Robert Shives

Robert Shives
Robert Shives

Robert Shives (printer, editor, and immigration agent) was born in 1815 to Robert Shives, a Saint John merchant, and Martha Wiggins while they were visiting in Aberdeen, Scotland. He died a bachelor on 7 January 1879 in Saint John, New Brunswick, where he lived for most of his life (Rice 1).

In 1827, Shives began a printing apprenticeship under Henry Chubb, of Henry Chubb & Co., for the Courier newspaper in Saint John, and he later worked in the printing establishment of a Mr. Avery, also of Saint John (“Death” Daily Telegraph). Chubb’s office was considered a “training-ground for a generation of journalists,” since Robert Sears, a New York publisher, and James Hogg of the New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser also held apprenticeships at the Courier (Parker “Chubb”). After his apprenticeship was completed in 1834, Shives left New Brunswick for a time for destinations unknown: some sources suggest he returned to Scotland for two years, while his 1879 obituary in the New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser suggests he spent time in New York (“Death” Daily Telegraph). What is known is that Shives eventually returned to Saint John, where he started the Amaranth in January 1841 (“Death” Daily Telegraph).

The Amaranth was a monthly literary magazine considered “the first of its kind in the provinces” (“Death” Daily Telegraph). Shives established the magazine to “provide high-quality articles in order to boost the cultural taste of the Province” and “to counteract the ‘levelling’ and ‘anti-British’ sentiments of the American magazines” that were in circulation in New Brunswick (Parker “Literary” 91). He appealed to his patrons for “articles descriptive and historic of New Brunswick” (Howe 205), as he had “a large fund of information concerning the past history of the city and a great aptitude for collecting data respecting past events” (“Death” Saint John Globe). Though only few contributions of this nature “appear to have been offered,” and most issues featured romance and sentimentalism, Jonas Howe writes in a 1902 issue of the Acadiensis that Shives “fulfilled his promise admirably” in regards to the magazine, as “the pages of the Amaranth not only show tasteful composition, careful proof-reading, and good press work, but also good judgement in the selection of articles from other publications” (Howe 198). Though Shives did not write himself, he spent much of his time with a respectable group of Maritime writers who contributed to his magazine, such as Moses H. Perley and Douglass Huyghue (Parker “Literary” 90).

After the Amaranth ceased publication in December 1843, Shives continued working as a printer until he became an immigration agent in the late 1840s, succeeding Moses H. Perley (Rice 1). Shives is described as a courteous and obliging man, who was an “eccentric and somewhat erratic printer” (Howe 206). He was an active member of the Saint John community, being director of the Mechanics’ Institute, a member of the St. Andrew’s Society, and connected with The Union Lodge of Portland (Rice 1; “Death” Daily Telegraph). Shives rose to the position of colonel in the provincial militia, “a title by which his friends familiarly addressed him” (“Death” Saint John Globe). He also took an interest in politics as a Liberal, yet as an obituary from the Saint John Globe states, “his nature was too genial for the work of an active politician.” This obituary describes Shives, overall, as a “kind-hearted man, with a pleasant way of telling a story” (“Death” Saint John Globe).

Near the end of his life, in the position of Dominion Immigration Agent, Shives suffered greatly from tropical maladies. Though he continued to work while in poor health, he finally succumbed to illness on 7 January 1879 at the age of 64 in his rooms at the Waverly Hotel, Saint John. With him upon his death was his brother, Alexander, among others (“Death” Daily Telegraph).

Summing up his contribution to the province and its literature, Howe writes of Shives, “the honor of having issued the first literary magazine in New Brunswick belongs to him, and his name will ever remain associated with periodical literature in Acadia” (Howe 206).

Mikala Gallant, Spring 2012
St. Thomas University

Bibliography of Primary Sources

Amaranth. Ed. Robert Shives. Saint John, NB. 1841–3.

Bibliography of Secondary Sources

“Death of an Immigration Officer.” Saint John Globe [Saint John, NB] 8 Jan. 1879: 2.

“Death of Robert Shives.” The Daily Telegraph [Saint John, NB] 8 Jan. 1879: 2.

Howe, Jonas. “The Amaranth.Acadiensis 2.3 (July 1902): 158.

Parker, George L. “Chubb, Henry.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. 8 Toronto, ON: U of Toronto P, 1985. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. 2003. U of Toronto/U Laval. 23 June 2020

---. “Literary Journalism Before Confederation.” Canadian Literature 68 (Spring/Summer 1976): 88-100.

Rice, Richard. “Shives, Robert.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. 10. Toronto, ON: U of Toronto P, 1972. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. 2003. U of Toronto/U Laval. 23 June 2020