RESPONSIBILITY has dogged every footstep in the lifetime of E. R. Peacock, and, because he was not fearful of it, but accepted it, he has risen from a poor boy in a Glengarry County parsonage to be a director of the Bank of England. This is the highest honor that can be conferred upon any Canadian in the active financial life of the Empire, and it is the consensus of opinion of Mr. Peacock’s friends that he has achieved it by his integrity, his business acumen and by his sense of the responsibility attaching to a man in a position of trust. Such a directorship is at the top of financial honors in old London, for the Bank of England is the greatest financial institution in the world, one whose policies and decisions are still scrutinized in all countries, no matter what nation may for the time possess the most gold.
Every Thursday a silkhatted procession of directors, finding their way into Threadneedle Street, past red-coated com■missionaires, file into the ancient room overlooking the old graves in St. Christopher’s churchyard, and hold a “court,” as their regular meetings are called. One of their first duties is to consider the Money Rate, and, when thishasbeen settled, it is written out and posted on the outside of the door of the “court” room, and immediately flashed to the ends
of the earth by the correspondents who have been waiting.
The Bank of England, although not a state institution in ownership, dates from 1694, when it was formed to help William III finance his war with France. Its great duty consists in handling the colossal fiscal operations of the Government: managing the public debt, receiving Government revenues, and making various payments, and in operating mainly as a bankers’ bank. No bankers sit on its Board, which is composed largely of merchants and busi' ness men of the highest standing. Its duty has been lightly rhymed by a London poet, who in lines to “The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street,” as the Bank is often called, said:
“I help in making ends to meet; I take the British balance-sheet
And hem its ragged edges;
I stiteh and stitch, nor ever sleep, my busy needle fain to keep
The word that England pledges.”
All this is a long way from the struggles of a fatherless' boy in a remote village of eastern Ontario. It was E. R. Peacock’s fate to be left the head of his family at the age of ten, and the responsibility which came to him then was shouldered and borne, like an infinity of other duties in the years that followed. The hamlet of Indian Lands was the scene of his father’s laborious duties as a Congregational minister, but the father, a brilliant preacher, but often careless of his own health, became at forty-one the victim of an earlier accident, and left his wife and four small children to battle their way through the world. It was not until Edward was twelve that he entered a public school, though he had already begun serious reading. In those days no mothers’ allowances were provided by a kindly State, and it was a rough road for any bereaved family with selfrespect and ambition. Shepherded and encouraged by a remarkable mother, who still lives in Toronto, the little flock was moved to Almonte, where began the education and home study which was to lead to such better things. “Aunt Jane,” as Mrs. Peacock was known far and wide in Glengarry, moved to Almonte and proceeded to make her way and educate her small flock, and it fell to young Eddie to help round the house when his chums would fain have him on the playground.
“When a Feller Needs a Friend”
A HUMORIST might picture this scene as, “When a feller needs a friend,” but Edward Peacock accepted it as one of the obligations of his serious life, and went ahead. He threw himself into earning as much as he could in the time that could be spared from school, in order to
lighten his mother’s burden in educating the family. During this period of small revenues and increasing requirements, young Peacock undertook many humble tasks, the doing of which made possible his own education at Queen’s University, where he graduated a double goldmedallist, and enabledhis family to grow up in moderate comfort. Now we see him acting as secretary of the country fair, at another time he edited the AlmonteGazeiie, again he shovelled peas in an elevator, and perhaps most unique experience of all he worked as a motorman on a Montreal street car. After this work had proceeded for three weeks, the line ceased operation, and the green motorman, who so badly needed the money, was not even paid for his services. Such an experience, far from embittering the youth, was cherished in later years, through a sense of humor, as one of his most precious episodes for the close contact it gave him with an unfamiliar element of life.
Before the present variety of employments for the college man opened up in Canada, the transfer to school-teaching was the usual experience, and E. R. Peacock on leaving Queen’s at 24, and after a course in pedagogy, took a position as a master at Upper Canada College, Toronto, in 1895. He remained there for seven years, and during the last five was senior house-master. Here he showed his understanding of boys, as he later revealed his discernment of men. It was not a case of strict discipline, except when discipline was essential and the senior boys were charged with certain duties in keeping the juniors in order. If a young boy wanted to smoke, the chances were he was invited to the master’s room and presented with a green cigar to be smoked in the master s presence, and the incident immediately lost its glamor. When the master was chosen captain of the college rifle corps, he entered into its duties with the same zeal that he put into everything else, and devoted a summer’s holiday to a course at Stanley Barracks. Spare time while at Upper Canada was fully employed, and in 1898 Mr. Peacock published a book, “Trusts, Combines and Monopolies,” followed two years later by a text-book on Canada, half a million copies of which were taken by the British Government for use in Old Country schools. These ventures into research and economics apparently were paving the way for a new field, and by 1902 young Peacock had concluded that for family reasons he ought to enter the field of finance.
Six Months Before He Sold a Bond ^^/TTHOUT pull, without wide acquain-
tance in finance, he discussed it with his friends, and then personally sought E. R. Wood, told him his story and was taken on at once as private secretary by the head of Dominion Securities Corporation. Mr. Wood has started many young financiers on successful careers, and doubtless Mr. Peacock’s achievements stand hig-h among his causes for pride. It is said that the young recruit entered the bond business at a lower salary than he was receiving as a teacher at Upper Canada, but he was prepared to take his chances in learning the business and pursuing it to a profitable result.
It was not long before he had a chance to go “on the road” as a bond salesman, and truthful contemporaries say that it was six months before he sold his first bond. AN this time, however, he was studying his new business, mastering the faots regarding various securities, and learning the greatest lesson of all, the study of mankind. His business took him all over Canada, and to many parts of the United States; everywhere he made fast kriende and held them. The salesman of a rival bond house entering an Ontario town the other day canvassed a certain local investor only to learn that that man had been tied up to
Dominion Securities ten years ago by E. R. Peacock, and he wouki not change now.
We may picture the serious-minded, energetic young bond salesman as he travelled his great “beat,” sought out the conservative investors and told them the merits of certain chosen securities, and incidentally admitted drawbacks in some in his desire to be frank. We can picture him also as he waited between trains, sometimes visiting his clients, and talking intimately with them, and sometimes buried in a prospectus or a book of economics which would contribute to his own'mental upbuilding. Years later he confided to another young bond man, entering upon the same career, a bit of healthy advice, when he said:
“You already know the principles of salesmanship generally. In the case of the sale of bonds, you will understand that confidence is of even greater importance than in most selling operations, because the amounts involved are usually fairly large, and they relate in many cases to the private affairs of an investor, which he will not disclose to anyone whom he does not trust thoroughly. It is important, therefore, that you should get to know your clients fairly well, and inspire their confidence. How to do that is something which cannot be put down in words. It arises largely out of personality and knowledge of men and affairs. To be a really good bond salesman, you must know the essentials of the bond you are selling, the security behind it, the strong points and the weak points.”
It is not to be inferred from this letter that Mr. Peacock was a financier and nothing more. He had little time for recreation, but he thoroughly believed in athletics, and was himself devoted to golf, walking and sailing, when opportunity offered. For some years he was owner with Frank M. Gray of the yacht Zelma, in the Royal Canadian Yacht Club fleet at Toronto. On one occasion in a cruise to Oakville, the Zelma was overtaken by a half gale, and when others were taking in their spinakers he was asked if the Zelma crew should not do the same.
“I’ll let it rip to pieces first,” he replied. Later in taking the spinaker off her, the boom suddenly swung out and left Peacock and a professional dangling at the end of it immersed to their necks in the icy waters of Lake Ontario, When someone offered to rescue him, he said: “Never mind us; we’ll work in. Go on.” They went on, and won the
Should you have encountered Mr. Peacock on one of his recent visits to Canada, you would have found a genial, approachable man, free from “side,” and snobbery. “Sit down and let us talk it over,” seems to be his mental introduction, and in a peculiarly unhurried way the conversation might proceed as the ins and outs of Barcelona Traction are discussed. Some presidents secrete their affairs; this one is free and communicative, even if it may be a long and sometimes unfavorable story. For the most part his talk is serious, but the humor of a situation sometimes finds expression in a joke or a laugh. His language is fluent, and could be printed with scarcely the change of a comma, so well-chosen and balanced are the words.
It was not long until E. R. Peacock became Toronto manager for Dominion Securities, and with a few others gave that city its ascendency in Canada’s bond business. In 1908 he became manager of the London office, whence he drifted into the larger field of old world finance, though still a director of the corporation. When he became president of the Canadian Club of Toronto in 1905, he sought and secured the best possible speakers, and that became u banner year, with addresses by such men as
Continued on page 48
Continued from page 15
Jerome K. Jerome, C. M. Hays, Booker Washington, E. C. Drury, Stephen Leacock, and Andrew Carnegie.
“Wind and Brains” Club
GROWING out of this connection was Mr. Peacock’s membership in the famous “Wind and Brains Club,” which was comprised mainly of past Presidents of the Toronto Canadian Club. Its very name is a recommendation for the lighthearted approach of the members to their own somewhat serious-minded debates. The club included such men as Eric Armour, Casey Wood, George Wilkie, George A. Howell, Home Smith, Mark Irish, J. T. Clarke, John A. Cooper, W. E. Rundle and the late Morley Wickett. It got its name through a facetious remark by Home Smith at one of the meetings, when he suggested that title, and said that Mark Irish was the wind and he was the brains. Serious subjects of national and international importance were discussed, and, though Mr. Peacock took little part in the promotion of ideas for one side or the other, it was usually his custom to sum up the various arguments in a judicial manner towards the close of the meeting. The club has persisted to this day, although latterly its meetings have been infrequent.
This judicial temperament, coupled with the sincerity and love of hard work with which he was born, have carried Mr. Peacock far in his London financial life.
He was the sort of man in whom the conservative financial leaders of old London naturally had confidence. When Dr. F. S. Pearson lost his life through the sinking of the Lusitania by a German submarine in 1915, Mr. Peacock, who had been associated with some of the undertakings affected, was at once chosen for responsible work in connection with the companies promoted by the late financier. He became President of the Barcelona Traction, Light & Power Company, a corporation with stock and bonds outstanding of $115,000,000, Vice-president of the Brazilian Traction, Light & Power Company, and Chairman of the Bondholders’ Committee of Mexican Tramways. All these companies have faced serious troubles, whether from labor or politicial disturbances in Barcelona, government interference in Mexico, or construction obstacles in Brazil, and to his duties in each case Mr. Peacock applied the same plodding, sincere efforts that he required as the child-head of a family in Almonte, or as the young man entering a new business in Toronto. He has nursed the Barcelona Company to a greatly improved position, and, now that his honestly won success is recognized, he can bring a wide knowledge of the affairs of Canada, Spain, Mexico and Brazil to the “court” room of the Bank of England, when the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street seeks to extend British world trade and to “keep the word that England pledges.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.