Samuel Price Edwards was collector of HM Customs in Southampton between 1841 and March 1849, broken only by a brief interlude as a customs collector in Greenock. This was a critical time in the development of the international trade of Southampton, with the building of the inner docks and the relocation to Southampton of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. The collectorship - a government appointment - gave Edwards considerable leverage in promoting the trade of his adopted town. As a witness before the House of Lords Select Committee on the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway Bills in July 1845, Edwards estimated that a direct railway connection with the manufacturing districts in the north of England would raise the trade of Southampton from £3 million to £10 million in one year. He appeared before parliamentary enquiries in both 1846 and 1848 for the promoters of bills connected with the London and South Western Railway.

Edwards was ex officio the quarantine officer of the port. His intervention in 1844 with the government for the establishment of a lazarette - or quarantine hulk - at the Motherbank, off Ryde in the Isle of Wight, was decisive. This was key in the development of trade with the Levant: P & O ships bound for Southampton previously had to perform quarantine at the lazarette at Standgate Creek in the Medway.

For the latter part of his posting in Southampton, Edwards lived at Bowling Green House, recently rebuilt by the architect Thomas Sandon Hack. A counterpart lease from Southampton Corporation to Edwards, dated 4 November 1845, is in Southampton Archives (SC4/3/1669). The house was shared with his wife Jane (born in Broseley, Shropshire c.1800), a son (James Bevan Edwards, born in Wombourne, Staffordshire, 1834) and a daughter (Jane Parker Edwards). The former was to have a glittering military and political career: knighted, colonel-commander of the Royal Engineers and MP for Hythe (Kent) 1895-9. His entry in the Australian dictionary of biography can be read online at http://adb.anu.edu.au. The latter married Richard Ferrier of Burgh Castle, Suffolk in St Mary's church on 3 November 1848, uniting the Edwards with a long-established brewing family of Great Yarmouth.

Samuel Price Edwards gave 40 years' service to the Board of Customs. He entered the service in November 1824, subsequently stationed as collector at Shoreham (taking in Brighton, Worthing and Hastings), Great Yarmouth, Southampton, Greenock (appointed May 1842), Southampton (for a second time), Dublin (1849-1855) and finally Liverpool (1855-1865), responsible here for the collection of over £4 million per annum at an annual salary of £1,800.

The latter posting coincided with the American Civil War, which had a deep impact on the port of Liverpool. Edwards, although the representative of a government that was officially neutral, was an ardent Confederate sympathiser; some said he was a paid Confederate agent. The secretary of the US legation in London, Benjamin Moran, described him as "a great scamp". It was through his active connivance that the cruiser Alabama, commissioned from Laird Brothers by the Confederate government, was allowed to leave Liverpool to begin a campaign of terror against Northern shipping. Moran wrote in his journal (2 August 1862): "Indifference and connivance characterized the entire proceedings of HM officers in this matter, and Edwards, the Collector at Liverpool, has aided her escape by falsehood and perjury." Less idealistically, Edwards was an energetic cotton speculator during the war. His alleged sharp practices resulted in a Chancery case, heard in December 1866, in which he was sued by aggrieved Liverpool cotton brokers. Judgement was given against Edwards for over £2,200.

Edwards resigned the Liverpool collectorship in early 1865 in order to stand for election - which he did successfully - as a director of the London and North-Western Railway Company. This squared a circle for he had, earlier in his career, been a director of the Eastern Counties' Railway Company, resigning in March 1843. He also became a director of Barned's Banking Company, established in June 1865 at Liverpool. On his retirement, the Liverpool Mail (11 February 1865) characterized Edwards "as a gentleman of private means, of hospitable but inexpensive habits, with a small family, and with a very handsome retiring allowance of £1,000 a year."

Away from his business interests, Edwards was a friend of Edward Lear, from whom he commissioned the oil painting Jerusalem. It was apparently not a happy commission. Lear complained to Lady Waldegrove, 13 February 1866: "Mr Edwards, for whom I painted the Jerusalem, from July to November, and for whom I made it so large a picture on account of auld lang-syne, has never paid for it”. The picture is now in the Ashmolean Museum (viewable online here). Edwards was, as his name suggests, born in Wales: in Llanysis, Breconshire. He died in Ireland - at Buncrana near Londonderry - on 12 February 1877, aged 77 years.


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