper in Nova Scotia. Prominent among his publications were Methodist periodicals, beginning with the Methodist Quarterly, the Christian Gleaner, and the Wesleyan in the 1830s, and including the Provincial Wesleyan in the 1840s. In fact, the volume of material he published for the Methodist Church indicates that during this period he was probably its unofficial printer and publisher. In addition, Cunnabell undertook to publish periodicals aimed at improving the cultural life of colonial society, such as the Pearl, a weekly “devoted to polite literature, science, and religion” which was sold to John Sparrow Thompson to 1837, and the Psalmody Reformer, a monthly journal with “a simple and comprehensive method of imparting instruction in vocal music” and including what may have been the first sheet music to be printed in the province. Like most colonial publications of the time, Cunnabell’s papers were usually short-lived. Apparently not enough Nova Scotians were willing or able to take out the subscriptions necessary to guarantee financial stability.

In 1839, to improve his expanding and diversified enterprise, Cunnabell imported a new “Washington” press. Probably the most important publication to come off his press during these years was The Nova-Scotia almanack, first issued by his brother Jacob in 1834. William Cunnabell continued it after 1837, twice changing its name; it lasted until 1861, when fire on the premises ended this publication. The Cunnabell issues were undoubtedly the most artistic and innovative of all the early Nova Scotia almanacs, with especially beautiful woodcuts to grace the calendars. Although Belcher’s farmer’s almanack was longer lived, was probably more financially successful, and averaged about 80 pages to Cunnabell’s 60, its format and contents changed little; Cunnabell’s almanacs, on the other hand, were more varied, including from time to time featured articles on British royalty, ships’ signals, and a calendar of local events for the past year. Cunnabell also published Cunnabell’s city almanac and general business directory in 1842, one of the first compendiums of its kind in the province

In addition, Cunnabell did a variety of general job printing for the Halifax community. His advertisements boasted of facilities to print “Commercial and Law Blanks, Exhibition, Business, and Visiting Cards, Small and Large Bills and Posters,” as well as “Book and Rule Printing, Circulars, Music Printing, &c,” with a special service of “Printing on Satin and Parchment.” Numerous pamphlets were printed, including religious, scientific, and political tracts, poetry, and military guidebooks. The books printed or published by Cunnabell’s firm represented a fair proportion of local printing of the time, and tended to deal with religious themes. Among these books were John William Dering Gray’s A brief view of the scriptural authority and historical evidence of infant baptism . . . (Halifax, 1837), Matthew Richey*’s A memoir of the late RevWilliam Black . . . (Halifax, 1839), T. B. Akins*A sketch of the rise and progress of the Church of England in the British North American provinces (Halifax, 1849), and J. G. Marshall*’s Sermons on some of the principal doctrines and duties of Christianity (Halifax, 1862). The Cunnabell establishment also published the Gospel of St John in the Micmac tongue.

William Cunnabell’s publications reflect little of the political and sectarian quarrels of the period. Although the printer was a Methodist and was obviously given the patronage of the Methodist community, the religious controversies represented in his publications were mainly doctrinal in nature. It was his deliberate policy to present “news without views” and to publish items of literary and artistic merit. Seemingly rather conservative in outlook, Cunnabell was, at the same time, willing to experiment with a variety of publishing projects and to spend money and effort in improving his printing business.

Gertrude Tratt

[William Cunnabell was associated with the publication of the following Halifax newspapers: Acadian Magazine; or, Literary Mirror, 182628; Acadian Telegraph, 183738; Advertiser and Business Directory, 1849–?; Christian Gem, 1845; Christian Gleaner, 183338; Methodist Quarterly, 183238; Monthly Magazine, 183033; Morning Herald and Commercial Advertiser, 184042; Morning Herald and General Advertiser, 184348; Morning News, 1840s; New Era, 185–?; Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Wesleyan Methodist Magazine, 1832; Pearl, 1837; Provincial Wesleyan, 183956; Psalmody Reformer, 1853–?: Reporter, 186064; Weekly Miscellany, 186364; Wesleyan, 183840; Youth’s Preceptor, 1853–?. Cunnabell also published The Nova-Scotia almanack (Halifax), 183741, Cunnabell’s Nova-Scotia almanac (Halifax), 184250; Cunnabell’s Nova Scotia almanac, and farmer’s manual (Halifax), 185159, 1861; and Cunnabell’s city almanac and general business directory, for the year of our Lord 1842 (Halifax, 1842).  g.t.]

Brunswick Street United Church (Halifax), records, 18291902 (mfm. at PANS). PANS, MG 5, Camp Hill Cemetery (Halifax), register of burials, August 1844–December 1878 (mfm.); RG 1, 451; RG 5, P, 59, 123; RG 35, A, 13, Halifax assessments, 181741. St Matthew’s Presbyterian Church (Halifax), session papers, 18191936 (mfm. at PANS). E. J. Connable and J. B. Newcomb, Genealogical memoir of the Cunnabell, Conable, or Connable family, John Cunnabell of London, England, and Boston, Massachusetts, and his descendants (2v., Jackson, Mich., 18861935), 1, 145, 147, 151. Halifax, N.S., business directory, for 1863 . . . , comp. Luke Hutchinson (Halifax, 1863). H. W. Hopkins, City atlas of Halifax, Nova Scotia, from actual surveys and records ([Halifax], 1878). Hutchinson’s Nova Scotia directory, for 1864–65 . . . , comp. Thomas Hutchinson (Halifax, [1864]). McAlpine’s Halifax city directory . . . (Halifax), 187586. Tratt, “Survey of N.S. newspapers.” F. E. Crowell, “New Englanders in Nova Scotia,” Yarmouth Herald (Yarmouth, N.S.), 10 Nov. 1931 (copy in PANS, scrapbook 109, p.168). D. C. Harvey, “Newspapers of Nova Scotia, 18401867,” CHR, XXVI (1945), 27999.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Gertrude Tratt, “CUNNABELL, WILLIAM,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 19, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cunnabell_william_9E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/cunnabell_william_9E.html
Author of Article:   Gertrude Tratt
Title of Article:   CUNNABELL, WILLIAM
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 9
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1976
Year of revision:   1976
Access Date:   May 19, 2024