Robert Learmonth came to Quebec with his father in 1842, and remained on the latter's farm in that vicinity for about five years. Subsequently he removed to Quebec and worked five years in Bissets Foundry, learning his trade of machinist and engineer. He removed to Buffalo in 1852, where he worked about a year in Sheppard's Works, now known as the King Iron Works. His first employment on the lakes was in 1853, when he put an engine in the steamer Iowa, of the Evans (now the Anchor) line, for the Buffalo Steam Engine Works. This steamer was changed from a side-wheeler to a propeller, and was commanded by Captain Pratt, with Almer Johnson as her chief engineer. Mr. Learmonth ran her only one trip. In 1854 he became second engineer of the steamer Toledo, then owned by Messrs. Lee & Able and Captain Montgomery, the last named being also her master. He was on this steamer the full season, and the season following was employed by the Buffalo Steam Engine Works to go to Milwaukee to fit out the steamer Allegheny, built by James Jones, of that city. On this steamer he was chief engineer for two consecutive seasons.
The following three seasons Mr. Learmonth remained ashore, and during those years had charge of the machinery of Stewart & Shoemaker's distillery, located at Black Rock. The seasons of 1860-61-62 he was chief engineer of the steamer Queen of the Lakes, of the Evans line, and the two following seasons was chief engineer of the steamer Pacific, of the New York Central line, running between Buffalo and Cleveland. For the next fifteen years he was master mechanic for Pratt & Co.'s rolling mill and blast furnace. This company has been out of existence since 1880, and was succeeded by The Griffin Car Wheel Company. Beginning with the year 1880 Mr. Learmonth was for three years U.S. local inspector of boilers for the Ninth district, under the administration of President Hayes, and located at Buffalo, N.Y. On July 1, 1884, he resigned that office to become chief engineer of the Anchor line which position he now holds.
During Mr. Learmonth's time as chief engineer three steamers belonging to the Anchor line have been lost. The Philadelphia came in collision with the Albany off Point aux Barques in a heavy fog in November, 1893, and was a total loss. The crews of both steamers attempted to get ashore in the two small boats of the Philadelphia, one of which being overloaded was lost; the other, containing twenty-two men, reached the shore in safety. The Winslow was burned at the dock at Duluth in 1891, and was a total loss also; she was being unloaded at the time and had very little cargo aboard. The steamer Annie Young was burned on Lake Huron, about ten miles from Port Huron, in 1890, and was a total loss. There have been added to the fleet during this time four new steamers, Susquehanna, in 1886, Codorus, Schuylkill and Mahoning, in 1892. Mr. Learmonth is also the patentee of the Buffalo Feed Water Heater and Purifier, an apparatus which has added greatly to the efficiency of the marine boiler, and is now being extensively used, with good success, on many of the largest lake steamers.
Mr. Learmonth was wedded to Miss Anna Frame, a native of Leith, Scotland, who died in 1892. Four children were born to this union, three of whom are now deceased; the other, now Mrs. John Ferguson, resides at No. 200 La Fayette avenue, Buffalo, N.Y., and with her our subject makes his home.
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This version of Volume II is based, with permission, on the work of the great volunteers at the Marine Captains Biographies site. To them goes the credit for reorganizing the content into some coherent order. The biographies in the original volume are in essentially random order.
Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.