Tag Archives: Summerside

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.

Depending on the Public Patronage – The Steamer Rosebud and the Subsidy

Haszard's Gazette 11 April 1855 p.3

Haszard’s Gazette 11 April 1855 p.3

Prince Edward Island is cut off from the mainland by Northumberland Strait and it seems getting across the strait has, for a long time, required a significant input of public funding. In the colonial period the subsidy took the form of a contract for carrying the colony’s mails and after Confederation it was more of an outright grant for services. Whether the subsidy was actually needed was seldom tested. Usually when the contract was awarded to one firm, other bidders vacated the field until the period of the contract had elapsed and they could bid again. But in the 1850s something strange happened – the Rosebud kept running.

The 1850s was a period of difficulty for the transportation links between colony and the mainland. The decade had opened with James Peake’s English-built steamer Rose providing service but he lost the mail contract in 1853 for reasons not entirely clear. It was replaced by a New Brunswick boat, the Fairy Queen, which sank with heavy loss of life late in the year. The next vessel to receive the subsidy was the Lady Le Marchant which was registered in Richibucto and owned by a New Brunswick member of the extended DesBrisay family and so it at least had some Island connections.

But the same year that the Lady Le Marchant came into service a new vessel was launched in Charlottetown which promised to provide competition. The Rosebud was the first steamship built on Prince Edward Island. She was owned by William Heard, a merchant and shipbuilder from the West of England who had come to the colony in the mid-1840s and soon prospered.  His yard was in Charlottetown near where the railway shops were later built.  Heard was an advocate for an Island replacement for the Rose  “decidedly the best and best-managed vessel ever put on the line between Pictou and Charlottetown.” Ironically Heard had purchased the wreck of the Rose when it went ashore near Rustico in 1853 and it is possible that the engine for the Rosebud could have been the one powering the Rose. Failing to find a suitable vessel to compete against the Lady Le Marchant he decided to build his own. She slid down the ways on 23 September 1854. Not large, at 120 tons, about 105 feet, she built as a packet with two cabins for passengers and other accommodations.  She was built on speculation for, as the editor of the Haszard’s Gazette noted , “We trust her enterprising owner may soon find employment for her, that will compensate him for his heavy outlay. ” On 15 November she was sent on her maiden voyage to Pictou and “all things considered . . . she has not disappointed her well-wishers.”  The Pictou Eastern Chronicle welcomed her arrival under the heading “More Steam in the Gulf” and noted she would be making three trips each week during the next year.

Haszard’s Gazette suggested that the Rosebud be placed on a new route. Rather than Pictou a more suitable Nova Scotia port might be Barrachois Harbour, 20 miles closer to Charlottetown and with only 12 miles between Point Prim and Amet Island the route would greatly shorten the time the vessel was subject to heavy seas. However when the Rosebud’s schedule was published in April 1855 it was between Charlottetown and Pictou and a short time later it was announced that the new vessel had been awarded the mail contract – much to the relief of Haszard’s Gazette: “We were at one time afraid that the Government were not going to employ the Rose Bud, and that we should have a streamer put on the route owned elsewhere, or perhaps none at all.”

However Haszard’s Gazette had been misinformed. The contract had again gone to Mr. DesBrisay and the Lady Le Marchant which announced a schedule of sailings to Pictou and Shediac, stopping at Bedeque.  Islanders now had a choice of boats for travel to Pictou. The Rosebud scrambled for extra work. The she had a short-term contract with the Anglo-America Telegraph to re-lay the cable between Cape Tormentine and Cape Traverse linking the colony with Halifax, Boston and New York! For the rest of the 1855 season the Rosebud travelled on the Pictou route. Besides her regular service she carried 200 members of the Benevolent Irish Society to a picnic in Orwell early in the month and advertised an excursion to Baie de Verte in 14 July and to Mount Stewart at the beginning of September. Later that month the steamer was transferred to the Summerside – Shediac route “for the remainder of the season” but by 4 October she had been laid up for the winter. William Heard took the opportunity to appeal to his fellow Islanders:

In the absence of that paternal regard for home production and enterprise, in which modern popular Governments are supposed to excel, and in the face of the most determined opposition,  — the Rosebud has performed her bi-weekly trips, between Charlottetown and Pictou, for the last 5 months, with almost undeviating regularity, and without even the smallest accident.   

During the season the Lady Le Marchant made 43 trips to Pictou and 25 to Shediac and received a subsidy of £1300 from P.E.I., £240 from Nova Scotia and £360 from New Brunswick. The Rosebud made 40 trips to Pictou and received nothing.

The following year the Lady Le Marchant once again had the contract and the Haszard’s Gazette editor was careful to point out that while he was glad that the colony had not had to resort to a sailing packet there needed to be fair competition. The Rosebud had been refitted and repaired and a dependable service between Charlottetown and Pictou or Pugwash or Tatamagouche was preferable to a service which included Shediac, this having been responsible for delays and missed trips the previous year.  The editor hoped that Government would make some provision for Heard’s vessel as “it is not likely that the Rosebud will be kept on the route solely by the remuneration from freight and passengers.”

Haszard's Gazette 21 June 1856 p.4

Haszard’s Gazette 21 June 1856 p.4

Heard headed an advertisement in June “Depending on the Public Patronage” which clearly referred to the fact that he was not receiving any government assistance.  By July he was trying to avoid direct competition by sailing to Tatamagouche and not Pictou and in September the service shifted to a service between Bedeque and Shediac.

In 1857 Heard seems to have given up in the Pictou route and the Rosebud was now crossing twice a week to Shediac.  With the 1857 advertisement touting the route which would give passage from Charlottetown to Boston in Four Days!! the documentary trail runs out and it is not clear what became of the vessel. No image of the ship has been located.

For more than three years Heard had fought to get the subsidy for an Island vessel. Perhaps he was simply on the wrong side of politics, perhaps the Rosebud, in spite of positive press reports, was not the right boat for the Strait or perhaps there were other reasons lost with the passage of time why Heard did not get the contract.  Nevertheless when a new boat was needed after the Lady Le Marchant left the strait it was another New Brunswick boat, the Westmorland that was chosen and she kept at it until 1864 – still irritating Islanders that the subsidy was being paid abroad.