Author Archives: sailstrait

About sailstrait

I am an archivist, historian and small boat sailor. Over the years have built several small boats, the most recent of which was a Medway Skiff. Since 2011 I have been skipper of "Ebony", a 1982 Halman 20. I sail in Northumberland Strait between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. Member of the Charlottetown Yacht Club, PEI Sailing Association and the Northumberland Strait Yachting Association. I have also an interest in the history of the Charlottetown Yacht Club, Charlottetown Harbour, Northumberland Strait and the vessels that have sailed there over the years.

First Cruise Ship Visited more than a Century Ago

In recent years the residents of Charlottetown have become accustomed to the seasonal visits of cruise ships emptying their hundreds or thousands of passengers on a city hungry to sell meals, tours and Anne of Green Gables effigies. While this may seem to be a recent phenomena the first visit of a purpose-built cruise ship to the port took place more than a century ago.
There had been earlier vessels fitted out for winter cruising but their chief role was as passenger and freight carriers and the cruising role was incidental. The Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company’s Northumberland was one of the first in the Florida-Bermuda trade with its freight deck temporarily fitted with partitions to create additional cabins and several of the Plant Line Steamers such as the S.S. Halifax and Olivette had winter charters in the Caribbean Sea when ice ended their seasonal work as the Boston Boat.

S.S. Evangeline by marine artist Antonio Jacobsen

On 7 June 1913 the new Plant Steamships liner docked in Charlottetown for the first time. According to the Guardian its arrival eclipsed the excitement around the visit of H.M.S. Cumberland the previous week which had brought a “real live Prince” to the city in the personage of Prince Albert, son of King George and Queen Mary. Docking to a “rousing and hearty welcome” the Evangeline was probably the most luxurious and up-to-date ship to visit Charlottetown before WW 1. The S.S. Evangeline was designated as a “tourist passenger steamer”  and already had experienced a season of winter cruising between Key West and Panama, Cuba, and Jamaica advertised as “Winter Outings on Summer Seas”.  Her winter work was under charter to the Peninsular and Occidental line, not to be confused with the British Peninsular and Oriental (P&O) company which operated to the far east. The Peninsular and Occidental was a joint venture between the Plant line and Henry Flagler and the Evangeline voyages were the first cruises from a Florida port. For the Evangeline, in a reversal of the role of other Plant Line vessels, the summer was the “off-season”

Launched from the London and Glasgow Engineering shipyard on the Clyde in the summer of 1912 the new ship was 350 feet long, 46 feet wide and drew 22.6 feet. She was a powerful vessel with her twin 6,000 hp engines and twin screws giving a speed of 16 knots. She had capacity for 700 passengers and also could carry 1,500 tons of cargo. She had all the accommodation features of the finest and largest ships of her day.  On the promenade or boat deck canvas awnings allowed for strolls. Inside, this deck housed a large smoking room paneled in oak and with morocco upholstered chairs and settees, the entrance hall with a stairway to the decks below, 50 staterooms with direct access to the deck and a number of suites. The awning deck was completely devoted to passenger services with a music room or social hall, deluxe staterooms, the purser’s office and 80 more staterooms. The main deck forward of the grand staircase was devoted to the dining saloon with seating for 150 and the kitchens and pantries. This deck had another 80 staterooms several of which were fitted up as “bridal rooms de luxe”.  As a reminder that this was a ship of the early 1900s the report also noted that this deck also housed the lavatories and bathrooms suggesting that these facilities were not available in even the deluxe passenger cabins. And not all the accommodation was deluxe for on the lower deck near the waterline there were 25 family staterooms, a ladies’ cabin with 50 berths and the second class men’s cabin with 80 berths.

Plant Steamship Line’s S.S. Evangeline

For the Guardian writer, the arrival of the vessel was heralded as “A New Era in Tourist Traffic” and advance bookings  suggested that the Island would see the largest stream of summer visitors in its history.  Whether true or not the arrival of the large vessel re-kindled the debate over the need for increased hotel accommodation to meet tourist needs. Unlike today’s visitors who arrive and vanish in a single day it was anticipated that the passengers on the Evangeline would see Prince Edward Island as a destination and not simply as one of a series of day stops.

Unlike several of the Plant Line ships this one had been built specifically for the firm which was then operating under the name Canada Atlantic and Plant Steamship Company. A year later the ownership was transferred to A.W. Perry of Boston but this did not really constitute a change as Perry was then owner of the Plant Line.

The outbreak of the Great War did not have an immediate effect on the P.E.I. service. The Evangeline was taken off the route in late September as it had been the previous year but instead of the sailing to the Caribbean  she was laid up in Boston with a planned charter to San Francisco via the Panama Canal in March. When she did come back to Charlottetown in the summer of 1915  it was advertised she was “Under the American Flag”, a change no doubt to make her a neutral vessel in the face of increased German U-boat and surface raider activity.

It was the Evangeline’s last summer in Island waters.  In the winter of 1915-1916 she ran between New York and Bermuda and in June of 1916 was chartered to carry freight to Manchester. She never returned to Charlottetown.  In 1918 she became to property of the French Government and was converted from a passenger vessel to a freight carrier.  She was wrecked off the coast of Brittany in January 1921.

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“The Night was Rather Dark…” The Incident at Connolly’s Wharf.

 

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Charlottetown Guardian 19 June 1907 p. 1

Even for the Guardian it was a decidedly strange way to present a front-page news story. Occupying the centre column of the 19 June 1907 issue was a story that named no names and provided few enough facts, although those that emerged were intriguing. In a city as small as turn of the century Charlottetown it is possible that the major players were already known to the people and the editor was simply being coy.

Even the style of the piece is a departure from the usual news reporting. The item begins with a bit of semi-poetic doggerel

It was the schooner Sea Slipper
That sailed the summer sea
And her skipper had gathered in Charlottetown
a “goodlie companie.”

They did devise a high enterprise –
A deed to make men laugh –
But one there was in the company
Who “blew away the gaff”

The scene opens with the schooner Sea Slipper stranded on the sands between the end of Richmond Street and Victoria Park, the victim of “a brilliantly conceived adventure which went astray.” The scene then shifts to the previous day when the skipper of the vessel secretly recruited a crew of eight or ten to recover goods purchased under a Bill of Sale which had subsequently been seized under a Warrant of Destraint.  The subject of the legal action was a load of lumber being held on Connolly’s Wharf.

The Guardian writer can hardly restrain himself as the plot (and the prose) begins to thicken; The night was rather dark, and the quiet waters of the harbor at midnight were gently ruffled by a growing breeze from the west, and on their broad bosom was reflected only the light of the blockhouse and the riding light of a solitary vessel riding at anchor, when the adventurers put forth to their task.  The Sea Slipper was quite empty, her hold having been cleared out to make room for her expected cargo, which was to be hurriedly loaded by the eight active members of her intrepid crew. But all concerned in the contemplated descent on the lumber piles reckoned without their host. 

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Early view of Connollys wharves. PARO photo

The Sea Slipper crept up to Connolly’s wharf and the skipper gave  a signal to someone waiting on the wharf that they were ready to start loading the lumber.  It immediately became obvious that the secrecy of the mission had not been complete as two bailiffs, one armed with a pistol and shotgun stood facing the crew.  Suddenly buckshot from the shotgun tore through the Sea Slipper’s mainsail and having turned away the crew the chief bailiff ordered the man on the wharf off the property.  The schooner drifted away from the wharf but caught by the wind and ill-served by the perplexed crew it fetched up on shoals just off the Park at about 3:00 a.m.   The crew was saved from a watery grave by the fact that the low tide left the vessel in about two feet of water. and they were able to walk ashore.

For those not in the “know” it was to be more than six months before more details of the incident were made public. The man on the wharf was a young Charlottetown lawyer, Edwin O. Brown, and the details of the Sea Slipper adventure were a small part of the trial of Brown for fraud.  On the night in question Brown had appeared a the Deputy Sheriff’s house between one and two in the morning complaining that he had been ordered off Connolly’s Wharf by a bailiff. The evidence was one of the small details that emerged in his January 1908 hearing which led to Brown’s being found to be insane and unfit to stand trial. One element of his paranoia was that the legal processes connected with the seizure of the lumber had been part of a plot against him and had directly led to his forging of mortgage documents.

Although Sea Slipper incident is barely a footnote to history there is a much more interesting story of the of the hospitalization of Brown at Falconwood Asylum, his escape and his eventual death in August 1917 in the Canadian assault on Hill 70 to be found in John Sutherland Bonnell’s article “The Case of E.O. Brown” in the spring/summer 1990 issue of The Island Magazine.

Of the schooner Sea Slipper little is known. There were several vessels of that name in the region, most out of Newfoundland ports.  The one most likely in Charlottetown on the dark June night was one built in 1858 in Mahone Bay Nova Scotia and owned by Frank Murphy in Montague P.E.I.  Although almost a half-century old it was still registered on the Mercantile Naval List in 1907.