Tag Archives: Quebec

Cruising to New York – The S.S. Trinidad

Postcard showing the Trinidad ca. 1910. Phil Culhane collection. http://www.peipostcards.ca/collection/

In spite of the extreme difficulties associated with winter travel across Northumberland Strait, in the other three seasons of the year Prince Edward Island was reasonably served with the “continuous steam navigation” sought in the  confederation agreement.  With direct services to the mainland across Northumberland Strait, to Montreal and Quebec through the Gulf, and to New England via Halifax and Boston one could get from the Island to just about everywhere served by steamship and rail – if you weren’t in a hurry.

Most coverage of P.E.I.’s international connections has centred on the “Boston Boat”, the regular steamer service provided by at least one, and often more, steamship lines. These links pre-dated confederation and lasted until the Great War and served the trade links and flow of population between the Island and New England.

What is less well-remembered is that the province had direct steamer service to New York for several years early in the twentieth century. The Quebec and Gulf Ports Steamship Line, later the Quebec Steamship Line, had run a service between Montreal , Quebec and Pictou, stopping at Summerside, Charlottetown and Gaspe for several years.  At the same time the company  had regular sailings between New York and Bermuda, a service which had begun in 1874 and continued for more than forty years.  One of the vessels used on this route was the steamer Trinidad.

SS Trinidad at Bermuda ca. 1890 before being lengthened. Note the single funnel.

The Trinidad was built for the Quebec Steamship Company in 1884 at Deptford on the Wear River in northern England. She was 270 feet long and the 2100 ton ship operated primarily as a freight vessel with limited passenger accommodation.  She had been built specifically for use on the crossing between New York and Bermuda but also travelled elsewhere in the West Indies. The run was profitable and nine years later the Trinidad was sent back to the Wear and was rebuilt in Sunderland. Forty feet were added to her length and tonnage increased to 2600 tons. A new engine was installed and the look of the vessel was significantly changed with the addition of second funnel. More importantly cabins and saloon were overhauled and renovated and new accommodation added.  She was now capable of carrying 170 first class passengers.  The New York Times stated she looked like a miniature liner.

Stern view of the Trinidad

In 1908, the tercentenary of Champlain’s voyage of Quebec the company began a summer service using the Trinidad to travel from New York to Quebec stopping at Halifax and Charlottetown.  Following the stranding and loss of the Campana the Trinidad took over her duties on the subsidized Quebec to Pictou Service and the further use of the vessel to go to New York was suspended for the rest of the season although it resumed the following year.  A review describing the vessel appeared in the Quebec Chronicle in June 1909

SS Trinidad at Gaspe

[She is] fitted up in the most modern style as a passenger steamer. Her salon, a handsomely furnished apartment is situated amidships, and has accommodation for nearly 200 passengers. Immediately forward of the salon is the ladies sitting room, most tastefully fitted up and furnished …[and aft], a cosy smoking room, where gentlemen can enjoy a quiet smoke of their favourite brand … while discussing topics of the day. There is also a music room in  which both sexes can meet and listen to the music of a first class piano … staterooms are lofty, well ventilated, and comfortably furnished. The passages to them are wide and lofty, being richly carpeted. On the upper or boat deck is a promenade extending nearly the full length of the steamer. This deck is covered with canvas awnings and is well supplied with chairs.  

In the winter season the Trinidad returned to the Bermuda run which became increasingly popular and the ship turned from being mere transportation to a cruise experience. In 1911, for example,  advertising notices appeared such as one in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle touting the Quebec cruise which covered 1500 miles over five days. “The voyage during the summer months is a veritable yachting trip, and the rates of passage so low that it is brought within the  reach of the most moderate income. “

In fact there were great differences between the New York Service and the Boston Boat. The former  was primarily a cruise line. Charlottetown was a port on the route rather than the terminus and the main business was the tourist. For those wishing to get from New York to Quebec there were much quicker rail connections.  The Trinidad made the round trip only once every two weeks and only in the high summer season  while the Plant Line had a regular weekly or semi-weekly service which began in the spring and extended into the fall.  While the Plant Line Steamers did have a major cruise component it was still very much a shipping line.  Some Islanders did travel to New York on the Trinidad but it never did have the same intimate connection with the Island as the Boston Boat.

In 1913 the Quebec Steamship Company became part of Canada Steamship Lines and the following year the Quebec to New York service was cancelled. During the Great War the Trinidad was used to carry supplies across the Atlantic and between England and France. Prior to the United States entering the war in 1917 the Trinidad was known to have travelled under a false name and neutral registry port. The ship was sold in 1917 and was torpedoed in March 1918 while travelling between Rouen and Liverpool and sank in the Irish Sea.

 

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The Albatross Lands in Charlottetown

The Albatross Arrives

Charlottetown had rarely seen such enthusiasm. The arrival of the steamer Albatross in July of 1852 heralded the beginning of a new era of communication with the Island capital being linked with bi-monthly sailings with both New York and Quebec. The ship itself was one of the largest and most powerful which had ever visited the city. Built in Philadelphia the previous year by Wm. Cramp & Sons and described as “magnificent”  the 1100 ton vessel boasted 250 horsepower and first class accommodation for 120 first class passengers. When she visited Quebec the local newspaper described her as “Long, narrow high out of the water, exceedingly sharp at the bow, rounded stern, rather wall-sided.”

It was a bold experiment as little was known about the amount of traffic that could be expected. An earlier routing for the Albatross between Philadelphia and Charleston had failed because the expected business never materialized. However the Quebec plan was not short on one essential element – publicity. The main proponent of the new route was one Burrows Wilcocks Arthur Sleigh who apparently had the ability to charm the most cautious investor and to create dreams out of nothing.

The Rise and Fall of a Dreamer

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B.W.A. Sleigh

Sleigh ([pronounced “Slee”) was born in Quebec thanks to his father’s short-lived residency there and spent several years in the British Army serving in the West Indies, Canada and Nova Scotia. He sold his commission in 1848 and retired with the rank of Captain. From then on he appears to have lived by his wits and other people’s money. From 1848 to 1851 he was floating a scheme for the Halifax and Quebec Railroad and another the establishment of a settlement in New Brunswick for retired army and naval officers. An investigation found that the land had never been purchased and that Sleigh had declared bankruptcy a few months earlier.   That did not prevent him from moving on to several new schemes.  He made a down payment to purchase the 70,000 acre Worrell estate in Kings County and visited the Island in March of 1852 travelling by ice boat across the strait. While on the Island he announced the formation of a new steamship line which would include Charlottetown as a stop on the New York – Quebec route.

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Haszard’s Gazette 27 July 1852

One of the biggest promoters of the new line was the American Counsel in Pictou, Major Norton who, in some reports, was the originator of the scheme.  New York newspapers wrote of the great wealth of extensive landownership of Captain Sleigh who took over the enterprise from Norton and proceeded to expand the vision to include the possibility of additional ships on the line.  The International Journal wrote of Sleigh “No man in the colonies has a deeper interest at stake there than Captain Sleigh.” In this telling the land held by Sleigh had swelled to 100,000 acres of the best agricultural land.  The Albatross touched at Charlottetown on its way to Quebec in mid-July  and while the steamer was in port Sleigh announced the formation of the Bank of Charlottetown. On the return of the Albatross from Quebec Sleigh was the guest of honour at a grand banquet with Hon Charles Hensley in the chair held in the colony’s House of Assembly. One hundred and three of the leading gentlemen of the colony heaped praise on Sleigh for his initiative.  Additional honours included the naming of Sleigh as a Justice of the Peace and an appointment as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 2nd Kings County Regiment of Militia.

Alas, the progress and prospects of Prince Edward Island did not immediately improve. After two round trips the voyages of the Albatross between New York and Quebec were cancelled and the ship was seized by creditors. Sleigh probably didn’t own the ship anyway.  He ended up in jail on Halifax. He never completed his purchase of the Worrell estate. The Bank of Charlottetown issued a few banknotes in New York now highly praised by collectors but otherwise worthless.  On the Island the worthies backed quickly away from their association with Sleigh and a nasty bit of name-calling resulted from a map published which included Sleigh’s name among the land proprietors.  He was stripped of his militia post but Sleigh thereafter refereed to himself as Colonel Sleigh. He returned to England and published a self-inflating book of his time in Canada under the title Pine Forests and Hackmatack Clearings which included several rather unflattering descriptions of the Island and its people.

The Flight of the Albatross is Halted

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Haszard’s Gazette 7 September 1852

And what of the Albatross?  With the failure of the New York – Quebec venture still fresh the owners turned to other possibilities. The gold fields of Australia looked promising and in late August of 1852 an advertisement appeared headed “Steam for Australia.”  The Albatross would head for Melbourne in late September with an added deck to accommodate 491 passengers in 30 private cabins and curtained berths on the saloon deck at only $200 per berth.  Improvements would “render her one of the finest vessels that has ever sailed for the Golden Regions of Australia.”  The notice was signed by the owner, sporting his newly awarded rank as  Colonel Sleigh.

Perhaps the uptake was not as good as had been hoped but instead of Australia the Albatross was next spotted on the route between New York and Vera Cruz, Mexico where she connected with the land route to Acapulco which was a port of call for the Panama-San Francisco steamers.  Because the ship had been owned in Sleigh’s name and the registration transferred to a British registry an act of Congress was required to re-register the ship as an American vessel, owned by Sleigh’s one-time agent/partner Simeon Draper.  However the Albatross was not destined to last long. On 18 April 1853 a strong cross-current carried the ship off her course and she piled up on the Cabezas Reef, some 26 miles from the port of Vera Cruz.  Although the passengers were saved the ship slipped into deeper water and was a total loss. She carried a wide cargo of dreams with her to the bottom.

The Aftermath

As for Sleigh the Albatross was a mere ripple in the pond of his life. In 1855 he and others founded the Daily Telegraph newspaper in London. He bought out his partners a few months later and sold the paper in 1857. It was destined to become one  of the leading newspapers of the United kingdom and is still published. It is perhaps Sleigh’s sole legacy. He ran unsuccessfully for Parliament on a number of occasions and was in and out of Bankruptcy Court. In 1861 he set up the fraudulent British Columbia Overland Transit Company to “help” those trying to get to the goldfields. In 1869 he died at age 48.

Further Reading

Harry Baglole’s article “The Icy Passage” in the Island Magazine for Fall/Winter 1976 outlines Sleigh’s career and has an excerpt from Pine Forests and Hackmatack Clearings. P.B. Waite’s work on Sleigh in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography has more details but George William Newkey-Burden’s 2011 PhD thesis on Sleigh and the Daily Telegraph contains much new information.