Tag Archives: Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company

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.

Built for the Crimea – Broken up at Charlottetown: The Long Life of the Steamer M.A. Starr

Today warships are rarely converted for commercial use but up until 1900 many naval vessels were not much different in design from their civilian counterparts.  One ship with a naval beginning was a regular sight in Charlottetown harbour for more than twenty years – and may still be resting beneath the harbour’s sand and mud.

When the British entered the Crimean War in 1854 it provided an incentive to expand the Royal Navy. The extended siege of Sebastopol, the chief Russian Naval base on the Black Sea, showed a need for shallow draft gunboats and within three years more than 120 vessels of this type were added to the Royal Navy fleet. Ninety-eight of these were of the Albacore class, 106 feet long and drawing under seven feet. One of these was the HMS Delight, begun while the conflict still raged but launched in 1856 from Money, Wigram & Sons yard on the Thames only a few days after the war had ended.

Builders sketch of HMS Delight

HMS Raven an Albacore class sister ship to HMS Delight

In 1864 the Delight she crossed the Atlantic serving at naval stations in Bermuda and Jamaica and in 1867 she was in Halifax. By this time the hastily-built wooden gunboats had become obsolete and the majority had already been sent to the breakers yards.  The Delight was decommissioned, stripped of her valuable copper bottom, and sold to J. Knight of Halifax in November 1867. She was re-named the M.A. Starr. She was sold again in 1869 and was registered at the Port of Halifax under the ownership of F.W. Fishwick.

Daily Examiner 7 June 1886 p.2

Fishwick’s Express Line, an overland shipping company was founded in 1856, had routes throughout Nova Scotia.  The addition of the M.A. Starr in 1869 and another steamer of similar tonnage, the 246 ton Edgar Stuart,  five years later gave the firm capacity to serve ports from Yarmouth to the Strait of Canso, Pictou and Prince Edward Island. The Edgar Stuart had been built in Connecticut in 1869 as a yacht, but in 1874 was seized by U.S. authorities for illegal trading with Cuba and sold. The two vessels linked Charlottetown to Halifax and gave Island shippers direct access to trans-Atlantic services and American ports such as New York. Both the M.A. Starr and the Edgar Stuart were regular visitors to Charlottetown with a weekly round trip schedule to Halifax via Bayfield (near Antigonish), Hawkesbury, Mulgrave, Port Hastings, Arichat, Canso and Sheet Harbour with occasional visits to other P.E.I. ports as cargos required. The Edgar Stuart was wrecked near Lockeport N.S. in July of 1885 but the coastal service continued with a single vessel.

In 1888 the Halifax firm of Pickford and Black created a new company, the Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company, which was incorporated the following year to serve the run from Halifax to the Island, stopping a places such as Sheet Harbour, Canso, Hawkesbury, Port  Hood and Charlottetown – exactly the same ports as the M.A. Starr – but which would be served by a newer and larger vessel purchased in the United Kingdom, the Princess Beatrice. Mrs. E. Fishwick, who had taken over after the death of her husband, amalgamated her operations with the new firm and in early July 1889 the M.A. Starr was withdrawn from service.  A few days later she was on a Fishwick’s Express route along Northumberland Strait which included Charlottetown, River John, Wallace, Pugwash, Buctouche, Bay Verte and Crapaud. In August she also called weekly at Montague, Georgetown, Cardigan and Murray Harbour. However early in September the Charlottetown Daily Examiner noted that the owners were unable to keep her on the route and the ship was offered for sale by tender. She was acquired by the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company (and its successor company the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company) and for the next two years served as an assistant to the Princess of Wales and the St. Lawrence.  Primarily running between Summerside and Point du Chene she was primarily dedicated to carrying freight, relieving the two freight and passenger side-wheel steamers and allowing them faster turn-around. When the company took delivery of the new steamer the S.S. Northumberland late in 1891 the M.A. Star became surplus to requirements, was sold to a group of P.E.I. shipowners (John Ings, L.C. Owen and William Richards) and appears have operated in 1892 on routes which included Victoria, Orwell and Mt. Stewart. She also made at least one trip to St. John’s Newfoundland late that year and another the following year.

Exactly when the M.A. Starr ceased operations in not clear. Steamboats required an annual inspection and the reports of the steamboat inspector provide a few clues. The vessel was not inspected in 1893 as it was noted she was “out of port.”  For the next two years she is listed but was not inspected as she fell into the “broken up or laid up” category. A footnote in the official register states simply “broken up 1894.” The nearly  forty year-old M.A. Star was one of just a handful of the wooden Crimean gunboats to survive into the 1890s.  Unless turned into a barge or burned for the iron in the hull she may still lie beneath the waters near the wharves in Charlottetown Harbour.

The Boston, Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company.

The Boston Boat service was a seasonal direct link between Prince Edward Island and New England. In earlier postings I have talked about the Confederate blockade runners, the steamers Oriental (ex-Minna) and GreyhoundHowever the ending of the war between the states also resulted in other vessels with a war history visiting Charlottetown – vessels that had been on duty against the blockade runners during the civil war.

Carroll

S.S. Carroll (or perhaps the Worcester) in Charlottetown harbour about 1893. Public Archives and Records Office photo

In 1863 William P. Williams of New York commissioned a quintet of wooden steamships from the Van Deusen shipyards yards in the belief that as the civil war continued it would create a market for new steamers for either civil or naval purposes.  The five boats were almost identical – 209 feet long, 34 or 35 feet wide and drawing from 17 to 20 feet and displacing over 1000 tons. Henry Esler & Co. provided the machinery. They were fired by horizontal tube boilers powering two-cylinder direct action engines at right angles to the shaft. The cast iron propellers were twelve feet in diameter. The boats were awkward looking being high-sided with just a hint of a clipper bow looking as if the bowsprit had been forgotten.  Most striking in the design was the placement of the wheel house well forward leaving an unusually short fore-deck.

Williams’ gamble paid off, for even before the launch of the first boat, all five were purchased by the U.S. Navy for $160,000 each. The steamers Galatea  Glaucus, Nereus, Neptune, and Proteus were all named for sea gods in Greek mythology and all became U.S.S. Galatea etc.  All the vessels were armed with Parrott rifles  a type of armament used by both land and sea forces as well as smooth bore cannon.  Every one of the vessels was engaged in enforcing the blockade of the southern ports but only the U.S.S. Nereus saw active duty being one of the ships involved in the attacks on Fort Fisher, which protected the port of Wilmington North Carolina,  in December of 1864 and January of 1865.

Carroll-02

Drawing by Erik Heyl for his book Early American Steamers Vol 1. 1953.

On July 12 1865, four of the vessels were acquired by agents for the Baltimore and Ohio Railway. The Proteus was re-named the Carroll, Nereus re-named Somerset; Glaucus re-named Worcester and the Neptune re-named Allegany.  The new names were all counties of Maryland.

Carroll3

S.S. Carroll in busy Boston Harbour.

The B&O Railway had decided to establish a direct first-class steamship service between Baltimore and Liverpool which began in 1865. The service continued on a monthly basis using three of the ships: the Carroll, the Somerset and the Worcester. The Allegany had been lost on Long Island in 1865. By 1868 it was clear that the vessels were too small and slow to provide a first-class service across the Atlantic and the experiment was brought to a close. The B&O Railway later made arrangements with the North German Lloyd line to put two new large boats on the route.

Worcester001

Advertisement in the Annual Report of the Boston Board of Trade 1884 p. 167

In 1870-71 the three vessels were sold to F. Nickerson and Company of Boston who were already operating a Boston – Halifax – Charlottetown service. The “very superior” Somerset joined the Alhambra on the Charlottetown-Boston run in 1873.  The Alhambra was wrecked early in the 1875 at Cape Sable Nova Scotia and she was replaced on the run to Charlottetown by the Worcester. Later the both Carroll and the Worcester became fixtures in the harbour while the Somerset made occasional appearances.  A hint of the commerce carried can be found in an 1873 report of goods shipped on one trip of the Somerset for the Boston market: 282 bbls mackerel worth $2280, 448 drums codfish, worth $1792, 221 bbls herring worth $663, 45 bbls sounds worth $2700, 588 sacks barley worth $1469, 18 bbls potatoes worth $27, 105 crates and 443 boxes of eggs worth $3693 making a total of $13,164. In addition other goods were carried only as far as Halifax and passengers sailed for both ports.

merrimack

Steamer Merrimack

Although ill-suited to the cross-Atlantic run the vessels were ideal for the shorter Maritime – New England route. For more than two decades the two boats which were almost impossible to tell apart were jointly known to Islanders as the Boston Boat. However other vessels also held the title although they only ran for brief periods. The two were joined by the 260 foot, 2200 ton Merrimack in 1886. This vessel was one of the first iron vessels built in Boston and was already 27 years old. She had seen service as a leased transport during the civil war. She was on a route to Brazil for a number of years and then had sailed between Boston and Halifax. Her first trip to Charlottetown in July 1886 with one hundred passengers was inauspicious as she fetched up on Rifleman Reef in Northumberland Strait but was able to get off the following day.  Her brief service ended in July 1887 when she was lost without loss of life on Little Hope Island Nova Scotia.

State of Indiana

S.S. State of Indiana

In 1891 the two steamers were briefly joined by a former trans-Atlantic steamer, The State of Indiana. This vessel was Clyde -built and hade been launched in 1874 for the State Steamship Line which carried on a trans-Atlantic liner operation. In 1891 the State Line was absorbed by the Allen Line, formally the Montreal Ocean Steamship Company  and the State of Indiana was transferred to the Boston, Halifax and P.E.I. line. However the 2500 ton, 330 foot vessel with room for more than 400 passengers may have possessed more capacity that the volume of traffic called for and she ran on the line for only one year. She eventually ended her days in Turkey.

Carroll

ANTONIO NICOLO GASPARO JACOBSEN Danish/American, 1850-1921 The American passenger vessel Carroll Signed and dated lower right “A. Jacobsen 1918” http://myartblogcollection.blogspot.com/2015_07_26_archive.html

In late fall of 1891 there were anxious moments when the 29 year-old Carroll was three days overdue from its usual 36 hour trip from Halifax to Boston and was believed to have gone down with 150 passengers and 40 crew. The Carroll had been condemned as unseaworthy several years earlier but was repaired and returned to service. Fortunately the vessel had only been disabled and was safely towed into Boothbay Maine.

Confusingly in 1889 a Canadian company the Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company had been incorporated. This company had no relationship with the Boston firm and was Halifax-based and linked to the Pickford and Black interests. Their steamer, the Princess Beatrice, which operated beginning in 1889 was wrecked near Isaacs Harbour, N.S. in September 1890. She was replaced by the Fastnet.    

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North Atlantic Steamship Company advertisement. Boston Globe 13 October 1893.

However by the end of 1892 the Boston, Halifax and Prince Edward Island Steamship Company was insolvent, with the blame placed on the imprudent purchase of the State of Indiana.  In that year and in 1893 the Worcester and the Carroll were operated by the North Atlantic Steamship Company but they appear to have been in direct competition with the recently-formed Canada Atlantic and Plant Line. A pooling arrangement with the Canada Atlantic line had been cancelled in 1891.  A price war saw tickets from Boston to Charlottetown go as low as $3.50 for a berth. However, the two worn out steamers were sold out of service and were scrapped in Boston Harbour in 1894. The service by then had come to be operated by the Plant Line with newer and larger boats and continued until the Great War.