On a Saturday in late August 1891 a crowd gathered at Connolly’s wharf to greet a vessel new to Charlottetown’s waterfront. The steamer Premier was a new vessel having been launched from a yard at Ayr in South-west Scotland a short time before. Captain Allen who had brought the ship out to Halifax told the Examiner newspaper that “she’s a little beauty and bound to become a favourite with the travelling public.”
He had reason for his optimism – at least as far as the passenger accommodation went. According to the Examiner:
The Premier has a beautifully-fitted-up saloon capable of seating twenty persons which is finished in English black walnut, bird’s eye maple and cardinal plush. Opening off are eleven staterooms, each six feet square, finished in cypress wood, and fitted with the best of bedding and linen. The rooms are fitted with two berths, but if only one is required the upper one folds up to the wall, similar to the Pullman car berths. A commodious and nicely fitted-out ladies cabin is situated in the after end of the saloon, on the starboard side. It contains four berths, wash-room etc., and is an excellent room for a family to occupy. There is also a cosy smoking and card room aft.
Cosy indeed, with cabins measuring about the same size as a queen-sized bed!
The vessel was relatively small, only 155 feet long with a tonnage of 354 and with a single deck extending the length of the vessel. With freight holds fore and aft the passenger accommodation was in the middle of the vessel, a design which reduced the discomfort to those aboard as it sliced through the waves.
The ship was owned by the Eastern Steamship company which was established in Halifax in 1891 and was incorporated under Dominion legislation the same year with capital stock of $60,000. The shares were primarily held by merchants and corporations in Halifax but in what obviously an attempt to attract business from the outports among the shareholders were merchants and others from outlying areas such as North Sydney, Canso, and Guysborough. The list also included owners from Prince Edward Island such as Charles E. Robertson, Fenton Newberry and Frederick W. Hyndman from Charlottetown, and Robert T. Holman and Joseph Read of Summerside.
The operational route of the Premier was a weekly service between Halifax and Summerside with stops along the Nova Scotia Eastern Shore; Sheet Harbour, Salmon River, Sonora, Sherbrooke, Isaac’s Harbour, Whitehead, Guysborough, Arichat, Canso, Mulgrave, Port Hawkesbury, Souris, and Charlottetown. In an effort to compete with the railway the fare from Charlottetown to Summerside was only fifty cents. It operated on this route until close of navigation in late fall1891. That winter saw the Premier chartered and placed on the route of the Canada Atlantic Steamship Company from Halifax to Boston, freeing up that firm’s vessel, the Halifax, for a Halifax to Bermuda service. The following year, perhaps to reduce the number of stops at small ports, Eastern Steamships chartered another vessel, the much smaller S.S. Weymouth, owned by the Weymouth Steamship Company to visit the Eastern Shore ports while the Premier stopped only at Canso, Port Mulgrave, Port Hawkesbury, Souris, Charlottetown and Summerside, connecting with the Weymouth at Canso.
Timing for the launch of the new service may not have been ideal. The passage from Charlottetown to Halifax was a route with considerable competition. The Boston and Colonial Steamers had been on the route as part of their Charlottetown to Boston line and in 1892 they added the S.S. Britannia a luxurious vessel much larger than the Premier. Competing with both, was the was the S.S. Halifax, of the Canada Atlantic Steamship Company, which had been on the route since 1888 and had also provided a route from Charlottetown to Halifax which carried on to Boston. In addition Pickford and Black’s steamer Fastnet, just slightly smaller than the Premier, was also on the Charlottetown to Halifax service with a number of stops at intermediate ports. Those longer distance weekly sailings, along with the daily combined steamer and rail connections via Pictou between Charlottetown and Halifax, provided by the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company, gave Island passengers and shippers a breadth of choice never before available. The Steam Navigation Company’s old paddle steamer, the Princess of Wales was replaced by a brand-new vessel, the Northumberland, in the summer of 1891. All of these vessels meant that Islanders had several options for their Halifax travels.
Probably because of this competition the venture was not a success and in October 1892 the Premier was seized by the sheriff in Halifax on behalf of the ship’s mortgage holder and was sold at auction in January 1893 for substantially less than the cost of the vessel. Later that year it was again sold to a Montreal-based shipper, Vipond and McBride, and was used in the fresh-fruit trade carrying bananas and other fruit from the Caribbean to New York and Montreal. In 1901 it was fitted out as a salvage vessel and in June 1917 was wrecked off Sambro Nova Scotia.