Tag Archives: survey

Mystery Yacht Identified

Unidentified ship min Farquharson album

Unidentified yacht, Farquharson album, Public Archives and Records Office accession 3909 #55 (click on photo to enlarge)

Every archive and museum has them – in some cases by the hundreds or thousands. Unidentified photographs that could tell a tale but are silent. They are mute storytellers waiting for some key to unlock their importance.  The photo above is one of them. A white steam yacht. Even with its uneven exposure  and marred by a number of blemishes it is still a striking photo – or at least a striking ship.  It is inserted into one of the final pages of an album almost exclusively devoted to detailed construction photos of the building of the Hillsborough Bridge and the background is recognizably the Southport shore of Charlottetown Harbour. All of the other photos seem to be from 1900 to 1905. However none of the photos in the album are captioned and without a name the vessel’s place in the history of the harbour is a mystery. We are left with a three-masted steam yacht with no name. What was it and what was it doing in Charlottetown Harbour?

Searching for resources for a planned story on the building of the Hillsborough Bridge I found the photo but it clearly had no link to the bridge itself. A few days later searching for information on the survey ship Gulnare a hint is found in the Guardian for 22 June 1903:

The new surveying ship Eleanor which is to take the place of the Gulnare arrived in port Saturday night, eleven days from Portsmouth with Capt. Tooker and Lieut. Musgrove in charge.  The Eleanor is a handsome three-masted steam yacht apparently very suitable for her work. She was purchased by the British Government from the Prince of Monarco [sic], whose private yacht she was. She will probably sail Tuesday, a month later than usual, to continue admiralty survey off Newfoundland.   

This seemed to tell the tale. Except – a further search of records fails to find any record of the Eleanor belonging to the Prince of Monaco and there is no record that a ship named the Eleanor was ever in the Royal Navy. A few days later the unravelling of the mystery is begun by the following note in the 20 October 1903 Guardian:

The Gulnare is at the Steam Navigation Wharf, where she is undergoing repairs which are being made by Bruce Stewart and Company. The Ellinor will also receive a thorough overhauling during the winter months.

So, if not the Eleanor, could this be the Ellinor with an understandable confusion as to spelling?. The search re-commences and a listing is found in a volume titled Ships of the Royal Navy by J.J. College which notes ” Ellinor (ex-screw yacht Eberhard) Survey ship, 593 gross, 180 (o/a) x 27ft. Purch 1901. Fate unknown. ” It was reported in the Halifax Chronicle that the ship had been acquired from the Prince of Monaco by a “well-known yachtsman in England” (who presumably had changed the name as there of no record of the Eberhard in connection with Monaco) but that omits one link in the chain of ownership. But what of the “ex-screw yacht Eberhard“?

The story of the Eberhard contains a gruesome chapter in the yacht’s history. By 1900 the ship was registered in Hamburg and was owned by Bruno Mencke, son of a German chocolate millionaire, Eberhard Mencke. She was used by Bruno to mount what became known as the First German South Seas Expedition in 1901. After visiting several Islands the scientific expedition landed on Mussau, one of the St. Mattias Islands of the Bismark Archipelago, then a German territory. After the yacht had departed to re-coal and pick up more supplies the camp was attacked by the Island’s natives and the expedition doctor and two policemen killed. The rest of the party, including several wounded, escaped to a nearby trading post where Bruno Mencke died of wounds received in the attack. It was subsequently discovered that the three bodies left behind had been consumed by the natives who practiced cannibalism.  Later that year a landing party from a German cruiser accompanied by police landed on the island and massacred 81 natives, including women and children in retaliation.  It is not surprising that the Eberhard was a disposed of soon after her return to Germany.

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Princess Alice before foreyards were removed.

The buyer was Spencer Chapman who re-named the vessel Ellinor and moved the registration to London.  It turns out that the Eberhard was not the first name that the vessel bore and learning her initial name  finally revels the connection between the ship and the Prince of Monaco.  Part of the reason why the vessel was chosen for the German scientific expedition may have been that it was uniquely equipped for the task, having been built specifically for scientific research with a considerable amount of auxiliary machinery and several laboratories on the main deck, as well as providing sumptuous accommodation for the researchers as well as the crew of the ship.


Portuguese stamp honouring Prince Albert, showing the Yacht Princess Alice.

The vessel was built as the auxiliary yacht Princess Alice for Albert the First of Monaco who had a noteworthy career as an oceanographer. During his reign he commissioned four oceanographic research vessels.  The Princess Alice was the second of these ships and was named in honour of the Prince’s  second wife Marie Alice Heine, dowager Duchesse de Richelieu. Marie Alice was the daughter of a New Orleans building contractor who had married well and was widowed at an early age.

The ship, launched 12 February 1891, was built on the Thames at the Blackwall, London shipyard of R & H Green.  It was a single-screw, three-masted, single-stovepipe-funnelled, auxiliary-topsail schooner of about 600 tons.

Princess Alice

Builders model of the Princess Alice 1891. Royal Museums Greenwich, Green Blackwall Collection

Detailed descriptions were provided of the ship in both The Marine Engineer and Naval Architect and Engineering. She was 168 feet long, 27 feet wide and drew 12 feet. Two boilers were fitted; one to drive the vessel at a top speed of 9 knots, the other to provide power for electric lights aboard.  Her frames were of steel and the planking of teak with teak used for the deck houses and finishing throughout. She was not dependant on her steam power however, as the Ratsey & Lapthorne sails on the three masts had a spread of 12,000 feet.

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Princess Alice about 1896 – from Results of the Scientific Campaigns of the Prince of Monaco Vol. 84. NOAA ship collection

The Princess Alice was used in seven scientific voyages between 1892 and 1897, mostly in the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. She was replaced in 1897 by the larger Princess Alice II and the first ship was offered for sale. It is not clear when she was acquired by Mencke.

The steam yacht was used  by the British Admiralty in 1903 to replace the privately-owned survey ship Gulnare, whose charter agreement had expired.  The charter term for the Ellinor was five years or until the survey of Newfoundland and northern Canada had been completed. Records suggest that she may have been purchased by the Admiralty sometime during this period.  The Gulnare later returned to government service in connection with the tidal survey.  The Princess Alice was used on the Newfoundland survey until at least 1912 although after 1904 she was probably based out of Halifax rather than Charlottetown. In 1912 the Ellinor was transferred to the West Indies for further surveying in the Kingston Jamaica area.   I have been unable to learn of the fate of the vessel after 1912 but another researcher has found a reference to a British government vessel named Ellinor as late as 1919.

The few photographs found of the Princess Alice as well as the builder’s model leave little doubt that this is the vessel in Charlottetown harbour in 1903 although the 1903 photo shows an added upper-deck wheelhouse. The Ellinor was one of the many vessels that contributed to the accuracy of Canada’s nautical mapping but her role appears to have largely been forgotten.  Still, it is nice to know that a photo of His Majesty’s Survey Ship Ellinor, ex-Eberhard, ex-Princess Alice while anchored in Charlottetown Harbour in 1903, is part of the collection of the Public Archives and Records Office. Every picture tells a story.

SS Ellinor - card front (3)Post script 2019: The Ellinor was the subject of an early postcard (publisher unknown) dating from 1906 which was mailed in Halifax (which may very well have been where the photo was taken). I am indebted to Allison Nelson who is responsible for the very useful pictoupostcards.com site for sharing this image of the card which she discovered in Cambridge Ontario.

Surveyors in the Gulph – Margaretha Stevenson Comes to Charlottetown

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The Margaretha Stevenson on the ways at the foot of Great George Street in the early 1860s. Today the Colonial Building and the brick house at the corner of Water street remain, as well as part of the stone foundation for the warehouse which now makes up part of the garden wall.

Not Launched from Prince Edward’s Isle

The photo is a dramatic one. Against the background of the early 1860s Great George Street and the Charlottetown waterfront a ship, completely rigged, stands ready to be launched. But the picture is not what it seems…

The trim little vessel was not built in a Charlottetown ship yard, nor anywhere else on the Island. Indeed surprisingly for a country rich in timber and with a shipbuilding tradition, the ship was not even built in Canada but in a shipyard on the distant Firth of Clyde in Scotland and launched in April 1860 .  The other surprise is that the vessel was a steamship. Although sporting the rig of a topsail schooner the ship was registered in Glasgow, its first port, as an iron screw steamer. The 105 foot vessel was just 65 register tons and was described by the Dumbarton Herald as a “steam yacht.” Designed and built as a steam tender for the survey ship Gulnare the tiny vessel had ample accommodation; six elegantly furnished state cabins for the captain and surveying officers,  a chart room, a chronometer room, eight berths for the chief engineer and firemen, focs’le berths for the remainder of the crew, and a saloon “in a very chaste and handsome style” capable of seating sixteen.  In the speed trials she was capable of 10 knots under steam power.

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Detail of the Margaretha Stevenson showing the propeller at the stern of the vessel. Also clear is the topsail schooner rig and the relatively small size of the ship.

The topsail schooner was a popular rig for P,.E.I.-built ships, many of which were sold in the United Kingdom.  Its blend of square and fore-and-aft rigging allowed for good maneuverability with a smaller crew and it was often used on coastal vessels.  However, in a closer view a three-bladed propeller can be seen and in a later view of the ship (seen below) the funnel for the steam engine can be spotted. In addition it would have been highly unusual for a vessel to be launched fully rigged. A more logical explanation is that the ship has been hauled out of the water for re-fit or repairs.

The ship is the Margaretha Stevenson and her presence in the port of Charlottetown is part of a significant chapter in the history of the harbour. It was a time when Prince Edward Island was at the centre of production of nautical charts detailing the east coast. For more than forty years the port was an important component  of the British Admiralty’s plan for charting the world.

The Survey of the Gulph

It begins in Quebec in 1841 when Captain (later Admiral) Henry Wolsey Bayfield was nearing the completion of his charting of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Seeking a better site from which to continue the survey of the Gulf and Newfoundland he moved his establishment to Charlottetown.  Although engaged in surveying the coasts between the break-up and freeze-up during the winter months in Charlottetown the surveyors returned each fall to offices in Charlottetown to plot the soundings and observations of the previous season. After preparing  the plans and charts they were forwarded to the Admiralty Hydrographic Office in London to be engraved.

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Admiral Henry Wolsey Bayfield in later years

Bayfield, having overall responsibility, insisted on accuracy of location and name, good style, and the best scale for each chart. His staff gradually increased to include three assistant surveyors, a draughtsman, and a medical officer. While on survey duties his assistants customarily went off in surveying boats for a few days or weeks to work on a survey while Bayfield laboured elsewhere, but he was always in command. His surveyors were provided with detailed  instructions and they were required to report to him in person or by letter on a regular basis. He set a high standard which he expected his men to follow. He was impatient with carelessness, inaccuracy, or indolence, but he showed appreciation for good work and did not hesitate to recommend his assistants for promotions.

By 1848 Bayfield and assistants had completed the surveys of Prince Edward Island, Northumberland Strait, part of Gaspe, and Cape Breton and he moved the work on to other areas including the Halifax area and Sable Island before retiring in 1856. In retirement he was promoted Vice-Admiral, Rear-Admiral and finally Admiral in 1867. He died in Charlottetown in 1885.

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Captain (later Admiral) John Orlebar

Bayfield was succeeded in the survey work by Captain John Orlebar who had been his assistant since 1836 and has credit for many of the P.E.I. charts, including Charlottetown Harbour and the Hillsborough River. Once Orlebar had taken command of the survey the attention of the Admiralty shifted to Newfoundland and Orlebar was directed to take his survey crew each year to northern waters although the headquarters remained in Charlottetown until 1863 when it was removed to St. John’s.  In the 1860s the survey team  included a number of Islanders including Frederick W, Hyndman who had joined the Royal Navy a few years earlier. Hyndman is noted as assistant on a number of Newfoundland charts created during the period.  Orlebar initially used the steamer Lady Le Marchant for his Newfoundland work but in 1860 the Admiralty chartered the Margaretha Stevenson which appears to have been designed and built specifically for the purpose. In 1864-65 the vessel helped survey the route and assisted the Great Eastern in the laying of the Atlantic cable.

The Story of the Ship

The Margaretha Stevenson was not large ship but was very effective for getting into small harbours along the coast.  The 114 ton vessel was 110 feet long and 18 feet wide and drew 10 feet. Launched from the yard of William Denny & Bros. at Dumbarton Scotland in April 1860 she crossed the Atlantic later in the season under sail. Her 2 cylinder, 28 horsepower engine had been put in place in Scotland but was not used during the crossing.  It is possible that the photo above may have been taken at the time of the arrival of the ship in Charlottetown when the engines were made operational.  The registered owners up to 1869 were members of the Stevenson family of Quebec.  William Stevenson was a merchant there who had business connections to Prince Edward Island and was a correspondent of James Peake. In 1846 he bought the steamer St. George from the Prince Edward Island Steam Navigation Company and also owned the Pocahontas, another of the vessels which linked Charlottetown and Pictou. Stevenson was also owner of several of the vessels used by Capt. Bayfield in the survey, all of which were called the Gulnare and one of which was built in Charlottetown.

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Margaretha Stevenson caught in ice while owned by the Moise Company 1867. Note the funnel and the diminutive size of the ship – Arthur Henderson Photo McCord Museum

In 1869 the Margaretha Stevenson was sold to W.M. Molson, a member of the Quebec brewing and banking family, and her survey duties came to an end. The vessel was used in connection with a venture called the Moisie River Iron Company, formed to exploit magnetic ore discovered near Sept Iles on the Quebec North Shore.  The ship later passed through the hands of a number of other owners and was primarily used as a passenger and freight carrier for the service along the North Shore of the St. Lawrence between Montreal and Anticosti and Quebec and Natashquan. In 1879 the owners changed name of the vessel to the Otter. Passenger accommodation was expanded and in 1886 the small ship was licensed for 125 passengers  but it is hard to imagine that many on board in safety. The registry was closed after the vessel was wrecked near Riviere-du-Loup in dense fog in November 1898.