A Narrow Escape in Charlottetown Harbour – 1843

Charlottetown harbour was – and continues to be – a dangerous place. For 250 years there have been reports of men falling from ships, boats overturning in high winds, children slipping from their play on the wharves, fishermen tangling in nets, teams and their owners crashing through the thin spring ice and men and boys who simply failed to return from the sea.. For most of the period the water was not the place of play that it has become in the last century. It was a place of peril and one had to respect the power of the water. Few of those who went out on the waters could actually swim. Today, thanks to organizations such as the Red Cross, almost all children are introduced to the water through swimming lessons. It was not always so.
Drownings were common and in the 19th century press they were hardly noted unless the victim was of high standing. It was not unusual for would-be rescuers to have to watch helplessly as none of them could swim to help a victim.

The exception was the rare but happy story of the narrow escape. Now that was news!  Even so it sometimes required a bit of a nudge for the newspapers to print something positive as far as the harbour was concerned. In June 1843 a correspondent signed as “Witness” sent the following to the Islander newspaper.

Sir: – On Monday the 19th inst. at ten a.m. the wind blowing fresh from the N.W., two of the Campbells of Nine Mile Creek, with their sister, left the Queens Wharf in a sail boat, without ballast, homeward bound, when a little below the three tides, the boat upset.

Morning News and Semi-Weekly Advertiser 14 October 1843 p. 43

Morning News and Semi-Weekly Advertiser 14 October 1843 p. 43

A few minutes after the Campbells left, Capt. Hubbard, in his superior boat Charles, left the wharf also, with Captain Cumberland and his lady; intending to land them at Ringwood, but having a boat in tow, proceeded rather tardily. When about half way to the place of the accident, Capt. Cumberland observed that he expected the Campbells would sooner or later be drowned in consequence of their impudence; and the words were scarcely out of his mouth when over went the boat. It was then as Capt. Hubbard observed to the writer of this letter, that Capt. Cumberland, with the presence of mind that ever characterizes that gentleman, deliberately and irresistibly played the man, instantly sprang into the boat then in tow, taking with him Capt. Hubbard’s son Edward; and saying “Now Hubbard, my dear fellow, which will be there first, you or I?”

1845 chart showing Cumberland's residence at Ringwood (lower left) and Three Tides (top)

1845 chart showing Cumberland’s residence at Ringwood (lower left) and Three Tides (top)

By this Capt. C. and Edward seated each with elastic oar in hand, plied with every nerve braced, determined to lead before the Charles; which being relieved from her after tow, glided like lightning through the water. Mrs. Cumberland, who, after the first shock at the sight of the upset boat, was all emotion to render herself useful on the trying occasion, eagerly eliciting instruction from the intrepid Captain Hubbard whose active skill  and wonted firmness enabled him calmly and deliberately to arrange  his anchor, cable and every line for bearing down on the objects before him without coming in contact so as  to frighten the Campbells or weaken the hold which they had on the boat, which was lying on her side.

In two or three minutes the Charles was under the lea of the upset boat, with the anchor let go . One of the poor fellows holding on cried out “Don’t run us down, Sir.” “Fear nothing! Hold on! you are all saved!” vociferated the master of the Charles, when the upset boat, her masts and sails, and the three persons drifted down on the Charles. Capt. Cumberland that instant coming up , as it were, disregarding the danger his own intrepidity exposed him to, with the aid of Capt. Hubbard, took up the poor suffers, who especially the poor girl, were all but exhausted after having the water flowing over them every moment for near half an hour – they themselves being to leaward. –  One of the lads indeed had but one hand holding by the boat, while his other arm was around his sister, but for which she must have been drowned, as she never had hold of the boat at all.

Now, Mr. Editor, does not such praiseworthy conduct deserve more than a passing remark. How often may Capt. Hubbard be in situations similar to the above, when as was the case that day, he may lose a whole day’s wages of himself, two men and a boat, a loss Capt. Hubbard is ill able to sustain.


The Three Tides is the area in Charlottetown Harbour where the waters of the three rivers, Hillsborough, York and Eliot meet. That coupled with the tidal flows make for unpredictable currents. Although well-recognized locally the name appears on no chart. Ringwood House stood on the west side of Warren Cove across the creek from Fort Amherst. Colonel H. Bentenik Cumberland was a retired British officer who acquired an estate which included most of the land in south-east lot 65, This extended from approximately Canoe Cove to the Harbour Mouth


1 thought on “A Narrow Escape in Charlottetown Harbour – 1843

  1. Daphne Dumont

    Love the intense and melodramatic language used in this report. The writer may have read one too many 18th century novels. “Mrs. Cumberland…after the first shock was all emotion too render aid”, probably translates as “this competent military spouse provided useful assistance on the rescue boat”. Thanks – very interesting!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.