Lillian E. Kerr – An icon of the age of sail?


Four-Masted Schooner “Lillian E. Kerr” Leaving Charlottetown Harbour, August 1941. Photo by George Coffin. Photo: Collection of National Museum of Science and Technology, Ottawa.

It is perhaps the most iconic and best-known image of the age of sail on Prince Edward island.

The reality is that the Lillian E. Kerr had little to do with either Charlottetown or with the Island’s long-passed age of sail.

Lillian Kerr at anchor

Lillian E. Kerr at anchor

In August 1941 a four-masted schooner arrived in Charlottetown with a cargo of coal from Weehawken New Jersey. The vessel was one of what may have been only two or three surviving ships with that rig still on the Atlantic.  No one could have known it at the time but it was the last four-master to ever visit Charlottetown. Although a coal-hauler, the ship retained a certain grace and in the early days of the Second World War she was a reminder to residents of the days of wooden ships and iron men.

The photo of the Lillian E. Kerr as she left Charlottetown Harbour was one of at least two taken by George Coffin at the request of B. Graham Rogers, then director of the P.E.I. Travel Bureau. The striking photo was doctored to include a little boy posed pensively on the seawall and was the image on a travel bureau calendar issued in March of 1942.  This was the first visit of the Lillian E. Kerr to the Island capital. There would never be another.

Lillian Kerr Deck

Lillian E. Kerr, deck view. Location unknown

The Lillian E. Kerr had been launched in 1920 from the large E. James Tull shipyard in Pocomoke City, Maryland. She was the last ship built in that yard. The age of the wooden ship was drawing to a close but the schooner rigged vessels were still popular in the early years of the twentieth century as they were affordable high-volume freighters which required only a few crew and no fuel other than the wind and were therefore cheap to operate. They hauled coal, lumber and fertilizer – cargos for which the speed and set delivery times were not essential.

In 1921 the Captain of the Kerr brought mutiny charges against a member of his crew following a fight aboard the ship. The Captain had found the crew member asleep at the wheel. The crew member attacked him with a knife and the two men fought on deck while the captain’s wife steered the vessel. The captain alleged that the crew member attacked him a second time and he was forced to shoot the violent man. The outcome of the charge is not known.

Built as a three-masted vessel the ship was later sold to Capt. James L. Publicover of Le Have Nova Scotia. He added her to his small fleet of cargo vessels and made a major change to the appearance of the schooner by having her re-rigged as a four-master.

“Lillian E. Kerr” in Charlottetown Harbour. Photo by George Coffin. Photo: Public Archives and Records Office

A little more than a year after leaving Charlottetown the Lillian E. Kerr was transporting a cargo of timber to Boston. During the night of  12-13 November 1942 she was overtaken by a convoy carrying war materials overseas. Although the Kerr was carrying running lights the ships of the convoy were not. She was rammed by a steamer called the Alcoa Pilot and went to the bottom with all of her crew except for one person was recovered but died soon after. The owner, Capt. Publicover, lost his son, son-in-law, and two nephews in the sinking.

It was not until almost five years had passed that the Admiralty court in New York heard the case. The evidence showed that the Alcoa Pilot, one of the lead ships in the convoy, had overtaken the Lillian E. Kerr and ran her down without taking proper evasive action. She was also charged with failing to stop to pick up survivors. The Alcoa Pilot was held at fault for the accident. The decision was upheld on appeal and damages awarded to Publicover.

Besides the tourism calendar, the main reason why the image of a vessel not built here, and seldom sailed here, became so familiar to Islanders is most likely because the picture, complete with a short-panted boy posed on an imaginary seawall adorned the cover of the menu of a well-patronized eatery, the Rendezvous Restaurant during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Lillian E. Kerr at Pickard’s Coal Wharf, August 1941. Photo from Historic PEI Facebook Page, posted 3 January 2021.





8 thoughts on “Lillian E. Kerr – An icon of the age of sail?

  1. John Rankin

    Harry I have seen this picture somewhere in the past

    I think it was labeled outward bound



    1. sailstrait Post author

      There are lots of copies of it around. If you are like me you may remember it from seeing it on the menu for the Rendezvous.

  2. rona878


    From information I have from William ‘Pud’ Beer, co-owner of the ‘Rendezvous Restaurant’ with Doug Hill, the little boy in the picture of the ‘Lillian E. Kerr’ was Charlie Rogers, son of Keith Rogers, founder of CFCY, who lived on lower Grafton Street. I believe B. Graham Rogers was a relative (?).

    George Scantlebury and I watched the ‘Kerr’ for two days in 1941 from our cottages across the harbour at Rosebank. She was very impressive, especially as she departed under partial sail.

    Ron H. Atkinson





    sailstrait posted: ” It is perhaps the most iconic and best-known image of the age of sail on Prince Edward island. The reality is that the Lillian E. Kerr had little to do with either Charlottetown or with the Island’s long-passed age of sail. In August 1″

  3. Daphne Dumont

    Interesting article, Harry – My grandfather, “Skipper” (Martin) (as we called him) had quite good colourized or tinted versions of these two photos of the ‘Lillian’ in his study. They ended up at our cottage at Keppoch in the 50s, where they have been since then. I have always liked them so I was delighted to see your article and know what the story was. Thanks!

  4. max pecoraro

    hello: im from Toronto and i’ve come across an original photo of this ship with a stamp on the back ‘photo by G.Coffin Ch’town’….let me know if this is of interest to anyone

    1. sailstrait Post author

      As I note in the posting, newspaper reports credit the photograph to George Coffin. Coffin’s name appears as early as 1943 when he was noted as a “photographer and newsman” in a story on the Governor’s Island oil well. The same year a Lt. George Coffin is in the ships company of HMCS Queen Charlotte but it is not clear if this is the same man. I would be interested in seeing if there are other photos of the Lilliam Kerr.

  5. max pecoraro

    ps. the photo I have is not one of the ones I’ve alresdy seen posted here

  6. Richard White

    John Parker Richards was the 2nd Mate on the Lillian E Kerr. He survived the Collision on the night of 13 Nov 1942 but died from his injuries within a coup[le hours. He was my Grandmother’s 2nd Cousin and lived down the road from her in Dublin Shores NS. She spoke often of the Collision as 4 of the crew where related.


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