I thought I had pretty much tracked down the ships of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company when I wrote a history of the company for this blog several months ago. Several of the ships even had been given entries and I was not sure how much more could be said on the subject.
Although the Company advertised its regular passenger services the S.S. Summerside’s short life was scarcely noticed. Steam Navigation Company advertisement in the P.E.I. Directory 1889-1890.
However, last week while searching on a New Zealand-based shipping database called the Miramar Ship Index I plugged in the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company expecting to find the usual suspects. Instead the only entry that popped up was for a 360 ton vessel registered in Prince Edward Island. She was registered as the SS Summerside. I had never come across the vessel before. Resorting to other on-line resources including Lloyds List and the Mercantile Naval List I came up with a blank. However armed with a name I was able to search an index called the “Mills List” which is maintained at Queens University. This contains steamship information culled from Canadian registers and I was able to get an official number and a year of construction – 1883. Of more importance were a few indications of her size (155 x 22) and tonnage (360). She had been built in London. A search of the Marine Engineer for 1884 revealed that she had been launched by Messrs Forrestt & Sons from the Britannia Yard, Millwall, London in 1883. The Britannia Yard was located on the Isle of Dogs, not far from Canary Wharf. She was built of iron and had a 60 horse power steam engine. Another vessel launched from the same yard, the Kinnaird Castle may have been a sister ship as she had the same dimensions.
With a few of the ships details pinned down I was keen to learn about her history but owing to few sources there is much reading between the lines. In 1883 the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company had three ships, all wooden sidewheelers and all about 20 years old: the Princess of Wales, the St. Lawrence and the Heather Belle. A new iron steamer would have represented a significant investment in the future of the company. Her arrival was duly noted in the local press.
Daily Patriot 28 August 1883
As announced the new screw steamer Summerside recently purchased at the Clyde by the Steam Navigation Company of this province, arrived at the port yesterday at half past 3:00 p.m. The Summerside left London on the 5th inst. Making this passage out in 21 days She is 161 feet in length, 22 feet beam, depth of hold 11 feet; 60 horse power and 370 tons register with a carrying capacity of 520 tons. She is designed exclusively for carrying freight, and will therefore enable the company’s other steamers to carry mails and passengers with greater comfort and dispatch than heretofore.
Her owners claim for her a fair rate of speed and Captain Cameron speaks highly of her performance on this her first voyage. Owing to a slight leaking in her condenser she was obliged to put into Falmouth on the 8th,thus causing some delay, and after leaving there experienced heavy gales; but under these unfavorable circumstances she proved herself capable of providing good satisfaction.
The Daily Examiner’s report noted as well that her auxiliary sailing gear was a schooner rig and that she had a “nice appearance”, black with a red bottom.
Charlottetown Herald 29 August 1883
The new iron screw steamer Summerside purchased in London England by the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company arrived her on Monday afternoon after a passage of twenty-one days. She was commanded by Capt. Cameron who pronounced her a good “sea boat” she is one hundred and sixty-one feet long, twenty-two foot beam, eleven feet of hold, sixty horsepower and registers three hundred and eighty tons, and has a freight capacity of over five hundred tons. The Summerside was mainly intended to carry freight but will no doubt, be fitted for passenger accommodation, which is very necessary. She will act in conjunction with the St. Lawrence and Princess of Wales in removing freight and will, we understand, also engage in other work.
There is little information about the ship after the publication of the arrival notces. The small steamer does not appear to have been fitted for passenger services, contrary to what the Herald suggested and if her chief role was to act as a supplementary freight hauler she did so without notice. It is more likely that her owners put her into the coastal service. One report suggests she made voyages to Newfoundland in 1884. At any rate, the summer of 1885 found her on a voyage from Montreal to Fogo Island with general merchandise. She rounded Cape Race and headed up the coast and took on a pilot as she neared her destination on 20 August 1885. However, due to “the ignorance of the pilot” she ended up on the rocks at Western Tickle near the entrance to the harbour albeit without loss of life. Owing to the lack of communications it was some time before the information reached Prince Edward Island.
Daily Patriot 24 August 1885
A telegram was received Saturday evening by the Steam Nav. Co. Stating that the S.S Summerside had run ashore in Fogo Harbour, and that the greater part of the cargo, consisting of general merchandise had been saved. Another telegram was received this morning from Capt. Cameron, which stated that the engine room and after hold were full of water and asking for instructions. This is all that is known at present respecting the position of the boat; and as that place is some distance from telegraphic station it may be some time before anything further will be known.
The steamer was on her passage from Montreal to Fogo Harbor with a general cargo and thus her destination was the scene of her misfortunes. Fogo is a small Island about ten miles to the north of Newfoundland and separated from it be Hamilton Sound.
The Summerside is comparatively a new vessel, having been built in the year 1883 by Messers Forrest & Sons of London, Eng. She is built of iron and is classes 100 A at English Lloyds and her registered tonnage is 223. She arrived here in command of Capt. Cameron in August 1883. She is, we hear, partially insured.
Daily Patriot 27 August 1885
The Steam Navigation Company received information today to the effect that the S.S. Summerside had been condemned and will be sold on Saturday next.
The wreck was sold a few days later. The two-year old ship was valued at $40,000 but would have fetched only a small fraction of that as she lay on the rocks of Fogo. A year later the wreck had been stripped but still lay close to the channel.
New York Times 21 November 1886
ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland, Nov. 20.–The direct northern mail steamer Hercules, while passing through the Western Tickle, near Fogo, Notre Dame Bay, struck the sunken steamer Summerside. She proceeded toward Dean’s Rock, fast filling and with all her fires out but one, and reached Fogo with 10 feet of water in her hold. The steam pumps were working constantly, and she barely reached the shore when she sank.
The Summerside was likely at least partially insured but her loss still must have been a major blow to the company. Perhaps it was a financial crisis brought about by her loss that led to the recapitalization and change of ownership of the company which was incorporated five years later under Dominion legislation as the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company. The new Steam Navigation Company was able to make the transition to modern steel vessels and continued operations until the arrival of the rail-car ferry Prince Edward Island.
I have been unable to find any images of the Summerside and it is entirely possible that none exist. Short as the life of the Summerside was she did last a year longer than her sister ship the Kinnaird Castle which sank after a collision in the Thames Estuary in 1884.