With the end of the wood wind and water economy in the mid to late 1800s Prince Edward Island lost much more than a market for Island-built ships. It also lost a link to what the province saw as its natural trading partner – Great Britain. By the end of the century even the long-standing commerce with New England was placed in jeopardy by the Tories’ National Policy which attempted to make trade east-west rather than north-south.
For a while it looked as if the Island might make the transition to the new shipping technology. The creation of the Ocean Steamship Company of Prince Edward Island by a group of Island capitalists and the building of the steamer Prince Edward in 1873 meant that the ideal of direct shipping and trade with England persisted for a while but the Company was soon forced to send the vessel further afield for cargos and the idea of a regular Charlottetown-Liverpool trade was abandoned. (Boyde Beck has given a partial history of the vessel in The Island Magazine for Fall/Winter 1991). While communications and trade with the rest of the Maritimes and New England had improved with the arrival of steamers of the Island Steam Navigation Company and companies such as the Plant Line the direct shipping to England was sharply reduced.
In the meantime the Island’s chief exports shifted from shipbuilding to agriculture but that too had changed as the Twentieth Century arrived. Manufacturing of dairy products began in earnest in the late 1880s and processing of other foods such as meats and lobster resulted in the production of new commodities. This shift, coupled with the belief of Island shippers that England represented an untapped market resulted in several attempts to revive the direct connection. The Charlottetown Board of Trade took a leading role and Horace Haszard, a shipper and insurance broker who was president of the Board lobbied strongly for the direct connection. There were two direct shipments made in 1899 and the efforts were continued.
Late in 1901 the effort seem to be paying off again. Aided by a government subsidy the Furness Withy Steamship Company agreed to try a direct Charlottetown – Liverpool sailing. Furness Withy, founded in 1891 was already providing steamers between Montreal and Liverpool and Halifax and Liverpool. It was to go on to be one of the largest shipping companies in the world and over its life as a company had over 1,000 ships under its control. In November 1901 Haszard, and W.W. Clarke, shipping agent, advertised the expected arrival of the S.S. Ulunda but Furness Withy substituted the S.S. Dalton Hall (sometimes Daltonhall), a larger ship. The change may have been the result of the high level of interest from shippers. Applications had been made for space for 3.000 sheep. thousands of boxes of cheese, 4,000 cases of canned meat as well as quantities of butter, eggs, bacon and apples.
The Dalton Hall arrived early in December and loading commenced. The ship was relatively new having been launched at Hartlepool on the Tees in 1899. It was a large ship; 3539 tons, 337 feet long by 45 feet wide and drawing 25 feet of water.
When it sailed on 17 December its holds contained a full range of the agricultural and fishing products of the province: 2869 cases of tinned meat, 3970 boxes of cheese, 873 cases of tinned lobster, 268 cases of bacon, 4 barrels of oysters, 58 tons of hay, 90 barrels of apples, 100 cases of eggs and numerous other goods including one sleigh, and one barrel of chain. Livestock shipped (in the days before frozen meat) consisted of 54 boxes of poultry, 57 cattle and 1302 sheep. A notice for “those desiring to see the mother land without paying a fare” indicated that fifteen men would be required on the ship for the care of the animals. How they were to get back to the Island was not noted.
The vessels making the three Charlottetown – Liverpool direct trips between 1899 and 1901 resulted in a total of 3,204 sheep and lambs, 181 head of cattle, 120 tons of bacon, 5,500 bales of hay as well as other products being carried across the Atlantic. Boosters, including the Charlottetown Guardian took pains to remind readers that these shipments would not have been possible if the cargos had to be transferred in Halifax and that only a direct route would satisfy the need. A few days after the Dalton Hall sailed the shippers of Prince Edward Island published a public testimonial to Horace Haszard in the Charlottetown Guardian thanking him for his efforts on behalf of the Charlottetown Board of Trade. In 1903 he captured the Liberal nomination for Parliament and in 1904 was elected to the House of Commons in a by-election.
However successful the three trips had been, they were insufficient to create a lasting trade link. Island farmers and shippers became more dependant on vessels making a stop at Charlottetown between other ports. Part of the problem may have been the scarcity of incoming goods as more and more of the Island’s goods were coming from central Canada and the United States rather than the mother country. While there were other goods crossing the Atlantic from P.E.I. it is probable the Dalton Hall was the last steamer to carry a full cargo from Charlottetown to Liverpool. Furness Withy maintained an Atlantic service but it called at Halifax and Montreal. It appears that the Dalton Hall never returned to Charlottetown Harbour.