Tag Archives: Hillsborough Bay

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.

Advertisements

Winter Pic Nic at Point Prim

Several times I have mentioned in these postings that once winter set in on Prince Edward Island the rivers and bays became highways. The ice roads, often marked by “bushing” the ice with spruce poles, were more effective for winter transport than the roads of the Island with their hills, woods and spring mud and a well-constructed sleigh gave a smoother and more efficient ride than any carriage or cart.

There was usually only a brief time between the closing of navigation and the opening of the winter roads and often the rivers and coves would freeze while the main channels were still open. Sleighs would stick to the shoreline and “portage” across points and headlands until the hard frosts made the bays safe for passage. Many surviving diaries faithfully give the dates of the first and last crossing of the ice by sleighs and teams.

One of the best examples of how significant the ice passage was can be seen in the following account dating from March 1848 which appears in the Islander in Charlottetown but was reprinted in the Liverpool Mercury in June of the same year.  The event may have seemed as strange and delightful to a Victorian Liverpudlian as it does to us today.

This 1846 chart of Hillsborough Bay was the first to show Prim light which had been first lit only a month earlier in December of 1845. The chart shows the light at a considerably distant set-back from the shore showing the extent of erosion at the point. 

The event celebrated the recent arrival in the Island of a new Governor, Donald Campbell, who was the first Highlander to fill the Governor’s role. It also celebrated the building of the Point Prim light which had been completed three years earlier.  The light did more than mark the dangerous reef at the point. Because the point extended well out in Northumberland Strait it was a major way-point for vessels coming up and down the Strait, even if they were not bound for Charlottetown. The sixty-eight foot elevation of the lantern meant that it was visible for many miles. The notice of the new lighthouse was publicized by the British Admiralty and was widely reported in British newspapers.  Then, as now the sight of the tall white light tower by day and the flashing light by night was a comfort to mariners in vessels large and small. The founder of the feast and organizer of the event, William Douse, was the Member of the House of Assembly for the Belfast district and the agent for the Selkirk Estate.

PIC NIC AT POINT PRIM.

On Thursday the 30th March past, a Pic Nic party consisting of His Excellency Sir Donald Campbell, Hon. T. H. Haviland, Hon. J. S. Smith, Hon. R. Hodgson William Campbell, Esq., His Excellency’s son, William Douse, Esq., M. P. P and several other members of the House of Assembly together with about 40 other of the private gentlemen of Charlottetown, on the invitation of Mr. Douse, was held at the Light House, Point Prim. About 9 o’clock, the party, in twenty sleighs, having assembled at the Queen’s Wharf, proceeded directly across the river, and thence by portage to Belle Vue, where they again took the ice, and drove thereon, a distance of 18 miles, to Prim, without stopping —passing the different points of land at a distance. When the party arrived off Belfast, the inhabitants, in parties—to the number of between two and three hundred—were observed proceeding towards Point Prim—some on foot, and others in sleighs—with a Piper at their head, for the purpose of giving His Excellency “A Highland welcome.” The party, on arriving at Point Prim in the first place inspected the Light House; they then sat down to Luncheon, outside, at a table erected for the occasion, of about 40 feet in length. Mr. Douse presided, with His Excellency on his right hand, and the Hon. Mr. Haviland on his left

After luncheon the worthy chairman proposed the Health of Her Majesty the Queen, which was received with every demonstration of loyalty and respect. F. Longworth, Esq., M. P. P. for Charlottetown, then proposed the health of His Excellency Sir Donald Campbell, which was received in the most complimentary and flattering manner. His Excellency acknowledged the compliment, in a short, but pertinent and happy speech; and then, turning to the people assembled as spectators and and to do him honour, addressed a few words to them which afforded them much satisfaction. When His Excellency ceased to speak the party, and his countrymen—the people of Belfast most especially —made the welkin ring with their enthusiastic cheers. The party spent about two hours, altogether at the Point in the most social and agreeable manner. When they were making ready to return to Charlottetown, the people would not allow His Excellency’s horses to be put to his sleigh, but drew him themselves for about a mile on the ice. His horses were then attached to his sleigh, and such of the people who had drawn and accompanied him on foot, loudly cheered him once more, and took their leave; but many of them in sleighs, together with the Piper—who all the continued playing National airs—accompanied His Excellency for four or five mile further on the ice; and then took their leave of him, directing their course towards the shore. His Excellency and party continued their way, on the sea ice, direct across the Bay to Belle Vue.

On arriving in Town, the party with Mr. Douse at their head, conducted His Excellency to Government House. Having arrived there, Sir Donald alighted on the colonnade, and the party drove past him in succession for the purpose of respectfully taking their leave, and received from His Excellency, in their turns, as they passed, the most courteous salutation.

Possible route of the Governor’s party from Belle Vue cove to Point Prim. For safety they would have travelled from major headland to headland. Detail from 1846 chart of Hillsborough Bay