In the mid 19th century there was great concern in the colony that the control and ownership of the steam packet service between the Island and the Mainland would fall into the hands of non-Islanders. The lack of success that the first Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company had had with the steamer St. George was seen as a barrier and there was difficulty in procuring suitable vessels for the passage to the mainland. More recently the disaster of the dramatic loss of the New Brunswick-owned Fairy Queen in 1853 with 10 passengers and crew drowned did little to assure Islanders that their best interests were served by a company that did not have its owners and headquarters on the Island.
However in 1857 the contract was once again let to a New Brunswick company. In August of that year the Westmorland (sometimes spelled “Westmoreland”), owned by Christopher Boultenhouse, a shipbuilder of Sackville, began her service. The ship operated out of Shediac and left that port on Monday and Thursday for Charlottetown, calling at Bedeque. On Tuesdays and Fridays the ship continued on to Pictou returning on Wednesday and Saturday to Shediac, calling at Charlottetown and Bedeque on the way.
The editor of the Islander was unimpressed by the new vessel:
The Westmoreland arrived here from St. John N.B., via Halifax and Pictou, on Tuesday night last. She is a River Boat, as flat-bottomed as such Boats usually are, high pressure, with a large portion of her machinery above deck. We have heard it remarked by many that she will not answer here in the Fall of the year. She certainly is not the description of Boat we should like to see put on the route – in shape she is very like the Fairy Queen, but we learn that she is a new and substantially built Boat and so far has made her trips very quick.
For the Islander the problem was a simple one of politics. In order to avoid money falling into resident “tory” pockets the government was content to let the contract go for an exhorbitant subsidy of £1,200 per year to non-Islanders.
The “New and Fast-Sailing Steamer” had been launched in Sackville by Boultenhouse the previous year and had operated for a short time on a route from Sackville to Saint John. She was 156 feet long by 24 feet wide and registered 305 tons. She appeared to have ample accommodation – 38 berths in the gentlemen’s cabin and 37 in the ladies cabin although her seaworthiness was untested.
In 1860 she was joined by another Boultenhouse paddle steamer the 133 foot Lord Seaforth. The Lord Seaforth had been built in 1855 in the Davie shipyard in Levis Quebec. Primarily designed as a tow boat she had passenger accommodation added and in 1859 was put on a route serving Pictou, Pugwash, Georgetown and Cape Breton ports. The Lord Seaforth replaced the Westmorland while the latter was refitted in the summer of 1860. Later in that year the Island was served by both vessels with trips to both Pictou and Shediac. The following year it was rumoured that the Lord Seaforth would replace the Westmorland which caused some alarm as the Seaforth was very slow and inferior. However temporary replacement while the Westmorland was under repairs was allowed by the contract with the government. In a disagreement with regard to the safety and certification of the vessels the Colonial Government elected to have the mails sent to and from the Island by sailing packet rather than by the steamer for several weeks. In June 1861 Boultenhouse advertised that the two steamers had been inspected in New Brunswick and met the requirements. The Lord Seaforth seems to have discontinued service in the region following the 1861 shipping season. By 1865 the Lord Seaforth had been sold to the U.S. Government and re-registered there.
By 1861 the Islander was describing the accommodations on the Westmorland as “wretched in the extreme” and complained that the ship had been put on the route that year with her boilers completely burnt out.
Notwithstanding the Islander’s reservations she seems to have fulfilled the terms of her initial 5-year contract and even for a few additional years without incident and might have continued longer had it not been for the American Civil War. As that war dragged on the movement of troops and supplies for both the Union and the Confederacy, as well as the necessity of moving goods for the populace meant that there was a sharp increase in demand for ships. Shipyards increased production but it was not enough to meet the needs. While the South was in the market for blockade runners the North needed transports. The Westmorland’s owner decided to sell out to the Americans.
In 1864 the Westmorland headed to the United States. August found her in New York, purchased by the U.S. Government as a transport for $27,000. She was one of 177 tugs, schooners, canal barges, and steamers owned by the government at war’s end. When they were sold the following spring the prices received were in advance of their appraised values but were low because of the large number of ships suddenly on the market. The wooden paddle-steamer Westmorland brought only $3,700. She may have been re-named Rochester but her fate after the sale does not seem to have been recorded.
The departure of the Westmorland paved the way for a new company, the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company (a new company with an old name), to take over the responsibility for the steamer service. This company and her successors were to be involved with the route for more than fifty years and brought the Island into the twentieth century. The Westmorland’s captain, Evander Evans, made the transition to the new company and at his death in 1876 it was noted that he never lost a man at sea or had an accident.
For a more detailed account of Boultenhouse and the Westmorland which was published in Argonauta, the newsletter of the Canadian Nautical Research Society, click here