Tag Archives: Constance

Margaree Steamship’s S.S. Farnorth – The last of the Boston Boats

The S.S. Farnorth, probably in Halifax ca. 1935. Photo from http://www.tynebuiltships.co.uk/R-Ships/richardwelford1908.html

The direct connection between Prince Edward Island and Boston which existed for more than fifty years was broken during the Great War when the Plant Steamship Company elected to taken the last of their steamers off the run owing to war conditions. However there were probably sound economic reasons for ending the service as well.  Passengers had other options with the development of better rail connections which gave speedy access to New England and patterns began to shift as more and more Islanders were going to Montreal, Toronto and the west. There was also less north-south trade as Canadian manufacturers from central Canada took over Atlantic markets.

Never the less the idea died hard and for many years the Charlottetown Board of Trade lobbied for a resumption of the direct connection. After a gap of twenty years the idea seemed to have died but it was revived in 1934 when Wentworth N. McDonald, owner of Margaree Shipping of Sydney Cape Breton bought the steamer Farnorth  which had been owned by the bankrupt Farquhar Steamship Company.  Farquhar had operated several shipping routes in Atlantic Canada and its ships were occasional visitors to Charlottetown, taking cargos to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland ports.

The new service was to be provided by the 255 foot Farnorth which had been operating throughout the Gulf of Lawrence for a decade under the ownership of Farquhar & Co,. of Halifax.  The ship had been completed in 1908 having been built in the Jarrow Yard of the Palmer Shipbuilding and Iron Company on the Tyne. She was originally named the Richard Welford and was operated by  a Newcastle company. In 1915 she was hired as an armed boarding steamer by the Admiralty and although torpedoed off Gibraltar she was repaired and survived the war. She was returned to her owners in 1919 and re-named the Hethpool.

S.S. Farnorth, launched in 1908 as the Richard Welford. Photo from http://www.tynebuiltships.co.uk/R-Ships/richardwelford1908.html

The ship was powered by a triple-expansion steam engine generating 350 horsepower giving (when new) a speed of 13 knots. It was a mixed cargo and passenger vessel, originally configured for 60 – 70 1st class and 40 2nd class passengers.

The new owner in 1934 was the Nova Scotia-based Margaree Steamship Company owned by Wentworth N. MacDonald of Sydney. MacDonald would have been know to Islanders as he owned a variety of small steamers including the Constance and the Enterprise which served Island ports.

Unlike the Plant Line steamers which operated on a Charlottetown – Halifax – Boston routing the Farnorth’s schedule was a little more of a meander. It advertised Boston – Halifax – Charlottetown – Mulgrave – Port Hawkesbury – St. Peter’s Canal – Baddeck and the Sydneys  (both Sydney and North Sydney) where one could connect with the Newfoundland Railway steamers.  The service re-established an old route whereby one could travel from Montreal to Boston or New York with the Farnorth connecting with the Clarke Shipping steamer Gaspesia at Charlottetown. The vessel arrived in Charlottetown on 10-day schedule with a fare starting at $50 for the round trip including stateroom and meals or $26 from Boston to Charlottetown  ($30 from Charlottetown to Boston to account for the additional time taken through the Bras d’Or lakes)  With a nod to the changing tourism patterns they also advertised transport for automobiles beginning at $16 in either direction.

In 1935 McDonald spoke to the Charlottetown Board of Trade about the service he had established the previous year. He said he considered that the Charlottetown to Boston route had great possibility of additional passengers and freight. He did however, hint that the four months of operation in 1934 had not met expectation noting that the route had  been dormant for twenty years and that the period could be considered “a fair trial.”  He asked the Board of Trade to lobby for a subsidy for the service but at the same meeting a letter was read from the Trade and Commerce Department stating that the route was not being considered for assistance. It appears however that a subsidy was provided with a required number of trips to qualify.

By early November 1935  the Farnorth had been suddenly taken of the route and sailings cancelled without notice, a move that caused concern for shippers as the move left freight bound for Prince Edward Island on the wharves at Boston and other ports. It was reported that the ship had made the required trips to access the subsidy and then ceased service. The following year the Charlottetown – Boston route was dropped entirely but the steamer continued to call irregularly for freight, especially potatoes, for both the Newfoundland and Boston markets for the next few years. Fond remembrances of the Boston boat could not recapture the traffic lost to rails and roads, and even in in the 1930s to air routes.  It is unlikely the more than 100 passenger berths on the Farnorth were ever more than sparsely filled in the 1935 season. The day of the Boston boat was well over.

In 1937 the Farnorth owners were soliciting support for their steamer in a proposal to put her on the Charlottetown – Pictou route, which was being served by the S.S. Hochelega, promising to cut side loading doors in their steamer in order to load take autos, but they were not successful and later that year the ship was sold to Fraser Shipping and seems to have ceased visits to Prince Edward Island. The Farnorth was sold and re-named several more times before finally being broken up in Baltimore in 1952.  Wentworth McDonald continued to have an interest in Prince Edward Island and was one of the original owners of Northumberland Ferries crossing between Wood Islands and Caribou.

Your Mission: Protect the Fishery … and Win the Three-Legged Race

Before the creation of the Canadian navy in 1910 the nation depended on Great Britain’s Royal Navy to patrol Canada’s off-shore waters. But the waters of the Dominion were also home to a home-grown fleet of smaller patrol ships. Charged with excise duties and controlling the fishery these small ships played an important role along Canada’s Coasts.

CGS Acadia. A competitor at the Georgetown Fisheries Protection Field Day.

Some vessels like the Constance, the Curlew and the Petrel were transferred back and forth between the Customs Preventive Service and the Fishery Protection Fleet as needs required but they also seem to have had a broad range of duties no matter what service they were attached to.  The fishery patrol vessels were more frequently seen in Prince Edward Island waters, especially late in the season.  In the 1890s  there was still a large American fleet (referred to as “hookers”)  following the mackerel and herring schools which moved up the Nova Scotia shore and into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Souris and Georgetown were regular ports of call for the American schooners and were also used as the stations for the cruisers charged with watching the American s for infractions of fishing regulations.

One of the vessels for which the King’s County ports was a base was the Kingfisher. Unlike almost all the other vessels in the Fishery Protection Service Fleet she was sail-powered.  Initially chartered  in 1891 from her builder Joseph McGill of Sherbrooke, N.S. she soon proved her worth and sometime after 1893 she seems to have been purchased by the Department of Marine and Fisheries. McGill was a major builder and was responsible for a number of vessels later built for the New Burrill-Johnson Iron Company of Yarmouth.  Some of these vessels, including the Magdalen and the Harland also saw service on P.E.I.

CGS Curlew. One of the Fisheries Prtotection Service fleet

The Kingfisher was a small schooner of 107 tons but was a relatively speedy sailer and as the American herring fleet was still sail-powered she was an effective vessel for patrol duties.  The vessel was kept busy. In 1896 for example, she sailed 7,117 miles, spending 1,762 hours at sea. During this time she recorded 416 boardings for inspection purposes.  Although that was not a particularly busy year for the fishery some 60 hookers were on the grounds off East Point where they were shadowed by the Kingfisher until they began to follow the fish schools south. In addition to the Americans, the vessel also had to keep an eye on the illegal lobster fishery, mostly from Island-based fishing craft.

With her extra duties as a customs and excise cruiser the Kingfisher had a number of successes. In 1894 she seized a vessel off East Point and confiscated a cargo of liquor.  October of 1898 saw her off Rollo Bay where a schooner from St. Pierre had suspiciously anchored over night. Landing a shore party from the Kingfisher a cache of 200 gallons of whisky was located through the keen sense of smell of one of the ship’s crew.

However, based on the amount of newspaper coverage the greatest success for the Kingfisher was not on the fishing grounds but on the sports field at Georgetown. For several years in the late 1890s the entire East Coast Fisheries Protection Fleet gathered there for a sports day. In mid-October 1898 the crews of the cruisers La Canadienne, Acadia, Curlew, Osprey and Kingfisher competed for cups and awards.

Some of the events were as one might expect – contests of strength and speed; the hammer throw, shot put and 100 yard dash. However there were also a few events not known to the Olympics (and a few not known to me) . These included the smoking race, potato race, sack race, and the egg and spoon race.  In addition there was a rifle shooting competition and a community concert in the Court House  put on by the ships’ crews for the people of Georgetown. A tea party was held in the drill shed  in conjunction with the sports day and a “snug sum” raised for the community. In return the ladies of the town provided a free lunch for the officers and men. The Kingfisher seems to have punched well above its weight as the small crew captured trophies in a number of events

Louis Henry Davies. Minister of Marine and Fisheries 1896-1901

The Minister of Marine and Fisheries for the period 1896-1901 was Island M.P. Louis Henry Davies – later to be Chief Justice of Canada.   He appears to have had a particular interest in the Fisheries Protection Service and attended several of the group’s sports days. His interest was noted in the annual report of the Commander of the fisheries service. “He takes great interest in our ships, and always on leaving the grounds has a word of praise for the officers and men.” In addition to this praise of the Minister the continuing success of the Kingfisher in the sports days  was mentioned in the Departmental Annual Reports tabled in Parliament.  The report certainly supports a mutual admiration between the Minister and the crews.

After a decade the shortcomings of a sail-powered vessel mounted and in 1905 the Kingfisher was sold to Harold Bartlett of Birgus Newfoundland. Her replacement was the Petrel whose story has been told in an earlier blog entry.  Unfortunately I have not been able to find any images of the Kingfisher, probably the last Canadian Government patrol vessel to be completely sail-powered.

 

From Rum running to Gun running – the Customs Cutter Margaret

HMCS Margaret

HMCS Margaret

Question: What does smuggling booze into a dry Canada have in common with a revolution in Brazil? Answer: The Margaret.

The Margaret at launch - Marine Engineering of Canada 1913 p.31

The Margaret at launch – Marine Engineering of Canada 1913 p.31

The Canadian Customs Preventive Service was established in 1892 but it was not until 1914 that it received its first vessel built specifically for customs patrol purposes.  That vessel. the Margaret, was built by the English firm, Thornycroft at its Woolston Works near Southhampton. The 800 ton ship was 185 feet long by 32 feet in breadth, drew 15 feet and had a reinforced hull to resist ice. The 200 ton capacity of the bunkers gave a cruising range of 4,000 miles, or 2,000 miles at full speed. She carried a 30 foot motor launch, a 26 foot lifeboat, a 22 foot captain’s cutter and a 16 foot dinghy. As initially configured she was armed with two 6 pound guns Vickers guns of the latest design. Launched in January 1914 she was completed and delivered to Halifax in April 1914 and took up her customs patrols. Anticipating the outbreak of what would become the Great War by only a few days she was transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy on 4 August and was commissioned in 1915 as HMCS Margaret. She, like the Hochelaga and Constance,  became part of the fleet of small vessels which served as escorts and patrol vessels along the Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence for the duration of the war. She was in Halifax Harbour a the time of the Halifax Explosion and suffered minor damage.

The Margaret was decommissioned and  returned to the Customs Preventive Service following the end of the war and once again took up her patrol duties in the Gulf of St Lawrence and Atlantic Coast in 1919. She was converted from coal to oil-fired boilers in 1925. During the 1920s she was a frequent visitor to the Marine Wharf in Charlottetown and was responsible for a number of liquor seizures in the region. The Margaret played a peripheral role in the 1926 Customs Scandal which brought down the Mackenzie-King Government and led to a constitutional crisis. In testimony related to bribery and corruption within the customs service it emerged that the Customs and Excise Minister Jacques Bureau had treated the Margaret as his private yacht, made renovations to increase her already comfortable accommodations, and removed her from her duties, exposing the coasts to increased smuggling activity. Newspaper reports noted an extensive cruise to the Saguenay with the Minister’s friends and an orchestra, the stocking of the ship with solids and liquids and the presence of women with questionable reputations. The cruise was only a sideshow to the wholesale corruption which permeated the Department and the captain and crew of the Margaret seem to have emerged with their jobs and reputations intact. It would not be the Margaret’s last brush with scandal.

In 1927, while in pursuit of a smuggler the Margaret struck a rock near the Magdalene Islands and was very nearly lost. The crew and captain had abandoned ship but returned to the sinking vessel, saving it by bailing water by hand, until taken in tow by a passing steamer. In the fall of the same year the customs cutter made at least nine seizures including one near P.E.I. in which the value of the seized cargo was nearly $200,000.

In 1932 the Preventive Service was transferred to the RCMP and late that year in an effort to reduce costs the Margaret was tied up in Halifax and was shortly afterwards sold at auction for $18,000. She soon found herself in the middle of a South American revolution.

Rio Branco on patrol

Rio Branco on patrol

In 1930 a coup d’état in Brazil had prevented a duly elected government from taking control after an election and Getulio Vargas became president of the country. A movement in the state of Sao Paulo aimed at restoring the constitution led to an uprising (the Constitutionalist Revolution) which began in July of 1932 and continued until October of that year.  Open conflict between Sao Paulo and the national government saw two unequal sides. Although the revolutionaries had taken over military bases and supplies, they had fewer soldiers, limited reserves of ammunition and very light air support. As with many such actions, anticipated support from other regions of the country failed to materialize.

Plans were hastily developed by the rebels to purchase planes, armaments and ammunition and their agents were soon in contact with suppliers, most of whom were in the United States. However under American neutrality laws American ships could not carry materials under these circumstances so evasion was the order of the day.

The timing of the sale of the Margaret could not have been better for the rebels.  A New York ship broker named Fred Zimmerman had a chance meeting with one of the Sao Paulo agents and within days was in Halifax inspecting the ship. The height of the depression was a a good time to be buying a ship as prices had plunged. Suggesting that $50,000 or $60,000 might secure the ship the money was immediately supplied from Sao Paulo.  Zimmerman’s bid was $18,000 and the only other bids received were for $5,000 and $2,000 – this for a vessel which had cost nearly $500,000 to build.  Zimmerman later testified that he had provided an unnamed Canadian official $1,000 to facilitate the sale. That left over $30,000 to be accounted for.  Zimmerman and the Paulista agent had agreed that it was to be split between a number of other players involved in the transactions. Cheques were cut and subsequently cashed but not by the parties to whom they were made out. The money had vanished! Charges of theft were investigated but later dropped as it was impossible to identify just who had made off with the funds. The matter was subsequently a very minor part of the investigation of the American Senate Committee on Munitions (Nye Committee) and the testimony regarding the purchasing of the Margaret reads like a bad dime novel.

In the meantime the Margaret, which had been purchased in Zimmerman’s name was transferred to a friendly German colleague and the ship, with her name changed to the Ruth, was temporarily registered in Germany which allowed her to skirt the American shipping ban. Taking on a cargo of armaments and munitions, and with a mixed crew under a German captain, she left the United States ostensibly bound for Dresden, Germany.  Shortly afterwards the Ruth was dropping off supplies along the Brazilian coast by fast motor boat and within days she appeared off Santos, the port for Sao Paulo.  However, Santos was under blockade by a cruiser and two destroyers. An attack from the small air fleet of the revolutionaries failed to distract the blockade ships and the Ruth was forced to head to Buenos Aires without unloading.

Rio Branco at Guanabara Bay

Rio Branco at Guanabara Bay

Shortly thereafter the revolution collapsed and the national troops occupied Sao Paulo. The Ruth was considered an asset of the defeated state and became the property of Brazil. The vessel had another name change and on 14 December 1932 was commissioned ay the Brazilian Navy as the Gunboat Rio Branco.

She was converted to a survey vessel at the beginning of 1934 and when Brazil joined the Allied side in WWII she was fitted with 47mm guns and became a corvette. At war’s end she once more resumed her role as a survey vessel and served as well as a fisheries protection vessel.

Margaret Brazil

Rio Branco

By 1957 or 1958 the Rio Branco, ex-Ruth, ex-Margaret was no longer an asset to the Brazilian navy and she disappears from the record, presumably broken up for scrap.