Tag Archives: Fastnet

Pickford and Black’s PEI steamer service 1888-1912

The Murphy Hospitality Group (MHG) of Charlottetown has recently re-branded one of their Halifax  restaurants as Pickford & Black. The change makes some sense as the restaurant, located in Halifax’s Historic Properties, is actually on the Pickford & Black wharf. It may also make sense as it seems to distance the operation from the Murphy / Gahan brand which appears on an inordinate number of restaurants in Charlottetown and others in Halifax and Moncton.

Pickford and Black house flag

However, Pickford and Black resonates not just with Halifax as it also boasted a connection more than a century ago with Prince Edward Island when the shipping firm operated steamers providing freight and passenger service between Summerside and Charlottetown and Halifax.  The firm was established in Halifax in 1875 as a ship chandlery and hardware firm and the following year purchased Seaton’s wharf on the Halifax waterfront which soon became known as the Pickford and Black Wharf. They took early advantage of the transition from sail to steam and aggressively developed a fleet.

Beginning in 1887 the firm expanded into the steamship business and became best-known for their services between  Halifax and Caribbean islands including Bermuda, Turks, St. Croix, St. Kitts, Antigua,  Trinidad, Demerara,  Jamaica, and Cuba. The first vessels acquired were former Cunard steamers Alpha and Beta which had been on the trans-Atlantic run.  The following year Pickford & Black set up the Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company. One of their first purchases was a 270 ton steamer, the Princess Beatrice, for a weekly service along the Eastern Shore, through the Strait of Canso and calling at ports in Prince Edward Island. This was a route which had been used by the Fishwick steamer M. A. Starr until the firm was drawn into the Pickford and Black operations.  The Princess Beatrice, and the later Pickford and Black boats, called at several intermediate ports including Summerside, Souris, Port Hood, Port Hastings, Port Hawkesbury , Arichat, Canso, Isaacs Harbour, Salmon River, Sonora and Sheet Harbour.  The Princess Beatrice was unfortunately wrecked in her second year of operation near Isaac’s Harbour in September 1890.

Fastnet at the Pickford and Black Wharf, Halifax

She was replaced the following year by the Fastnet, a 145 foot screw steamer which had been built in Glasgow in 1878 for the Clyde Shipping Company for service in South West Ireland and had been bought by Pickford and Black for the Charlottetown run. During her first year of operation the Fastnet collided in fog with the Heather Belle which resulted in the sinking of the latter vessel. The Fastnet continued to call at Charlottetown through 1897. Discovery of gold in the Yukon Territory in 1896 created a market  for vessels to accommodated the rush of travellers to the north and in 1898 the Fastnet she was sent around Cape Horn with a party of gold seekers bound for the Yukon. The vessel was sold to a company in British Columbia and again to a Mexican firm in 1898 when she was re-named the Alamo.  In 1909 she was wrecked on Tortuga Island in the Gulf of Mexico.

Pickford and Black advertisement. Charlottetown Guardian 20 July 1898

Meanwhile the City of Ghent, which had been sailing from Halifax to a number of eastern mainland Nova Scotia and Cape Breton ports as well as Souris since 1892 became the only Pickford and Black connection between the Island ports of Summerside and Charlottetown, and Halifax.  The City of Ghent had been built in 1871 in Grimsby and the little iron vessel had limited passenger capacity but a large cargo space not unlike the fishing vessels built in that port. She was originally used on a run from Grimsby to Ghent in Belgium.  At 135 feet with a displacement of 198 tons she was even smaller than the Fastnet. An advantage for some of the smaller ports was that she drew less then ten feet.  She was refurbished by Pickford and Black to carry twenty first class and ten second class passengers with large staterooms and modern improvements including a “handsome little saloon.” It is unlikely that the passenger service would have been of great interest for Prince Edward Islanders who had daily service to Pictou and Shediac but it would have been a boon to those in the smaller ports in Nova Scotia with no access to rail service and indifferent roads. The City of Ghent had a “shrill and peculiar hyena whistle” which echoed in the harbours of Summerside, Charlottetown and Souris whenever she arrived and left.

By 1900 Pickford and Black were the second largest ship owners on the Atlantic Provinces. While most of their fleet serviced the Caribbean they established several feeder service including the ones to Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island which were able to direct West Indies traffic from coastal areas through Halifax to southern ports. Much of the cargo reflected a century-old triangular trade – saltfish and produce shipped out and rum, molasses and salt on the return.

In 1912, after operating to Island ports since 1888, Pickford and Black ended their service when they were unable to find a suitable replacement ship for the City of Ghent. She was sold to Captain Beattie of Pictou. He ran her as a tramp steamer through the Gulf area and Nova Scotia’s Atlantic coast for a year or so but she was laid up and offered for sale and lay idle for three years in Halifax until 1916. Remarkably in the scramble for vessels in the early years of the Great War the City of Ghent, then 45 years old, sold for £700 more than her cost when she was launched.  Sent to England with a cargo of lumber she was employed carrying cargos of coke for the allied forces through the port of Rouen until she was sunk by a German submarine in September 1916.

Pickford and Black continued to maintain links with the West Indies for many years. They also became agents for several leading marine insurance underwriters and European steamship lines. The company continues today under the name of F.K. Warren Limited.

S.S. Cascapedia: Pictou to Montreal via Charlottetown, Gaspe and Quebec

Cascapedia

S.S. Cascapedia after modifications to increase passenger accommodation. Private postcard collection.

For much of the first half of the twentieth century Prince Edward Island’s main link with the rest of Canada was through Montreal. Toronto was hardly on the horizon.   Montreal had succeeded Boston as the metropolis for the Island. Transportation links through the Intercolonial Railway  were supplemented by an increasing sea connection through the Gulf of St. Lawrence and several companies were involved in the transportation of passengers and freight.

One hundred years ago saw the ending of one of the long-time marine connections between Charlottetown and Montreal and Quebec. In March of 1917 shippers and agents for the S.S. Cascapedia were given notice that the service linking Montreal and Quebec with Pictou was being withdrawn. For more than a decade the ship made stops at Charlottetown and Summerside.

The Cascapedia had been launched under the name Fastnet for the Clyde Shipping Company. Although sharing its original name with an earlier Pickford and Black vessel which had Island connections this vessel operated for five years from the port of Glasgow and across the Irish Sea to Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Waterford and also made trips up the English Channel to London.  The ship and several others owned by Clyde Steamships were named for  lighthouses on the Irish Coast.

She was built in Dundee at the Thompson & Co. Lillybank yard and launched in 1895.  Described in the Marine Engineer as “a beautiful model of what a passenger and cargo boat should be” the steamer was 255 feet by 35 feet and 1,160 register tons.  In addition to three large cargo holds served by steam cranes and winches she had accommodation for between 40 and 50 first-class passengers on the after part of the poop deck.

The Fastnet was purchased by the Quebec Steamship Company to replace the ill-fated Campana which had sunk near Quebec in 1909. Modifications were made which significantly changed the appearance of the vessel. Additional cabins were built forward and behind her mid-ships structure which increased her capacity to 108 berths in 51 cabins, almost the same number as the Campana.  The new cabins were built over the cargo holds and the ship now depended on side-ports for loading and unloading. Initially the remodeled ship was to have been named the Ungava but a name recognizing the Gaspe salmon river was selected instead, possibly to help attract excursion passengers.

Trinidad at Gaspe

Steamer Trinidad at Gaspe

Together with the S.S. Trinidad the two ships provided a weekly service, the Cascapedia leaving from Montreal and on alternate weeks the Trinidad would leave from Quebec.  The latter ship’ route extended to Halifax and New York while the Cascapedia completed its voyage at Pictou with rail links to Halifax.

Cascapedia 3

S.S. Cascapedia at Gaspe, Quebec. Private postcard collection.

Besides serving as a freight and passenger carrier the Cascapedia continued the tradition of the Quebec Steamship Line and the Campana by serving as a cruise vessel.  In a brochure issued by the line the route was described in the following glowing terms. “The novelty and many attractions of the route, the excellence of the accommodation and the cuisine on the Cascapedia, and the convenient connections at either end make this an ideal summer trip.”

The decision to take her off the Gulf of St. Lawrence service may be connected with declining business brought about by the effect of the Great War on travel or on reduced freight traffic but is most probably connected with the beginning of the S.S. Prince Edward Island ferry service and integrated rail access to the Island. The spring of 1917 found the Cascapedia in  New York under the management of the Furness Withy line providing service between New York and Bermuda as the larger vessels formerly on that route had been need for troop transport as the U.S. entered the war.  It was reported in Canadian Railway and Marine World that she would be back of the Montreal, Gaspe, Prince Edward Island service later the year. However, although the Cascapedia was not suitable for the Bermuda run she did not return to the Gulf service.  Instead, the Quebec Steamship Company, which had been taken into Canada Steamships Line ownership sold her to a new company, Nova Scotia Steamships Limited, which was establishing a service between New York and St. John’s Newfoundland calling at Boston and Halifax.  This service partially replaced the operations of the Plant Line which had ceased operation the previous year.

EPSON scanner Image

S.S. Cascapedia showing the additional passenger cabins built on the foredeck. Photo from https://clarkesteamship.wordpress.com/

Her time with the new company was short. In mid-November 1917, while the vessel was between ports the area was swept by a severe storm with winds approaching hurricane strength.  A radio message reported the vessel in a sinking condition off Cape Race.  A fire had broken out aboard and the 35 crew members and three passengers abandoned the vessel . They were picked up by a vessel bound for England and landed safely in Falmouth.

The Cascapedia was not replaced by Canada Steamships which gradually withdrew from passenger services in the Gulf but other firms, most notably Clarke Steamships, continued to provide services to Charlottetown for many years.

Sources

The primary resource for the history of shipping in the Gulf and Northumberland Strait continues to be K.C. Griffin’s excellent St. Lawrence Saga: The Clark Steamship Story.  Additional details have been added from several newspaper files and the journal Marine Engineer.

Lost in the Fog – The sinking of the Steamer Heather Belle

Displayed on one of the earliest charts of Northumberland Strait has the words “Fogs are rare here.”  Entire seasons can go by without reports of dense fog and the area is in direct contrast to the Atlantic Coast of Nova Scotia where heavy fog is an ever-present danger.

For Captain MacLean of the steamer Heather Belle his return trip from Brush Wharf Orwell to Charlottetown had begun at 4:50 on the already dark evening of 12 November 1891. It was therefore an unpleasant surprise when fog closed in as the ship was steering towards the harbour mouth after rounding the Bell Buoy (as Fitzroy Rock Buoy was then known.)  Heading for the Black Buoy, now called Spithead, he was forced to slow in the dense fog and try to find his position by sounding the reef.  He left the Black Buoy to port and steered north-east towards Blockhouse, sounding his whistle the whole time.

Fastnet

Steamer Fastnet at Pickford and Black wharf Halifax about 1892.

At the same time the Pickford and Black Steamer Fastnet under command of Captain Hopkins was passing through the harbour entrance after leaving the dock at Charlottetown heading for Halifax with passengers and cargo. The 145 foot screw steamer Fastnet had been built in Glasgow in 1878 for the Clyde Shipping Company for service in South West Ireland and had been bought by Pickford and Black for the Charlottetown run earlier in 1891. The Fastnet encountered the fog bank at about 6:30 after it had passed the Blockhouse light at the entrance to Charlottetown Harbour and reduced its speed to three and a half knots running against the incoming tide.

After a few minutes after passing the Black Buoy the Heather Belle’s crew picked up the sound of another steam whistle which the Captain correctly identified as the Pickford and Black steamer Fastnet leaving the harbour.   He steered slightly to starboard to keep the Heather Belle to the correct side of the channel and assumed from the signals that the Fastnet  was taking the same action. The time was about 6:40.

Chart001bSuddenly the masthead and starboard light of the Fastnet appeared out of the fog.  The Captain called for the engines to be put hard astern and tried to turn the vessel to port to avoid collision. The Heather Belle was nearly at a standstill when the Fastnet struck her near the port bow and water began pouring in. Although there was limited damage to the Fastnet, the Heather Belle was in serious trouble.  She was quickly made fast to the starboard side of the Fastnet and they both proceeded at full speed to the harbour entrance with the Heather Belle filling with water. The fifteen passengers and the crew scrambled onto the Fastnet. As the water steadily rose the paddle steamer’s stokers raked out the boiler of the paddle steamer to prevent an explosion and the ship steadily settled into the water.  They got within 800 yards of the Blockhouse when the steamers separated and the Heather Bell drifted off into the dark fog and disappeared.  The Fastnet was so close to the shore that the voice of the Blockhouse lightkeeper could be plainly heard although nothing was visible in the fog.  The Fastnet shortly afterwards went aground on the sands of Cumberland Cove and a crew rowed to Charlottetown to report the accident. The passengers from both steamers were brought ashore by the steam-tug Frank Batt  and the tug returned the next day  to get the Fastnet afloat.

Heather Belle

The original Heather Belle from the 1878 bird’s eye view of Charlottetown. The second Heather Belle would have looked much the same.

There was no loss of life or injury and the freight load was slight. However, the Heather Belle was uninsured. Its owners, the Inland Steam Navigation Company, had been in business for eight years but the boat, at least parts of it, was older.  The original Heather Belle had been launched in 1862 from the James Duncan Shipyard in Charlottetown. The 108 foot boat was built of wood with engines from Todd and McGregor of Glasgow. She was owned by the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company from 1864 to 1875 when she was sold to John Hughes. She served on regular steamer routes in the Bay and in 1878 had an extensive overhaul including a new keel and planking and extensive repairs to the upper deck and cabins. However, by 1882 she was showing her age. The owners searched for a vessel to replace the Heather Belle and even looked to the States for a new vessel but could not find one suitable. They then contracted with James White in Mount Stewart to build a new ship. The new Heather Belle was only slightly longer at 120 feet but was wider and so had greater carrying capacity. Although built with a single main passenger cabin she had room aboard for 500 people. She was framed in juniper and had diagonal iron straps fastened before being planked. She had stringers of pitch pine.

Heather Belle 3466-73-102-53-1

Stern view of the Heather Belle PARO Accession 3466.73.102.53.1 – Hunt Collection This is probably the first vessel of the name

Launched in June 1883 she was towed to Charlottetown for finishing. In order to save money the Todd and McGregor engine, which had already served for more than twenty years, was rebuilt and put into the new hull along with a new boiler built in Saint John. The hulk of the old boat was sold as scrap for $20 and by mid-June had been dismantled . The steamer was also under new ownership. In 1883 the Inland Steam Navigation Company had been incorporated with capital stock of $25,000. The principal owners were John Hughes, William Welsh, Lemuel Cambridge Owen, Daniel Todvin, James Turner and John MacMillan.

Following the sinking, flotsam and parts of the deckhouse washed ashore near Keppoch at the harbour mouth, but the sunken wreck of the Heather Belle was not found for several days. It was eventually located off Cumberland Farm, not far from where the Fastnet had gone aground on the night of the sinking. Divers were brought over from Halifax but attempts to raise the steamer were frustrated by poor weather and by the fact that the hull began to break up when it had been moved no more than 500 feet.  The attempt was abandoned in mid-December 1891. The following year new attempts to raise the wreck proved too difficult and its remains may still lie beneath the sands off the cliffs at Cumberland.

Within a few days of the sinking the Inland Steamship Company had restored the service to the mainland using the steamer M.A. Starr, a Halifax ship which was leased for the remainder of the season. The M.A. Starr dated back to 1855 when it was launched as H.M.S. Delight, an Albacore Class gunboat designed for use in the Crimean War. It had been decommissioned and sold mercantile in 1867.  The following year the Inland Steam Navigation Company acquired the paddle steamer Jacques Cartier which ran on the route until it was wrecked on the Nova Scotia shore.

Meanwhile, court proceedings had been heard in Admiralty Court with both parties claiming damages from the other.  After a lengthy hearing before Chief Justice W.W. Sullivan, with the assistance of F.W. Hyndman as a nautical assessor, it was found that both vessels were traveling at an excessive speed without taking enough consideration for the fog and that they had both failed to set a course which would ensure they were in opposite sides of the channel.  Under the admiralty law principles each wrong-doer was obliged to pay half the damages of the other. The total loss of the Heather Belle was assessed at just over $18,000 while the repairs to the Fastnet were set at $2,800. Court costs were borne equally.

The Fastnet continued to call at Charlottetown through 1897. The next year she was sent around Cape Horn with a party of gold seekers bound for the Yukon. The vessel was sold to a company in British Columbia and again to a Mexican firm in 1898 when she was re-named the Alamo.  In 1909 she was wrecked on Tortuga Island in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sources

The P.E.I. Public Archives and Records Office has the Admiralty Court case records in R.G.6 which include transcripts of the evidence. The Exchequer Court Reports Vol. 3 pp.40-56 contain the judgment in the case.  The account of the collision as well as the subsequent search for the wreck can be found in the Daily Patriot for the relevant dates.  Details of the several ships named can be found in the Mercantile Naval Lists, most easily accessed through the on-line holdings of Memorial University’s Maritime History Project.