Tag Archives: Boston and Colonial Steamship Company

S.S. Halifax – Charlottetown to Boston and Return


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.


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


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  


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.


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 York to Bordeaux on 11 December 1917 but was never heard from again.


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.


Civil War Blockade Runner was one of the first of the “Boston Boats”

In an earlier post I expressed amazement that the Oriental, one of the early Boston Boats had been a Confederate Blockade Runner. I should have know better than to start writing before ending my research. The Oriental had a predecessor….


The Boston and Colonial Steamship Wharf in busy Boston Harbour about 1875. The wheel house of the steamer Carroll can be seen and the sign on the warehouse reads “Halifax, Canso, Pictou and Prince Edward Island Steamship Line”

With the end of the American Civil War in 1865 there was an immediate surplus of sailing craft and steamers.  The U.S. Navy no longer had need for hundreds of vessels that they had commissioned or purchased. More than a thousand blockade runners that had tried and failed to sustain the South were on the market – either because they had been intercepted and seized, or because they no longer had a role to play. In addition, the privately owned steamers that had been part of the northern war economy faced a reduction in shipping.

It was a good time to start a shipping company.

In spite of the strong links between Prince Edward Island and the Boston States there was no was a regular service line running between Charlottetown and Boston before 1865. Up to that year passengers could take the Steam Navigation Company boat to Pictou and then by carriage to Truro or Halifax to meet Boston steamers. The Nova Scotia Railway was extended to Pictou in 1867 which reduced the trip time considerably.  The other main route used by Islanders heading to New England was to cross the Strait from Summerside to Pointe de Chene  near Shediac and after 1857 along the European and North American Railway to Saint John and by steamer from there  to Boston.

The Massachusetts firm of F. W. Nickerson and Company saw an opportunity.  Starting with a service linking Boston and Halifax in 1864, the ships Franconia and Commerce made experimental trips to Charlottetown through the Strait of Canso as well. Finding adequate business a regular weekly services was begun in 1865.  The Nickerson interest operated under several corporate structures, one of the earliest of which was the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company formed in 1866. The service later was operated as the Boston, Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company.  Nickerson’s also had trading interests with the West Indies and were agents for the Boston and Savannah Steamship Company.  Their ships operated on a variety of routes.


The Steamer Greyhound was known as “a fast sailer” and was conspicuous owing to her light lead coloured hull with a characteristic red streak.

The almost-new steamer Greyhound was placed on the Boston – Charlottetown run in 1865. She had been built at Port Glasgow on the Clyde in Scotland only two years before.  The sleek 201 foot, 460 ton vessel, built by Kilpatrick. McIntyre & Co., carried a full set of sails  but was an iron screw steamer with compound engines by Caird and Company. She was probably built specifically as a blockade runner. Launched late in 1863 her Liverpool owners quickly sold her and by early in January 1864 she headed across the Atlantic for the contested waters off the Confederate States of America. She made one trip into Wilmington North Carolina but her luck ran out on 10 May 1864 as she was leaving Wilmington with 800 bales of government cotton, 35 tons of tobacco and a number of passengers including Confederate spy Belle Boyd who later capitalized on her fame and had a theatrical career.  Intercepted by the U.S.S. Connecticut the Greyhound was seized and sent to Boston to be sold to help meet war costs.  She was assessed for $484,000 the highest valuation of a seized vessel ever reached at Boston!  By this time the South was well in retreat. When the northern army entered Charleston they found near starvation conditions and on learning of the city’s plight the citizens of Boston raised $30,000 for food relief in four days. The supplies were sent to the southern city using a chartered vessel – the former blockade runner Greyhound.

The following year found the Greyhound along with the steamer Commerce on the Boston – P.E.I. service  but the handsome vessel was not destined to have long service.  On what was to be her last trip of the year to Charlottetown for 1865  she struck the treacherous Bird Rock Ledges off Nova Scotia and was lost in 11 fathoms of water, Captain Nickerson, the crew and passengers and crew were saved and landed at Beaver Harbour. The vessel was reportedly insured for $100,000.  The company was able to place her successor, the Oriental, on the P.E.I. run the following spring.

Charlottetown-Boston Steamer “Oriental” was Confederate Blockade-runner

Oriental001When Carvell Brothers, shipping agents,  placed an ad  for the summer schedule in the Islander in the summer of 1866 on behalf of the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company few readers were aware of the history of one of the boats newly placed on the run.  The steamer Oriental was a modern boat which promised speedy and comfortable service to Canso, Halifax and Boston along with the steamship company’s other boat the Alhambra. But the Oriental had a previous existence as a blockade runner trying to supply the Confederate States of America.

The American Civil war had ended only the year before and the blockade runners played an unsuccessful role in supplying the South and carrying their cotton to market.

The blockade runners of the American Civil War were seagoing steamships that were used to make their way through the Union blockade that extended some 3,500 miles along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines and the lower Mississippi River. To get through the blockade these ships had to cruise by undetected, usually at night. If spotted the runners would then attempt to outmaneuver or simply outrun any Union ships on blockade patrol. The typical blockade runners were privately owned vessels often operating with a letter of marque issued by the Confederate States of America. These vessels would carry cargoes to and from neutral ports often located in Nassau and Cuba where neutral merchant ships in turn carried these cargoes, usually coming from or destined to England or other points abroad. Inbound ships usually brought badly needed supplies and mail to the Confederacy while outbound ships often exported cotton, tobacco and other goods for trade and revenue while also carrying important mail and correspondence to suppliers and other interested parties in Europe, most often in England. Most of the guns and other ordnance of the Confederacy was imported from England via blockade runners. Some blockade runners made many successful runs while many others were either captured or destroyed. There were an estimated 2500-2800 attempts to run the blockade with at least an 80% success rate. However, by the end of the Civil War the Union Navy had captured more than 1,100 blockade runners and had destroyed or run aground another 355 vessels.

One of the finest of the 1,100 captured ships was the screw steamer Minna. The ship had been built in the Palmer Brothers yard at Jarrow on the Tyne in 1856.  Registered at 774 tons the 212 foot iron ship had a 264 hp engine driving a screw propeller which gave it a high speed. Its first owners were Malcolmson Brothers in Waterford Ireland, a firm of cotton manufacturers with business links to the American-south. Late in 1864 the Minna found herself, probably not for the first time, in Nassau loading cargo to be shipped to the waiting Confederates. The USS Circassian, which itself had been a former blockade runner, intercepted the ship off Charleston near the Carolina coast. She was described by the correspondent for the Greenlock Advertiser as “the celebrated blockade runner Minna, a splendid barkentine steamship, of Waterford Ireland, undoubtedly one of the finest prizes of the war.” She was found to be carrying $300,000 worth of goods which included quinine, rifles and powder as well as a marine engine which was believed to be destined for a rebel ironclad.  Also on board was a consignment of bibles and prayer books which were in short supply in the south.  When the cargo sold in Boston the Massachusetts Bible Society bought a part of that shipment but was later refused permission to ship the bibles to the south.

The ship itself was sold early in 1865 to Boston interests for about $70,000. In March of that year the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company was incorporated under Massachusetts legislation.

Boston stockIn 1864 service to Halifax and P.E.I. had begun with two steamers, the Commerce and the Franconia.  This appears to have been the first regularly scheduled steamer service linking the Island with New England. The latter ship was replaced in 1865 with the Greyhound  and both vessels were replaced in 1866 with the Minna, now re-named the Oriental, and the American-built Alhambra.The Oriental continued to be a visitor in Charlottetown Harbour for a number of years but the vessel is recorded in the Record of American and Foreign Shipping as being wrecked in June 1876. The ship was wrecked at Harding’s Ledge, near Boston.  No images of the vessel have been located. The Alhambra went ashore at Cape Sable Nova Scotia in May of 1875

In an ironic twist two of the steamers later added to the route by the same company had been on the other side of the civil war sea forces as U.S. Navy blockade guard ships.

That will be the subject of an upcoming blog entry.