Tag Archives: Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company

Built for the Crimea – Broken up at Charlottetown: The Long Life of the Steamer M.A. Starr

Today warships are rarely converted for commercial use but up until 1900 many naval vessels were not much different in design from their civilian counterparts.  One ship with a naval beginning was a regular sight in Charlottetown harbour for more than twenty years – and may still be resting beneath the harbour’s sand and mud.

When the British entered the Crimean War in 1854 it provided an incentive to expand the Royal Navy. The extended siege of Sebastopol, the chief Russian Naval base on the Black Sea, showed a need for shallow draft gunboats and within three years more than 120 vessels of this type were added to the fleet. Ninety-eight of these were of the Albacore class, 106 feet long and drawing under seven feet. One of these was the HMS Delight, begun while the conflict still raged but launched in 1856 from Money, Wigram & Sons yard on the Thames only a few days after the war had ended.

Builders sketch of HMS Delight

HMS Raven an Albacore class sister ship to HMS Delight

In 1864 the Delight she crossed the Atlantic serving at naval stations in Bermuda and Jamaica and in 1867 she was in Halifax. By this time the hastily-built wooden gunboats had become obsolete and the majority had already been sent to the breakers yards.  The Delight was decommissioned, stripped of her valuable copper bottom, and sold to J. Knight of Halifax in November 1867. She was re-named the M.A. Starr. She was sold again in 1869 and was registered at the Port of Halifax under the ownership of F.W. Fishwick.

Daily Examiner 7 June 1886 p.2

Fishwick’s Express Line, an overland shipping company was founded in 1856, had routes throughout Nova Scotia.  The addition of the M.A. Starr in 1869 and another steamer five years later gave the firm capacity to serve ports from Yarmouth to the Strait of Canso, Pictou and Prince Edward Island.  By linking Charlottetown to Halifax the company gave Island shippers direct access to trans-Atlantic services and American ports such as New York. The ship was a regular visitor to Charlottetown with a weekly round trip schedule to Halifax via Bayfield (near Antigonish), Hawkesbury, Mulgrave, Port Hastings, Arichat, Canso and Sheet Harbour.

In 1888 the Halifax firm of Pickford and Black created a new company, the Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company, which was incorporated the following year to serve the run from Halifax to the Island, stopping a places such as Sheet Harbour, Canso, Hawkesbury, Port  Hood and Charlottetown – exactly the same ports as the M.A. Starr – but which would be served by a newer and larger vessel purchased in the United Kingdom, the Princess Beatrice. Mrs. E. Fishwick, who had taken over after the death of her husband, amalgamated her operations with the new firm and in early July 1889 the M.A. Starr was withdrawn from service.  A few days later she was on a Fishwick’s Express route along Northumberland Strait which included Charlottetown, River John, Wallace, Pugwash, Buctouche, Bay Verte and Crapaud. In August she also called weekly at Montague, Georgetown, Cardigan and Murray Harbour. However early in September the Charlottetown Daily Examiner noted that the owners were unable to keep her on the route and the ship was offered for sale by tender. She was acquired by the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company (and its successor company the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company) and for the next two years served as an assistant to the Princess of Wales and the St. Lawrence.  Primarily running between Summerside and Point du Chene she was primarily dedicated to carrying freight, relieving the two freight and passenger side-wheel steamers and allowing them faster turn-around. When the company took delivery of the new steamer the S.S. Northumberland late in 1891 the M.A. Star became surplus to requirements, was sold to a group of shipowners (John Ings, L.C. Owen and William Richards) and appears have operated in 1892 on routes which included Victoria, Orwell and Mt. Stewart. She also made at least one trip to St. John’s Newfoundland late that year and another following year.

Exactly when the M.A. Starr ceased operations in not clear. Steamboats required an annual inspection and the reports of the steamboat inspector provide a few clues. The vessel was not inspected in 1893 as it was noted she was “out of port.”  For the next two years she is listed but was not inspected as she fell into the “broken up or laid up” category. A footnote in the official register states simply “broken up 1894.” The nearly  forty year-old M.A. Star was one of just a handful of the wooden Crimean gunboats to survive into the 1890s.  Unless turned into a barge or burned for the iron in the hull she may still lie beneath the waters near the wharves in Charlottetown Harbour.

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A Harbour Full of Sails

Charlottetown wharves about 1910. Even though sail was in decline, masts of about 10 vessels (including one full-rigged ship) can be seen in this image. Pugh postcard #898-8. Private collection.

It is hard to appreciate how different Charlottetown’s harbour is today from the scene that would have greeted observers a century ago.  With a dozen wharves still in operation and the Island almost wholly dependant on shipping for imports and exports the vessels were as important to commerce as is the tractor-trailer today.

However even by 1913 there had been a change from the days of wooden ships and iron men.  Much of the commerce was being carried by steamers which connected the province with Sydney, Halifax, Boston and Montreal as well as carrying goods and passengers across the Strait to Pictou and Shediac.  What was left for the aging fleet of wooden schooners was the high volume, low value bulk cargo such as limestone, wood, and especially coal.  The same vessels carried away agricultural goods – potatoes, turnips, wheat, oats and livestock – to nearby ports and to Newfoundland.  Higher value goods such as tinned lobster, oysters, eggs and the few manufactured goods  usually went to more distant markets and they increasingly went by steamer.

Like many declines, the change was gradual.  However once in a while an event occurred which moved perspective beyond the day-to-day.  In late October 1913 the Island was visited by an extended period of unusually high winds and as time passed eyes began to turn toward the harbour.  While not exactly a front page story, the Guardian felt that the phenomenon  was worthy of note.

23 October 1913 – AN INTERESTING SPECTACLE – In the Charlottetown Harbour yesterday morning was witnessed a spectacle of great interest and of a like unequaled in recent years. The rough weather that has prevailed during the past week has caused a number of small and large sailing craft alike to seek shelter within the haven afforded by Charlottetown’s splendid harbour, and also there were a number of vessels that had discharged and loaded here that would not venture out in the heavy seas and high winds that were reported to be raging in the Strait. There was one vessel indeed which entered the harbour under bare poles, a condition in which she had driven before the wind for many hours previous to her seeking the shelter of Charlottetown. Thus there was quite a fleet anchored within the mouth of the harbour awaiting the abatement of the stormy weather outside. Yesterday’s fine weather gave them an opportunity they awaited. Taking immediate advantage of the fine spell, the whole fleet set sail early in the morning. There were between twenty and thirty of them and they made sail almost simultaneously; the scene of so many vessels sailing out of the harbour at practically the same time being exceptionally animated and interesting.

It was probably the last time that so much working sail was seen in the harbour although the schooners, and even some rigged ships continued to visit until the 1940s.  The commonplace had become the interesting and then the unusual.

The future was also to be seen in the harbour of Charlottetown. In the same month when schooners sheltered from the wind the port saw a steady stream of regular steamers paying monthly or even weekly visits: Furness Lines’ Swansaea Trader, Black Diamond Shipping’s Morwenna, the Plant Line steamer A.W. Perry, the Cascapedia of the Quebec Steamship Line and the daily Northumberland owned by the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company. By the mid-point of the century working sail was completely gone.

Although we have a romantic notion of the age of sail the reality of worn ships with patched sails barely surviving on the edges of commercial traffic is perhaps more realistic. Working schooner in Charlottetown Harbour about 1900. Photo – Public Archives and Records Office.

 

Delight in the Details; One Photo – Many Stories

The winter of 1905 was a long one for the Island. The ships of the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company, faced with ice forming in the Strait, ceased crossing and were laid up on 12 December 1904. They would not begin to run again until 24 April 1905. Their cross-strait duties were taken over by the Dominion Government Steamers; the Stanley and the Minto, and crossings soon shifted from Charlottetown to Summerside and Georgetown although it was not long before the ice blocked the harbour of Summerside as well.  Government steamers without ice protection such as the survey vessels working on mapping the coastline of Newfoundland had tied up even before the Steam Navigation Company boats and their crews were discharged for the season.

The photo above, taken sometime in 1905, shows the wharves as completely ice-locked.  The unknown photographer is standing in the track of a horse and sleigh which has crossed from the Southport shore. In close-up bushing can be seen on the ice marking the safe routes which began at  the foot of Great George Street extended up the West River and across the harbour.

In this detail you can see the Plant Line terminal building with its characteristic truncated gables and moored alongside the Plant Line Wharf are the three-masted Royal Navy survey ship Ellinor and ahead of her the Canadian Government Steamship Gulnare. In winter ships were not tied tightly to the wharves to allow ice to form around them and ride up and down with the tide. What appears to be a canvas cover has been erected over the decks of the Ellinor to protect them from the snow. Ships boats and other removable equipment have been moved from the ships to indoor storage.   The scene is overseen by St. Dunstan’s Cathedral and the Christian Brothers School at the head of Great George Street. If you look closely you can see the spruce poles marking the bushed route across the ice.

Moored across the end of the Steam Navigation Company wharf is the S.S. Princess. Behind her are the shops and warehouses of the Bruce Stewart and Company foundry and factory. There appears to be a major overhaul of the Princess underway. The funnel has been removed from the ship and a derrick is in place over the boiler and engine room space. Annual re-fitting of steamers was a mainstay of the Bruce Stewart business.  Above the Princess the five-story tower of the Victoria Hotel at the corner of Great George and Water streets, and the spires of the Presbyterian and Anglican churches can be seen.

The easternmost section of the photo shows the area between the Steam Navigation wharf and the Prince Street Ferry Wharf.  In front of the bow of the Princess, the wooden City of London and the Steam Navigation Company’s flagship, the S.S. Northumberland, are lying in the basin between the two wharves.  The funnel of the Northumberland has been topped with a large cone to keep snow from filling the funnel and causing rust in the engine area. The two masts of a schooner show that another vessel is frozen in just ahead of the City of London. The huge roof of the Methodist Church (now Trinity United) looms over smaller buildings. Just visible to the right is the cupola of the roundhouse of the Prince Edward Island Railway at the south-east corner of Prince Street and Water Street.

Owing to the quality of the glass-plate negatives used to take photographs at the turn of the twentieth century and before, details can be found buried in the background of many period pictures.  While the overall scene and the beauty of the composition can be seen from a distance the real stories often require a magnifying glass.