Even for the Guardian it was a decidedly strange way to present a front-page news story. Occupying the centre column of the 19 June 1907 issue was a story that named no names and provided few enough facts, although those that emerged were intriguing. In a city as small as turn of the century Charlottetown it is possible that the major players were already known to the people and the editor was simply being coy.
Even the style of the piece is a departure from the usual news reporting. The item begins with a bit of semi-poetic doggerel
It was the schooner Sea Slipper
That sailed the summer sea
And her skipper had gathered in Charlottetown
a “goodlie companie.”
They did devise a high enterprise –
A deed to make men laugh –
But one there was in the company
Who “blew away the gaff”
The scene opens with the schooner Sea Slipper stranded on the sands between the end of Richmond Street and Victoria Park, the victim of “a brilliantly conceived adventure which went astray.” The scene then shifts to the previous day when the skipper of the vessel secretly recruited a crew of eight or ten to recover goods purchased under a Bill of Sale which had subsequently been seized under a Warrant of Destraint. The subject of the legal action was a load of lumber being held on Connolly’s Wharf.
The Guardian writer can hardly restrain himself as the plot (and the prose) begins to thicken; The night was rather dark, and the quiet waters of the harbor at midnight were gently ruffled by a growing breeze from the west, and on their broad bosom was reflected only the light of the blockhouse and the riding light of a solitary vessel riding at anchor, when the adventurers put forth to their task. The Sea Slipper was quite empty, her hold having been cleared out to make room for her expected cargo, which was to be hurriedly loaded by the eight active members of her intrepid crew. But all concerned in the contemplated descent on the lumber piles reckoned without their host.
The Sea Slipper crept up to Connolly’s wharf and the skipper gave a signal to someone waiting on the wharf that they were ready to start loading the lumber. It immediately became obvious that the secrecy of the mission had not been complete as two bailiffs, one armed with a pistol and shotgun stood facing the crew. Suddenly buckshot from the shotgun tore through the Sea Slipper’s mainsail and having turned away the crew the chief bailiff ordered the man on the wharf off the property. The schooner drifted away from the wharf but caught by the wind and ill-served by the perplexed crew it fetched up on shoals just off the Park at about 3:00 a.m. The crew was saved from a watery grave by the fact that the low tide left the vessel in about two feet of water. and they were able to walk ashore.
For those not in the “know” it was to be more than six months before more details of the incident were made public. The man on the wharf was a young Charlottetown lawyer, Edwin O. Brown, and the details of the Sea Slipper adventure were a small part of the trial of Brown for fraud. On the night in question Brown had appeared a the Deputy Sheriff’s house between one and two in the morning complaining that he had been ordered off Connolly’s Wharf by a bailiff. The evidence was one of the small details that emerged in his January 1908 hearing which led to Brown’s being found to be insane and unfit to stand trial. One element of his paranoia was that the legal processes connected with the seizure of the lumber had been part of a plot against him and had directly led to his forging of mortgage documents.
Although Sea Slipper incident is barely a footnote to history there is a much more interesting story of the of the hospitalization of Brown at Falconwood Asylum, his escape and his eventual death in August 1917 in the Canadian assault on Hill 70 to be found in John Sutherland Bonnell’s article “The Case of E.O. Brown” in the spring/summer 1990 issue of The Island Magazine.
Of the schooner Sea Slipper little is known. There were several vessels of that name in the region, most out of Newfoundland ports. The one most likely in Charlottetown on the dark June night was one built in 1858 in Mahone Bay Nova Scotia and owned by Frank Murphy in Montague P.E.I. Although almost a half-century old it was still registered on the Mercantile Naval List in 1907.