Tag Archives: Royal Navy

The 1892 visit of H.M.S. Blake – more social than strategic

The occasions of pomp and circumstance on Prince Edward Island were much reduced when it became a mere province rather than a colony in 1873. For the Island the change from colony to province may have seemed like a demotion and placed it at one further remove from the royal presence. Never the less the Island continued to be a proud member of the British Empire under Victoria and took every opportunity to celebrate the fact.

First Class Cruiser H.M.S. Blake, flagship of the Norther American Squadron

This was never more true than when the Royal Navy paid a call. Although the summer headquarters of the American and West Indies fleet had been removed from Halifax to Bermuda by 1890 the naval presence and HM Dockyard in Halifax Nova Scotia meant that visits in the region continued.

Second Class Cruiser H.M.S. Magicienne

One of the most significant of these Charlottetown courtesy calls was the visit of the 1st class cruiser H.M.S. Blake in August 1892.   The Blake was the flagship of the North American Squadron under the command of Admiral Sir J.O. Hopkins. Although the vessel had been launched in 1889 her attachment to the North American Squadron was her first commission. The Blake was a new class of cruiser at a time when technological advances forced many and rapid design changes. She was a protected cruiser which was designed with armour plating to protect the engines, boilers, and magazines from the damage from shells exploding in the upper parts of the ship. The Royal Navy at the time was the largest, most powerful and most modern fleet in the world and the Blake was the most recent design.  She was a 9000 ton vessel, 375 feet in length by 65 feet in width and had an impressive inventory of firepower as well as four torpedo launching tubes.  Her service complement was 575 officers and crew. The Blake was accompanied on her visit to Charlottetown by HMS Magicienne, a second class cruiser launched only a year earlier. She was considerably smaller at 263 feet and 3000 tons and carried 222 sailors and officers.

With almost 800 visitors on the two ships, and officers of the highest rank it is not surprising that Charlottetown pulled out all of the stops in their efforts to capitalize on the naval visit.  Besides being a show of naval force the Royal Navy took advantage of the occasion to participate in a wide range of cultural and recreational activities which truly flattered Charlottetown as a full member of an Empire on which the sun never set.

Arriving on a Tuesday, the first evening in port the Blake entertained the populace by illuminating the town and harbour with its powerful search lights. That afternoon the vessels had been officially welcomed by a delegation including Aide de Camp and Private Secretary of the Lieutenant Governor, the Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls, and His Worship Mayor Haviland, who had the misfortune to fall into the water on his way out to the warship.   The following day the ship and shore activities began in earnest. The band of the HMS Blake was scheduled to play in Victoria Park and the Officers challenged the members of the Victoria Park Cricket Club to a match on the park’s cricket pitch.   That evening Officers were entertained at a ball at Brighton Villa, the residence of Chief Justice W.W. Sullivan and Mrs. Sullivan. The dancing did not conclude until the small hours of the following morning.

On Thursday a team from the crews of the Blake and Magicienne participated in the Caledonia Club’s annual highland games where to the delight of the crowd they were handily trounced in the tug of war event by a team of local Islanders of Scots descent.  A planned tennis match with Officers versus the city’s gentlemen was postponed owning to inclement weather. That evening the Officers were entertained at Riverside, the home of Mrs. Louis H. Davies. Again, the dancing continued until after midnight. Other ranks and townsfolk celebrated at the Masonic Concert held at the Philharmonic Hall – “A night with the Jolly Tars” – where they were entertained by songs, dancing, and recitations by a cast which included seamen, stewards and boatmen from the naval vessels.

The tennis match at Victoria Park the next day saw the naval officers roundly defeating the members of the local club who according to the Daily Examiner “appeared to be having an “off-day” – perhaps caused by keeping late hours.”

The Magicienne had left the harbour on the 11th and so the crew missed the biggest event of the week on Friday when a “hop”* was held on the flagship. In the afternoon the guests from the town were ferried out to the ship on cutters and steam launches. Once aboard they were greeted by the Admiral on the Quarter Deck over which a large awing had been erected. Music was provided by the ship’s band and a light luncheon was served. Visitors had the opportunity to tour the vessel and a couple of extra dances beyond the schedule were squeezed in before the visitors were transported back to shore at about seven o’clock.

In addition to the formal sporting and recreational activities Charlottetown would have welcomed parties of ratings on shore leave who would have taken advantage of all of the entertainments, both licit and illicit which the town was capable of offering.

On the 13th yet another dance was held for the Officers at Government House.  After the prolonged engagement with the patriotic citizens of Charlottetown who obviously felt it their bounden patriotic duty as good Victorians to keep both officers and crew entertained, if not exhausted, it may have been a relief for those on the Blake to put away their dancing shoes and head for the next outpost of the Empire.

The Blake had a relatively short history. She never returned to Prince Edward Island and by 1900 she was technologically behind the times and was used as a temporary transport. She was later converted to a depot ship for a destroyer flotilla and served in the Great War in that capacity. She was scrapped in 1922.

* I thought that the word “hop” to describe a casual dance was a modern term…think soda shops and sock hops…. but it goes back to the late 1700s. Who knew?

Party like its 1839! The visit of HMS Medea

It is difficult today to understand the social life of Charlottetown in the 1830s. As a small closed society cut off from the mainland for upwards of five months per year there was a hunger for diversion. The small British army garrison with officer-gentlemen and a tiny cadre of colonial officials formed the core of society. The establishment of the Hydrographic Survey in Charlottetown did not occur until 1841 and so in the 1830s the only Royal Navy presence were the occasional visits of warships on patrols of the Gulf waters.  Such a visit took place in September of 1839 and the presence of officers and crew of 135 men was a welcome addition to the social activity of the port.  Many of the crew were no doubt allowed shore leave  enlivening the grog houses and other places of entertainment of the town. However for the officers of the ship and the elite of the community the main event took place, not on the shore, but aboard HMS Medea.

Although Charlottetown had had steamer service since 1833 when the Pocahontas began to shuttle back and forth to Pictou, the Medea was a rarity, being one of the earliest steam vessels in the Royal Navy fleet. The first Royal Navy steamship was HMS Dee, commissioned in 1832 and the following year HMS Medea was launched from Woolwich Dockyard.

Model of the HMS Medea, built 1833

The Medea was 179 feet long and had a 32 foot beam. she was powered by a side-level steam engine driving paddles on the sides of the ship.  Armed relatively lightly with two 10-inch pivot guns and two 32 pound carronades she, like many of the early steamships, performed a variety of duties including towing of larger warships and cruising and keeping a Royal Naval presence throughout the world. She spent a few years in the Mediterranean Sea and in 1838 was attached for duties in North America and the West Indies. Operating primarily out of Halifax she cruised in Maritime waters until November of 1839.  Her first visit to Charlottetown was in September 1838 when she stopped to pick up P.E.I. delegates for a meeting with Lord Durham, then investigating the governance of the North America colonies.

Her visit to Charlottetown a year later appears to have been another matter entirely. Ignoring a description of the technology or armaments or the appearance of the crew a surviving account of her visit instead noted the significant social component of the visit with its grand ball and supper which took place aboard the ship.  An account of the event was written for the P.E.I. Gazette and was reprinted in the Halifax Colonial Pearl newspaper of 20 September 1839.

On arriving at the side of this beautiful Steamer, you were ushered into a covered stair-case, formed by polished pikes, supporting snowy-white canvass, which you ascended and entered a spacious saloon. The ladies were conducted to Capt. Nott’s elegant cabin, to throw off their wrappings, and walk forth resplendent with that beauty and loveliness natural to the daughters of Prince Edward Island.

The qaudrilles, the waltz, the gallopade, each had their sway by their respective votaries. At eleven o’clock a scene of canvas was raised, and what delicacies there were displayed!  A most spacious table with a hollow centre, was set out with all the delicacies which were procured from every quarter of the globe. The whole quarter deck from the stern to the funnel was covered with a lofty awning, composed of canvas and covered with different coloured flags. Along the centre of the roof were chandeliers of every possible shape, composed of bayonets, swords and cutlasses, and around the sides lamps and scouces of fanciful shapes were suspended, all of which gave brilliancy to the splendid scene. In the middle of the deck large ottomans and couches were formed over the skylights and hatches of the ship. After several toasts were drank the table was deserted by its votaries, and we could then more particularly observe its elegant appearance. It was a hollow square, at one end of which was raised a most superb chandelier, formed of broad swords, bunting and evergreens surmounted by a crown composed entirely of most beautiful flowers. At each corner of the table was suspended an ensign, on a boarding pike. Dancing was again resumed and continued until daylight.

Before the end of the year the Medea left the maritime waters but her presence in the area is remembered through her grounding on a rocky outcrop on the eastern approach to Shediac Harbour on 17 September 1838. She was floated off without injury the following day but her brief and unwelcome visit is commemorated through Medea Rock in Shediac Bay which is frequently used some 180 years later as a race mark for local yacht races.

H.M. Steamer Medea in action at MIr’s Bay where 13 junks were captured or destroyed. London Illustrated News.

HMS Medea was later posted to the far east where in 1849 she gained fame by engaging in a battle with a Chinese pirate fleet capturing or destroying 13 of the large junks.  The ship remained on the Navy List until 1867.

“One of the most daring acts that has ever occurred in Charlottetown”

Fishing fleet off Rustico Harbour. Illustration from S.G.W. Benjamin The Atlantic Islands as Resorts of Health and Pleasure

When he was called up onto the deck John Furness knew there would be trouble. A boat with about fifteen or sixteen men had appeared on the starboard side of the schooner. It was half past eleven on the night of the 24th of November 1870 and besides Furness, John Thomas and James Stewart were the only ones aboard the schooner Clara F. Friend lying in Charlottetown Harbour. Two months earlier the Clara F. Friend had  simply been one of the scores of American fishing vessels chasing the herring schools off the north side of the Island. Built in Gloucester Massachusetts in 1866 the sixty-five foot schooner was typical of the fleet which was a regular visitor to Island waters between August and November each year. However at the end of September she had been surprised by a Royal Navy patrol gunboat, the H.M.S. Plover, in the act of fishing within the three-mile limit and had been seized by Captain Poland and taken to Charlottetown to await the decision of the Vice-Admiralty Court as to her fate.  Furness and his shipmates had been hired by the Court to guard the seized vessel pending the outcome of the legal proceedings. The arguments and evidence had been presented in court two days earlier and an adjournment been given to give the judge time to prepare his decision.

Calling down to the longboat Furness asked who the men were and what did they want. “Are we far from Southport?” was the only reply.  One of the men in the boat declared he was coming aboard for a drink of water and several others tried to board the schooner. Furness was armed with a musket and bayonet but the men from the boat rushed him and disarmed him. Taken below he recognized one of the men as Thomas Grady, the master of the schooner at the time of her capture. Other crew members he knew to be John Howe and Michael McCarty. Later in the cabin he met with the schooner’s owner Charles Friend who had also been in the longboat. He assured the three guards that they would not be hurt if they went along and didn’t cause trouble.  Friend told them he had been waiting in Charlottetown for three weeks for H.M.S. Plover to finally leave the port which had not happened until after the court session ended as several of the gunboat’s crew were required to give evidence.

With his crew assembled aboard Captain Grady ordered sail to be set and under the cover of darkness they stole through the harbour entrance. When about three miles out from Blockhouse Point the three guards were put into a boat with four oars and cast adrift. The men were asked to tie the boat up to the wharf in Charlottetown and were told they would not be forgotten when their captors got home to Gloucester. As the schooner made her way to open sea the three men rowed back to the harbour entrance getting there at about half-past three and then made haste to Charlottetown to raise the alarm.  By daylight the Clara F. Friend was nowhere to be seen.

Plover Class gunboat similar to the vessel which twice captured the Clara F. Friend. imperial War Museum photo Q40622

With no vessels in Charlottetown to give chase Lieutenant Governor William Robinson immediately telegraphed to Admiral Fanshawe in Halifax and to Captain Poland on board the Plover in Pictou. The gunboat set out for the Strait of Canso where it was believed the Clara F. Friend would be heading on her way back to American waters and her home port. The Plover  had no sight of the schooner in Northumberland Strait but the warship lay in wait behind a spit of land at Mulgrave and at eight in the evening a crew member spotted a vessel passing through the Strait without lights.  After a chase of several hours it was confirmed that the vessel was indeed the missing fishing schooner and she was once again taken under armed guard and returned to Charlottetown to the immense satisfaction  of the Lieutenant Governor.  Robinson had informed General E. P. Scammon, the American consul in Charlottetown, of the brazen theft of the vessel. Scammon immediately sent a telegram to the U.S. Secretary of State and wrote to Robinson stating: “How such an act, equivalent to piracy in our own statutes, could have been perpetrated by sane men, I cannot understand.”  The editor of the Charlottetown Herald was equally appalled terming the event “… one of the most daring acts that has ever occurred in Charlottetown.”

The decision of the Vice Admiralty Court was quickly confirmed and the Clara F. Friend was forfeited to the crown for the fishing violation and the Marshal of the Court was ordered to sell her at public auction on the 19th of December 1870.  Isaac C. Hall, an American merchant resident on the Island and deeply involved with the American fishing interests, bought her for £520. The Herald noted “She is worth a great deal more but the people here did not wish to bid against Mr. Friend.”

Several of the night-time boarding party appeared before the City magistrate’s court and were bound over for trial in the January sittings of the Supreme Court. The grand jury found “a true bill” for assault and rescue against Charles Friend, Michael McCarthy, Edward Moar, John Walsh, John Howe and others unknown but the action was put over to the next session of the court and it seems it was never proceeded with.

The Clara F. Friend continued to fish, occasionally showing up on a list of American vessels to whom licenses had been granted by the Dominion government. Her story came to an end on a stormy February night in 1895 when she was wrecked on Eastern Head near Liverpoool  Harbour and her entire crew lost.