Tag Archives: Georgetown

“As the bottles were emptied the hearts and minds of the gentlemen expanded…” An 1865 Excursion to the East.

Early photo of the Princess of Wales in Charlottetown Harbour. the building behind the funnel is the Methodist Church

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.

Paddle Steamer Princess of Wales. The funnel seems to be removed in this photo

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

Princess of Wales (mis-named) in Summerside Harbour 1878. Detail From Panoramic View of Summerside 1878

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

 

 

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Too Big for Success – The Paddle Steamer St. George

Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Advertiser 2 July 1842

Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Advertiser 2 July 1842

What had fourteen egg spoons, two paddles and over one hundred owners?

In 1842 Prince Edward Island was set to leap into the modern age. For far to long it had depended on either the winds or the kindness of strangers to provide the vital link with the rest of North American and with the Mother Country. It was time to Islanders to become masters (or at least crew members) of their own fate. A group of the leading merchants lobbied for legislation and at the spring sitting of the Legislature “An Act for the Incorporation of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company” was passed.  The legislation was one of the first acts in the colony to make used of the joint stock concept and limited liability for the owners so that their assets outside their investment would be protected in case of failure.  But how could failure occur? The need was clear. Northumberland Strait needed reliable transportation and Georgetown, Pictou, Charlottetown, Bedeque and Miramichi were all growing communities linked by the Strait.

Merchants, politicians, publicans and even clergy flocked to the company office to make their investments.  The leading merchants all signed up. Not just in Charlottetown but across the Island. The company owners came from Bedeque, Malpeque, Princetown, North River, Covehead, Tryon, St. Eleanors, Stanhope, Port Hill, Morrell. and to make sure that the general populace did not lose out the Government of the Colony took 150 of the 450 shares on offer. With the exception of one shareholder in St. John’s and one in England this was an all-P.E.I. company.

Since 1833 the Strait had been served by the Cape Breton, a steamer owned first by Pictou’s General Mining Association and later by Joseph Cunard and by the smaller Nova Scotia-built Pocahontas but neither appear to have been satisfactory. And besides they were owned off-Island!

If you are going to have a steam navigation company the first thing you need is a boat. Luckily Francis Longworth was going to England on other business and agreed to keep a look-out for one. He found one in the port of Liverpool.

the_monas_isle

This is not the St. George but is a vessel of similar size which was also operated in the Irish sea. The St. George would have looked much like this.

The St. George paddle steamer was just over ten years old and had an excellent service record. The  “large and elegant” steamer had been launched with much fanfare and before a large crowd of spectators from the Wilson and Sons yard at Cornhill, now part of Liverpool, on 21 November 1831. She was built for the St. George Steam packet Company which had an active service between Liverpool and Irish ports such as Dublin and Cork. The single deck vessel had displacement of 157 tons and was 135 feet long by 20 in breadth. The engines were built by Fawcett Preston & Co. of Liverpool. Its primary use was on the 120 nautical mile Liverpool to Dublin passage across the Irish Sea which took 18 – 20 hours.  The company added to its fleet throughout the 1830s and early 1840s with larger vessels and routes between the Uni9ted Kingdom and Europe. In 1838 the company’s ship the Sirius was the first steamer to cross the Atlantic.  Faced with losses it was later reformed as the City of Cork Steam Ship Company.  When Francis Longworth was searching for a vessel for the newly formed Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company in 1842 the St. George was on the market.  It was quickly purchased and the vessel was scheduled to leave Liverpool for St. John’s and Charlottetown on 9 July the same year, stopping at Cork for passengers.

The St. George,  “cheered  by the multitude,” arrived in Charlottetown on 14 August 1842 and was almost immediately pressed into service with the first trip to Pictou just a week later. Those who took the trips on the St. George were amazed at the luxury that the vessel provided. A partial list of the steward’s supplies gives a hint of how well-outfitted the ship was:  41 plated forks, 2 sauce ladles, 1 pair sugar tongs, 16 mattresses, 49 hair pillows, 36 feather pillows, 35 counterpanes, 8 crumb cloths, 77 sheets, 62 towels, 29 blankets etc. etc. etc..

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Islander 17 May 1844

The Company had been set up with the assurances (incorporated into the incorporation act) that it would make regular stops at Georgetown and the rising town of Bedeque, the latter to be a stop on the regular semi-monthly trips to Miramichi which community was otherwise somewhat isolated from the main population of New Brunswick.

 

Within a year problems of managing the company with the government being a large minority shareholder began to emerge.  Georgetown had generated insufficient business either in passengers and freight to warrant continued service except at a great loss. At Miramichi “the almost total abandonment of the timber and lumber trade” had resulted in a reduction in the demand for trips to that port.  Business at Bedeque was no better and an 1845 report noted that on one trip into the port “the only thing in the shape of freight procured was a basket containing hens eggs”.    More significantly the hoped-for subsidies from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick had not been forthcoming and the company had no guarantees that they ever would be paid.  The main problem was that the St. George was too big for the modest demands of the Strait communities and was too expensive to operate.  It was also the wrong sort of ship as the majority of the business was in passengers and only about one-sixth of the revenue from freight.

In 1843 the legislation was changed so that the company could abandon the Georgetown route. The Government bought out the shares of the Georgetown investors as well as the remaining unsold shares bring their investment up to over 40% of the company. It was suggested that the company could buy another smaller boat to serve the Georgetown route but that never happened.   A year later, the attempt to regulate routes was completely abandoned and the Company was empowered to decide their routes and schedules to be “most beneficial and advantageous for the interests of this Colony; and of the Shareholders”.

After limping through the 1844 shipping season with increased losses the Company came back to the Legislature pleading that with the St. George “the present traffic is scarcely sufficient to bear the expense of maintaining the vessel on station and she is altogether unproductive of profit to the shareholders and it is advisable that vessel be sold.” Since the government still held a large proportion the shares it was allowed that these could be sold at a loss and any proceeds used to acquire a smaller and more suitable ship.

Service was continued through 1845 at a continuing loss and with the increasing age of the ship and the need for major repairs fast approaching the need to get rid of the St. George became acute.  A search was begun for a smaller, faster ship which could be operated for less but nothing was found.   By October 1845 the St. George had been sold to Quebec interests and left Charlottetown for the last time at the end of that month.

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Islander 4 April 1846

Although the Colonial Government advertised for a steamer to take the route it appears to have continued to be serviced by sailing vessels until 1849 when the Rose, a much smaller and perhaps more appropriate ship made its  way across the Atlantic.

The constraints placed by government ownership on the effective operation of the Steam Navigation Company  by requiring specific routes and schedules were certainly not the only challenge that the Company faced but they hardly contributed to success. It would not be the last time that government participation in a public/private partnership would lead to failure.
As for the St. George it lasted in Quebec only until 1850 when it was sold to become a towboat in Newfoundland.  In January 1852 it left St. John’s for Cork, Ireland and was never heard from again.

Note: An expanded history of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company is available as a detailed research paper which can be found here.