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NEVINS, JAMES, shipbuilder, shipowner, and commission agent; b. 1821 in Saint John, N.B.; m. 17 Sept. 1849 Susannah Richardson, daughter of Robert Richardson, in Halifax, and they had five children; d. 15 Dec. 1893 in Liverpool, England.

James Nevins, born in Saint John, was a resident for slightly more than 50 years, but only the barest details of his life and career are known. He and his family were members of St Paul’s Anglican Church, where the five children were baptized. The 1871 census states that his family originated in England, but even the names of his parents remain unknown.

Nevins may have been the brother-in-law of shipbuilder Richard Wright, since Wright married a Jane Nevins in 1837 and James’s daughter was named Jane Wright Nevins. It is quite possible that Nevins received his training in shipbuilding at the yard operated by William* and Richard Wright at Courtenay Bay, Saint John, but conclusive evidence is lacking. Nevertheless, Nevins definitely conducted several business transactions with the Wrights during the 1850s.

After completing his apprenticeship, Nevins embarked on a career that saw him associated with many well-known shipbuilders and owners. Between 1850 and 1878 his name appears on Saint John shipping registers as an owner of at least 25 sailing vessels in association with such notables as Thomas Edward Millidge, William Thomson, Robert Greer Moran, James F. Cruickshank, Isaac Burpee*, and Zebedee Ring. Many of these partnerships were undoubtedly formed for one or two ventures, but several remained intact for a number of years.

Nevins’s earliest known partnership was with John Magures (Majurs). In 1850 they were listed as builders and owners of the 200-ton barque Ariel. This firm constructed several more vessels prior to its demise. By 1855 Nevins and Thomas Irving (Irvine) were in partnership at a shipyard on Courtenay Bay. This association appears to have ended in 1859 after five ships were launched. Nevins’s next partner was John Fraser, the foreman in Nevins’s Courtenay Bay yard. The firm of Nevins and Fraser was in existence by 1862, and became Nevins, Fraser and Company by 1871. It remained in operation until 1874 and must have proved profitable for the partners. During this partnership Nevins made a significant expansion into the ownership of vessels and increased the number of ships in his fleet.

About 1873 Nevins was no longer fully involved in the construction of vessels, and he moved to Liverpool, England, where he formed Nevins and Welsh. This company of shipping and commission merchants continued until 1887, when it appears Nevins decided to retire. Although obituaries in the Halifax Acadian Recorder and the Saint John Daily Sun claimed that he left $900,000 to his wife and daughter, the probate of his estate records that his effects were valued at £71,987.

The course of James Nevins’s career paralleled that of many other Saint John shipbuilders. Like the Wrights, who had expanded from shipbuilding into owning vessels, Nevins accumulated capital through the construction of vessels for others, some ships being retained for a brief period before their eventual sale. Short-term ownership led to the retention of ships for longer periods as his financial situation improved. It is very likely that some of his earliest construction efforts were financed through cash advances from the eventual purchaser during building. The partnership with Thomas Millidge mentioned in Nevins’s obituary could have been of this type.

Robert S. Elliot

[As is shown by the list of sources, a body of family papers or company documents outlining the career of James Nevins does not appear to have survived. It is surprising that more detailed secondary references could not be located, especially since Nevins obviously experienced a measure of success during his lifetime.

Some indication of Nevins’s prosperity is provided by his Liverpool residence, Greystoke. Now used as accomodation for the elderly, the large brick and sandstone mansion, overlooking Sefton Park, was a very fashionable address in Nevins’s day.  r.s.e.].

Liverpool Record Office, Probate records, James Nevins estate; Toxteth Park Cemetery (Liverpool) records, Church of England sect., plot nos.K961–41570 (Robert Nevins), K961–74318 (James Nevins), K962–100905 (Susannah Nevins), K962–126074 (Jane Wright Nevins), K962–128057 (William Nevins). NA, RG 31, C1, 1871, Portland (mfm. at PANB); RG 42, E1, 1299, 1317–41, 1347–1478, 1481, 1484–92, 1606–8, 1617–18. N.B. Museum, Hazen family papers, box 10, F9, no.6. PRO, RG 11/3651, enumeration district 24 (mfm. at Liverpool Record Office). St Paul’s Anglican Church (Saint John, N.B.), Reg. of baptisms (mfm. at PANB). Toxteth Park Cemetery, Church of England sect., Nevins family tombstones. StJohn Daily Sun, 18 Dec. 1893. Early marriage records of New Brunswick: Saint John City and County from the British conquest to 1839, ed. B. Wood-Holt (Saint John, 1986). N.S. vital statistics, 1848–51 (Holder). Esther Clark Wright, Saint John ships and their builders (Wolfville, N.S., [1975]). Richard Rice, “Shipbuilding in British America, 1787–1890: an introductory study” (phd thesis, Univ. of Liverpool, 1978), 93, 104; “The Wrights of Saint John: a study of shipbuilding and shipowning in the Maritimes, 1839–1855,” Canadian business history; selected studies, 1497–1971, ed. D. S. Macmillan (Toronto, 1972), 330–31. M. K. Stammers, The passage makers (Brighton, Eng., 1978), 461.

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Cite This Article

Robert S. Elliot, “NEVINS, JAMES,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/nevins_james_12E.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/nevins_james_12E.html
Author of Article:   Robert S. Elliot
Title of Article:   NEVINS, JAMES
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1990
Year of revision:   1990
Access Date:   December 2, 2023