Tag Archives: James Peake

Steampower on the Charlottetown Waterfront

The hallmark of the industrial revolution was the application of steam power to industrial activities. Within a few decades steam had moved from being used to pump out mines to powering ships and even railways. By the mid-1830s steamships were regular visitors to Charlottetown. In nearby Pictou there was talk of steam power for the tramways connecting the mines of the General Mining Association and the harbour.

Gainsford House, Water Street. Photo by Natalie Munn, City of Charlottetown

Steam also came to Charlottetown although it turned out to be a bit of a false start. John Gainsford was a successful grocer, merchant and brickmaker who owned one of the water lots on the south-west corner of Water and Great George Streets where his brick house still stands. In the summer of 1836 he imported two five-horsepower steam engines into the colony and later that year helped organize the Steam Mill Company of Charlottetown.

The organizers recognized that while the colony had excellent timber resources and the developing farms were able to supply grain for home consumption and export the small water mills near the town at Bird Island Creek and Ellen’s Creek were ill-equipped to meet the needs. Gainsford had the steam engines and an ideal place on the Charlottetown waterfront where grain and timber could be brought across the water from farm and forest. What he apparently did not have was the additional capital to build the mill and extend the wharf.

Wharf area at the foot of Great George Street. Although drawn 20 years after the building of the Stream Mill Wharf a building which may be the mill is shown on the wharf .

He was successful in convincing others in the colony of the opportunity and he and his partners turned to a new way of doing business – the joint stock company.  This had never been used before on Prince Edward Island.  The capital for the company was split into shares and the investors could purchase more than one share.  Furthermore under the terms of the legislation creating the company the liability of the shareholders could be limited to what they had actually invested rather than exposing their other assets as was the case with a simple partnership.

Gainsford put his engines and property on the table as his share and he received 46 of the 151 shares. All of the other shareholders had to put up actual funds – £10 for each share.  To make it easier the shares could be paid on installments as the funds were needed. Using what turned out to be somewhat optimistic revenue and cost figures it was calculated that in the first year of operation  there would be a 40% return.  Shares were purchased by many of the leading merchants of the town.  In the 1837 session of the Legislature a bill creating the Steam Mill Company of Charlottetown was passed and things began to move quickly. The existing wharf on the water lot was extended so that it ran about 170 feet along the waterfront and about 80 feet from the shore giving 6 feet of water at the face of the wharf at high tide.  A tender was awarded for a building about 45 feet square sited on the wharf to house the engines, the saws and the grinding stones for the grist mill.  A well was dug and pipes laid to supply the fresh water necessary for the steam engines. Gainsford was hired as superintendent and engineer.

Site of the Steam Mill wharf at the west side of Great George Street. The building to the west of the vessel may be the original steam mill structure.

Then things began to slow down. Costs had been higher than expected for the land and buildings. The share payments from shareholders started to taper off and the whole project was taking more time than anticipated.  Shareholders wanted the mill put into immediate operation so that revenues would start to flow. Instead late in 1837 they were presented with accounts that showed there was a deficit of over £300 and there remained at least £60 more to be spent before the mill was operable. Creditors began to press and suppliers and contractors had not been paid.  The mill seems to have sat unfinished through 1838 and the shareholders would wait no longer. Undercapitalized and with only a distant hope of profit the company could not continue.

In the Steam Mill Act there was a clause inserted to limit losses. Whenever the accounts showed that one-third of the capital had been lost or when two thirds of the shareholders required then the venture would be wound up. In September 1838 the mill and property were offered for sale, initially as a going concern and failing that to be auctioned.

The last meeting of the company was held a year later for the final approval of the accounts. The largest creditor was shipbuilder James Peake who was still owed more than £140. The contractors Smith & Wright were out more than £90.  Gainsford lost his steam engines and his water lot but apparently no additional money.  It appears that James Peake ended up with the Steam Mill wharf which became part of his large landholding on the Charlottetown waterfront.  As other wharves were built and extended to the channel the Steam Mill wharf remained a stubby protrusion barely leaving the shoreline but it was used for shipbuilding.  In 1843 it was the site of the British North American Circus. It is not known if Peake finished the mill and put it into operation but within a few years there were steam engines in operation elsewhere in the Town.  In the 1840s both the Scantlebury carriage factory on Kent Street and Coles Brewery were advertising that they were powered by steam.

The foot of Great George street remained for years as the industrial centre of the waterfront. It was the site of a number of sash and door factories and most recently as the MacDonald Rowe woodworking company. Nearby was the Bruce Stewart factory and foundry.  Although some of the buildings in the area have been turned to  touristic uses other traces of the industrial heritage of the waterfront have almost all disappeared.

Note:  An extended research paper on the Steam Mill Company of Charlottetown has been posted on the detailed research documents page of this site found here.

 

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Depending on the Public Patronage – The Steamer Rosebud and the Subsidy

Haszard's Gazette 11 April 1855 p.3

Haszard’s Gazette 11 April 1855 p.3

Prince Edward Island is cut off from the mainland by Northumberland Strait and it seems getting across the strait has, for a long time, required a significant input of public funding. In the colonial period the subsidy took the form of a contract for carrying the colony’s mails and after Confederation it was more of an outright grant for services. Whether the subsidy was actually needed was seldom tested. Usually when the contract was awarded to one firm, other bidders vacated the field until the period of the contract had elapsed and they could bid again. But in the 1850s something strange happened – the Rosebud kept running.

The 1850s was a period of difficulty for the transportation links between colony and the mainland. The decade had opened with James Peake’s English-built steamer Rose providing service but he lost the mail contract in 1853 for reasons not entirely clear. It was replaced by a New Brunswick boat, the Fairy Queen, which sank with heavy loss of life late in the year. The next vessel to receive the subsidy was the Lady Le Marchant which was registered in Richibucto and owned by a New Brunswick member of the extended DesBrisay family and so it at least had some Island connections.

But the same year that the Lady Le Marchant came into service a new vessel was launched in Charlottetown which promised to provide competition. The Rosebud was the first steamship built on Prince Edward Island. She was owned by William Heard, a merchant and shipbuilder from the West of England who had come to the colony in the mid-1840s and soon prospered.  His yard was in Charlottetown near where the railway shops were later built.  Heard was an advocate for an Island replacement for the Rose  “decidedly the best and best-managed vessel ever put on the line between Pictou and Charlottetown.” Ironically Heard had purchased the wreck of the Rose when it went ashore near Rustico in 1853 and it is possible that the engine for the Rosebud could have been the one powering the Rose. Failing to find a suitable vessel to compete against the Lady Le Marchant he decided to build his own. She slid down the ways on 23 September 1854. Not large, at 120 tons, about 105 feet, she built as a packet with two cabins for passengers and other accommodations.  She was built on speculation for, as the editor of the Haszard’s Gazette noted , “We trust her enterprising owner may soon find employment for her, that will compensate him for his heavy outlay. ” On 15 November she was sent on her maiden voyage to Pictou and “all things considered . . . she has not disappointed her well-wishers.”  The Pictou Eastern Chronicle welcomed her arrival under the heading “More Steam in the Gulf” and noted she would be making three trips each week during the next year.

Haszard’s Gazette suggested that the Rosebud be placed on a new route. Rather than Pictou a more suitable Nova Scotia port might be Barrachois Harbour, 20 miles closer to Charlottetown and with only 12 miles between Point Prim and Amet Island the route would greatly shorten the time the vessel was subject to heavy seas. However when the Rosebud’s schedule was published in April 1855 it was between Charlottetown and Pictou and a short time later it was announced that the new vessel had been awarded the mail contract – much to the relief of Haszard’s Gazette: “We were at one time afraid that the Government were not going to employ the Rose Bud, and that we should have a streamer put on the route owned elsewhere, or perhaps none at all.”

However Haszard’s Gazette had been misinformed. The contract had again gone to Mr. DesBrisay and the Lady Le Marchant which announced a schedule of sailings to Pictou and Shediac, stopping at Bedeque.  Islanders now had a choice of boats for travel to Pictou. The Rosebud scrambled for extra work. The she had a short-term contract with the Anglo-America Telegraph to re-lay the cable between Cape Tormentine and Cape Traverse linking the colony with Halifax, Boston and New York! For the rest of the 1855 season the Rosebud travelled on the Pictou route. Besides her regular service she carried 200 members of the Benevolent Irish Society to a picnic in Orwell early in the month and advertised an excursion to Baie de Verte in 14 July and to Mount Stewart at the beginning of September. Later that month the steamer was transferred to the Summerside – Shediac route “for the remainder of the season” but by 4 October she had been laid up for the winter. William Heard took the opportunity to appeal to his fellow Islanders:

In the absence of that paternal regard for home production and enterprise, in which modern popular Governments are supposed to excel, and in the face of the most determined opposition,  — the Rosebud has performed her bi-weekly trips, between Charlottetown and Pictou, for the last 5 months, with almost undeviating regularity, and without even the smallest accident.   

During the season the Lady Le Marchant made 43 trips to Pictou and 25 to Shediac and received a subsidy of £1300 from P.E.I., £240 from Nova Scotia and £360 from New Brunswick. The Rosebud made 40 trips to Pictou and received nothing.

The following year the Lady Le Marchant once again had the contract and the Haszard’s Gazette editor was careful to point out that while he was glad that the colony had not had to resort to a sailing packet there needed to be fair competition. The Rosebud had been refitted and repaired and a dependable service between Charlottetown and Pictou or Pugwash or Tatamagouche was preferable to a service which included Shediac, this having been responsible for delays and missed trips the previous year.  The editor hoped that Government would make some provision for Heard’s vessel as “it is not likely that the Rosebud will be kept on the route solely by the remuneration from freight and passengers.”

Haszard's Gazette 21 June 1856 p.4

Haszard’s Gazette 21 June 1856 p.4

Heard headed an advertisement in June “Depending on the Public Patronage” which clearly referred to the fact that he was not receiving any government assistance.  By July he was trying to avoid direct competition by sailing to Tatamagouche and not Pictou and in September the service shifted to a service between Bedeque and Shediac.

In 1857 Heard seems to have given up in the Pictou route and the Rosebud was now crossing twice a week to Shediac.  With the 1857 advertisement touting the route which would give passage from Charlottetown to Boston in Four Days!! the documentary trail runs out and it is not clear what became of the vessel. No image of the ship has been located.

For more than three years Heard had fought to get the subsidy for an Island vessel. Perhaps he was simply on the wrong side of politics, perhaps the Rosebud, in spite of positive press reports, was not the right boat for the Strait or perhaps there were other reasons lost with the passage of time why Heard did not get the contract.  Nevertheless when a new boat was needed after the Lady Le Marchant left the strait it was another New Brunswick boat, the Westmorland that was chosen and she kept at it until 1864 – still irritating Islanders that the subsidy was being paid abroad.

Surveyors in the Gulph – Margaretha Stevenson Comes to Charlottetown

Margaretha Stevenson3

The Margaretha Stevenson on the ways at the foot of Great George Street in the early 1860s. Today the Colonial Building and the brick house at the corner of Water street remain, as well as part of the stone foundation for the warehouse which now makes up part of the garden wall.

Not Launched from Prince Edward’s Isle

The photo is a dramatic one. Against the background of the early 1860s Great George Street and the Charlottetown waterfront a ship, completely rigged, stands ready to be launched. But the picture is not what it seems…

The trim little vessel was not built in a Charlottetown ship yard, nor anywhere else on the Island. Indeed surprisingly for a country rich in timber and with a shipbuilding tradition, the ship was not even built in Canada but in a shipyard on the distant Firth of Clyde in Scotland.  The other surprise is that the vessel was a steamship. Although sporting the rig of a topsail schooner the ship was registered in Glasgow, its first port, as an iron screw steamer.

Margaretha Stevenson2

Detail of the Margaretha Stevenson showing the propeller at the stern of the vessel. Also clear is the topsail schooner rig and the relatively small size of the ship.

The topsail schooner was a popular rig for P,.E.I.-built ships, many of which were sold in the United Kingdom.  Its blend of square and fore-and-aft rigging allowed for good manoeuvrability with a smaller crew and it was often used on coastal vessels.  However, in a closer view a three-bladed propeller can be seen and in a later view of the ship (seen below) the funnel for the steam engine can be spotted. In addition it would have been highly unusual for a vessel to be launched fully rigged. A more logical explanation is that the ship has been hauled out of the water for re-fit or repairs.

The ship is the Margaretha Stevenson and her presence in the port of Charlottetown is part of a significant chapter in the history of the harbour. It was a time when Prince Edward Island was at the centre of production of nautical charts detailing the east coast. For more than forty years the port was an important component  of the British Admiralty’s plan for charting the world.

The Survey of the Gulph

It begins in Quebec in 1841 when Captain (later Admiral) Henry Wolsey Bayfield was nearing the completion of his charting of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Seeking a better site from which to continue the survey of the Gulf and Newfoundland he moved his establishment to Charlottetown.  Although engaged in surveying the coasts between the break-up and freeze-up during the winter months in Charlottetown the surveyors returned each fall to offices in Charlottetown to plot the soundings and observations of the previous season. After preparing  the plans and charts they were forwarded to the Admiralty Hydrographic Office in London to be engraved.

Bayfield paro_-acc2702-126-large

Admiral Henry Wolsey Bayfield in later years

Bayfield, having overall responsibility, insisted on accuracy of location and name, good style, and the best scale for each chart. His staff gradually increased to include three assistant surveyors, a draughtsman, and a medical officer. While on survey duties his assistants customarily went off in surveying boats for a few days or weeks to work on a survey while Bayfield laboured elsewhere, but he was always in command. His surveyors were provided with detailed  instructions and they were required to report to him in person or by letter on a regular basis. He set a high standard which he expected his men to follow. He was impatient with carelessness, inaccuracy, or indolence, but he showed appreciation for good work and did not hesitate to recommend his assistants for promotions.

By 1848 Bayfield and assistants had completed the surveys of Prince Edward Island, Northumberland Strait, part of Gaspe, and Cape Breton and he moved the work on to other areas including the Halifax area and Sable Island before retiring in 1856. In retirement he was promoted Vice-Admiral, Rear-Admiral and finally Admiral in 1867. He died in Charlottetown in 1885.

Orlebar paro_-acc3466-hf74-27-3

Captain (later Admiral) John Orlebar

Bayfield was succeeded in the survey work by Captain John Orlebar who had been his assistant since 1836 and has credit for many of the P.E.I. charts, including Charlottetown Harbour and the Hillsborough River. Once Orlebar had taken command of the survey the attention of the Admiralty shifted to Newfoundland and Orlebar was directed to take his survey crew each year to northern waters although the headquarters remained in Charlottetown until 1863 when it was removed to St. John’s.  In the 1860s the survey team  included a number of Islanders including Frederick W, Hyndman who had joined the Royal Navy a few years earlier. Hyndman is noted as assistant on a number of Newfoundland charts created during the period.  Orlebar initially used the steamer Lady Le Marchant for his Newfoundland work but in 1860 the Admiralty chartered the Margaretha Stevenson which may have been built specifically for the purpose. In 1864-65 the vessel helped survey the route and assisted the Great Eastern in the laying of the Atlantic cable.

The Story of the Ship

The Margaretha Stevenson was not large ship but was very effective for getting into small harbours along the coast.  The 114 ton vessel was 110 feet long and 18 feet wide and drew 10 feet. Launched from the yard of William Denny & Bros. at Dumbarton Scotland in April 1860 she crossed the Atlantic later in the season under sail. Her 2 cylinder, 28 horsepower engine had been put in place in Scotland but was not used during the crossing.  It is possible that the photo above may have been taken at the time of the arrival of the ship in Charlottetown when the engines were made operational.  The registered owners up to 1869 were members of the Stevenson family of Quebec.  William Stevenson was a merchant there who had business connections to Prince Edward Island and was a correspondent of James Peake. In 1846 he bought the steamer St. George from the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company and also owned the Pocahontas, another of the vessels which linked Charlottetown and Pictou. Stevenson was also owner of several of the vessels used by Capt. Bayfield in the survey, all of which were called the Gulnare and one of which was built in Charlottetown.

Margaretha Stevenson 1

Margaretha Stevenson caught in ice while owned by the Moise Company 1867. Note the funnel and the diminutive size of the ship – Arthur Henderson Photo McCord Museum

In 1869 the Margaretha Stevenson was sold to W.M. Molson, a member of the Quebec brewing and banking family, and her survey duties came to an end. The vessel was used in connection with a venture called the Moisie River Iron Company, formed to exploit magnetic ore discovered near Sept Iles on the Quebec North Shore.  The ship later passed through the hands of a number of other owners and was primarily used as a passenger and freight carrier for the service along the North Shore of the St. Lawrence between Montreal and Anticosti and Quebec and Natashquan. In 1879 the owners changed name of the vessel to the Otter. Passenger accommodation was expanded and in 1886 the small ship was licensed for 125 passengers  but it is hard to imagine that many on board in safety. The registry was closed after the vessel was wrecked near Riviere-du-Loup in dense fog in November 1898.