The Life of Sir Edward Robert Peacock
Edward Robert Peacock was born in 1871 in St. Elmo, Glengarry County, Ontario, the son of a Congregationalist minister and the oldest of five children. His father died when Peacock was twelve, and his mother moved to Almonte, where he received his secondary schooling. He graduated from Queen's in 1894 as gold medalist in philosophy and silver medalist in political economy. He was a protégé of Adam Shortt, who had started the political economy program only in 1889. Peacock would have been one of the first graduates of Queen's in this field.
After working for a short period as a motorman on the Montreal street railway, Peacock took a year of training and started his career as a teacher at Upper Canada College, where Stephen Leacock, the famous humourist, who was two years older, was also a master. The two became friends, and Peacock taught Leacock economics, thus starting him on the road to becoming an economics professor at McGill. They remained friends until Leacock's death in 1944. While he was at Upper Canada College, Peacock wrote several books, including two books of literary criticism and Trusts, Combines and Monopolies (1898). At one point, Shortt tried to get Peacock to return to Queen's, but he declined, opening the way for Oscar Skelton to take the position.
In 1902, Peacock left the teaching profession to join Dominion Securities, where he initially acted as personal assistant to E. R. Wood. He became heavily involved in Canadian overseas developments in the electrical and tramway fields, ultimately becoming a vice-president of Brazilian Light and Traction (the ultimate forerunner of BRASCAN) and president of the Mexican Light and Power Company. In 1907, Peacock moved to England to direct the newly opened London office of Dominion Securities.
Peacock's circle of friends in London included Montagu Norman, who became Governor of the Bank of England in 1920. In 1921, Peacock was made a director of the Bank. He also caught the attention of Lord Revelstoke, the chief officer of Barings, who was also a director of the Bank. Peacock then became a partner in Barings, which necessitated his resigning from the Bank of England because two principals of the same financial house could not be on the board. When Revelstoke died in 1929, Peacock became the chief officer of Barings and returned to the board of the Bank of England. In the meantime, he had become the European director of the CPR and a bit later a director of the Hudson's Bay Company. He was also (from 1925) a director of the Rhodes Trust.
Beginning in 1929, Peacock served as Receiver General to the Duchy of Cornwall, which means that he oversaw the finances of the royal family. As an advisor to and friend of kings, he was involved in many of the financial and political crises of the 1930s, including the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936. It was primarily for his services to the royal family that he was knighted by King George V in 1934. He retained this position until the death of King George VI in 1952.
During World War II, Peacock served in Washington as liaison between the Bank of England and the U.S. government. Just before the war, he was instrumental in recruiting Ian Fleming into Naval Intelligence. Admiral Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence, asked Peacock and Sir Montagu Norman to find him a young City man who could be his personal assistant, and they recommended Ian Fleming. Without Peacock, would there have been any James Bond books?
Queen's honoured Sir Edward Peacock with an LLD in 1949. He retired to his country estate, Boden's Rise, near Ascot, and showed great enthusiasm for golf. He and his wife, the former Katherine (Kitty) Coates, whom he married in 1912, had no children of their own but adopted two daughters. He died at an advanced age in 1962, leaving a substantial sum to Queen's to be shared between the departments of Economics and Political Studies.
The Sir Edward Peacock Professorships honour the memory of this distinguished Queen's alumnus. The first holder of a Peacock Professorship in Economics was Richard Lipsey, who came to Queen's in 1970. Currently, James MacKinnon is the Sir Edward Peacock Professor of Econometrics.
The first version of this document about Peacock's life was prepared by Marvin McInnis. His niece, Ann Peacock Miles, subsequently provided some valuable information. The life of Ian Fleming was a fascinating one.