Tag Archives: Fairy Queen

Depending on the Public Patronage – The Steamer Rosebud and the Subsidy

Haszard's Gazette 11 April 1855 p.3

Haszard’s Gazette 11 April 1855 p.3

Prince Edward Island is cut off from the mainland by Northumberland Strait and it seems getting across the strait has, for a long time, required a significant input of public funding. In the colonial period the subsidy took the form of a contract for carrying the colony’s mails and after Confederation it was more of an outright grant for services. Whether the subsidy was actually needed was seldom tested. Usually when the contract was awarded to one firm, other bidders vacated the field until the period of the contract had elapsed and they could bid again. But in the 1850s something strange happened – the Rosebud kept running.

The 1850s was a period of difficulty for the transportation links between colony and the mainland. The decade had opened with James Peake’s English-built steamer Rose providing service but he lost the mail contract in 1853 for reasons not entirely clear. It was replaced by a New Brunswick boat, the Fairy Queen, which sank with heavy loss of life late in the year. The next vessel to receive the subsidy was the Lady Le Marchant which was registered in Richibucto and owned by a New Brunswick member of the extended DesBrisay family and so it at least had some Island connections.

But the same year that the Lady Le Marchant came into service a new vessel was launched in Charlottetown which promised to provide competition. The Rosebud was the first steamship built on Prince Edward Island. She was owned by William Heard, a merchant and shipbuilder from the West of England who had come to the colony in the mid-1840s and soon prospered.  His yard was in Charlottetown near where the railway shops were later built.  Heard was an advocate for an Island replacement for the Rose  “decidedly the best and best-managed vessel ever put on the line between Pictou and Charlottetown.” Ironically Heard had purchased the wreck of the Rose when it went ashore near Rustico in 1853 and it is possible that the engine for the Rosebud could have been the one powering the Rose. Failing to find a suitable vessel to compete against the Lady Le Marchant he decided to build his own. She slid down the ways on 23 September 1854. Not large, at 120 tons, about 105 feet, she built as a packet with two cabins for passengers and other accommodations.  She was built on speculation for, as the editor of the Haszard’s Gazette noted , “We trust her enterprising owner may soon find employment for her, that will compensate him for his heavy outlay. ” On 15 November she was sent on her maiden voyage to Pictou and “all things considered . . . she has not disappointed her well-wishers.”  The Pictou Eastern Chronicle welcomed her arrival under the heading “More Steam in the Gulf” and noted she would be making three trips each week during the next year.

Haszard’s Gazette suggested that the Rosebud be placed on a new route. Rather than Pictou a more suitable Nova Scotia port might be Barrachois Harbour, 20 miles closer to Charlottetown and with only 12 miles between Point Prim and Amet Island the route would greatly shorten the time the vessel was subject to heavy seas. However when the Rosebud’s schedule was published in April 1855 it was between Charlottetown and Pictou and a short time later it was announced that the new vessel had been awarded the mail contract – much to the relief of Haszard’s Gazette: “We were at one time afraid that the Government were not going to employ the Rose Bud, and that we should have a streamer put on the route owned elsewhere, or perhaps none at all.”

However Haszard’s Gazette had been misinformed. The contract had again gone to Mr. DesBrisay and the Lady Le Marchant which announced a schedule of sailings to Pictou and Shediac, stopping at Bedeque.  Islanders now had a choice of boats for travel to Pictou. The Rosebud scrambled for extra work. The she had a short-term contract with the Anglo-America Telegraph to re-lay the cable between Cape Tormentine and Cape Traverse linking the colony with Halifax, Boston and New York! For the rest of the 1855 season the Rosebud travelled on the Pictou route. Besides her regular service she carried 200 members of the Benevolent Irish Society to a picnic in Orwell early in the month and advertised an excursion to Baie de Verte in 14 July and to Mount Stewart at the beginning of September. Later that month the steamer was transferred to the Summerside – Shediac route “for the remainder of the season” but by 4 October she had been laid up for the winter. William Heard took the opportunity to appeal to his fellow Islanders:

In the absence of that paternal regard for home production and enterprise, in which modern popular Governments are supposed to excel, and in the face of the most determined opposition,  — the Rosebud has performed her bi-weekly trips, between Charlottetown and Pictou, for the last 5 months, with almost undeviating regularity, and without even the smallest accident.   

During the season the Lady Le Marchant made 43 trips to Pictou and 25 to Shediac and received a subsidy of £1300 from P.E.I., £240 from Nova Scotia and £360 from New Brunswick. The Rosebud made 40 trips to Pictou and received nothing.

The following year the Lady Le Marchant once again had the contract and the Haszard’s Gazette editor was careful to point out that while he was glad that the colony had not had to resort to a sailing packet there needed to be fair competition. The Rosebud had been refitted and repaired and a dependable service between Charlottetown and Pictou or Pugwash or Tatamagouche was preferable to a service which included Shediac, this having been responsible for delays and missed trips the previous year.  The editor hoped that Government would make some provision for Heard’s vessel as “it is not likely that the Rosebud will be kept on the route solely by the remuneration from freight and passengers.”

Haszard's Gazette 21 June 1856 p.4

Haszard’s Gazette 21 June 1856 p.4

Heard headed an advertisement in June “Depending on the Public Patronage” which clearly referred to the fact that he was not receiving any government assistance.  By July he was trying to avoid direct competition by sailing to Tatamagouche and not Pictou and in September the service shifted to a service between Bedeque and Shediac.

In 1857 Heard seems to have given up in the Pictou route and the Rosebud was now crossing twice a week to Shediac.  With the 1857 advertisement touting the route which would give passage from Charlottetown to Boston in Four Days!! the documentary trail runs out and it is not clear what became of the vessel. No image of the ship has been located.

For more than three years Heard had fought to get the subsidy for an Island vessel. Perhaps he was simply on the wrong side of politics, perhaps the Rosebud, in spite of positive press reports, was not the right boat for the Strait or perhaps there were other reasons lost with the passage of time why Heard did not get the contract.  Nevertheless when a new boat was needed after the Lady Le Marchant left the strait it was another New Brunswick boat, the Westmorland that was chosen and she kept at it until 1864 – still irritating Islanders that the subsidy was being paid abroad.

The New and Fast-Sailing Steamer Westmorland

Islander 7 August 1857

Islander 7 August 1857

In the mid 19th century there was great concern in the colony that the control and ownership of the steam packet service between the Island and the Mainland would fall into the hands of non-Islanders. The lack of success that the first Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company had had with the steamer St. George was seen as a barrier and there was difficulty in procuring suitable vessels for the passage to the mainland. More recently the disaster of the dramatic loss of the New Brunswick-owned Fairy Queen in 1853 with 10 passengers and crew drowned did little to assure Islanders that their best interests were served by a company that did not have its owners and headquarters on the Island.

However in 1857 the contract was once again let to a New Brunswick company.  In August of that year the Westmorland (sometimes spelled “Westmoreland”), owned by Christopher Boultenhouse, a shipbuilder of Sackville, began her service.  The ship operated out of Shediac and left that port on Monday and Thursday for Charlottetown, calling at Bedeque. On Tuesdays and Fridays the ship continued on to Pictou returning on Wednesday and Saturday to Shediac, calling at Charlottetown and Bedeque on the way.

The editor of the Islander was unimpressed by the new vessel:

The Westmoreland arrived here from St. John N.B., via Halifax and Pictou, on Tuesday night last. She is a River Boat, as flat-bottomed as such Boats usually are, high pressure, with a large portion of her machinery above deck. We have heard it remarked by many that she will not answer here in the Fall of the year. She certainly is not the description of Boat we should like to see put on the route – in shape she is very like the Fairy Queen, but we learn that she is a new and substantially built Boat and so far has made her trips very quick.

For the Islander the problem was a simple one of politics. In order to avoid money falling into resident “tory” pockets the government was content to let the contract go for an exhorbitant subsidy of £1,200 per year to non-Islanders.

The “New and Fast-Sailing Steamer” had been launched in Sackville by Boultenhouse the previous year and had operated for a short time on a route from Sackville to Saint John.  She was 156 feet long by 24 feet wide and registered 305 tons. She appeared to have ample accommodation – 38 berths in the gentlemen’s cabin and 37 in the ladies cabin although her seaworthiness was untested.

In 1860 she was joined by another Boultenhouse paddle steamer the 133 foot Lord Seaforth. The Lord Seaforth had been built in 1855 in the Davie shipyard in Levis Quebec. Primarily designed as a tow boat she had passenger accommodation added and in 1859 was put on a route serving Pictou, Pugwash, Georgetown and Cape Breton ports. The Lord Seaforth replaced the Westmorland while the latter was refitted in the summer of 1860. Later in that year the Island was served by both vessels with trips to both Pictou and Shediac. The following year it was rumoured that the Lord Seaforth would replace the Westmorland which caused some alarm as the Seaforth was very slow and inferior. However temporary replacement while the Westmorland was under repairs was allowed by the contract with the government. In a disagreement with regard to the safety and certification of the vessels the Colonial Government elected to have the mails sent to and from the Island by sailing packet rather than by the steamer for several weeks.  In June 1861 Boultenhouse advertised that the two steamers had been inspected in New Brunswick and met the requirements. The Lord Seaforth seems to have discontinued service in the region following the 1861 shipping season. By 1865 the Lord Seaforth had been sold to the U.S. Government and re-registered there.

By 1861 the Islander was describing the accommodations on the Westmorland as “wretched in the extreme” and complained that the ship had been put on the route that year with her boilers completely burnt out.

Notwithstanding the Islander’s reservations she seems to have fulfilled the terms of her initial 5-year contract and even for a few additional years without incident and might have continued longer had it not been for the American Civil War. As that war dragged on the movement of troops and supplies for both the Union and the Confederacy, as well as the necessity of moving goods for the populace meant that there was a sharp increase in demand for ships. Shipyards increased production but it was not enough to meet the needs. While the South was in the market for blockade runners the North needed transports. The Westmorland’s owner decided to sell out to the Americans.

In 1864 the Westmorland headed to the United States. August found her in New York, purchased by the U.S. Government as a transport for $27,000. She was one of 177 tugs, schooners, canal barges, and steamers owned by the government at war’s end. When they were sold the following spring the prices received were in advance of their appraised values but were low because of the large number of ships suddenly on the market. The wooden paddle-steamer Westmorland brought only $3,700. She may have been re-named Rochester but her fate after the sale does not seem to have been recorded.

The departure of the Westmorland paved the way for a new company, the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company (a new company with an old name),  to take over the responsibility for the steamer service. This company and her successors were to be involved with the route for more than fifty years and brought the Island into the twentieth century. The Westmorland’s captain, Evander Evans, made the transition to the new company and at his death in 1876 it was noted that he never lost a man at sea or had an accident.

For a more detailed account of Boultenhouse and the Westmorland  which was published in Argonauta, the newsletter of the Canadian Nautical Research Society, click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The wines were also very good…” James Peake and the Steamer Rose

The Rose at Pownal Wharf ca. 1849 from a painting by George Hubbard in the collection of the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation

The Rose at Pownal Wharf ca. 1849 from a painting by George Hubbard in the collection of the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation

At the mercy of the winds

By the mid 1840s Islanders were well used to the convenience of having a regular steam packet service connecting them with the mainland through Pictou and the Miramichi. The steamers Pocahontas belonging to Nova Scotia interests and the St. George of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company had carried on when the earlier Cape Breton was taken off the route. By 1846 however the St. George was under the control of William Stevenson of Quebec and was moved the following year to Quebec and the Gaspe.  The Steam Navigation Company was searching for another boat and in March 1847 James Peake wrote to Thomas Bolton, his agent in Halifax “…we now have to be dependant on the uncertainty of a sailing vessel for our mails…” The hunt for a new boat for the Company was not going well and by May he informed Bolton that the efforts had “…been entirely defeated…”  and that the Island “…shall, I fear, be at the mercy of the winds for at least for the present season.”

James Peake was in a good position to know the details of the issue. He was an enterprising shipbuilder and merchant who had come to the colony in 1823 and before his death in 1860 he was identified as the owner of 151 vessels, almost all of them sailing ships.  As a merchant he was aware of the need for good and dependable communications and the steamers on the Strait made regular correspondence with suppliers, insurers and financiers a little more secure.  He had been a major shareholder in the Prince Edward Island Stream Navigation Company but it was he, rather than the company, that was able to fill the communications gap. His father and brother Thomas operated the British end of the trans-Atlantic business from their base at Stonehouse, now part of Plymouth, in Devon and in spite of earlier failures they had been able to find a steamer for the Charlottetown – Pictou route.

The Rose is announced

Announcement of Dinner for James Peake - Islander 25 May 1849

Announcement of Dinner for James Peake – Islander 25 May 1849

On arrival of the news in Charlottetown there was general rejoicing and relief. A public dinner  on 25 May 1849 honouring Peake was oversubscribed. Fifty gentlemen sat down to a “very superior” meal produced by James Davis, landlord of the Victoria Hotel. The Islander reported that “The wines were also very good, particularly the champagne.”  Eight toasts were drunk, a band was in attendance, “past political differences were buried” and the party broke up at a late hour.

The Plymouth Herald carried an item in 27 July 1849 announcing that the Steamer Rose was ready to set sail for Prince Edward Island.  The Rose was a 103 foot, 88 ton, paddle steamer built at Blackwall on the Thames in 1832.  Constructed of English oak and teak she was been equipped with new boilers in Plymouth and her two 24 horsepower engines had been tested by a voyage from Plymouth to Falmouth.  On her trip the engines would not be used and the passage was conducted under sail. Thomas Peake proudly reported to his brother in Charlottetown that the little vessel “looks like a Man of War Steamer.”

The Rose arrived in Charlottetown on 9 August, 35 days from Plymouth, and work immediately began to fit her paddles and make repairs to the damages suffered in the passage. By the 24th of August she was running back and forth to Pictou twice weekly.  She was reported to have excellent accommodation for passengers, three dozen in the main cabin with an additional cabin for “Lady passengers.”  Although unable to get insurance at what he considered a reasonable cost Peake was anxious to put her on the line as soon as possible. He reported to John Pitcairn in England “I was obliged to get her on the packet line for mails with as little delay as possible and are pleased to be able to say that she acts well and hope from the anticipated increase in passengers she will pay her way next year.”

Schedule for Steamer Rose - Islander

Schedule for Steamer Rose – Islander 27 April 1850

Like most of the small steamers the Rose was available for pleasure excursions which were fitted in between her scheduled trips. In September 1851 for example, the Rose took 150 people on a pleasure excursion to Mt. Stewart and a few weeks later carried a “numerous and respectable party of ladies and gentlemen” across Orwell Bay to Port Selkirk accompanied by the Sons of Temperance band who played “right merrily some new and favorite airs” throughout the trip. The Rose continued to prove satisfactory for a several years but in June 1853 she left the port for Halifax. The newspaper report hints at a loss of the government subsidy or mail contract and noted that Peak had sold the vessel “at considerable sacrifice.” A testimonial to the Rose’s skipper, Captain Matheson noted the “undeviating punctuality and satisfaction to the commercial community of this town” that had been provided.

The short hereafter

The Rose was sold to Samuel Cunard of Halifax who leased her to the government for the protection of the fisheries. However she was not long employed in that task for in October she was caught in a gale, lost one of her paddles and came ashore on the eastern end of Peter’s Island, Rustico. All of the crew were saved but the vessel was a total loss.  Although the Rose was more than twenty years old the purchaser of the wreck, William Heard, stated “from the stern to the stem, from the gunnel to the keel, there was not two inches of unsound wood in her…”

The Rose had been replaced on the Pictou service by the Fairy Queen and the change of steamers was to have disastrous consequences for only a month later that vessel sank with loss of life.  That story will be told in a future chapter in the history of the strait steamers.