On Thursday afternoon, as several cattle purchased by Blake Bros., in Southport were being driven up Prince Street, one of the younger animals became alarmed at the actions of a boy on stilts, and started to run. The others quickly followed, and soon all were down the wharf again. Here two of the cattle jumped overboard and started to swim out the harbor. The captain of the dredge saw the occurrence and with several of his men put out in a boat after the frenzies animals, one of which they captured off Rosebank and towed back to town. The tug Nelson put out after the other animal and overtook it near the harbor’s mouth and brought it back to town. Neither of the animals were worse for their experience, although one of them was in the water for about two hours. The Messrs Blake greatly appreciate the prompt and kindly action of the captain and crew of the Nelson and captain and crew of the dredge.
So read an article tin the Daily Examiner for 5 November 1898. It is a reminder that the sight of beasts on the streets of Charlottetown was hardly an unusual event until well into the beginning of the 20th century. As there was no practical way of transporting them other than rail cars, cattle would be driven into Charlottetown from the nearby country farms, or as in this instance, unto the Southport ferry, or one of the river steamers, and thence through the city streets to an abattoir or one of the many butcher shops in the city where they would be slaughtered and hung to age.
For decades Blake Brothers was one of the most important and well-known of the city’s butchers. The firm had been started by John Blake in the 1830s and continued under the management of his sons Patrick and Morris Blake who formed a partnership in 1865. They had one of the largest stalls at the Market House as well as facilities elsewhere in the city and were famed for the quality of their meat, frequently taking prizes at the Provincial Exhibition. Both brothers were active in politics; Patrick as a Conservative and Morris as a Liberal. Patrick moved to Cape Breton in in 1902 but the firm continued into the 1920s although Morris had died in 1919. Blake Brothers developed an export market for beef at an early date, shipping cattle throughout the region, especially to Newfoundland. Before the widespread use of refrigeration the only way to ship meat was live on the hoof. In 1880 they sent 108 fat cattle, with an average weight of 1350 pounds on the Island-owned steamship, the Prince Edward, to the British market. In addition Blake Bros. had an active provisioning business providing food for visiting steamers and warships. It is not clear if the swimming cattle were destined for export or the domestic table but their brief freedom was no doubt merely an interruption on their way to the table.
The tug Nelson was one of a small fleet owned by the Batt brothers. She had been built in1896 in Charlottetown and registered the following year. She was a small wooden vessel, only 50 feet in length, 13 wide and drawing only 5 feet. The bovine rescue in the harbour is one of only a handful of mentions she gets in the press. She did not remain long in Charlottetown and sometime before 1906 her ownership had passed to a Quebec firm. She was wrecked and taken off the register in 1906.
This story of beef afloat precedes by several years another epic worth noting. The story of the swimming cattle is a thin tale indeed compared to the later and much repeated and embellished saga of the bull, the bugle and the bridge which was recounted countless times by Walter O’Brien of “The Bristol Notes” fame. As this blog deals mainly with verifiable phenomena I will not try and repeat it here although it is (if true) an amazing tale. For details consult any avid reader of the Charlottetown Guardian’s Bristol Notes.