At the mercy of the winds
By the mid 1840s Islanders were well used to the convenience of having a regular steam packet service connecting them with the mainland through Pictou and the Miramichi. The steamers Pocahontas belonging to Nova Scotia interests and the St. George of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company had carried on when the earlier Cape Breton was taken off the route. By 1846 however the St. George was under the control of William Stevenson of Quebec and was moved the following year to Quebec and the Gaspe. The Steam Navigation Company was searching for another boat and in March 1847 James Peake wrote to Thomas Bolton, his agent in Halifax “…we now have to be dependant on the uncertainty of a sailing vessel for our mails…” The hunt for a new boat for the Company was not going well and by May he informed Bolton that the efforts had “…been entirely defeated…” and that the Island “…shall, I fear, be at the mercy of the winds for at least for the present season.”
James Peake was in a good position to know the details of the issue. He was an enterprising shipbuilder and merchant who had come to the colony in 1823 and before his death in 1860 he was identified as the owner of 151 vessels, almost all of them sailing ships. As a merchant he was aware of the need for good and dependable communications and the steamers on the Strait made regular correspondence with suppliers, insurers and financiers a little more secure. He had been a major shareholder in the Prince Edward Island Stream Navigation Company but it was he, rather than the company, that was able to fill the communications gap. His father and brother Thomas operated the British end of the trans-Atlantic business from their base at Stonehouse, now part of Plymouth, in Devon and in spite of earlier failures they had been able to find a steamer for the Charlottetown – Pictou route.
The Rose is announced
On arrival of the news in Charlottetown there was general rejoicing and relief. A public dinner on 25 May 1849 honouring Peake was oversubscribed. Fifty gentlemen sat down to a “very superior” meal produced by James Davis, landlord of the Victoria Hotel. The Islander reported that “The wines were also very good, particularly the champagne.” Eight toasts were drunk, a band was in attendance, “past political differences were buried” and the party broke up at a late hour.
The Plymouth Herald carried an item in 27 July 1849 announcing that the Steamer Rose was ready to set sail for Prince Edward Island. The Rose was a 103 foot, 88 ton, paddle steamer built at Blackwall on the Thames in 1832. Constructed of English oak and teak she was been equipped with new boilers in Plymouth and her two 24 horsepower engines had been tested by a voyage from Plymouth to Falmouth. On her trip the engines would not be used and the passage was conducted under sail. Thomas Peake proudly reported to his brother in Charlottetown that the little vessel “looks like a Man of War Steamer.”
The Rose arrived in Charlottetown on 9 August, 35 days from Plymouth, and work immediately began to fit her paddles and make repairs to the damages suffered in the passage. By the 24th of August she was running back and forth to Pictou twice weekly. She was reported to have excellent accommodation for passengers, three dozen in the main cabin with an additional cabin for “Lady passengers.” Although unable to get insurance at what he considered a reasonable cost Peake was anxious to put her on the line as soon as possible. He reported to John Pitcairn in England “I was obliged to get her on the packet line for mails with as little delay as possible and are pleased to be able to say that she acts well and hope from the anticipated increase in passengers she will pay her way next year.”
Like most of the small steamers the Rose was available for pleasure excursions which were fitted in between her scheduled trips. In September 1851 for example, the Rose took 150 people on a pleasure excursion to Mt. Stewart and a few weeks later carried a “numerous and respectable party of ladies and gentlemen” across Orwell Bay to Port Selkirk accompanied by the Sons of Temperance band who played “right merrily some new and favorite airs” throughout the trip. The Rose continued to prove satisfactory for a several years but in June 1853 she left the port for Halifax. The newspaper report hints at a loss of the government subsidy or mail contract and noted that Peak had sold the vessel “at considerable sacrifice.” A testimonial to the Rose’s skipper, Captain Matheson noted the “undeviating punctuality and satisfaction to the commercial community of this town” that had been provided.
The short hereafter
The Rose was sold to Samuel Cunard of Halifax who leased her to the government for the protection of the fisheries. However she was not long employed in that task for in October she was caught in a gale, lost one of her paddles and came ashore on the eastern end of Peter’s Island, Rustico. All of the crew were saved but the vessel was a total loss. Although the Rose was more than twenty years old the purchaser of the wreck, William Heard, stated “from the stern to the stem, from the gunnel to the keel, there was not two inches of unsound wood in her…”
The Rose had been replaced on the Pictou service by the Fairy Queen and the change of steamers was to have disastrous consequences for only a month later that vessel sank with loss of life. That story will be told in a future chapter in the history of the strait steamers.