Tag Archives: paddle steamer

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.

Advertisements

The History of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company

Princess of Wales in Summerside Harbour 1878. Detail From Panoramic View of Summerside

Princess of Wales in Summerside Harbour 1878. Detail From Panoramic View of Summerside

In 1878 Panoramic Views of both Summerside and Charlottetown were published. The views gave an accurate depiction of the two Island communities and highlighted the commercial and industrial progress being made. Because of the perspective view the largest items on the sheets are the paddlewheel steamers then proudly plying Island waters – the Princess of Wales (mislabeled in the drawing as the Prince of Wales) in Summerside Harbour and the St. Lawrence in Charlottetown Harbour. Also seen in Charlottetown Harbour lithograph was the smaller Heather Belle.

These three boats constituted the fleet of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company which had been organized in 1863 and was incorporated the following year to take over the contract for service between the colony of Prince Edward Island and the mainland from a New Brunswick company operating the Westmorland. The company was capitalized at £20,000 and shares were held mostly by Island shipbuilders, lawyers and capitalists

Early photo of the Princess of Wales in Charlottetown Harbour. the building behind the funnel is the Methodist Church

Early photo of the Princess of Wales in Charlottetown Harbour. the building behind the funnel is the Methodist Church

The company started operations with the Heather Belle and a new steamer called the Princess of Wales which had been built in Carleton New Brunswick and launched early in 1864. Newspaper advertisements in February said service would begin in April 1864 but in May she was still in Saint John being outfitted The vessel finally arrived in Charlottetown in June and went into service immediately.  At 192 feet and almost 1000 tons she was considerably larger than the Westmorland and there were some fears that she was too large for the trade. However the editor of the Islander noted that the Island had much to draw visitors  “…and if its attractions can be made known to the many thousands who yearly leave the cities of the United States in search of a pleasant retreat, for some months at least, a steamer quite as large as the “Princess of Wales” will be required to convey to our shores the thousands of tourists who will visit us.”  The two steamers each had a weekly route with the Princess of Wales visiting Pictou, Port Hood, Summerside and Shediac from the home port of Charlottetown and the Heather Belle traveling to Pictou , Murray Harbour, Georgetown and Souris.

Paddle Steamer Princess of Wales. The funnel seems to be removed in this photo.

Paddle Steamer Princess of Wales. The funnel seems to be removed in this photo but the walking beam which connected the engine with the paddles can be clearly seen.

General Whiting as she might have looked as a Confederate blockade runner. ship image drawn by Petr Merkulov based on the best available evidence and documentation.

General Whiting as she might have looked as a Confederate blockade runner. Ship image drawn by Petr Merkulov based on the best available evidence and documentation.

The Princess of Wales was joined in 1868 by another steamer, the St. Lawrence.  This paddle wheeler had been built in Mystic, Connecticut in 1863 and used as a blockade runner during the American civil war under the name General Whiting. Whiting was a general in the Confederate States Army who was captured and later died a prisoner. Under ownership of the Consolidated Steamship Company the General Whiting made at least four successful passages between Nassau and the Southern States and survived the war. Between 1866 and 1868 she was lying in Saint John and probably had been re-built to increase her accommodation. At 201 feet in length and 33 feet in width she was just slightly larger than the Princess of Wales. With a nominal power of 250 horsepower it was claimed she could have an average speed of 10 knots but also be “light on fuel.” Both the Princess of Wales and the St. Lawrence carried about 25 crew members.

Paddle steamer St. Lawrence in Charlottetown Harbour 1878. Detail from Panoramic View of Charlottetown.

Paddle steamer St. Lawrence in Charlottetown Harbour 1878. Detail from Panoramic View of Charlottetown.

By 1869 the Steam Navigation Company was running its vessels on several routes: The Princess of Wales and St. Lawrence visited Pictou, Cape Breton, Georgetown, Souris, Summerside and Shediac from Charlottetown on a regular weekly schedule, while the Heather Belle served Mount Stewart, Port Selkirk (Orwell) and Crapaud (Victoria).  In the early years the steamers also provided service to Miramichi and Richibucto.

The 1869 season was not a good one of the company. In early August the two steamers collided at night off Seacow Head.  The St. Lawrence was holed below the waterline and was saved only by being towed to shoal water by the Princess of Wales, which had also been damaged in the collision.  Although the Princess of Wales resumed service the next day the St. Lawrence required extensive repair. She was patched in Summerside and then towed to Pictou to be put on the marine slip for an overhaul.

Steam Navigation Company advertisement in the P.E.I. Directory 1889-1890.

Steam Navigation Company advertisement in the P.E.I. Directory 1889-1890.

Confederation in 1873 was good for the company. Although they had lost much of the Charlottetown to Summerside traffic through the building of the Prince Edward Island Railway, they benefitted from a 20-year $10,000 annual subsidy which was part of the Dominion’s commitment to furnish “continuous steam communication” and the railway links between Island towns and villages made the strait crossing routes more lucrative. In 1884 the Princess of Wales was substantially re-built with new steel boilers, more efficient but lighter and smaller, which allowed expansion of the passengers area to accommodate an additional 100 in the main saloon, as well as increased capacity on the freight deck.  The company was re-incorporated in 1890 under Dominion legislation as the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company, this time with $400,000 in capital stock.  John Ings, L.C. Owen, and William Richards, all of whom had been connected with the shipbuilding and ship-owning activities were the first directors.

In the 1890’s, with improved rail connections the routes of the steamers were simplified. One vessel made daily trips from Charlottetown to Pictou to connect with the Halifax train, the other ran from Summerside to Pointe du Chene to meet the train from Saint John with connections to Boston. In 1895 the subsidy was renewed and continued to be paid until the S.S. Prince Edward Island was launched in 1915.  By this time the fleet had changed. The Heather Belle had been sunk in fog in 1891. The other wooden paddle steamers were thirty years old and feeling their age. In 1893 the St. Lawrence had suffered from a broken shaft which kept her off the routes for about six weeks and required leasing of a replacement.  The Princess of Wales had been the first of the large side-wheelers to go – replaced by the iron steamer Northumberland in 1891.  The St. Lawrence, described the same year  by the American  Counsel in Charlottetown as having “good accommodation for freight and passengers” was kept running until 1896  when the Princess arrived.

The last days of the Princess of Wales were inglorious. After being replaced by the shiny new S.S. Northumberland she was purchased by James Lantalum of St. John and partly broken up. However the hulk was left on the beach near the ferry slip in Charlottetown. In the winter of 1897 she was carried by the ice into the dredged channel and became a hazard to navigation. It was not until 1901 that a dispute about jurisdiction and costs was resolved and the wreck finally removed.

The St. Lawrence was likewise a far cry from her romantic past at the end of her days. Replaced by the S.S. Princess in 1896, her registry was closed in 1897 and her engine was transferred to the Victoria, a Saint John River steamer. By 1903 she was being used as a barge transporting cattle to waiting steamers in the port of Saint John. Her once spacious passenger accommodation had been replaced by stalls for cattle.

In 1907 the last artifacts of the Princess of Wales and the St. Lawrence were put on the market. Auctioneer R.B. Norton was selling off surplus and unclaimed goods at the Steam Navigation Company warehouse. Included was the mahogany and walnut furniture from the two steamers; dining tables, chairs, washstands and sinks, 8 mahogany sofas, tables, arm chairs and “a large lot of stuff that cannot be classified. ”

The company itself did not last much longer.  Although it seems to have been profitable to the end, the termination of the subsidy and the arrival of year-round ferry service certainly placed the company at a cross roads.  After disposing of their ships the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company sold their wharf by tender and in August of 1916 the enterprise was wound up after a half-century of service. It was truly the end of an era.

NOTE: More on the panoramic views of Charlottetown and Summerside can be found in the Fall-Winter 1988 issue of The Island Magazine