Tag Archives: Bedeque

Sailing to infectious melancholy: travelling by steamer from Charlottetown to Shediac in 1854.

I have an affection for cranky travellers, being one myself, but the travails of today seem slight when compared with those of our ancestors. Case in point are the observations of Isabella Lucy Bird when she left for New Brunswick following a lengthy stay in Prince Edward Island in 1854. She was one of several passengers on board the paddle steamer Lady Le Marchant (of which I have written here).

Haszard’s Gazette 12 July 1854 p.3

The boat left Charlottetown late at night, bound for Bedeque, which had not yet acquired the more common name of Summerside, and thence to Shediac. On leaving the Steam Navigation Company wharf in the darkness of a rainy night the steamer became entangled with a schooner, broke some of the piles on the wharf and smashed the bulwarks of a new brig. Once on their way up Northumberland Strait en route to Bedeque the passengers entertained one another with songs but in the gloomy atmosphere the mood soon changed.

…indefinable sensations of melancholy rendered the merriest of the party silent, and a perfect deluge of rain rendered a retreat into the lower regions a precautionary measure which even the boldest were content to adopt. Below, in addition to the close overpowering odour of cabins without any ventilation, the smell of the bilge-water was sufficient in itself to produce nausea. The dark den called the ladies’ cabin, which was by no means clean, was the sleeping abode of twelve people in various stages of discomfort, and two babies.

I spent a very comfortless four hours, and went on deck at dawn to find a thick fog, a heavy rain, the boards swimming with soot and water, and one man cowering at the wheel.  Most of the gentlemen, induced by the discomfort to be early risers, came up before we reached Bedeque, in oilskin caps, coats, and leggings, wearing that expression on their physiognomies peculiar to Anglo-Saxons in the rain. 

Isabella Lucy Bird in later life. Still scowling after seeing Shediac.

The Lady Le Marchant reached Bedeque and Isabella was safely ashore by six in the morning. There she parted from a colleague who had accompanied her on the trip up from Charlottetown and took a welcome break in the voyage, taking tea and drying her clothing, thankful of the reprieve.

Who, that has ever experienced the misiries of a voyage in a dirty, crowded, and ill-ventilated little steamer has also not appreciated the pleasurers of getting on land even for a few minutes? The consciousness of the absence of suffocating sensations, and of the comfort of a floor which does not move under the feet – of space, cleanliness, and warmth – soon produce an oblivion of all past miseries; but if the voyage has not terminated, and the relief is only temporary, it enhances the dread of future ones to such an extent that, when the captain came to the door to fetch me, I had to rouse all my energies before I could leave a blazing fire to battle with cold and rain again.

The wharf in Bedeque, more properly Green’s Wharf, which would become Summerside, was only a small one and unless the tide was full could not handle the Lady Le Marchant, small as she was. Passengers and goods had to be rowed back and forth. Isabella had to stand in the boat, her feet deep in water with a group of gentlemen with dripping umbrellas. Getting aboard the steamer brought little relief.

I went down to my miserable berth, and vainly tried to sleep, the discomfort and mismanagement which prevailed leading my thoughts by force of contrast to the order, cleanliness, and regularity of the inimitable line of steamers on the West Highland coast. Where ever the means of locomotion are concerned, these colonies are very far behind either the “old country” or their enterprising neighbours in Canada; and at present they do not appear conscious of the deficiencies which are sternly forced on a traveller’s observation.

The prospect which appeared through the door was not calculated to please, as it consisted of a low, dark, and suffocating cabin filled with men in suits of oilskin, existing in a steamy atmosphere, loaded with odours of india–rubber, tobacco and spirits. The stewardess was ill, and my companions were groaning; unheeded babies were crying…  My clothes were completely saturated.

They reached Shediac about noon and Isabella was of the opinion that it presented “every appearance of unhealthiness”.  In the early 1850s Shediac was still an important timber port visited by large numbers of British and European timber ships. However the harbour was shallow and the Lady LeMarchant was forced to anchor about two miles away from the landing place at Harrington’s Shore on the west side of the bay. There was little in the way of a village but the place was the end point of a stage line to “The Bend” (now Moncton) and from there steamers and other stages to Saint John could be had. Isabella was not impressed with Shediac:

Shediac Harbour. Detail from the Chart of Shediac Bay by H.W. Bayfield 1849. Note absence of wharves or a village on the current town site or at Pointe de Chene

Shediac had recently been visited by the cholera, and there was an infectious melancholy about its aspect, which, coupled with the fact that I was wet, cold, and weary … had a tendency to produce anything but a lively frame of mind. 

We and our baggage were unceremoniously trundled into two large boats, some of the gentlemen, I am sorry to say, forcing their way into the first, in order to secure for themselves places on the stage. 

As we were rowing to shore, the captain told us that our worst difficulty was yet to come – an insuperable one, he added, to corpulent persons. There was no landing place for boats, or indeed for anything at low water, and we had to climb up a wharf ten feet high, formed of huge round logs, placed a foot apart from each other, and slippery with sea grass.  It is really incredible that, at a place through which a considerable traffic passes, as being on the high road from Prince Edward Island to the United States, that should there be a more inconvenient landing-place than I ever saw at a Highland village.  

With a few years much had changed. In 1857 the European and North American Railway had been completed between Shediac and The Bend of the Peticodiac, as Moncton was known at the time. Three years later, just in time for the visit of the Prince of Wales, the tracks were extended to Saint John, and more importantly for Prince Edward Island, to Pointe du Chene where a wharf was built which could accommodate most steamers, even at low tide.

Isabella Lucy BIrd was undaunted by the travel in the Maritimes. She made an extensive trip through North America and published the results as The Englishwoman in America in 1856 and over the next forty years went on to be a world traveller with trips to the Rocky Mountains, Japan, India and Persia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and China. She was the first woman to be a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. She died in 1904.

Her travels on Prince Edward Island take up several chapters in The Englishwoman in America and provide a fascinating glimpse of the colony at mid-century. An on-line copy can be found here.     

 

Too Big for Success – The Paddle Steamer St. George

Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Advertiser 2 July 1842

Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Advertiser 2 July 1842

What had fourteen egg spoons, two paddles and over one hundred owners?

In 1842 Prince Edward Island was set to leap into the modern age. For far to long it had depended on either the winds or the kindness of strangers to provide the vital link with the rest of North American and with the Mother Country. It was time to Islanders to become masters (or at least crew members) of their own fate. A group of the leading merchants lobbied for legislation and at the spring sitting of the Legislature “An Act for the Incorporation of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company” was passed.  The legislation was one of the first acts in the colony to make used of the joint stock concept and limited liability for the owners so that their assets outside their investment would be protected in case of failure.  But how could failure occur? The need was clear. Northumberland Strait needed reliable transportation and Georgetown, Pictou, Charlottetown, Bedeque and Miramichi were all growing communities linked by the Strait.

Merchants, politicians, publicans and even clergy flocked to the company office to make their investments.  The leading merchants all signed up. Not just in Charlottetown but across the Island. The company owners came from Bedeque, Malpeque, Princetown, North River, Covehead, Tryon, St. Eleanors, Stanhope, Port Hill, Morrell. and to make sure that the general populace did not lose out the Government of the Colony took 150 of the 450 shares on offer. With the exception of one shareholder in St. John’s and one in England this was an all-P.E.I. company.

Since 1833 the Strait had been served by the Cape Breton, a steamer owned first by Pictou’s General Mining Association and later by Joseph Cunard and by the smaller Nova Scotia-built Pocahontas but neither appear to have been satisfactory. And besides they were owned off-Island!

If you are going to have a steam navigation company the first thing you need is a boat. Luckily Francis Longworth was going to England on other business and agreed to keep a look-out for one. He found one in the port of Liverpool.

the_monas_isle

This is not the St. George but is a vessel of similar size which was also operated in the Irish sea. The St. George would have looked much like this.

The St. George paddle steamer was just over ten years old and had an excellent service record. The  “large and elegant” steamer had been launched with much fanfare and before a large crowd of spectators from the Wilson and Sons yard at Cornhill, now part of Liverpool, on 21 November 1831. She was built for the St. George Steam packet Company which had an active service between Liverpool and Irish ports such as Dublin and Cork. The single deck vessel had displacement of 157 tons and was 135 feet long by 20 in breadth. The engines were built by Fawcett Preston & Co. of Liverpool. Its primary use was on the 120 nautical mile Liverpool to Dublin passage across the Irish Sea which took 18 – 20 hours.  The company added to its fleet throughout the 1830s and early 1840s with larger vessels and routes between the Uni9ted Kingdom and Europe. In 1838 the company’s ship the Sirius was the first steamer to cross the Atlantic.  Faced with losses it was later reformed as the City of Cork Steam Ship Company.  When Francis Longworth was searching for a vessel for the newly formed Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company in 1842 the St. George was on the market.  It was quickly purchased and the vessel was scheduled to leave Liverpool for St. John’s and Charlottetown on 9 July the same year, stopping at Cork for passengers.

The St. George,  “cheered  by the multitude,” arrived in Charlottetown on 14 August 1842 and was almost immediately pressed into service with the first trip to Pictou just a week later. Those who took the trips on the St. George were amazed at the luxury that the vessel provided. A partial list of the steward’s supplies gives a hint of how well-outfitted the ship was:  41 plated forks, 2 sauce ladles, 1 pair sugar tongs, 16 mattresses, 49 hair pillows, 36 feather pillows, 35 counterpanes, 8 crumb cloths, 77 sheets, 62 towels, 29 blankets etc. etc. etc..

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Islander 17 May 1844

The Company had been set up with the assurances (incorporated into the incorporation act) that it would make regular stops at Georgetown and the rising town of Bedeque, the latter to be a stop on the regular semi-monthly trips to Miramichi which community was otherwise somewhat isolated from the main population of New Brunswick.

 

Within a year problems of managing the company with the government being a large minority shareholder began to emerge.  Georgetown had generated insufficient business either in passengers and freight to warrant continued service except at a great loss. At Miramichi “the almost total abandonment of the timber and lumber trade” had resulted in a reduction in the demand for trips to that port.  Business at Bedeque was no better and an 1845 report noted that on one trip into the port “the only thing in the shape of freight procured was a basket containing hens eggs”.    More significantly the hoped-for subsidies from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had not been forthcoming and the company had no guarantees that they ever would be paid.  The main problem was that the St. George was too big for the modest demands of the Strait communities and was too expensive to operate.  It was also the wrong sort of ship as the majority of the business was in passengers and only about one-sixth of the revenue from freight.

In 1843 the legislation was changed so that the company could abandon the Georgetown route. The Government bought out the shares of the Georgetown investors as well as the remaining unsold shares bring their investment up to over 40% of the company. It was suggested that the company could buy another smaller boat to serve the Georgetown route but that never happened.   A year later, the attempt to regulate routes was completely abandoned and the Company was empowered to decide their routes and schedules to be “most beneficial and advantageous for the interests of this Colony; and of the Shareholders”.

After limping through the 1844 shipping season with increased losses the Company came back to the Legislature pleading that with the St. George “the present traffic is scarcely sufficient to bear the expense of maintaining the vessel on station and she is altogether unproductive of profit to the shareholders and it is advisable that vessel be sold.” Since the government still held a large proportion the shares it was allowed that these could be sold at a loss and any proceeds used to acquire a smaller and more suitable ship.

Service was continued through 1845 at a continuing loss and with the increasing age of the ship and the need for major repairs fast approaching the need to get rid of the St. George became acute.  A search was begun for a smaller, faster ship which could be operated for less but nothing was found.   By October 1845 the St. George had been sold to Quebec interests and left Charlottetown for the last time at the end of that month.

screen-shot-02-04-17-at-03-21-pm

Islander 4 April 1846

Although the Colonial Government advertised for a steamer to take the route it appears to have continued to be serviced by sailing vessels until 1849 when the Rose, a much smaller and perhaps more appropriate ship made its  way across the Atlantic.

The constraints placed by government ownership on the effective operation of the Steam Navigation Company  by requiring specific routes and schedules were certainly not the only challenge that the Company faced but they hardly contributed to success. It would not be the last time that government participation in a public/private partnership would lead to failure.
As for the St. George it lasted in Quebec only until 1850 when it was sold to become a towboat in Newfoundland.  In January 1852 it left St. John’s for Cork, Ireland and was never heard from again.

Note: An expanded history of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company is available as a detailed research paper which can be found here.

 

 

Depending on the Public Patronage – The Steamer Rosebud and the Subsidy

Haszard's Gazette 11 April 1855 p.3

Haszard’s Gazette 11 April 1855 p.3

Prince Edward Island is cut off from the mainland by Northumberland Strait and it seems getting across the strait has, for a long time, required a significant input of public funding. In the colonial period the subsidy took the form of a contract for carrying the colony’s mails and after Confederation it was more of an outright grant for services. Whether the subsidy was actually needed was seldom tested. Usually when the contract was awarded to one firm, other bidders vacated the field until the period of the contract had elapsed and they could bid again. But in the 1850s something strange happened – the Rosebud kept running.

The 1850s was a period of difficulty for the transportation links between colony and the mainland. The decade had opened with James Peake’s English-built steamer Rose providing service but he lost the mail contract in 1853 for reasons not entirely clear. It was replaced by a New Brunswick boat, the Fairy Queen, which sank with heavy loss of life late in the year. The next vessel to receive the subsidy was the Lady Le Marchant which was registered in Richibucto and owned by a New Brunswick member of the extended DesBrisay family and so it at least had some Island connections.

But the same year that the Lady Le Marchant came into service a new vessel was launched in Charlottetown which promised to provide competition. The Rosebud was the first steamship built on Prince Edward Island. She was owned by William Heard, a merchant and shipbuilder from the West of England who had come to the colony in the mid-1840s and soon prospered.  His yard was in Charlottetown near where the railway shops were later built.  Heard was an advocate for an Island replacement for the Rose  “decidedly the best and best-managed vessel ever put on the line between Pictou and Charlottetown.” Ironically Heard had purchased the wreck of the Rose when it went ashore near Rustico in 1853 and it is possible that the engine for the Rosebud could have been the one powering the Rose. Failing to find a suitable vessel to compete against the Lady Le Marchant he decided to build his own. She slid down the ways on 23 September 1854. Not large, at 120 tons, about 105 feet, she built as a packet with two cabins for passengers and other accommodations.  She was built on speculation for, as the editor of the Haszard’s Gazette noted , “We trust her enterprising owner may soon find employment for her, that will compensate him for his heavy outlay. ” On 15 November she was sent on her maiden voyage to Pictou and “all things considered . . . she has not disappointed her well-wishers.”  The Pictou Eastern Chronicle welcomed her arrival under the heading “More Steam in the Gulf” and noted she would be making three trips each week during the next year.

Haszard’s Gazette suggested that the Rosebud be placed on a new route. Rather than Pictou a more suitable Nova Scotia port might be Barrachois Harbour, 20 miles closer to Charlottetown and with only 12 miles between Point Prim and Amet Island the route would greatly shorten the time the vessel was subject to heavy seas. However when the Rosebud’s schedule was published in April 1855 it was between Charlottetown and Pictou and a short time later it was announced that the new vessel had been awarded the mail contract – much to the relief of Haszard’s Gazette: “We were at one time afraid that the Government were not going to employ the Rose Bud, and that we should have a streamer put on the route owned elsewhere, or perhaps none at all.”

However Haszard’s Gazette had been misinformed. The contract had again gone to Mr. DesBrisay and the Lady Le Marchant which announced a schedule of sailings to Pictou and Shediac, stopping at Bedeque.  Islanders now had a choice of boats for travel to Pictou. The Rosebud scrambled for extra work. The she had a short-term contract with the Anglo-America Telegraph to re-lay the cable between Cape Tormentine and Cape Traverse linking the colony with Halifax, Boston and New York! For the rest of the 1855 season the Rosebud travelled on the Pictou route. Besides her regular service she carried 200 members of the Benevolent Irish Society to a picnic in Orwell early in the month and advertised an excursion to Baie de Verte in 14 July and to Mount Stewart at the beginning of September. Later that month the steamer was transferred to the Summerside – Shediac route “for the remainder of the season” but by 4 October she had been laid up for the winter. William Heard took the opportunity to appeal to his fellow Islanders:

In the absence of that paternal regard for home production and enterprise, in which modern popular Governments are supposed to excel, and in the face of the most determined opposition,  — the Rosebud has performed her bi-weekly trips, between Charlottetown and Pictou, for the last 5 months, with almost undeviating regularity, and without even the smallest accident.   

During the season the Lady Le Marchant made 43 trips to Pictou and 25 to Shediac and received a subsidy of £1300 from P.E.I., £240 from Nova Scotia and £360 from New Brunswick. The Rosebud made 40 trips to Pictou and received nothing.

The following year the Lady Le Marchant once again had the contract and the Haszard’s Gazette editor was careful to point out that while he was glad that the colony had not had to resort to a sailing packet there needed to be fair competition. The Rosebud had been refitted and repaired and a dependable service between Charlottetown and Pictou or Pugwash or Tatamagouche was preferable to a service which included Shediac, this having been responsible for delays and missed trips the previous year.  The editor hoped that Government would make some provision for Heard’s vessel as “it is not likely that the Rosebud will be kept on the route solely by the remuneration from freight and passengers.”

Haszard's Gazette 21 June 1856 p.4

Haszard’s Gazette 21 June 1856 p.4

Heard headed an advertisement in June “Depending on the Public Patronage” which clearly referred to the fact that he was not receiving any government assistance.  By July he was trying to avoid direct competition by sailing to Tatamagouche and not Pictou and in September the service shifted to a service between Bedeque and Shediac.

In 1857 Heard seems to have given up in the Pictou route and the Rosebud was now crossing twice a week to Shediac.  With the 1857 advertisement touting the route which would give passage from Charlottetown to Boston in Four Days!! the documentary trail runs out and it is not clear what became of the vessel. No image of the ship has been located.

For more than three years Heard had fought to get the subsidy for an Island vessel. Perhaps he was simply on the wrong side of politics, perhaps the Rosebud, in spite of positive press reports, was not the right boat for the Strait or perhaps there were other reasons lost with the passage of time why Heard did not get the contract.  Nevertheless when a new boat was needed after the Lady Le Marchant left the strait it was another New Brunswick boat, the Westmorland that was chosen and she kept at it until 1864 – still irritating Islanders that the subsidy was being paid abroad.