Tag Archives: Shediac

Sailing to infectious melancholy: travelling by steamer from Charlottetown to Shediac in 1854.

I have an affection for cranky travellers, being one myself, but the travails of today seem slight when compared with those of our ancestors. Case in point are the observations of Isabella Lucy Bird when she left for New Brunswick following a lengthy stay in Prince Edward Island in 1854. She was one of several passengers on board the paddle steamer Lady Le Marchant (of which I have written here).

Haszard’s Gazette 12 July 1854 p.3

The boat left Charlottetown late at night, bound for Bedeque, which had not yet acquired the more common name of Summerside, and thence to Shediac. On leaving the Steam Navigation Company wharf in the darkness of a rainy night the steamer became entangled with a schooner, broke some of the piles on the wharf and smashed the bulwarks of a new brig. Once on their way up Northumberland Strait en route to Bedeque the passengers entertained one another with songs but in the gloomy atmosphere the mood soon changed.

…indefinable sensations of melancholy rendered the merriest of the party silent, and a perfect deluge of rain rendered a retreat into the lower regions a precautionary measure which even the boldest were content to adopt. Below, in addition to the close overpowering odour of cabins without any ventilation, the smell of the bilge-water was sufficient in itself to produce nausea. The dark den called the ladies’ cabin, which was by no means clean, was the sleeping abode of twelve people in various stages of discomfort, and two babies.

I spent a very comfortless four hours, and went on deck at dawn to find a thick fog, a heavy rain, the boards swimming with soot and water, and one man cowering at the wheel.  Most of the gentlemen, induced by the discomfort to be early risers, came up before we reached Bedeque, in oilskin caps, coats, and leggings, wearing that expression on their physiognomies peculiar to Anglo-Saxons in the rain. 

Isabella Lucy Bird in later life. Still scowling after seeing Shediac.

The Lady Le Marchant reached Bedeque and Isabella was safely ashore by six in the morning. There she parted from a colleague who had accompanied her on the trip up from Charlottetown and took a welcome break in the voyage, taking tea and drying her clothing, thankful of the reprieve.

Who, that has ever experienced the misiries of a voyage in a dirty, crowded, and ill-ventilated little steamer has also not appreciated the pleasurers of getting on land even for a few minutes? The consciousness of the absence of suffocating sensations, and of the comfort of a floor which does not move under the feet – of space, cleanliness, and warmth – soon produce an oblivion of all past miseries; but if the voyage has not terminated, and the relief is only temporary, it enhances the dread of future ones to such an extent that, when the captain came to the door to fetch me, I had to rouse all my energies before I could leave a blazing fire to battle with cold and rain again.

The wharf in Bedeque, more properly Green’s Wharf, which would become Summerside, was only a small one and unless the tide was full could not handle the Lady Le Marchant, small as she was. Passengers and goods had to be rowed back and forth. Isabella had to stand in the boat, her feet deep in water with a group of gentlemen with dripping umbrellas. Getting aboard the steamer brought little relief.

I went down to my miserable berth, and vainly tried to sleep, the discomfort and mismanagement which prevailed leading my thoughts by force of contrast to the order, cleanliness, and regularity of the inimitable line of steamers on the West Highland coast. Where ever the means of locomotion are concerned, these colonies are very far behind either the “old country” or their enterprising neighbours in Canada; and at present they do not appear conscious of the deficiencies which are sternly forced on a traveller’s observation.

The prospect which appeared through the door was not calculated to please, as it consisted of a low, dark, and suffocating cabin filled with men in suits of oilskin, existing in a steamy atmosphere, loaded with odours of india–rubber, tobacco and spirits. The stewardess was ill, and my companions were groaning; unheeded babies were crying…  My clothes were completely saturated.

They reached Shediac about noon and Isabella was of the opinion that it presented “every appearance of unhealthiness”.  In the early 1850s Shediac was still an important timber port visited by large numbers of British and European timber ships. However the harbour was shallow and the Lady LeMarchant was forced to anchor about two miles away from the landing place at Harrington’s Shore on the west side of the bay. There was little in the way of a village but the place was the end point of a stage line to “The Bend” (now Moncton) and from there steamers and other stages to Saint John could be had. Isabella was not impressed with Shediac:

Shediac Harbour. Detail from the Chart of Shediac Bay by H.W. Bayfield 1849. Note absence of wharves or a village on the current town site or at Pointe de Chene

Shediac had recently been visited by the cholera, and there was an infectious melancholy about its aspect, which, coupled with the fact that I was wet, cold, and weary … had a tendency to produce anything but a lively frame of mind. 

We and our baggage were unceremoniously trundled into two large boats, some of the gentlemen, I am sorry to say, forcing their way into the first, in order to secure for themselves places on the stage. 

As we were rowing to shore, the captain told us that our worst difficulty was yet to come – an insuperable one, he added, to corpulent persons. There was no landing place for boats, or indeed for anything at low water, and we had to climb up a wharf ten feet high, formed of huge round logs, placed a foot apart from each other, and slippery with sea grass.  It is really incredible that, at sa place through which a considerable traffic passes, as being on the high road from Prince Edward Island t the United States, that should there be a more inconvenient landing-place than I ever saw at a Highland village.  

With a few years much had changed. In 1857 the European and North American Railway had been completed between Shediac and The Bend of the Peticodiac, as Moncton was known at the time. Three years later, just in time for the visit of the Prince of Wales, the tracks were extended to Saint John, and more importantly for Prince Edward Island, to Pointe du Chene where a wharf was built which could accommodate most steamers, even at low tide.

Isabella Lucy BIrd was undaunted by the travel in the Maritimes. She made an extensive trip through North America and published the results as The Englishwoman in America in 1856 and over the next forty years went on to be a world traveller with trips to the Rocky Mountains, Japan, India and Persia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and China. She was the first woman to be a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. She died in 1904.

Her travels on Prince Edward Island take up several chapters in The Englishwoman in America and provide a fascinating glimpse of the colony at mid-century. An on-line copy can be found here.     

 

The Island City: yet another Civil War blockade runner comes to P.E.I.

On 21 June 1865 a “very neat little paddle-wheel boat” arrived in Charlottetown Harbour from Boston. It was to become the flagship of the North Shore Steamship Line, a new service which included Charlottetown in its list of ports of call. It is another in a long list of steamers calling at Charlottetown which had seen service in the U.S. Civil War which had ended a little more than a month earlier.

Daily Examiner 11 September 1865

The Civil War had seen as many as two hundred Islanders involved on both sides of the conflict. Greg Marquis in his article “Soldiers of Liberty: Islanders and Civil War” which appeared in The Island Magazine No. 36 Fall-Winter 1994 pp.2-8 tells the story of many of these men but the legacy of the war had several other impacts on the Colony.  During the war there was a good market for shipping as both sides rushed to meet transportation and defence needs but at the war’s end there was suddenly a glut of ships on the market, especially for steamships.

The South had engaged hundreds of ships to bring in supplies and to export cotton to pay for them after the Union set up a blockade of the southern ports only weeks after the beginning of the war in 1861. About 400 of the blockade runners were sunk and 1,100 of them were captured, many of which were added to the Union naval forces or sold on the market. At war’s end most of the blockade runners used by the Union were also put on the market. Whether this surfeit of ships had an impact on the Island’s already weakening ship-building industry has yet to be studied.

One of these blockade runners was the Caledonia, an iron paddle steamer built on the Clyde by Tod & MacGregor of Glasgow in 1856. Unlike later vessels the Caledonia was not built for use as a blockade runner and was operated in British waters by the Glasgow and Stranraer Steam Packet Company.  By 1862 however a series of sales to mask her changes of ownership and operations had begun and she was pressed into service running through the Union blockade into the Southern States. She made at least one successful voyage but her luck ran out on the second.

USS Keystone State

She was captured on 30 May 1864 south of Cape Fear after a two hour chase by the USS Keystone State, herself a previously captured blockade runner. The Caledonia was taken to Boston and was taken over by the US Quartermaster-General for transport duties. The following year she was sold, apparently to the Boston firm of Franklin Snow & Co. They had interests in the Boston and Colonial Steamship line which ran from Boston to Charlottetown via Halifax. The company was soon in negotiations with the Government of New Brunswick for a subsidy which would establish a feeder line serving northern New Brunswick and meeting with the company’s Boston steamers at Charlottetown.

The Protestant newspaper in Charlottetown waxed eloquent as to what this would mean for the Island’s capital:

Her ample accommodations, her carrying capacity, her steady and even tread upon the heavy sea the gentlemanly courtesy of her officers, excited the warmest admiration of our New Brunswick brethren, for whose benefit, and under the liberal policy of whose Government she is specially engaged to run. It is to be hoped that her proprietors will be able to continue her route as proposed, to this place, and so open for our business and trade direct and speedy communication with the New Brunswick Bays; and thus furnish not only stimulus to our enterprise, but facilities for recreation, health and travel.

It is not clear exactly when the service started, but by mid-September the ship had been re-named the Island City and weekly return trips from Charlottetown to Shediac, Richibucto, Chatham, Newcastle, Caraquet and Dalhousie were advertised under the banner of the North Shore Steamship Line. The Northumberland Strait service connected at Charlottetown with Snow’s Boston and Colonial steamers the Commerce and the Greyhound giving a single transfer access to the “Boston Boats”  for those from northern New Brunswick.  However the line does not appear to have been a success because the Island City was on a coastal route from Halifax to Yarmouth the following year and the ship also made voyages to Boston. There were additional changes of ownership and by 1870 registration had been transferred to Boston.

But in 1867 there was still unfinished business with the Island City left over from the 1865 service. In that year the Government of New Brunswick had also been in discussion with the P.E.I. Steam Navigation Company for a $3000 subsidy to provide service to the northern Northumberland Strait ports using their steamer the Princess of Wales. There was disagreement as to whether an agreement had been concluded with the Island company who had provided the service for most of the season but the New Brunswick government declined to pay indicating that the official who had negotiated did not have full authority to bind the province and the subsidy had gone instead to the Island City.  It seems as if the Steam Navigation Company was out of luck although they did get the contract for trips between Shediac and the Island in 1865.

Unfortunately I have been unable to locate any images of the Caledonia.

“A Sea-cook is a Peculiar Character …”

Anyone who sails will tell you of the importance of having someone aboard who can cook. Food achieves an importance aboard that is barely contemplated on land – especially on a long voyage.   This was perhaps more true in the 19th century that it is in the 21st.

In 1884 Samuel Greene Wheeler Benjamin, an American author, took an extended cruise of the Gulf of St. Lawrence which began in Charlottetown. A year later his book, The Cruise of the Alice May was published in New York and contains an account of his experiences and observations on the region. Benjamin was a prolific writer who had  a varied experience as a diplomat to Persia, an art historian, a marine artist and a travel writer. His work was published in several popular magazines and he produced a number of books on varying topics including two which contain early descriptions of Prince Edward Island 

Benjamin and his three companions arrived in Charlottetown without having secured a ship for their cruise in advance of their arrival. Rather than embarking on a sleek yacht (of which there were few in Charlottetown)  for the two-month exploration they instead engaged the captain and crew of the Alice May, a trading schooner out of Miminegash. The ship was a fifty-six ton vessel, fifty-nine feet long and sixteen wide. Lacking passenger accommodations the travellers took over the hold of the vessel to make a snug cabin. The crew, however, lacked a cook and Benjamin in the course of describing the preparations for the adventure detailed the void that this left in the arrangements and the steps taken to correct the omission:

It is needless to go into the details of the provisions stored in the schooner for a cruise of two months. Everything was ready, the rigging overhauled, the last nail pounded in: the winds were favorable and yet we were detained at Charlottetown day after day, unable to sail. It was a cook that we waited for: What was the use of having provisions, fuel, or galley, without a cook? A sea-cook is a peculiar character, requiring a special training. He must know how to prepare a sea hash out of salt horse flavored with onions, incrusted with the variegated browns of polished mahogany, and savory enough to create an appetite in a stomach that the tossing waves have rendered as sensitive as the needle of a compass. He must also understand how to make eatable bread, and take his duff out of the kettle on Sunday as light as cotton and as delicate as sponge-cake. Besides this, he must know how to economize in the use of water and provisions; and, more difficult yet, he must contrive to keep the crew satisfied with the mess he cooks for them, while at the same time he looks out sharply for the interests of his employer and the captain. He must also be proof against the worst weather, and undeviatingly punctual to the hours of meals. It goes without saying that it is not an easy thing to find such a paragon in the galley; but when he is there, he is, next to the captain, by far the most important character on board. We had made up our minds that it would be difficult to find a cook in Charlottetown, combining such exalted qualifications, who would be willing to go for such a brief cruise, and were prepared to take up almost any one that offered. But we were not prepared to meet such a gang of shiftless, shuffling, vacillating, prevaricating, self-complacent, exorbitant, and utterly good-for-nothing varlets as those who applied for the position, or whom we discovered after chasing through the lanes, sailors’ boarding-houses, and purlieus of Charlottetown. Over and over again we thought we had engaged a man; but when the time came to sail, he was not to be found. At last, out of all patience with the whole business, we telegraphed to a friend in St. John, New Brunswick, to send us a cook, and that we would pick him up at Point du Chéne. No reply had arrived to the telegram when we sailed, and thus we started without a cook, in a sort of vain hope of stumbling across one at some port.

While the self-catered trip to Shediac was not without its adventures, including a grounding at the entrance to the harbour, there was a delay at the port.  The cook arrived in Shediac from Saint John before the Alice May arrived. He then took the steamer for Charlottetown to meet the sailboat. Meanwhile the schooner was bound for Summerside (described by Benjamin as “mere naked cluster of warehouses and uninteresting, cheaply-constructed dwellings”) and then, failing to find the cook which they had been told to expect, across the Strait. They were forced to wait in Shediac, which Benjamin noted “offers few attractions to the tourist,”  for several days until the cook retraced his steps and joined the crew to Benjamin’s great relief;

With no end of inventive culinary resources; he was indefatigable in the discharge of his duties, sober and faithful to the interests of his employers. Happy the ship that sails with such a cook, and happy the diners who batten on his beefsteak and onions, hash, roly-poly and tea.

An on-line text of the full Voyage of the Alice May, including line-drawings by one of the crew, is available through Google Books and can be found here