In the 1860s the colony of Prince Edward Island was isolated, not just from the mainland but also within the territory itself. This was before the building of the railway and at the time roads were poor. Many folks seldom went beyond the area circumscribed by their nearest church, school, and general store. Even in the capital, cosmopolitan Charlottetown, there were many who barely left the city. When they did the easiest transportation was through the mouth of the harbour rather than the roads leading north and east from the city. The steamers of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation company crossed the Strait and skirted the shore as far as Victoria and Belfast, but beyond that the slow-moving and unpredictable coastal schooners touched at harbours along the shore and deep in the bays and inlets.
When the two-year old Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company announced an excursion on their steamer Princess of Wales, launched only the year before, it was cause for excitement. What was more, the excursion was to be from Charlottetown to the mysterious east — Murray Harbour, Georgetown and Souris, ports that had never been visited by a steamship. The impending visit created interest ashore at those locations and several hundred tickets appear to have been quickly sold – in spite of the fact that the Princess of Wales would leave the capital at 2:00 in the morning in order to visit the eastern ports and still be able to return the same day. Fortunately for us, one of those aboard was a correspondent for the Charlottetown newspaper, Ross’s Weekly, which published the following account:
Ross’s Weekly – 10 August 1865
EXCURSION IN THE STEAMER PRINCESS OF WALES – On Monday last citizens of Charlottetown and their [guests?] were treated to a grand Excursion on the Princess of Wales. Some 200 or more were, we should suppose, on board invited by ticket, when, at 2 o’clock in the morning, she started from Pope’s Wharf to visit the Harbors of Murray Harbor, Georgetown and Souris. The wind was blowing pretty strongly, causing many the unhappy feeling of seasickness. The morning was beautiful, and as we neared the wharf or breastwork at Murray Harbor, crowds of people of both sexes, could be seen on the beach awaiting our arrival. Some enthusiastic individuals expressed their pleasure at this the first visit to a steamer to their harbor by firing off an old instrument originally intended to resemble a cannon. It got an awful fright as the powder exploded and burst, injuring one man pretty severely in the leg. Here we took on board about 100 people more and started for Georgetown. The sea was pretty heavy causing the Steamer to roll very much, so that when the bell rang for breakfast but few, comparatively, were able to partake. Whether it was that our appetite was not sharp or that we had risen on the wrong side of the morning, we know not, but the breakfast did not seem to us to be in that style which we expected on such an occasion, in fact we were much disappointed at it. On arriving at Georgetown, most of the Excursionists went on shore, ourselves among the number, and the Steamer took on board a fresh lot from Georgetown and went off again for a few hours sail. The Georgetonians were very kind and hospitable, so that the short time there passed most agreeably. We noticed that the Harbor there was filled with American fishing vessels, and a very pretty sight they presented. We should think that they must create quite a trade and only wish we had our share in Charlottetown. We again collected on board and started, shaping our course for home, it being considered rather too boisterous to allow of our proceeding to Souris. We [regret?] this very much as we had set our mind on visiting Souris, having never been there by water and having heard that the scenery along the shore was among the most beautiful on the Island. We had however to forego that pleasure and proceeded back to Charlottetown where we arrived about 9 o’clock PM having first called at Murray Harbor and landed the passengers previously taken on there. We had almost forgotten to mention that Mr. Clements and several of the leading gentlemen, of Murray Harbor, treated the Excursionists to a champagne dinner – – The dinner was served up by Mr. Chandler, in capital style, to which all who sat down did ample justice. As the bottles were emptied the hearts and minds of the gentlemen expanded and everything passed off harmoniously. Several short speeches were made in responding to a few toasts proposed, and altogether the hours seemed to pass very pleasantly, a small party of “young un’s” enjoyed themselves by singing some of the popular airs of the present day, and afforded pleasure not only to themselves but to a large party of listeners. We think they enjoyed themselves as well if not better than any of the others. – – On the whole the trip was a pleasant one, and we feel sure that the Company will not be the losers in thus treating the public to such a pleasant excursion.
An accident happened at Murray Harbor, on our way back which might have been serious. Shortly after dinner several gentlemen were standing against the rail of the Steamer, and whether the champagne was strong , or the Railing weak, we do not know, but some of them managed to take a cool bath in the Harbor, we suppose by way merely or refreshing themselves. The water fortunately was not deep and they waded ashore looking rather disconsolate, one of them who was smoking took the matter very cooly, and kept on puffing at his cigar, much to the amusement of the onlookers.
I am indebted to researcher Gary Carroll who transcribed this item from Ross’s Weekly and posted it to Dave Hunter’s very useful Island Register genealogy website.
Post script added 8 June 2017
Gary Carroll has added another account of cannon incident during the visit of the Princess of Wales to Murray Harbour in 1865. Following is an excerpt from a letter from Robert Harris, who would later become a nationally-known portrait artist, to his brother Tom written on 28 August 1865.
My dear Tom
I hope this will find you safe and sound, and that you have had a pleasant passage. I went up to Murray harbour shortly after you left here. My greatest fun there was shooting pigs. I made a bow and arrows. I put nails in the tips of the arrows, and you would have laughed to see the pigs running squealing about with the arrows in them for hours after. While the steamer P of W was there we fired a salute out of Davey Hughes venerable swivel gun. Dick Huddy was the gunner. She made a great explosion and in doing so burst to bits flying in all directions and hurting some two or three. The reason why she burst was I think because Dick rammed in a large piece of fat pork as he said to make the load slip out. Jackson and Dick and lots more were dead drunk after. …
The full letter can be found at the Island Register site