Tag Archives: Princess of Wales

Searching for a Ship – the Short Sorry Story of the Steamer Summerside

I thought I had pretty much tracked down the ships of the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company when I wrote a history of the company for this blog several months ago. Several of the ships even had been given entries and I was not sure how much more could be said on the subject.

Although the Company advertised its regular passenger services the S.S. Summerside’s short life was scarcely noticed. Steam Navigation Company advertisement in the P.E.I. Directory 1889-1890.

However, last week while searching on a New Zealand-based shipping database called the Miramar Ship Index I plugged in the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company expecting to find the usual suspects. Instead the only entry that popped up was for a 360 ton vessel registered in Prince Edward Island. She was registered as the SS Summerside.  I had never come across the vessel before.  Resorting to other on-line resources including Lloyds List and the Mercantile Naval List I came up with a blank.  However armed with a name I was able to search an index called the “Mills List” which is maintained at Queens University. This contains steamship information culled from Canadian registers and I was able to get an official number and a year of construction – 1883. Of more importance were a few indications of her size (155 x 22) and tonnage (360). She had been built in London.  A search of the Marine Engineer for 1884 revealed that she had been launched by Messrs Forrestt & Sons from the Britannia Yard, Millwall, London in 1883. The Britannia Yard was located on the Isle of Dogs, not far from Canary Wharf.  She was built of iron and had a 60 horse power steam engine.   Another vessel launched from the same yard, the Kinnaird Castle may have been a sister ship as she had the same dimensions.

With a few of the ships details pinned down I was keen to learn about her history but owing to few sources there is much reading between the lines.  In 1883 the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company had three ships, all wooden sidewheelers and all about 20 years old: the Princess of Wales, the St. Lawrence and the Heather Belle.  A new iron steamer would have represented a significant investment in the future of the company.   Her arrival was duly noted in the local press.

Daily Patriot  28 August 1883

As announced the new screw steamer Summerside recently purchased at the Clyde by the Steam Navigation Company of this province, arrived at the port yesterday at half past 3:00 p.m. The Summerside left London on the 5th inst. Making this passage out in 21 days She is 161 feet in length, 22 feet beam, depth of hold 11 feet; 60 horse power and 370 tons register with a carrying capacity of 520 tons. She is designed exclusively for carrying freight, and will therefore enable the company’s other steamers to carry mails and passengers with greater comfort and dispatch than heretofore.

Her owners claim for her a fair rate of speed and Captain Cameron speaks highly of her performance on this her first voyage. Owing to a slight leaking in her condenser she was obliged to put into Falmouth on the 8th,thus causing some delay, and after leaving there experienced heavy gales; but under these unfavorable circumstances she proved herself capable of providing good satisfaction.

The Daily Examiner’s report noted as well that her auxiliary sailing gear was a schooner rig and that she had a “nice appearance”, black with a red bottom.

Charlottetown Herald 29 August 1883

The new iron screw steamer Summerside purchased in London England by the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company arrived her on Monday afternoon after a passage of twenty-one days. She was commanded by Capt. Cameron who pronounced her a good “sea boat” she is one hundred and sixty-one feet long, twenty-two foot beam, eleven feet of hold, sixty horsepower and registers three hundred and eighty tons, and has a freight capacity of over five hundred tons. The Summerside was mainly intended to carry freight but will no doubt, be fitted for passenger accommodation, which is very necessary. She will act in conjunction with the St. Lawrence and Princess of Wales in removing freight and will, we understand, also engage in other work.

There is little information about the ship after the publication of the arrival notces. The small steamer does not appear to have been fitted for passenger services, contrary to what the Herald suggested and if her chief role was to act as a supplementary freight hauler she did so without notice.  It is more likely that her owners put her into the coastal service. One report suggests she made voyages to Newfoundland in 1884.  At any rate, the summer of 1885 found her on a voyage from Montreal to Fogo Island with general merchandise. She rounded Cape Race and headed up the coast and took on a pilot as she neared her destination on 20 August 1885. However, due to “the ignorance of the pilot” she ended up on the rocks at Western Tickle near the entrance to the harbour albeit without loss of life.  Owing to the lack of communications it was some time before the information reached Prince Edward Island.

Daily Patriot 24 August 1885

A telegram was received Saturday evening by the Steam Nav. Co. Stating that the S.S Summerside had run ashore in Fogo Harbour, and that the greater part of the cargo, consisting of general merchandise had been saved. Another telegram was received this morning from Capt. Cameron, which stated that the engine room and after hold were full of water and asking for instructions. This is all that is known at present respecting the position of the boat; and as that place is some distance from telegraphic station it may be some time before anything further will be known.

The steamer was on her passage from Montreal to Fogo Harbor with a general cargo and thus her destination was the scene of her misfortunes. Fogo is a small Island about ten miles to the north of Newfoundland and separated from it be Hamilton Sound.

The Summerside is comparatively a new vessel, having been built in the year 1883 by Messers Forrest & Sons of London, Eng.   She is built of iron and is classes 100 A at English Lloyds and her registered tonnage is 223. She arrived here in command of Capt. Cameron in August 1883. She is, we hear, partially insured.

Daily Patriot 27 August 1885

The Steam Navigation Company received information today to the effect that the S.S. Summerside had been condemned and will be sold on Saturday next.

The wreck was sold a few days later. The two-year old ship was valued at $40,000 but would have fetched only a small fraction of that as she lay on the rocks of Fogo.  A year later the wreck had been stripped but still lay close to the channel.

New York Times 21 November 1886

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland, Nov. 20.–The direct northern mail steamer Hercules, while passing through the Western Tickle, near Fogo, Notre Dame Bay, struck the sunken steamer Summerside. She proceeded toward Dean’s Rock, fast filling and with all her fires out but one, and reached Fogo with 10 feet of water in her hold. The steam pumps were working constantly, and she barely reached the shore when she sank.

The Summerside was likely at least partially insured but her loss still must have been a major blow to the company. Perhaps it was a financial crisis brought about by her loss that led to the recapitalization and change of ownership of the company which was incorporated five years later under Dominion legislation as the Charlottetown Steam Navigation Company.  The new Steam Navigation Company was able to make the transition to modern steel vessels and continued operations until the arrival of the rail-car ferry Prince Edward Island.

I have been unable to find any images of the Summerside and it is entirely possible that none exist.  Short as the life of the Summerside was she did last a year longer than her sister ship the Kinnaird Castle which sank after a collision in the Thames Estuary in 1884.

“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