One of the most interesting developments of the Sixties has been the sale for scrap of a large number of our older vessels. Instead of being cut up in lake ports, many familiar ships have made the long voyage across the North Atlantic at the end of a tow line destined for European scrapyards. This movement first began in 1960 and, according to your editor's records, the PETER ROBERTSON was the ninetieth laker to be sold for scrapping overseas. She was also the eighth that never reached her destination.
The PETER ROBERTSON, originally named E. J. EARLING, was completed in May 1906, as Hull 514 of the Superior Shipbuilding Company, West Superior, Wisconsin. Her length was 535.5 feet, her beam 55 feet and her depth 31 feet, giving her a tonnage of 6657 gross and 5140 net. She was powered by triple expansion engines built by the Detroit Shipbuilding Co. She entered service for the Franklin Steamship Co., Herbert K. Oakes, Manager, and operated for them until sold in 1923 to the Kinney Steamship Company of Cleveland. The next year she was renamed ROBERT B. WALLACE.
In 1936 the ship was sold to the Wilson Transit Co., Cleveland, and she remained in their service until 1957 when she passed to the Republic Steel Corporation. The Wilson Marine Transit Company continued as operating managers, and in 1959 she was renamed PETER ROBERTSON. She was retired at the end of the 1968 season because of her small size and her coal-fired boilers and in retirement she joined her former running mate J. E. UPSON.
The ROBERTSON was sold early in 1969 to Sea-Land Service Inc., of New York and became what has been called a "box-top" ship. Her new owners traded her to the United States Maritime Administration in exchange for a unit of the reserve fleet which would be rebuilt and modernized. U. S. MarAd then sold her at auction to the Oxford Shipping Corp., representatives of European breakers.
On August 2nd, 1969, she passed down the Welland Canal in tow of the German tugs, FAIRPLAY X and FAIRPLAY XII. As the tugs were to return up the Lakes for another ship, they broke the law forbidding foreign tugs from breaking tow within Canadian waters and tied the ROBERTSON alongside the J. E. UPSON, also bound overseas, that was anchored in Lake Ontario off Port Dalhousie. On August 20th, in a strong easterly breeze, the ROBERTSON broke loose and grounded close inshore to the east of Jordan Harbour. The tugs could not free her and, when the Canadian Government became aware of the problem, they ordered that Canadian tugs would have to salvage the vessel and remove her from the Lakes, With much difficulty but with no damage, she was refloated on August 25th by DANIEL McALLISTER and SALVAGE MONARCH which took her all the way to Quebec City where she was readied for the long tow.
The FAIRPLAY X again took over the ship and on September 3rd the tandem tow of the ROBERTSON and the former Columbia craneship BUCKEYE, cleared port. They were reported passing Les Escoumains the following day. Once out in the Atlantic the ROBERTSON balked for the second time in the voyage and broke adrift from the tug which was hard pressed to recapture the wandering laker. The freighter had suffered rudder damage during the escapade and was forced to return to Sydney, Nova Scotia for repairs.
Some time later, the tug and two veteran lakers set out again and almost managed to cross the Atlantic successfully, only to have PETER ROBERTSON take on water and settle to the bottom near La Coruna, Spain, only a short distance from her destination of Santander, Full details of the occurrence are not yet known, but we understand that the ship has cracked amidships and has lost her unusual triple-deck bridge structure. Apparently before the ship's condition was fully realized, a Hamburg salvage firm was awarded a salvage contract and sent equipment to the scene but success would seem improbable if reports on the wreck are correct.
An old ship heading for the scrapyard usually looks pretty dead, but the PETER ROBERTSON must have had some life in her yet. Apparently determined not to be taken from her old stamping grounds, she reluctantly went to salt water but seems to have tried her best to avoid the cutting torch.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.