Tag Archives: HMS Delight

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.

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.