Tag Archives: Boston and Colonial Steamship Company

Commerce and Franconia – The first of the Boston Boats

Steamer Commerce at Boston’s T Wharf c. 1870. Although only the wheelhouse of the small vessel can be seen its diminutive size is clear.

In yet another connection between Prince Edward Island and the Civil War, the steamer Commerce was the first of many vessels* trading to Prince Edward Island which had begun life on one side or the other of the Union blockade of the southern states. She was built in England on the river Tees by the firm of Backhouse and Dixon and launched, carrying the name Pet, in October 1862. In all probability she was designed specifically for blockade running. A relatively small vessel, 141 feet long and 20 wide, she had engines which gave her a top speed of 11 1/2 knots. Although not the name on her ownership papers she was the property of the Manchester firm of Alexander Collie & Co. who owned more than fifteen blockade runners, many of which were to be eventually seized by the Union forces.

The Pet arrived in Nassau Bahamas, the main port for blockade runners, in early 1863 and was one of 28 new vessels noted by the U.S. Consul that season. The Consul calculated that each of these vessels could make a profit of $119,000 per trip which meant that the full cost of building the Pet was covered by a single round-trip. A good blockade captain could be paid $7,000 in gold for each round trip. She was a very successful commercial blockade-runner and made between fifteen and twenty trips over the next year. However, in February 1864 she was intercepted on her way from Nassau to Wilmington, Delaware by the U.S.S. Montgomery. She was close enough to shore to land her passengers and pilot before the navy boarding party could stop them. The crew were captured but as British nationals were later released.

As a prize of war the Pet was sent to Boston to be auctioned off and in April 1864 she was purchased by Franklyn Snow of Boston for $35,500. The new owner changed her name to the Commerce and she began a new life as the first of the Boston Boats shuttling between Charlottetown and Boston under the name of the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company. On her arrival in Halifax one newspaper there described her as a gentlemen’s yacht but noted her appearance had been spoiled by the addition of increased accommodation although the writer did concede that her cabins were “nicely fitted”. She arrived in Charlottetown in late May accompanied by her owner who, according to the Islander,  “made himself most agreeably acquainted with the many citizens of Charlottetown.”

Islander 9 September 1864

Beginning with a bi-weekly service, the Commerce, ex Pet, was joined in early August by a larger vessel, the steamer Franconia. This ship was American-built, and at 179 feet, was considerably larger than the Commerce. Her arrival at Charlottetown seems to have been accorded more coverage than that of the Commerce, perhaps because owner Franklyn Snow provided an excursion to Point Prim for, as the Islander stated, “all the world and his wife” and most of the leading politicians of the colony provided entertainment for the captive audience in the form of speeches praising the enterprise.  George Coles noted this was the first attempt at providing regular service since the visits of the Albatross  more than twenty years earlier. The addition of the Franconia to the Boston and Colonial fleet meant that Charlottetown would have regular weekly service to Boston with each of the vessels leaving their respective ports every Monday and arriving on Friday.

The provision of regular service was a major advancement for the colony. Previously shippers had to take advantage of what ever opportunity presented itself, often not knowing when a ship would arrive until it appeared in the harbor.  This was especially welcome for shippers of perishable goods such as oysters, eggs, meat and produce which could go directly to market in Boston or Halifax. While an alternative route using the ships of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company and several Canadian and American rail lines was available, the cargo would have to be handled several times as it had to be transferred from ship to wagon or rail several times. Another advantage was speed. The steamers could reach their port within four days, including stops at Pictou, Canso, and Halifax. Sailing vessels could take much longer. The direct service also suited passengers who could make the trip for as little as eight dollars – with additional cost for cabins and meals.

The question of the day was whether or not the trade would support the venture. The Islander’s editor noted that “The Americans have been, and are, our best customers” and suggested that by inducing the American fishing fleet, which annually visited Island waters, to harvest the herring and ship their catches on the fast steamers rather than having to return to their ports, could provide additional trade.

An added concern was that the Boston service would have a negative impact on the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company which had just made a major investment in a new vessel, the Princess of Wales.  However, at the close of navigation the Islander was able to report that the Boston run had been “well patronized” and that the receipts for the Steam Navigation Company had not fallen off.

That year, navigation closed on December 21st with the Franconia being the last vessel to work its way through the harbour ice to the open channel.  She carried some 12,500 bushels of oats, 150 sheep and a quantity of poultry as well as other goods.

The following year the Commerce returned but the Franconia did not. She was replaced on the run by the Greyhound. By 1870 the Franconia had become the property of the Maine Steamship Co. and was used on their Portland to New York route for many years.  For the next half-century the Boston Boat was a vital part of the Island’s communication  system. During the period many vessels and several companies served on the route  and they both responded to, and helped forge, the close linkages between the Island and the Boston States.

* Vessels in the P.E.I. service which had a civil war connection include the Greyhound, Oriental, Miramichi, St. Lawrence, Worcester, Carroll, Somerset, Westmoreland and Lady Le Marchant,

 

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From Bergen to Charlottetown to Rio – Britannia Didn’t Rule the Waves

Last year on this site I told the story of the Margaret, a Canadian patrol ship that was a frequent visitor to Charlottetown, and how she ended up as part of the Brazilian Navy.  I thought the story was unique but never guessed at the time that the Margaret’s history had parallels with that of another ship, also a frequent visitor to Charlottetown, from a period forty years earlier.

This time the ship was a passenger liner on the Charlottetown to Boston route which became a Brazilian Admiral’s flagship. This is the story of the Britannia.

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The Cruiser Andrada, ex-Britannia, ex-America. Although shown as a naval vessel with armaments she retained the yacht-like appearance of her cruising days.

The name of the vessel suggests a British origin but in fact the ship was built in Bergen, Norway for a local ship owner, Peter Gabriel Halvorsen who had a several shipping ventures including a steamer service across the North Sea between Bergen and Newcastle. His vessels mostly carried coal eastward and iron ore to England but with an eye to a developing tourist market all of his ships had passenger accommodation. His new ship – clearly targeting the cruising trade was, launched in 1890. The vessel had a graceful appearance with a clipper bow, white hull and twin funnels and looked much like many of the private yachts being built during the era. It was the largest steamer registered in Norway at the time. The Britannia was rated at 1,555 gross tons and was 254 feet long with a breadth of 34 feet.  Aboard were accommodation for 185 passengers in three classes with appropriate lounges and dining facilities. She had an engine supplied by a Scottish builder who promised a service speed of between 16 and 17 knots.

Unfortunately for Halvorsen she did not live up to her expectations. Even at a reduced speed she suffered from excessive vibration and had an enormous appetite for coal.  In addition she proved to be an uncomfortably lively boat and passengers tended to avoid the Britannia in booking voyages.  After trying her on a number of different routes, and facing bankruptcy, Halvorsen put her on the market and in 1892 she found herself on the other side of the Atlantic.

Early that year the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company added to the Britannia to their fleet joining the aged wooden steamers Carroll and Worcester. The company was facing competition from the Canada-Atlantic line with the steamer Halifax on the run between Boston and Halifax.

An account of the new ship appeared as part of an article on an excursion from Boston to Halifax which appeared in Cook’s Excursionist and Home and Foreign Tourist Advertiser in November 1892.

…she seemed to sit on the water like a duck; and my friend expressed the opinion that he though she would be a good sea boat, which subsequently (fortunately for us) proved to be the case. When we got out to sea we found a heavy swell on, and the various vessels in sight were rolling and pitching in a most uncomfortable looking manner.  We did some of it, but certainly much less than any of our neighbours and were not disturbed by any visions of mal de mer. …The staterooms were so lofty, so comfortable, so much in advance of anything we had seen before that we were perfectly amazed. There was a lovely music room, and as we studied the various pictures with which the panels were illuminated, and which, we were told, were descriptive of incidents in the history of the ancient Vikings, we regretted very much being unable to understand the significance of them, but as works of art they are remarkably fine any must have cost a very great deal of money.  

… The main saloon is a most cozy space and extends right across the ship; the tables are nicely arranged, and the carving of the furniture is most artistic. The room is panelled with beautiful marble, which in turn is elaborately illuminated in gold. A magnificent dome fitted with expensive stained glass, extends the whole length of the saloon, and diffuses a delicate soft light. And such a cozy smoking room, where we sat and enjoyed the fragrant weed, and felt that we were as happy and comfortable as though we had been owners of an “Alva” or “Atlanta.” We were so impressed with the elegance and luxury of the steamer that we asked one of the officers how much she cost and were not surprised that no less sum than $325,000 had been expended on this beautiful floating palace…

The Britannia was listed for sailings from Charlottetown to Boston during the summer and fall of 1892 but advertising in 1893 noted “sailings of S.S. Britannia will be given later.” The operating costs for the luxurious ship proved to be too much for the struggling company and she was laid up in Boston for almost a year.

Within a year the Britannia was sailing in warmer waters and in a much different role.  In 1889 a coup had brought an end to the monarchy in Brazil, a change which was not popular with many officers in the navy. Subsequent breaches of the nation’s new constitution caused further resentment and in 1891 and 1892 there were two revolts against the government. The second of these saw the Brazilian Navy in revolt laying siege to the capital Rio de Janeiro in opposition to the government. As the rebels controlled most of the country’s naval vessels the government had to “improvise” a new fleet of risk defeat. The government basically bought itself a new naval force on the open markets around the world. The armada consisted of small and sometimes unusual ships including torpedo gunboats, various medium and small torpedo boats, small armed yachts, and a transport converted to carry a Zalinsky “dynamite gun” (a pneumatic gun launching a dynamite charge of massive explosive force and marginal accuracy).  As in the case of the Margaret forty years later country relied on an American agent, this time one Charles Flint, to acquire suitable vessels.

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Cruiser Andrada ca. 1900, probably in Rio harbour.

One of these was the Britannia, which in just eighteen days in late 1893 was converted in a New York shipyard from a comfortable passenger and freight carrier to an armed cruiser, albeit one without any protective defensive armour. Decks were reinforced to take the weight of weapons including 10 rapid-firing guns, the largest of which were 4.7 inch Armstrong guns on the foredeck; two torpedo launching tubes on the bow, two more on the waist of the ship and another on the hurricane deck.

On leaving New York in company with other vessels of the new fleet the ship was re-named the America but following fitting out in Brazil she was re-re-named the Andrada to honour Santos Jose de Andrada e Silva a patriarch of the Brazilian independence struggle.  The Andrada was the flagship of the fleet but actually appears to have taken little part in the successful crushing of the revolt.  She served in a number of capacities in the Brazilian navy until 1914 when she was transferred to the customs service.  She was later sold to a private company (Martinelli Lloyd) and the name America restored to her. She operated as a fast freighter during the First World War and was still on Lloyd’s register of shipping in the 1930s. One report states she ended up in the 1960s as a floating dock at a small port near Rio de Janeiro, a far cry from the fjords.

Sources

The Norwegian part of the Britannia’s story is most easily found in an on-line history of the Norwegian coastal streamers by Mike Bent. Her short-lived period on the Charlottetown-Boston run is mostly from local newspapers.  The fascinating role of Charles Flint and “Flint’s Fleet” in the revolt is part of a  book by Steven Topik titled Trade and Gunboats: The United States and Brazil in the Age of Empire

S.S. Halifax – Charlottetown to Boston and Return

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S.S. Halifax preparing to leave Charlottetown. A visiting warship can be seen in the background

By 1890 the wooden steamships Carroll and Worcester which had provided the direct Charlottetown – Boston connection since 1872 were more than twenty-five years old and in 1892 their owners, the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company became bankrupt. Fortunately another company, the Canada Atlantic Steamship Company, which had previously operated between Boston and Halifax, was able to begin service to the Island, and better still had a modern vessel for the route.

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S.S. Halifax at Canso

The steamer Halifax was built on the Clyde at the Govan Middleton Yard of the London & Glasgow Engineering and Iron Shipbuilding Company and was launched in July 1888. She was rapidly completed and began service between Boston and Halifax 20 October 1888. The single-screw vessel was 230 feet long by 35 feet wide and drew some 21.5 feet.  In spite of her width she had a somewhat ungainly and top-heavy appearance emphasised by a high prow and passenger decks running the full length of the steamer.  However there are no reports of instability and the passages were usually without incident

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S.S. Halifax at the Plant Line Wharf in Port Hawkesbury

The new vessel was owned by the Canada Atlantic Steamship Company which had been incorporated in Halifax the previous year by a number of leading merchants from the Nova Scotia city including James E. Chipman who appears as owner in the registration.

In a listing of port connections from Halifax in the 1892 Canadian Guide Book by Charles G.D. Roberts the steamer was particularly noted;

…the fine, new, steel steamer Halifax of the Canada Atlantic Line to Boston. This is a most desirable route to Boston. The fare [from Halifax] is $7; return ticket, $12. Staterooms $1 to $1.50 extra. The streamers sail from Halifax every Wednesday at 8 A.M. arriving in Boston Thursday at 1 P.M.; from Boston every Saturday at noon, arriving in Halifax Sunday evening at 6 P.M. Through tickets are issues in connection with this line, over most important railways and baggage checked through. The boat is very steady and safe, and most comfortable in her equipments [sic]. 

Up until 1892 the Halifax appears to have travelled on the Halifax –  Boston route but in that year the Canada Atlantic line was combined with Henry Plant’s, Plant Line and during the ice-free season the steamer began to run as far as Charlottetown stopping at Port Hawkesbury en route. From Port Hawkesbury steamers connected through the Bras d’or lakes to Sydney. From Charlottetown passengers could transfer to other steamers to connect with Quebec and Montreal  

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S.S. Halifax at the Plant Line Wharf, Charlottetown ca. 1893

The Halifax was one of the first cruise ships to operate in the Caribbean. In 1891 she was reported to have carried a group of American excursionists from Boston to Kingston, Jamaica. Following the 1892 merger of the Canada Atlantic and Plant lines the Halifax was again pressed into the off-season cruise business. In early 1893, she provided three 10-night experimental winter cruises between Tampa, Nassau and Jamaica. Her first cruise left Tampa with 89 passengers on February 16, 1893, with Henry Plant himself aboard to make sure that all went well.  Thereafter the Halifax was a regular on the winter service between Tampa, Key West and Havana operated in conjunction with the Peninsular and Occidental Steamship Company.

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The Plant Line Wharf Charlottetown, Great George Street in background

While continuing to provide an important freight and passenger service between the Island and Boston, the Charlottetown – Hawkesbury – Halifax connection enabled the Plant Line to begin advertising the Boston – Charlottetown trips – not just as passage, but as cruise. The service thus was a precursor to the dozens of cruise ships which visit the harbour today.  By 1904 the company was advertising the return passage in a popular magazine under the heading “Plant Line Ocean Trips”

“‘One Night at Sea’ or Six Days’ Cruise 1400 miles for $18. From Union Wharf, Boston, every Tuesday and Saturday, 12 noon for Halifax, Hawkesbury and Charlottetown. Good board. Cheapest rates. Best trout and salmon fishing, and shooting. Beautiful scenery. This doesn’t half tell it. Send stamp for booklet ‘Looking Eastward,’ maps, etc.”

The $18 round trip fare looks a bargain but it did not include accommodation or meals.

screen-shot-08-25-16-at-07-57-pmDuring a thick fog  in August of 1901 the Halifax struck a rock near Minot’s Light south-east of Boston while on passage from Halifax to Boston. The 250 passengers were safely taken off after the captain had beached the sinking vessel close to shore.  Although reported as wrecked the vessel was floated to dry-dock in Boston and was able to be repaired and later returned to the route.  She was temporarily replaced by the chartered Dominion Atlantic Railway steamer Yarmouth  which had been operating on the Plant Line’s Boston to Sydney service. The Halifax was repaired and was back on the route the following year.

In 1903 the president of the Canada Atlantic and Plant line sold out. M.F. Plant turned over the line, the S.S. Halifax, the Plant wharf in Halifax and leases of wharves in Charlottetown and Hawkesbury as well as the charter of the Steamer Olivette to a group of investors from Boston and Halifax.

With the declining fortunes of the Plant Line and the economic difficulties caused by the Great War the line was wound up. The Halifax was sold to a group of New York investors. She was last sighted leaving St. Michael’s in the Azores on a passage from New Your to Bordeaux on 11 December 1917 but was never heard from again.

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Warwick & Rutter patriotic postcard featuring the S.S. Halifax

For anyone wishing more information about steamers in the Gulf of St. Lawrence I can highly recommend Kevin Griffin’s on-line history of the Clarke Steamship Company found here. He also contributes to a blog featuring cruise information called the Cruise People.