Tag Archives: Princess of Wales

Commerce and Franconia – The first of the Boston Boats

Steamer Commerce at Boston’s T Wharf c. 1870. Although only the wheelhouse of the small vessel can be seen its diminutive size is clear.

In yet another connection between Prince Edward Island and the Civil War, the steamer Commerce was the first of many vessels* trading to Prince Edward Island which began life on one side or the other of the Union blockade of the southern states. She was built on the river Tees by the firm of Backhouse and Dixon and launched, carrying the name Pet, in October 1862. In all probability she was designed specifically for blockade running. A relatively small vessel, 141 feet long and 20 wide, she had engines which gave her a top speed of 11 1/2 knots. Although not the name on her ownership papers she was the property of the Manchester firm of Alexander Collie & Co. who owned more than fifteen blockade runners, many of which were to be eventually seized by the Union forces.

The Pet arrived in Nassau Bahamas, the main port for blockade runners in early 1863 and was one of 28 new vessels noted by the U.S. Consul that season. The Consul calculated that each of these vessels could make a profit of $119,000 per trip which meant that the full cost of building the Pet was covered by a single round-trip. A good blockade captain could be paid $7,000 in gold for each round trip. She was a very successful commercial blockade-runner and made between fifteen and twenty trips over the next year. However, In February 1864 she was intercepted on her way from Nassau to Wilmington, Delaware by the U.S.S. Montgomery. She was close enough to shore to land her passengers and pilot before the navy boarding party could stop them. The crew, as British nationals were captured but later released.

As a prize of war the Pet was sent to Boston to be auctioned off where in April 1864 she was purchased by Franklyn Snow of Boston for $35,500. The new owner changed her name to the Commerce and she began a new life as the first of the Boston Boats shuttling between Charlottetown and Boston under the name of the Boston and Colonial Steamship Company.. On her arrival in Halifax one newspaper described her as a gentlemen’s yacht but noted her appearance had been spoiled by the addition of increased accommodation although the writer did concede that her cabins were “nicely fitted”. She arrived in Charlottetown in late May accompanied by her owner who, according to the Islander  “made himself most agreeably acquainted with the many citizens of Charlottetown.”

Islander 9 September 1864

Beginning with a bi-weekly service, the Commerce, ex Pet, was joined in early August by a larger vessel, the steamer Franconia. This ship was American-built  and, at 179 feet, was considerably larger than the Commerce, Her arrival at Charlottetown seems to have been accorded more coverage than that of the Commerce, perhaps because owner Franklyn Snow provided an excursion to Point Prim for, as the Islander, stated “all the world and his wife”, and most of the leading politicians of the colony provided entertainment for the captive audience in the form of speeches praising the enterprise.  George Coles noted this was the first attempt at providing regular service since the visits of the Albatross  more than twenty years earlier. The addition of the Franconia to the Boston and Colonial fleet meant that Charlottetown would have regular weekly service to Boston with each of the vessels leaving their respective ports every Monday and arriving on Friday.

The provision of regular service was a major advancement for the colony. Previously shippers had to take advantage of what ever shipping opportunity presented itself, often not knowing when a ship would arrive until it appeared in the harbor.  This was especially welcome for shippers of perishable goods such as oysters, eggs, meat and produce which could go directly to market in Boston or Halifax. While an alternative route using the ships of the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company and several Canadian and American rail lines was available, the cargo would have to be handled several times as it had to be transferred from ship to wagon or rail several times. Another advantage was speed. The steamers could reach their port within four days, including stops at Pictou, Canso, and Halifax. Sailing vessels could take much longer. The direct service also suited passengers who could make the trip for as little as eight dollars – with additional cost for cabins and meals.

The question of the day was whether or not the trade would support the venture. The Islander’s editor noted that “The Americans have been, and are, our best customers” and suggested that by inducing the American fishing fleet, which annually visited Island waters to harvest the herring, to ship their catches on the fast steamers rather than having to return to their ports, could provide additional trade.

An added concern was that the Boston service would have a negative impact on the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company which had just made a major investment in a new vessel, the Princess of Wales in the same year. However, at the close of navigation the Islander was able to report that the Boston run had been “well patronized” and that the receipts for the Steam Navigation Company had not fallen off.

That year, navigation closed on December 21st with the Franconia being the last vessel to work its way through the harbour ice to the open channel.  She carried some 12,500 bushels of oats, 150 sheep and a quantity of poultry as well as other goods.

The following year the Commerce returned but the Franconia did not. She was replaced on the run by the Greyhound. By 1870 the Franconia had become the property of the Maine Steamship Cop. and was used on their Portland to New York route for many years.  For the next half-century the Boston Boat was a vital part of the Island’s communication  system. During the period many vessels and several companies served on the route  and they both responded to, and helped forge, the close linkages between the Island and the Boston States.

* Vessels in the P.E.I. service which had a civil war connection include the Greyhound, Oriental, Miramichi, St. Lawrence, Worcester, Carroll, Somerset, Westmoreland and Lady Le Marchant,

 

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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.