5. The Royal Mail Line and Government
The actions of two levels of government affected the mail lines throughout this period. In the years before responsible government this interaction was principally with agents of imperial authorities, with the Canadian government assuming greater prominence in later years.
In few cases could the term "subsidy" be applied to the financial aspect of this relationship. True, Sutherland's Magnet had received several thousand pounds from Admiralty funds.(9) But this becomes a subsidy only in retrospect, after the Oregon crisis was settled peaceably and the Admiralty failed to exercise its option to take control of the vessel. There was no official policy of support in the matter of the immigration contract, although the Kingston agent continued to favour the Lake Mail line despite the availability of the opposition boats. Even then the rate for the carriage of immigrants was typically set at that for common soldiers, a contract which was regularly tendered. Certainly beyond question were the series of postal contracts where there was competition and collusion, but no evidence of patronage prior to the completion of the Grand Trunk.
While the imperial contracts could hardly be considered subsidies, the St. Lawrence canal investments were. Here imperial money, managed by provincial authorities, created the infrastructure necessary to extend the trade down the river to Montreal. The canals were not intended to be subsidized, nor was their principal purpose to facilitate the movement of passengers. Rather predictions of high volumes of freight assumed sufficient tolls to service the debt.(10) Nevertheless, tolls were kept artificially low in hopes of attracting more trade, a faith from which the river and through lines profited. The decision to eliminate tolls altogether for a brief period in the early 1860s was the final concession. Throughout this period the mail lines were the beneficiaries of a policy intended to stimulate the forwarding trade.
Because of a perception of higher levels of risk to consumers, the safety aspects of the transportation trades in Canada have always been fairly closely regulated. This concern was deeply rooted in the passenger steamboat trade where by 1857 a series of statutes governed gangplanks, life boats and preservers, fire fighting equipment, night lights and the inspection of boilers and hulls. The authority also existed for the Governor-in-Council to limit the number of passengers per vessel.(11) This was the situation until the early 1870s when additional regulations were enforced regarding the keeping of order on board passenger vessels and the extension of the Seaman's Act onto inland waters.(12) While the engineers had been subject to examination and licensing since 1859, similar provisions were not extended to the masters and mates of inland vessels until 1883.(13) Rather than government regulation of the senior officers, their competency had been the subject of clauses in insurance policies and charter agreements. While these regulations placed some restrictions on ship design and the pool of available officers, for the Royal Mail Line this simply codified those precautions taken by most owners as a matter of protecting their own investment.
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Chapter 5 appeared in FreshWater.