Tag Archives: Orlebar

Charting a river that time would forget

When Captain Henry Wolsey Bayfield moved his Hydrographic surveys from Quebec to Charlottetown in 1843 the first order of business was to ensure that the nearby areas were accurately surveyed.  Although a chart of Hillsborough Bay had been prepared in 1839 by Surveyor General George Wright at the request of the Colonial Legislature, a more detailed survey of the Harbour was made in 1843. As part of this survey the Hillsborough River was charted from Charlottetown to its head by Bayfield and his assistants John Orlebar and George Bedford.

Hillsborough Chart001

At the time the Hillsborough River was the most important on the Island.  In the French period its banks had been lined with farms taking advantage of the rich salt marshes and it was a highway linking the government at Fort La Joye with the main settlements at St. Peter’s and Fortune.  One of the earliest roads on the Island followed the French route along the northern side of the river. The river basin was also the site of early English settlement but the potential was limited, especially on the upper reaches where the soil was not of the highest quality and the land low-lying.

Mt. Stewart - detail from Bayfield's Chart of the Hillsborough River

Mt. Stewart – detail from Bayfield’s Chart of the Hillsborough River

Although the survey of the River was completed in 1844 it was not until 1866 that the chart was published and sold to the public. In the twenty years between survey and sale there had been few changes. The construction of a bridge at Mount Stewart effectively made that settlement the head of navigation but there were still fifteen miles of river between the bridge and Charlottetown. Perhaps the incentive for publishing the chart was the increase of steamer traffic but more likely it was the increasing number of shipyards on the river. The area thrived with shipbuilding. In 1871, for example, there were six vessels on the stocks at Mount Stewart in the fall of the year but there limitations of depth in the river and most vessels had to be towed to Charlottetown for completion after launch. After the end of shipbuilding boom the river became quieter still.

Because of the perceived potential of the River it was one of the earliest surveys completed in the area. The chart shows the thousands of soundings taken by men of the survey crew, travelling in small boats, crossing and re-crossing from one bank to the other all the way up the river to its source. The resulting chart is rich in detail but it is remarkable for the absence of evidence of settlement along the river itself. A few houses are shown, especially near Charlottetown but there is little other detail beyond the river banks. Although there were later to be wharves and stopping places for the steamers, in the 1843-44 chart information there is scarcely a single place on either the north or south bank between the ferry wharf at Southport and Mount Stewart where a road touched the shore. Already by the 1840s the Island was beginning to turn its back to the Hillsborough.  H.J. Cundall’s map of the colony in 1851 tells a similar story with only a single road leading to the river. Even today road access to the Hillsborough is very limited.

Hillsborough Chart004

Falcon Point. Detail from 1843 Chart of the Hillsborough River

The Bayfield Chart has a number of place names which have disappeared from present-day maps. Just east of Charlottetown, for instance, is Spring Garden Creek rising on the grounds of what is now the Belvedere Golf Club. Further along is Falcon Point which gave its name to Falconwood, the estate of John Grubb, later the site of the Government Stock Farm and the Lunatic Asylum. Closer to Mt. Stewart is Cranberry Point.  On the south side of the river we find Mid Meadow Point, now Red Point, Five Houses on the site of what is now Fort Augustus, and across from Little Frenchfort, a Ferry Point where no ferry seems to have operated.  There is a high level of detail in the Chart with a number of “Muscle” beds being shown. Although there are many references to “mud and weeds” there is no mention of oysters anywhere on the river.

Cranberry Point. Notre the absence of wharves on the river.

Cranberry Point near Scotchfort. Notre the absence of wharves on the river.

Although in early years the river was used as a highway, with the passage of time it was used less and less. The construction of the railroad which bordered the river between Charlottetown and Mount Stewart meant a large reduction in activity on the river itself. Although in the 1870s and 1880s the ferries and river streamers made regular trips calling along the route at Hickey’s, Hayden’s, Appletree, and Cranberry wharves, for passengers it was far easier and quicker to take the train.  The construction of the bridge across the Hillsborough just east of Charlottetown (even though it had a swing span) was a further disincentive to transportation.  In addition, the Hillsborough lacked the scenery of the Elloitt River where the Bonshaw Hills added height and interest to the horizon so that a pleasure cruise up the Hillsborough did not have the drama of a trip to the west.

Up-dated editions of the Hillsborough River Chart were few and far between. By 1900 the chart had become a small inset in the chart of Charlottetown Harbour and even that soon disappeared. Today there is no chart of the river at all. The Hillsborough is marked by buoys for the first mile or so up from Charlottetown but then marking disappears completely and it becomes a river into the heart of darkness. Sailboats and large powerboats are blocked by the Hillsborough Bridge and even small runabouts seem to shun the river. Although the main channel still traces the route in the 1843 chart the river is much silted and the “muscle”  beds have increased. There are still no settlements along the route and in contrast to the West River, few houses or cottages line the river which in most places looks much as it did when Bayfield’s survey crew charted their way to the river’s source. Notwithstanding the successful campaign to have it named one of Canada’s Heritage Rivers it has become the Island’s forgotten river.

Memories of the Charlottetown waterfront in the 1840s

Early in 1900 Elizabeth J. Macdonald, wife of Senator A.A. MacDonald, sat down to write her reminiscences of the Charlottetown she remembered from half a century earlier.  Titled “Charlottetown Fifty Years Ago” and published in a series of 9 installments in the original Prince Edward Island Magazine in 1900 and 1901, her account provides a glimpse of the town at mid-century.  This excerpt concerning the harbour was published in the June 1901 issue of the magazine.

Charlottetown waterfront from the south west by Robert Harris (undated) collection of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery

Charlottetown waterfront from the south-west by Robert Harris (undated) collection of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery

And what are we to remember this time, what is there interesting to record? Is it the appearance Charlottetown presented to a stranger coming up the harbour, and what are we to imagine some of the many immigrants coming here from Scotland and Ireland in the early forties, and later on, thought of it?  Some probably would see it very flat and unattractive, others look upon it as well-protected from the encroachment of any enemy, and others again would think it a comparatively busy place; that is if its numerous shipyards, with generally two or three vessels under construction, were any indication, and would decide there was plenty of work for all who were able or willing to do it.

The Douse shipyard being on the Douse property near the west end of Richmond Street was the first to meet the eye, as it showed up from the harbour, and there Mr. Douse built several vessels.  The next to be seen was close by where the Stream Navigation Wharf now is, and where the second Gulnare was built in 1845 by Peake & Duncan. The first Gulnare was built in Quebec and came to Charlottetown in 1841, the same year that Captain Bayfield, Commander Bedford, Lieutenant Orlebar, and the other officers of the surveying staff came to take up their residence here. The second Gulnare not being quite up to their expectation, they had the third one built in Quebec. She proving a failure, the late Mr. Longworth undertook to build the forth. All were topsail schooners and we understand the fourth Gulnare was more satisfactory. After that they had their first steamer, the Margaretta Stephenson, built by and belonging to a firm in Quebec by the name of Stephenson.

Further along and almost directly below where the Duncan House now stands, was the Duncan shipyard where the ring of the workman’s hammer was constantly heard and there the largest ship ever built on this Island, registering 1791 tons, was launched in the year 1858, by the firm of Duncan. Mason & Co. and named the “Ethel” after Mr. Duncan’s only child. Mr. Heard’s shipyard was about where the railway yard now is, only nearer where the railway wharf is  built. On the shore not far from the Kensington shooting range of today was McGill’s shipyard, where there appeared to be always a vessel on the stocks. Some of the old ship-builders used to say, was that ship building was like making patchwork quilts, that when one was finished there was almost enough material left to make another, and in that way they were induced to go on building. But the wooden ships of P.E. Island are almost among the things of the past and it is only now and again that we hear of a ship being built.     

Charlottetown 1863. Detail from D.J. Lake Map 1863

Charlottetown 1863. Detail from D.J. Lake Map 1863

By 1863 when the map above was drawn the number of wharves had grown. Besides the municipal government wharves at Queen and Pownal streets additional wharves had been built:  From west to east these were Lord’s Wharf (the stub of which forms the east wharf of the Charlottetown Yacht Club), the first of several Peake’s Wharves (later to be called the Plant Line wharf, then Poole & Lewis, and still later, Pickard’s),  Bourke’s (also known as Tremaine’s and the ferry wharf before 1856) Reddin’s Wharf at the foot of Great George Street (which was later named the Steam Navigation Wharf) and then the Duncan shipyard. Furthest east was the Colonial government ferry wharf at Prince Street. Both Borque and Tremaine had been holders of the ferry contract in the 1840s and 1850s.

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Wharf detail – Lake Map 1863

In an earlier article in the series which was published in June 1900, Ellen MacDonald had recalled the wharves and ferry service of her youth:

As far as we can remember there were only three wharves, Queen’s Wharf at the end of Queen Street, Peake’s Wharf on the west side of Queens, and Tremaines, or the Ferry Wharf on the east side of Queen’s. All the wharves were much shorter than now; Tremaine’s was only a few blocks or piles long, quite long enough for the sail and team boats that crossed to Southport. A sailboat crossed on Mondays and a team-boat on other days of the week. The team-boat was run by two or sometimes three horses. There was a large wheel in the middle of the boat, (just such a one as is used in a tannery to grind bark) to which the horses were attached; the horses going round and round in a circle, turned the wheel and propelled the boat. Passengers came from the Southport side and returned again about four times a day, twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon.  

A story is told of a middle-aged lady who came across the ferry to do some shopping She had not taken into consideration that the tide was falling when she left home; it was one of the sail-boat days and when she  got to the Charlottetown side the tide was low, and she being very stout and heavy, could not climb the wharf, neither could her friends lift her up so she had to remain in the boat for some hours, until the tide fell lower and then rose sufficiently high for her to reach a proper stepping place. That was one of the inconveniences of long ago.          

Northumberland Strait Steamer Lady Le Marchant became US revenue cutter

Advertisement in Haszards Gazette 12 July 1854

Advertisement in Haszards Gazette 12 July 1854

Several recent postings have dealt with steamers serving Charlottetown which had come onto the service after having been on one side or the other in the American Civil War. These include the blockade runners Minna (Oriental) and Greyhound and the US Navy vessels which were later named the Worcester, Carroll and Somerset.  But for other boats the war service followed a period of shuttling back and forth across Northumberland Strait.

One of these vessels was the Lady Le Marchant. The Lady Le Marchant was built at the Rue End Yard in Greenock, Scotland by Robert Steele & Co. Launched on 21 July 1852 she was named for Margaret Ann Le Marchant, wife of Sir John Gaspard Le Marchant who had been named Governor of Newfoundland in 1847.  Registered in Liverpool and owned by “a company in Newfoundland” she was intended for coastal service in Newfoundland.  She was scheduled to sail from Greenock to Harbour Grace Newfoundland in September 1852.  The vessel was returned to the United Kingdom after two years as “too expensive for the purpose for which she was employed in Conception Bay.”

She was purchased in Liverpool by Lestock Peach Wilson DesBrisay of Richibucto, New Brunswick who was related to the prominent DesBrisay family of Prince Edward Island. The vessel was re-registered in Miramichi, New Brunswick in 1854  and she began service the same year between Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick calling at ports such as Charlottetown, Bedeque, Shediac and Miramichi. Lestock’s cousin Theophilus DesBrisay was the P.E.I. agent for the line. The following year the Lady Le Marchant was contracted to carry the mails between the Island and the mainland with service between Charlottetown and Pictou, Nova Scotia and Charlottetown and Shediac, New Brunswick.

Advertisement  Haszards Gazette 24 October 1855

Advertisement Haszards Gazette 24 October 1855

In December of 1855 the ship was advertised to sail from Charlottetown to Liverpool. In 1856 she was once again the mail steamer on the inter-colonial route. Throughout the period Phillips F. Irving is identified as the captain. By 1858 however, another steamer, the Westmoreland, appears to have secured the mail contract and the Lady Le Marchant does not appear to have been on regular service to the Island.  In 1859 the vessel was chartered for use in the hydrological survey of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Newfoundland under the direction of Capt. John Orlebar.

At this point the activities and ownership of the vessel become clouded. Although the Lloyd’s Registers through 1865 show DesBrisay continuing as owner, the America Lloyd’s Register of American and Foreign Shipping shows Sanford & Co. as owners. However, in January 1862 the Lady Le Marchant had been purchased from an Arthur Lear by the U.S. Government for the revenue cutter service and she was commissioned on 11 March 1862 as the USRC Miami.  Named for the Indian Tribe of the same name she should not be confused with the USS Miami which was a paddle wheel gunboat.

The Coast Guard sources describe the USRC Miami as “a 115-foot schooner-rigged steamer with a hull of teak planks over oak frames.”  After her purchase she was fitted out at New York and sailed for Washington, D.C. In April, 1862, she carried President Abraham Lincoln and other VIP guests to Hampton Roads, Virginia, soon after the famous battle between the ironclads CSS Virginia and USS Monitor. She then served out of New York. In March of 1864 she was ordered to convoy the Confederate steamer Chesapeake from Halifax to New York. On 14 November 1864 she was transferred to Newport, Rhode Island. She underwent repairs there in October of 1865. She was laid up at Staten Island from 8 June to 19 November 1867 and was repaired at a cost of $1,200. She then saw service out of Wilmington, Delaware, before being sold to Mason, Hobbs & Company of Philadelphia for $2,149 in 1871.   Her final disposal is unknown but she does not appear in the American Lloyd’s Register after 1869.

MiamiNo photographs have been found but the adjacent painting is found on the U.S. Coast Guard site captioned as follows: “Revenue Cutter Miami supporting the landing of Union troops on the beach at Ocean View, Virginia for the invasion of Norfolk on 10 May 1862. Painted by Charles Mazoujian.”  The artist however was active in the late 20th century and it is unlikely that the vessel is accurately depicted.