Tag Archives: Boston and Colonial Steamship Company

Prince Eggward Island – The Henhouse of the Gulf

In the last quarter of the 19th century the harbours of Charlottetown and Summerside were busy places and the Island was famed for its exports. Oats, potatoes and lobsters were moved across the wharves to waiting sailing and steam vessels, especially the regular steamers of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company. The biggest bulk crop was oats, necessary for the horse-driven cities of Canada and New England. Potatoes were also shipped in bulk but they, like the oats were just as liable to be moved on slower-moving schooners and barks.

But beginning in the mid 1860s the Island achieved fame for another commodity, an export market which had all but disappeared by the end of the century. This posting provides some research observations about one of the Island’s most forgotten export products – the humble hen’s egg.

In June 1873, on the eve of Confederation, a correspondent for the New York Herald wrote from Summerside. “The excitement over the confederation scheme, by which this great egg-laying country becomes part of the New Dominion, has at length subsided…”  The Island over the years has had many nicknames but describing it as the “great egg-laying country” seems strange however it appears to have been a phrase which would readily identify the area in the minds of the Herald’s readers. In reading further in the historical record a forgotten chapter in the province’s agricultural history emerges.

Prior to the 1860s any egg production in the colony was purely a domestic market. The difficulties of both internal and external transportation mitigated against fragile commodities such as eggs. Transportation to any export markets was difficult. Only a few scattered references are made to egg shipments by sailing vessels and these are almost all small quantities and to destinations within the region. Although there had been steam packet services across Northumberland Strait since the 1830s the connections were mostly to Pictou and Shediac which were only poorly connected to other centres by difficult roads.

Twin steamers the Worcester and the Carroll were two of the “Boston Boats” carrying eggs to New England

That began to change early in the decade with establishment of regular steamer and rail services between P.E.I. and New England. In 1860 the European and North American Railroad through southern New Brunswick linked Shediac with Saint John and its steamer connections to New England. The line was later extended to lines in Maine and by 1872 It was possible to ship from Shediac to Boston by rail. In Nova Scotia the colonial railway reached Pictou Landing in 1867 and it became possible to go from Prince Edward Island to Halifax in a single day. From there it was an overnight steamer trip to Boston. The most important change took place in 1864 with the introduction of a direct steamer from Charlottetown to Boston. Originally operated by the Boston and Colonial Steamship line what became known as the “Boston Boat” created a weekly (and sometimes more frequent) service, which lasted until 1915.

Internally, the opening of the Prince Edward Island Railway in 1874 provided local access to faster and better shipping from the ports of Charlottetown and Summerside. While a fleet of small schooners and brigs were useful for shipping bulk cargo such as oats and produce, it was ill equipped to deal with perishable and fragile goods such as fish and eggs.

Boston and Colonial steamship advertisement. Note final line regarding egg shipments

In 1863 $8,980 worth of eggs were shipped to the United States from the Island. Within four years this had grown to $24,000 worth of eggs in spite of the fact that there was a 10 per cent tariff on eggs. By 1867 egg exports from Charlottetown alone had grown to 156,000 dozen, almost all bound for the Boston market. Many went by the Boston and Colonial steamers but most were sent by rail via New Brunswick. A year later advertisements began to appear offering cash for eggs to meet the growing market.  In 1874 the New England Farmer noted that eggs from Prince Edward Island weighed thirty per cent more than other eggs.  The following year the Boston Globe reported that a recent steamer cargo included five million eggs from Prince Edward Island in a single shipment.

Packaging for the shipping of eggs took many forms. Egg cases carried 49 dozen, boxes contained 100 dozen and barrels contained 79 dozen. While eggs from Prince Edward Island used all three forms, barrels using oats as the packing material may have been the most common. Local egg merchants received, graded, and packed eggs from area farmers. Containers would be loaded onto railway cars for transit to Charlottetown and Summerside. They would then need to be loaded onto ships. Summerside shipments had to be off-loaded at Shediac and into railcars. As several rail lines were needed to get to Boston, in some cases the eggs might be handled again if the cars did not go the whole distance. At Charlottetown almost all of the shipments were direct to Boston on the Boston Boat and had to be transhipped less often. The Boston and Colonial line realized at an early date that eggs were a significant export commodity and by 1878 were noting in their advertising that “Eggs in boxes and barrels handled with the greatest care.”

In 1878 the Boston market handled over 5.5 million dozen or in excess of 66,000,000 eggs. Eggs from Prince Edward Island, although available only from April to November represented 17 per cent of the total supply or almost 1,000,000 dozen eggs. Shipments from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were so few that they were not even mentioned in the accounts.

Both Island and Boston merchants advertised offering cash for eggs

The prices paid for eggs and other produce on the Boston Market was a regular feature of Island newspapers by 1881 enabling egg producers to have a better appreciation of the valuation. By the 1882 season wholesalers were advertising in Island papers seeking stock. J.M. Auld (highest prices paid for large and small lots) told producers “Two Thousand a Day Wanted this Season” while Arthur & Toombs advertised “500,000 Dozen wanted this season.”

However the egg rush did not continue indefinitely. Protectionism in the United States was ushered in by the McKinley Tariff in 1890. In 1889 David Laird, speaking on the threat posed by tariff proposals noted “At the present time the owners of hens are in a dilemma with regard to the proposed duty of five cents a dozen on eggs by the American Congress, and many a young and old woman in the country would sleep more soundly if they were assured that this duty would not be imposed.” The previous year the Island had shipped 2,148,000 dozen eggs valued at $309,000, an amount exceeding the province’s expenditure on education.

The damage to the export egg trade was significant. In 1890 the year the Tariff was first introduced the egg exports to the United States from Canada were 12,800,000 dozen, a value of 1.8 million dollars. By 1897 the number had shrunk to 479,000 dozen, giving less than $50,000. Efforts to shift the production to the markets in Great Britain had seen limited success. In 1890 only $860 (dollars, not thousands) worth of eggs had been sent across the Atlantic. By 1897 the annual egg exports to the United Kingdom were still less than 7,000,000 dozen bringing in $924,000. It appears that the majority of these shipments were made by producers in Ontario and Quebec. There is no evidence that Island henneries played the same role in the trans-Atlantic shipping that they had in the New England market which appears to have gradually withered.  Protectionism had allowed American producers to re-capture their domestic markets and without the ability to send eggs elsewhere the production on Prince Edward Island returned to serving domestic needs. By 1900 the great Boston egg boom was over. However the industry slowly rebuilt and by 1929 some 1.3 million dozen eggs were being produced, mostly through co-operative associations. and put on the market in neighbouring provinces, Quebec and New England.

A more detailed draft paper on the Boston egg exports along with source notes for this blog posting can be found here.

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 which was incorporated in the State of Massachusetts in 1865. 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,

 

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.

andrada-1

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.

andrada-2

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