Tag Archives: Lady Le Marchant

Sailing to infectious melancholy: travelling by steamer from Charlottetown to Shediac in 1854.

I have an affection for cranky travellers, being one myself, but the travails of today seem slight when compared with those of our ancestors. Case in point are the observations of Isabella Lucy Bird when she left for New Brunswick following a lengthy stay in Prince Edward Island in 1854. She was one of several passengers on board the paddle steamer Lady Le Marchant (of which I have written here).

Haszard’s Gazette 12 July 1854 p.3

The boat left Charlottetown late at night, bound for Bedeque, which had not yet acquired the more common name of Summerside, and thence to Shediac. On leaving the Steam Navigation Company wharf in the darkness of a rainy night the steamer became entangled with a schooner, broke some of the piles on the wharf and smashed the bulwarks of a new brig. Once on their way up Northumberland Strait en route to Bedeque the passengers entertained one another with songs but in the gloomy atmosphere the mood soon changed.

…indefinable sensations of melancholy rendered the merriest of the party silent, and a perfect deluge of rain rendered a retreat into the lower regions a precautionary measure which even the boldest were content to adopt. Below, in addition to the close overpowering odour of cabins without any ventilation, the smell of the bilge-water was sufficient in itself to produce nausea. The dark den called the ladies’ cabin, which was by no means clean, was the sleeping abode of twelve people in various stages of discomfort, and two babies.

I spent a very comfortless four hours, and went on deck at dawn to find a thick fog, a heavy rain, the boards swimming with soot and water, and one man cowering at the wheel.  Most of the gentlemen, induced by the discomfort to be early risers, came up before we reached Bedeque, in oilskin caps, coats, and leggings, wearing that expression on their physiognomies peculiar to Anglo-Saxons in the rain. 

Isabella Lucy Bird in later life. Still scowling after seeing Shediac.

The Lady Le Marchant reached Bedeque and Isabella was safely ashore by six in the morning. There she parted from a colleague who had accompanied her on the trip up from Charlottetown and took a welcome break in the voyage, taking tea and drying her clothing, thankful of the reprieve.

Who, that has ever experienced the misiries of a voyage in a dirty, crowded, and ill-ventilated little steamer has also not appreciated the pleasurers of getting on land even for a few minutes? The consciousness of the absence of suffocating sensations, and of the comfort of a floor which does not move under the feet – of space, cleanliness, and warmth – soon produce an oblivion of all past miseries; but if the voyage has not terminated, and the relief is only temporary, it enhances the dread of future ones to such an extent that, when the captain came to the door to fetch me, I had to rouse all my energies before I could leave a blazing fire to battle with cold and rain again.

The wharf in Bedeque, more properly Green’s Wharf, which would become Summerside, was only a small one and unless the tide was full could not handle the Lady Le Marchant, small as she was. Passengers and goods had to be rowed back and forth. Isabella had to stand in the boat, her feet deep in water with a group of gentlemen with dripping umbrellas. Getting aboard the steamer brought little relief.

I went down to my miserable berth, and vainly tried to sleep, the discomfort and mismanagement which prevailed leading my thoughts by force of contrast to the order, cleanliness, and regularity of the inimitable line of steamers on the West Highland coast. Where ever the means of locomotion are concerned, these colonies are very far behind either the “old country” or their enterprising neighbours in Canada; and at present they do not appear conscious of the deficiencies which are sternly forced on a traveller’s observation.

The prospect which appeared through the door was not calculated to please, as it consisted of a low, dark, and suffocating cabin filled with men in suits of oilskin, existing in a steamy atmosphere, loaded with odours of india–rubber, tobacco and spirits. The stewardess was ill, and my companions were groaning; unheeded babies were crying…  My clothes were completely saturated.

They reached Shediac about noon and Isabella was of the opinion that it presented “every appearance of unhealthiness”.  In the early 1850s Shediac was still an important timber port visited by large numbers of British and European timber ships. However the harbour was shallow and the Lady LeMarchant was forced to anchor about two miles away from the landing place at Harrington’s Shore on the west side of the bay. There was little in the way of a village but the place was the end point of a stage line to “The Bend” (now Moncton) and from there steamers and other stages to Saint John could be had. Isabella was not impressed with Shediac:

Shediac Harbour. Detail from the Chart of Shediac Bay by H.W. Bayfield 1849. Note absence of wharves or a village on the current town site or at Pointe de Chene

Shediac had recently been visited by the cholera, and there was an infectious melancholy about its aspect, which, coupled with the fact that I was wet, cold, and weary … had a tendency to produce anything but a lively frame of mind. 

We and our baggage were unceremoniously trundled into two large boats, some of the gentlemen, I am sorry to say, forcing their way into the first, in order to secure for themselves places on the stage. 

As we were rowing to shore, the captain told us that our worst difficulty was yet to come – an insuperable one, he added, to corpulent persons. There was no landing place for boats, or indeed for anything at low water, and we had to climb up a wharf ten feet high, formed of huge round logs, placed a foot apart from each other, and slippery with sea grass.  It is really incredible that, at sa place through which a considerable traffic passes, as being on the high road from Prince Edward Island t the United States, that should there be a more inconvenient landing-place than I ever saw at a Highland village.  

With a few years much had changed. In 1857 the European and North American Railway had been completed between Shediac and The Bend of the Peticodiac, as Moncton was known at the time. Three years later, just in time for the visit of the Prince of Wales, the tracks were extended to Saint John, and more importantly for Prince Edward Island, to Pointe du Chene where a wharf was built which could accommodate most steamers, even at low tide.

Isabella Lucy BIrd was undaunted by the travel in the Maritimes. She made an extensive trip through North America and published the results as The Englishwoman in America in 1856 and over the next forty years went on to be a world traveller with trips to the Rocky Mountains, Japan, India and Persia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and China. She was the first woman to be a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. She died in 1904.

Her travels on Prince Edward Island take up several chapters in The Englishwoman in America and provide a fascinating glimpse of the colony at mid-century. An on-line copy can be found here.     

 

U.S. Civil War left a Legacy on P.E.I. Marine History

Steamer at Plant Line Wharf 1893. Public Archives and Records Office. Sterling Collection Accession 3218/70.

The image is a striking one. A handsome two-funnel paddle steamer is tied up to the Plant Line wharf in  Charlottetown.  In the album where the image is found, a date of 1893 is attached to the picture. However there is no name given and no name can be found on the ship. What could it be and why was it in Charlottetown harbour?

By 1893 the day of the side-wheel paddle steamer was long past.  Screw steamers had proven to be more powerful and, more importantly, cheaper to run.  As passenger and freight boats they had long since been supplanted by newer models, except perhaps in England where paddle-wheelers continued to be used as tugs for many years.  So it is likely that the mystery boat is an older vessel. It appears to be of iron or steel construction and seems in good condition.

Without more clues it seemed that the ship was destined to remain nameless and then a reader of this column gave me the answer. He was, and continues to be, an inveterate researcher and genealogist and has probably viewed more miles of microfilm than anyone in the province.

The ship, he suggested,  was the S.S. Miramichi and like so many of the vessels coming in and out of Charlottetown there was a story to tell.

I have several times remarked on the amazing number of times that the Island steamers were associated with the American Civil War. The Boston boats; Oriental (Minna), Greyhound, and St. Lawrence (General Whiting) all had been blockade runners while the Worcester, Carroll, Somerset,  Westmorland and Lady LeMarchant all had roles on the Union side. The Miramichi was also engaged in the conflict but not under that name.

S.S./U.S.S. Bat. Drawing by Erik Heyl from Early America Steamers, 1953.

The Liverpool shipbuilding firm of Jones, Quiggins & Co. built a large number of blockade runners for either private owners or the government of the Confederacy. In 1864 four identical sister-ships; Bat, Deer, Owl, and Stag were launched from their yards between June and August.  Built of steel, they were all 230 feet overall, 26 feet wide and were relatively shallow draft drawing only 6 feet 6 inches when fully loaded.  Although schooner rigged their primary propulsion was from 180 horse-power twin vertical oscillating Watt engines fired by two boilers driving side paddle wheels.  The fine straight lines were surmounted by two funnels.  One of the outstanding features of this class of blockade runners was the speed of the vessels. She reached 14 knots in trials but was capable of higher speeds when loaded as the paddles were then deeper in the water. These ships were each designed to carry from 800 to 850 bales of cotton through the Union blockade and provide revenue for the beleaguered south. On return trips they would carry necessary supplies and materials for the war effort.

The Bat was launched on 1 August 1864 and within a few days was pressed into service. On her first trip for the Confederacy she carried a cargo of shoe machinery across the Atlantic. Stopping for coal at Halifax she headed south to try and sneak into the port of Wilmington North Carolina. She evaded several of the blockade ships but was spotted by the patrol vessel U.S.S. Montgomery. The Bat was unable to get up to speed before she was fired on. A single shot hit the Bat’s deckhouse fatally wounding a crew member and the ship surrendered immediately.  The Bat was sent to Boston where she was condemned as a war prize and purchased in November 1864 by the U.S. Navy for $150,000. As the U.S.S. Bat she saw out the rest of the war without incident.

Auctioned in New York following the end of the war she was sold for less than $30,000 and renamed the S.S. Teazer. She may have operated between Boston or New York and New Orleans but in 1872 she came to Quebec having been purchased by the Quebec & Gulf Ports Steamship Company and was renamed the S.S. Miramichi.

The Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Company had the Royal Mail contract for voyages between Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia running several iron paddle-wheel steamers. Passengers and freight connected at Shediac and Pictou for Prince Edward Island although after Confederation the line, renamed the Quebec Steamship Company in 1880, often made regular stops at Charlottetown.  By the 1890s the  Miramichi was also a regular visitor to Summerside as well. In 1895 the Miramichi was replaced by the S.S. Campana and the thirty-year-old Miramichi, ed-Teazer, ex-Bat, continued on routes on the St. Lawrence and the Gulf. In 1902 she became the property of the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Company but appears to have been scrapped shortly after.

The preponderance of former civil war vessels seeing service in P.E.I. waters raises the question of the effect of the war on the economy of the region. Up to the mid 1860s P.E.I. had a strong shipbuilding industry but it disappeared in the following years. Was a contributing cause the large number of ships built for both sides in the American conflict which were released on the market after the war’s end?  Hundreds of vessels at cheap price were suddenly available.  Certainly we have seen how inexpensive and modern steamers on both the Atlantic coastal services and in the Gulf came from surplus vessels built or purchased for war shipping and naval activities.

With the exception of the photo shown above there appear to be no pictures of the Bat or any of her three sister ships so this picture is a valuable artifact, not just of the history of Prince Edward Island, but for the remarkable story of the blockade runners and the navy of the Confederate States.

More detailed accounts of the Bat’s short war-time history are found in a number of published accounts but is most easily accessed in a Wikipedia article found here.  As usual Kevin Griffin’s history of the Clarke Steamship Company contains invaluable information about the shipping in the Gulf of St. Lawrence including services between Quebec and Prince Edward Island.

I am indebted to champion researcher Gary Carroll for providing the key to unlock the mystery of the unknown paddle-wheeler.

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.