Tag Archives: Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company

“As the bottles were emptied the hearts and minds of the gentlemen expanded…” An 1865 Excursion to the East.

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

In the 1860s the colony of Prince Edward Island was isolated, not just from the mainland but also within the territory itself. This was before the building of the railway and at the time roads were poor. Many folks seldom went beyond the area circumscribed by their nearest church, school, and general store. Even in the capital, cosmopolitan Charlottetown, there were many who barely left the city.  When they did the easiest transportation was through the mouth of the harbour rather than the roads leading north and east from the city.  The steamers of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation company crossed the Strait and skirted the shore as far as Victoria and Belfast, but beyond that the slow-moving and unpredictable coastal schooners touched at harbours along the shore and deep in the bays and inlets.

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

When the two-year old Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company announced an excursion on their steamer Princess of Wales, launched only the year before, it was cause for excitement. What was more, the excursion was to be from Charlottetown to the mysterious east — Murray Harbour, Georgetown and Souris, ports that had never been visited by a steamship.  The impending visit created interest ashore at those locations and several hundred tickets appear to have been quickly sold – in spite of the fact that the Princess of Wales would leave the capital at 2:00 in the morning in order to visit the eastern ports and still be able to return the same day. Fortunately for us, one of those aboard was a correspondent for the Charlottetown newspaper, Ross’s Weekly, which published the following account:

 

Ross’s Weekly – 10 August 1865

Princess of Wales (mis-named) in Summerside Harbour 1878. Detail From Panoramic View of Summerside 1878

EXCURSION IN THE STEAMER PRINCESS OF WALES – On Monday last citizens of Charlottetown and their [guests?] were treated to a grand Excursion on the Princess of Wales. Some 200 or more were, we should suppose, on board invited by ticket, when, at 2 o’clock in the morning, she started from Pope’s Wharf to visit the Harbors of Murray Harbor, Georgetown and Souris. The wind was blowing pretty strongly, causing many the unhappy feeling of seasickness. The morning was beautiful, and as we neared the wharf or breastwork at Murray Harbor, crowds of people of both sexes, could be seen on the beach awaiting our arrival. Some enthusiastic individuals expressed their pleasure at this the first visit to a steamer to their harbor by firing off an old instrument originally intended to resemble a cannon. It got an awful fright as the powder exploded and burst, injuring one man pretty severely in the leg. Here we took on board about 100 people more and started for Georgetown. The sea was pretty heavy causing the Steamer to roll very much, so that when the bell rang for breakfast but few, comparatively, were able to partake. Whether it was that our appetite was not sharp or that we had risen on the wrong side of the morning, we know not, but the breakfast did not seem to us to be in that style which we expected on such an occasion, in fact we were much disappointed at it. On arriving at Georgetown, most of the Excursionists went on shore, ourselves among the number, and the Steamer took on board a fresh lot from Georgetown and went off again for a few hours sail. The Georgetonians were very kind and hospitable, so that the short time there passed most agreeably. We noticed that the Harbor there was filled with American fishing vessels, and a very pretty sight they presented. We should think that they must create quite a trade and only wish we had our share in Charlottetown. We again collected on board and started, shaping our course for home, it being considered rather too boisterous to allow of our proceeding to Souris. We [regret?] this very much as we had set our mind on visiting Souris, having never been there by water and having heard that the scenery along the shore was among the most beautiful on the Island. We had however to forego that pleasure and proceeded back to Charlottetown where we arrived about 9 o’clock PM having first called at Murray Harbor and landed the passengers previously taken on there. We had almost forgotten to mention that Mr. Clements and several of the leading gentlemen, of Murray Harbor, treated the Excursionists to a champagne dinner – – The dinner was served up by Mr. Chandler, in capital style, to which all who sat down did ample justice. As the bottles were emptied the hearts and minds of the gentlemen expanded and everything passed off harmoniously. Several short speeches were made in responding to a few toasts proposed, and altogether the hours seemed to pass very pleasantly, a small party of “young un’s” enjoyed themselves by singing some of the popular airs of the present day, and afforded pleasure not only to themselves but to a large party of listeners. We think they enjoyed themselves as well if not better than any of the others. – – On the whole the trip was a pleasant one, and we feel sure that the Company will not be the losers in thus treating the public to such a pleasant excursion.

An accident happened at Murray Harbor, on our way back which might have been serious. Shortly after dinner several gentlemen were standing against the rail of the Steamer, and whether the champagne was strong , or the Railing weak, we do not know, but some of them managed to take a cool bath in the Harbor, we suppose by way merely or refreshing themselves. The water fortunately was not deep and they waded ashore looking rather disconsolate, one of them who was smoking took the matter very cooly, and kept on puffing at his cigar, much to the amusement of the onlookers.

I am indebted to researcher Gary Carroll who transcribed this item from Ross’s Weekly and posted it to Dave Hunter’s very useful Island Register  genealogy website.

Post script added 8 June 2017

Gary Carroll has added another account of cannon incident during the visit of the Princess of Wales to Murray Harbour in 1865. Following is an excerpt from a letter from Robert Harris, who would later become a nationally-known portrait artist, to his brother Tom written on 28 August 1865.

My dear Tom
I hope this will find you safe and sound, and that you have had a pleasant passage. I went up to Murray harbour shortly after you left here. My greatest fun there was shooting pigs. I made a bow and arrows. I put nails in the tips of the arrows, and you would have laughed to see the pigs running squealing about with the arrows in them for hours after. While the steamer P of W was there we fired a salute out of Davey Hughes venerable swivel gun. Dick Huddy was the gunner. She made a great explosion and in doing so burst to bits flying in all directions and hurting some two or three. The reason why she burst was I think because Dick rammed in a large piece of fat pork as he said to make the load slip out. Jackson and Dick and lots more were dead drunk after. …

The full letter can be found at the Island Register site

 

 

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“such a duck of a boat” – An ode to the Princess

 

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 aft of the funnel is the Methodist Church. The steeple aft of the flag is St. Dunstan’s

In the last posting I wrote of the history of the second Steam navigation Company.   The creation of a P.E.I, company to take over the operation of the connection with the mainland was, for some, a great relief.  The steamer Westmorland apparently did not meet with universal favour but more of an irritant was the fact that the subsidy (grudgingly admitted to be necessary) was being paid to a New Brunswick company!  It was a matter of political concern and as such attracted the notice of the Island’s unofficial Poet Laureate.  We last met with John Lepage in connection with B.W.A. Sleigh’s Albatross scandal .  Included in his collection called the Island Minstrel Volume II is a long poem (and almost all of Lepage’s poems are long) titled “The Arrival of the Princess of Wales” which celebrates the appearance of the Company’s new ship in 1864. The poem describes the vessel and provides the political context.  Owing to length I have omitted several verses referring to the latter.  The full poem can be found in The Island Minstrel available here.

 

“Arrival of the “Princess of Wales”  – By John Lepage

………

Transatlantic, the popular title prevails,
And we in this Isle see our  “Princess of Wales”
A splendid new steamer, complete in details,
For the transit of passengers, luggage and mails.
Too long have we been,
What our neighbours call green,
Our improvident folly transparently seen,
Sending thousands abroad each consecutive year,
To pay for the use of  a steam-whistle dear!
……
And why should we not have a boat? let me see
Are we always to move in the second degree
Dependant on others? No! Certainly not;
Let us feed our own “sea-mews” with what we have got
New Brunswick has long had the lion’s own share
Of the cash which we Islanders poorly could share
To pay for her steamers; – I ask, was that fair?
Yes! so long as we could not do better elsewhere;
But now, when we can,
We encourage our clan
And challenge the mercantile world to a man
To censure – with fairness – our Government plan.
………..
So much for the Government. Now let us view
What enterprise properly Guided can do;
There, look at her now, Stern, midships and bow,
Did you ever! – just wait till I husk out my throat –
Did you ever behold such a duck of a boat
Why she sits like a swan on the water afloat
And before she is near
How plainly you hear;
For to warn of her coming, sonorous, not clear
she carries an engine that whistles by note.
………
Here are spacious saloons, well furnish’d and neat
With Brussels, and sideboards of marble complete,
and mirrors, through which you may look at your sweet
Pretty faces, and crinoline down to your feet!
Then the sleeping compartments! – just take a peep here –
Where ladies or gentlemen – consciences clear –
Might seek for repose and secure it as well,
As if in (No. 1) of the Astor Hotel;
Into which the crown Prince, of Old England might go
And dream of the “Princess” with pleasure –
“that’s so.”

Come wind up the log-line, my distance is run,
Let me frame but a toast and a wish – I’ll have done:
“A health to the captain,
A health to the crew,
A health to the passengers
many or few;
May prosperity follow the Company’s trade,
And a hundred per centum be honestly made;
May the “Princess of Wales”
long ride out the gales
and especially be, in Port or at Sea,
at home and abroad,
Beneath the Almighty protection of God.”

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