Tag Archives: Henry Wolsey Bayfield

Imperfectly Known Dangers: Sailing Directions for Hillsborough Bay 1855

The 1830s and 1840s saw a major improvement in the aids to navigation on Northumberland Strait and Hillsborough Bay. A black can buoy was in place at Fitzroy Rock to mark one known hazard by the late 1830s. The Bay was surveyed under direction from the Colonial Government in 1839 and a chart published in 1842.  In 1841 Captain Henry Wolsey Bayfield transferred the headquarters of the Hydrographic Survey from Quebec to Charlottetown and quickly began to chart the Strait as well as the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence. In 1845 the colonial government commissioned the building of a lighthouse at Point Prim which showed the entrance to the Bay. The following year a chart of the Bay was published based on Bayfield’s survey.

Prior to this activity the only charts were those of J.F.W. DesBarres published in the 1780s  and they contained little more detail than the information from the Holland survey in 1764, twenty years earlier. Since the Holland survey dealt with the land, the chart contained little marine detail and only a few soundings.

Detail from J.F.W. DesBarres Chart of the South-Eastern Coast of the Island of St. John. Published as part of the Atlantic Neptune ca. 1785. Detailed soundings are rare and many hazards are not shown.

One essential aid to navigation, then as now, was the series of published “Sailing Directions” or “Pilots” which added navigation details to the charts. These were often complied from the observations of ship’s captains.  For example many of the observations on the navigation of the waters of the Maritimes are from the log of H.M. Sloop Ranger which was on fisheries patrol in the area in 1831. The Sailing Directions could be extremely detailed or frustratingly vague. An edition of 1810 said only this of Hillsborough Bay:

Hillsborough Bay is the finest bay in the island, and the River Hillsborough is a fine navigable river; but timber here is not plentiful.  Before Charlotte Town in this river, there is good anchorage in from 6 to 9 fathoms.  

We praise Bayfield for the excellence of his charts but the first edition of his Sailing Guide which includes Prince Edward Island, published by the British Admiralty in 1847 is a magnificent achievement and is as much a contribution to navigation as the charts themselves.  He introduces the section on Hillsborough Bay thusly: “The numerous dangers it contains, having hitherto been very imperfectly known and represented have rendered its navigation extremely difficult to strangers in a large ship; but this will now be obviated, it is conceived, by the Admiralty Chart accompanied by the following directions.” He then goes on for a full ten pages describing the hazards of the bay and the directions for avoiding them.

Detail of Bayfield’s 1846 Chart of Hillsborough Bay showing Huntley Rock, Fitzroy Rock and Astyanyx Rock. Detailed soundings can easily be seen.

The sailing directions were a very marketable item and every ship, except perhaps those in the local coastal trade, would have had a copy for the area for which they were destined.  Copies were published using Bayfield’s information with no regard for the copyrights of the Admiralty. There were English and American editions, both official and otherwise, as well as dozens of other editions, reprints, additions, improvements and condensations. A French-language of the Bayfield volume was published in 1864. One English version by hydrographer J.S. Hobbs published in 1855, had the remarkably comprehensive and descriptive title:

Part of the title page of an 1855 edition of Sailing Directions

A small sampling of the information contained (condensed from the Bayfield edition)  follows:

Hillsborough Bay is the finest bay in the island; within it is the principal harbour and capital town of Charlotte Town, which is advantageously situated on the northern bank of the Hillsborough, where the deep water approaches nearest to the shore. The town is well laid out with squares and its streets at right angles; the houses are generally of wood, and the population about 5000. All kinds of supplies may be obtained here, and there is sufficient water in the harbour for the largest ships; and the Hillsborough River is navigable for large ships 7 or 8 miles above Charlotte Town; smaller vessels may go farther up: the shores are all well settled. It is high water full and change, at 10h. 45m. ; spring-tides rise 9 1/2 feet, neeps 7 feet. Ships generally lie off the wharves of the town, where the channel is nearly 10 fathoms deep and 280 fathoms wide.

Strangers or those unacquainted, when bound to Charlotte Town, should take a pilot; but in the event of not meeting one outside, the bay may be safely entered, and good anchorage will be found N.W. of Governor Island, until a pilot can be obtained. When entering the bay from the westward the leading mark is Pownall’s Point, just touching the north point of Governor Island, bearing E. by N. run in with this mark, until you see the Presbyterian Church , and as soon as it is in one with Block-house Point  N. by E. 1/2 E. steer N.E. by E. or N.E. 1/2 E., according to the tide, until the west side of Government-house and Battery Point come in one bearing N. 1/2 E.; these latter marks lead up the deep-water channel to Trout Point, at the entrance of the harbour. If you cannot see the leading marks, keep along the southern and eastern edge of the St. Peter’s Shoals, in 5 fathoms, up to near the Spit Head buoy, then anchor.

When coming from the eastward at night, Point Prim Light must not be brought to the westward of N.N.W., to avoid the Rifleman Shoal; and Prim Reef should be rounded at 10 fathoms, in a large ship; smaller vessels may cross it in 4 or 5 fathoms. As soon as the light bears to the southward of E. by S. 1/4 S. , and in not less than 10 fathoms of low water, or with Point Prim E. by S. , you will be to the northward of the reef. The course across the bay must be north or N. 1/2 E. , in thick weather or at night; the object being to strike soundings on the southern edge of the bank off St. Peter’s Island, and following it to the north-eastward, in 5 fathoms , till about 1 1/2 miles within the Fitzroy Rock, where you may anchor off Governor Island, in good holding ground, and wait for daylight, or a pilot. In clear weather, your course from the outer end of Prim Reef, in 10 fathoms, will be N. by E 1/2 E., about 5 miles.

Except in areas where there was silting in the harbours or where sandbars and shoals shifted with wind and tide the hazards to navigation changed little over the years. Although published over 170 years ago Bayfield’s sailing guide could still be used today to bring a ship into safe harbour in Charlottetown.

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The Blockhouse at Blockhouse Point

Today the lighthouse on the point marking the western side of the channel leading to Charlottetown is an iconic symbol of the Island’s past. This year the building itself is 150 years old.  But what was there before?

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The Block House from George’s Battery, 1839 watercolour by Col. A.C. Mercer. National Archives of Canada (C13788). George’s Battery was situated in the Ordnance Grounds at the west end of Water Street, near where the Armories now stands.

During the French period on the Island the point at least had a name. Early maps identified the spot as Pointe à la Flamme (meaning pennant)  and it stood across the narrows from Pointe à la Framboise but there is nothing to suggest that there was anything but trees on either point. When Samuel Holland, who seems to have named everything else on the Island, drew his map and sent it off to England in 1764 he hadn’t bothered to name the harbour entrance features although Observation Cove just around the corner to the west was where he chose to live during the winter of the survey.

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Detail from Mercer watercolour. The signal mast can be seen to the west of the blockhouse.

As the point commands the harbour entrance it was not long before it was incorporated into the defence plans for the Island’s capital. By 1798 it appears HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, (after whom the Island was soon to be re-named)  had taken a personal interest in the defences of the colony while he was commander-in-chief at Halifax. Among the batteries and fortifications were new works at Fanningbank, a four gun battery at what is now Battery Point and a blockhouse mounting two guns with a protective four-gun battery located in front of it on what was called in documents “Beacon Point.”  The name suggests that there was already some sort of structure there but its form and purpose is not clear. The blockhouse is recorded as continuing as a part of the Island’s defences in 1821 but the battery at Battery Point seems to have disappeared by this time.

There was still a blockhouse at the point in 1839 when sketched by Colonel Alexander C. Mercer on a visit to the colony but by then its role was more communication than defence. A signal mast was used to provide notice of approaching vessels, probably linking with another signal station at Kent Battery, now called Fort Edward (although it was never a fort).

Detail from George Wright's Chart of Hillsborough Bay and the Harbour of Charlottetown 1839

Detail from George Wright’s Chart of Hillsborough Bay and the Harbour of Charlottetown 1839

However the name Blockhouse Point was still not in use, as the words “Block house” on George Wright’s and George Peacock’s 1839 Chart of Hillsborough Bay and the Harbour of Charlotte Town refer to the structures not to the place. Symbols for both the blockhouse and the flag or signal staff can be clearly seen on the chart.

When Wright’s chart was used as the basis for a more detailed chart by Captain Bayfield in 1846 it was accompanied by an inset with a ships-eye view of the harbour approaches which clearly shows the shape of the blockhouse with cleared land all round it. The sketch remained unchanged as a part of the chart editions well into the twentieth century even though the blockhouse was long gone. Bayfield finally provided a name for the point itself rather than for the building found on it which may have disappeared by this time. An 1848 chart notation says “Block House and Battery in Ruins.”

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Detail from Chart of Hillsborough Bay surveyed by Capt. H.W. Bayfield R.N. 1842. This image continued to be used on charts up to and including the 1934 edition.

What ever was there had, by this time, become purely an aid to navigation. In 1846 Thomas Owen had been provided with funds by the Legislature to build a lanthorn as “A harbour Light for Charlottetown” and for keeping it in operation. There was a building on the point in 1856 built by John Smallwood who received £46 for erecting a structure on the upper part of the Blockhouse for a light. It is not clear if the reference to “upper part ” is to a specific area of the point of to an already existing structure which would be added to.  What ever the case, the building had some substance as it took 11,000 feet of hemlock boards and 3,000 feet of pine plank. The light itself was housed in a fire-proof lantern made with zinc, sheet iron and copper.

When the Dominion government took over responsibilities for lighthouses after confederation in 1873 the Blockhouse Light was “so much decayed by age as to scarcely merit repair.” The inspector recommended only that slight and temporary repairs be made until a new light-house and dwelling could be constructed.  That step was taken in 1876 and the present structure has served ever since.

Gulnare – A Significant Name in Canadian Marine History

The name Gulnare should be one of the most important ones in the of the history of Canadian hydrography but today it is hardly known.  Ships carrying the name were closely associated with nautical charting and naval service for more than a century and several were linked with the history of Charlottetown harbour which served as home port to the vessels through most of the 19th century.

Gulnare was an extremely popular name for a ship in the 19th century.  Almost 30 vessels carrying the name appear on the Canadian shipping registers between 1832 and 1902 and there were other ships which were named Gulnare which do not appear on the registers.  There are two possible sources for the name. In the Arabian Nights Gulnare, pronounced with three syllables as Gul-Nar-Ah, was the daughter of Farasche whose husband was king of an undersea kingdom. She was captured and became a slave to the King of Persia who took her for a wife. The other source for the name, pronounced with two syllables as Gull-Nair, is Byron’s poem The Corsair which tells the story of Gulnare the queen of the harem rescued by Conrad and when Conrad was captured confessed her love, murdered the Sultan and escaped with Conrad to the Pirates Lair.

The name was carried by six, relatively small, survey vessels which operated in Canadian and Newfoundland waters between 1828 and 1949, many of them associated with Captain (later Admiral) Henry W. Bayfield and his successors in the charting of the St. Lawrence River, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and Newfoundland.

The first Gulnare, a two-masted schooner of 146 tons with a figurehead of the bust of a woman was built in Taylor’s shipyard in Quebec and delivered to Bayfield in May 1828.  It was owned by William Stevenson, a Quebec merchant who was to continue as owner of several of the Gulnares chartered by the Admiralty. The vessel was chartered by the Admiralty from 20 May to 1 November for 300 pounds. Bayfield was charged with charting the St. Lawrence River and operated out of Quebec.

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Admiral Henry Wolsey Bayfield, long time commander of several of the Gulnares

In 1841 the survey was transferred to Charlottetown as the work became concentrated on the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  Prior to the transfer of the headquarters the Gulnare was inspected and found to be suitable but in 1843 Bayfield found the Gulnare “so decayed that I consider her unfit to be retained in H,M. Service.” He notified William Stevenson that the contract was voided unless he agreed to replace the old vessel with a new Gulnare of 175 tons to be built in Charlottetown under Bayfield’s supervision. The vessel was launched from the Steam Mill Wharf at the shipyard of Messrs Peake and Duncan on 18 May and christened by Lady Huntley, wife of the Lieutenant Governor. This vessel appears to have lasted nine years  but its fate is not known.

In 1852 a 3rd Gulnare was launched in Quebec on 3 May and arrived in Charlottetown only a few weeks later. This vessel was rated at 220 tons. Like its predecessors this one was chartered for use of the Admiralty Hydrographic survey and was also owned by William Stevenson.

Commander John Orlebar succeeded Bayfield in 1857 and he was the first to employ steam driven vessels, using the Lady Le Marchant in the survey of Newfoundland. In 1861 the succession of Gulnares was again briefly broken by the chartering of the Margaretha Stevenson, also owned by the Stevenson Family. In 1865 the Admiralty decided on a complete re-survey of Newfoundland and this was the job on which the vessels were then employed for more than 40 years. .

The next vessel used in the survey was also a steamer and returned to the name Gulnare. The first steam Gulnare was built at Charles Connell & Co.’s Overnewton yard on the Clyde in 1867. She was a 205 ton composite screw steamer of 132 feet in length, 20 ft breadth and drew 11 feet. Her single screw was driven by a 50 horsepower engine. The iron frame and wooden planking was sheathed in “yellow metal” (likely copper). This vessel too, was chartered rather than owned by the Admiralty, the first registered owner being Daniel Davies of Charlottetown.  The ship was under the control of Commander James H. Kerr until 1871 when Commander W.F. Maxwell succeeded him,  In 1877 the owner was James Duncan & Co. and on 25 October 1877 the Gulnare was offered for sale conditional on her being discharged from Admiralty service.  She was subsequently owned by parties in Glasgow and London in Great Britain and in Kingston, Jamaica. In 1880 the Gulnare was used by the ill-fated Howgate Arctic Expedition which was a complete failure. At the time the vessel was in poor condition and the U.S. Navy refused to participate in the venture for that reason. She later operated in the Caribbean. The vessel, owned by a company associated with the United Fruit Company, sank with a full load of bananas in the Gulf of Mexico in May 1887.

Charles Connell & Co. were also the builders in 1878 of the next Gulnare  which, like the 1867 ship was a single screw composite steamer. She was slightly larger at 247 tons, 240 feet long by 21.8 in width with a draft of 11 feet with 70 hp steam engine.  She arrived in Charlottetown in mid-May 1878 following a passage from the Clyde of only 9 1/2 days, believed to be a record passage between the two ports at the time. Like the other Gulnares the survey vessel was chartered rather than owned by the Admiralty. She was initially registered as belonging to  Alexander MacLeod of Orwell Prince Edward Island and was under the captaincy of Commander Maxwell and after 1891, of Commander William Tooker.  She operated primarily in the waters of Newfoundland.  In 1892 the Gulnare she was sold to the Glace Bay Mining Company which became part of the Dominion Coal Company formed in 1894.  Two years later, in August of 1896, the Gulnare was wrecked near Canso N.S.

The sixth survey vessel Gulnare in Charlottetown Harbour about 1893. Note the curved roof of the stern deckhouse which is useful in identifying the vessel in later photos. Photo: Public Archives and Records Office

The sixth survey vessel Gulnare in Charlottetown Harbour about 1893. Note the curved roof of the stern deckhouse which is useful in identifying the vessel in later photos. Photo: Public Archives and Records Office #3218/64

The likely reason that the Gulnare was sold in 1892 was the building of yet another survey vessel of the same name which was launched early in 1893 and completed a month later.  Once more the builder was Charles Connell & Co.  This steamer, at 137 feet, was almost exactly the same length as her older namesake but owing to a slightly larger breadth (20.5 ft.) and depth (13.6 ft.) had a larger tonnage (262 vs. 247). This vessel too, was registered to Captain Alexander MacLeod but for much of this period was skippered by Commander Tooker. Since no pictures seem to exist from the earlier vessel it is difficult to know how they differed but this consistency in measurement suggests that it had been found to be a suitable size for surveying operations in the difficult Newfoundland and Labrador coastline.

Because the Gulnare operated out of Charlottetown and wintered there, several of her crew were from Prince Edward Island. On one of her early voyages to the west coast of Newfoundland a crew member captured images of the ship, as well as photos of the outports, which are found in accession 2670 at the Public Archives and Records Office.  Shots of the ship are seen below:

Gulnare on Newfoundland 1893. PARO #2670/35a

Gulnare in Newfoundland 1893. PARO #2670/35a

 

Gulnare at unidentified wharf. ca. 1893 PARO #2670/35b

Gulnare at unidentified wharf. ca. 1893 PARO #2670/35b

Besides the interesting curved roof of the stern cabin, which is mirrored in small curved deckhouses just below the funnel these photos also show several of the launches from which much of the actual sounding and surveying was done.  Also to be noted is the lack of protection for the navigation station on the upper deck which seems to be open to the elements except for a canvas skirt.

The Gulnare continued to work in Newfoundland waters and spend winters in Charlottetown until 1902 when her charter agreement expired and she was replaced on the survey by the steam yacht Ellinor (ex-Princess Alice) the following year.  The Gulnare was acquired by the Government of Canada and was refitted for tidal and current surveys on the East Coast and lower St. Lawrence.  At this time the shellback on the foredeck and protected navigation station were probably fitted as seen below and in  later pictures. The tide and current work led to the production of accurate tide tables and revisions to information about currents which aided navigation, especially as regards Bell Isle Strait.

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Gulnare, probably taken at the time of the ship’s acquisition by Canada in 1902

In 1912 the Gulnare was placed on duty as a tender and relief lightship on the Lower St. Lawrence. This work was interrupted by the outbreak of the Great War when the Gulnare was placed under naval control.  It is not clear if she was commissioned but several  sources refer to her as  HMCS Gulnare although the naval files reference CGS (Canadian Government Ship) Gulnare.  She operated as a patrol vessel on the East Coast for the war period and appears on the 1918 Navy List as an examination vessel in the auxiliary listing. In 1918 and 1919 she was used for contraband patrols but was returned to the Department of Marine and Fisheries in 1920.  She appears to have been used as a tender and lightship but also returned to tidal and current surveys in the early to mid-1930s.

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Gulnare, possibly at the time of sale in 1937. Note the large central anchor which may relate to her use as a lightship. National Defence photo

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Gulnare, possibly at the time of her sale in 1937. The curved stern deckhouse and side structures below the funnel ore clear as well as the later shellback foredeck. The fixture at the top of her foremast is characteristic of a lightship.

By 1937 she was surplus to requirements and was offered for sale. She was acquired by Manseau Shipyard, Sorel Quebec which became part of Marine Industries Ltd. when it was formed a year later. She may have been used in connection with the large dredging operations of the company. Her name appears in connection with naval requisitions during WW II but it is not clear if she was used by the navy. She was broken up in 1946 or possibly 1949.

Through a succession of commanders who provided essential details of the waters and shores of what is now Atlantic Canada the name Gulnare was very much a constant. While a few hydrographic features such as Gulnare Bank near St. Pierre and Miquelon and Gulnare Rocks near Lewisporte Newfoundland carry the name it is, like many aspects of Canada’s nautical history, in danger of being forgotten.