In our May issue, we presented the story of one of the best known passenger steamers ever to sail the waters of Lake Ontario, the sidewheel nightboat KINGSTON. This month we have chosen yet another Lake Ontario passenger boat but if KINGSTON's career of nearly half a century could be described as a remarkable success, then the rather shorter career of our midsummer ship of the month would have to verge on being exactly the opposite.
A few years ago, we printed in this publication an article entitled "Steamboat to Hamilton" which briefly outlined the operations of four steamers which ran the day line between Toronto and Hamilton. One of the boats which was featured in that article was TURBINIA and since we have in the interim learned a good deal more about this unusual vessel, the time now seems ripe that she should be featured individually in these pages.
The city of Hamilton in 1903 saw the formation of the Turbine Steamship Company Ltd., a firm formed specifically to operate a turbine-powered passenger ship on the run between the neighbouring cities of Toronto and Hamilton. The president of the new concern was John Moodie, Jr., and its directors were William Hyslop and James Turnbull. The company immediately placed with Hawthorne, Leslie and Company of Hebburn-on-Tyne, England, an order for the construction of a turbine-driven dayboat of maximum canal size.
Few lake passenger propellors had more graceful hulls than did TURBINIA. She was given a sweeping sheer and her bow was distinctively flared. Her beautiful counter stern was so much undercut that the fender strakes running down each side of the boat at the main deck level had to be extended considerably beyond the hull plating on the curve of the stern in order to protect the wing screws from being damaged in contact with wharves.
TURBINIA had an enclosed main deck which was open only at the fantail aft of the dining saloon but her promenade deck was almost completely open for the benefit of those seeking respite from the summer heat amongst the cool lake breezes. Originally, only a small cabin was fitted around the stack casings but in later days a rather larger cabin was built on the promenade deck. The boat deck above extended right to the sides of the ship and ran from the break of the forecastle rail all the way aft to the fantail.
The boat or hurricane deck featured at its forward end a large rounded pilothouse complete with bridge wings and an open bridge above. A small texas cabin was located aft of the pilothouse but other than this structure, there was no shelter on this deck from the elements. Three lifeboats were carried on each side and aft of the pilothouse was TURBINIA's one tall, raked mast. (A second mast was later added abaft the stacks.) But dominating the boat's profile were her two tall and heavy funnels, raked and with the tops cut parallel to the water. The stacks may have been typical of ships of her era but they were so large that they tended to destroy the symmetry of TURBINIA's lines and to give her a top-heavy appearance.
TURBINIA had a black hull with a red boot-top and a narrow white band just above the waterline. The uppermost section of the hull, including the bow rail, was white as were the cabins. The stacks were red with a very narrow white band and a black smokeband. This same design appeared briefly on the stacks of CAYUGA fifty years later just before she entered service for the Cayuga Steamship Company Ltd. but was changed before the old steamer actually went back into operation.
TURBINIA passed her trials on the Tyne and on Wednesday, June 1st, 1904 she cleared Newcastle for Canada, the North Atlantic crossing taking six days. Once this side of the pond, she made stops at St. John's, Newfoundland, at Sydney, Nova Scotia, and at Montreal, after which she proceeded to the drydock at Kingston for inspection and the addition of the finishing touches. She left KINGSTON on Sunday, June 19th and late the same evening she arrived at her new home port of Hamilton.
The new steamboat was placed under the command of Capt. A. Crawford who on Wednesday, June 29th, 1904 took TURBINIA on a special maiden cruise to Toronto. She entered regular service on June 30, providing two round trips per day between the two cities. Departures from Hamilton were scheduled for 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. She was not alone on the run, however, for she faced direct and often stormy competition from the steamers MACASSA and MODJESKA of the Hamilton Steamboat Company which had been incorporated in 1887 and which was by this time well established. TURBINIA held her own despite the competition.
After her first summer of service, TURBINIA headed off-lakes and she spent the winter of 1904-05 operating in the West Indies. She returned to her Hamilton - Toronto route in the summer of 1905 but the following winter again headed south where she operated a day service between Kingston, Jamaica, and Santiago, Cuba, under charter to the Canada - Jamaica Steamship Company. Her operations during the 1905-06 winter were far from successful and resulted in a loss on the year's operations of some $18,000. It was announced that TURBINIA would leave Kingston, Jamaica, for the lakes on March 29, 1906 and on May 1 she arrived at Kingston, Ontario, for drydocking. She had been so badly battered during the winter months that extensive repairs were necessary. Never again was the steamer sent to the Caribbean for winter service.
At the annual meeting of the Turbine Steamship Company Ltd. held early in 1906, the following were elected to office: president, J. Moodie, Jr.; vice-president, C. A. Birge; secretary-treasurer, G. Hope; directors, Timothy Eaton, C. Marshall, W. C. Hawkins and Col. J. A. Davidson. At a special meeting in April 1906, however, the firm was reorganized with a large portion of the stock being purchased by shareholders of the T. Eaton Company Ltd., the operator of a large downtown-Toronto department store. John Moodie, Jr., stepped down from the presidency to the vice-presidency while John C. Eaton became president. J. Vaughan became secretary-treasurer while Harry Magee joined the board of directors. It was at this time that the head office of the Turbine Steamship Company was moved from Hamilton to Toronto.
In August of 1906, TURBINIA was "chartered" to make one trip per week from Toronto to points east, namely Whitby, Oshawa, Bowmanville and Newcastle, and in addition to sail from Toronto on Thursdays for Port Hope and Cobourg, two ports even further down the lake, these arrangement to last until the close of the season. The details of these "charters" are not known but at appears a possibility that these trips were really only special runs operated by her owner.
Then, in early 1907, the Turbine Steamship Company Ltd. announced that its steamer would make two trips a day between Toronto and Hamilton and in addition a weekly trip on Saturdays to Charlotte, New York, the boat returning on Monday morning. However, this schedule was only tentative for on May 20, 1907 the T.S.S.Co. made public the following revised daily schedule: 7:00 a.m. Depart Hamilton for Toronto; 9:20 a.m. - Depart Toronto for Niagara-on-the-Lake and Lewiston; 11:40 a.m. - Depart Lewiston for Niagara-on-the-Lake and Toronto; 2:00 p.m. - Depart Toronto for Niagara-on-the-Lake and Lewiston; 5:30 p.m. - Depart Lewiston for Niagara-on-the-Lake and Toronto; 7:50 p.m. -Depart Toronto for Hamilton. The company also chartered NIAGARA from Hepburn's Lake Ontario and Quebec Navigation Company to run between Hamilton, Oakville and Toronto, leaving Hamilton at 8:00 a.m. and Toronto on the return trip at 5:30 p.m. The Toronto - Hamilton portion of TURBINIA's schedule was abandoned on July 15th and thereafter she confined herself for the remainder of the season to the Niagara run.
TURBINIA's 1907 season was, therefore, a rather confused affair. As well, the boat managed to get herself, aground in the Niagara River near Lewiston, New York, as she was departing on the Toronto run at 5:30 p.m. on June 15th. Fortunately, she managed to free herself at about 9:30 p.m. the same evening.
The 1907 season was probably not particularly successful for at the annual meeting of the company on February 8, 1908 it was proposed that TURBINIA confine herself to two round trips a day between Toronto and Hamilton. At the same meeting, the following executives took office: John C. Eaton, president; John Moodie, Jr., vice-president; J. Knox, A. Leitch, C. R. Simpson, Harry Magee and J. J. Vaughan, directors. TURBINIA's 1908 season was more successful than her previous one and she stayed on the route for which she had been built instead of wandering about the lake. Her mechanical performance was also much improved due to the fitting of a whole new set of screws.
Considering that to date TURBINIA had not been as successful as might have been hoped, the press reports which appeared early in 1908 were quite a surprise. They stated that the Turbine Steamship Company Ltd. proposed the construction of another turbine steamer for the Toronto - Hamilton route and that the order would be placed with a Canadian shipyard, the turbines to be imported from Great Britain. It was said that tenders had been submitted to the firm for the building of a ship generally similar to TURBINIA but about 65 feet shorter and 8 feet less in width and which could accommodate 1,000 passengers. It was proposed that she be named EATONIA. Estimated cost of construction was $150,000.
EATONIA was, however, never built, for on January 15, 1909 the Eaton interests acquired control of the Hamilton Steamboat Company, thereby ending the years of competition between the two lines. Surprisingly, the two firms were not merged and TURBINIA continued to operate in "opposition" to MACASSA and MODJESKA, at least as far as appearances were concerned. Mergers came hot and heavy thereafter for in 1911 both the T.S.S.Co. and the H.S.B.Co. were taken over by the Niagara Navigation Company Ltd., the firm which had proven to be the leader in operating dayboats between Toronto and Niagara River ports. Then in 1912 Niagara Navigation itself was swallowed by the larger Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd. and on June 11, 1913 the R & O was the major participant in the amalgamation which formed the Canada Transportation Company Ltd., Montreal. This concern was almost immediately renamed and thus appeared the familiar Canada Steamship Lines Ltd.
TURBINIA, MACASSA and MODJESKA were all given C.S.L. colours after the merger and all three continued on the Toronto - Hamilton route although TURBINIA did stray around the lake from time to time and particularly into the Niagara River. This state of affairs continued through the first three years of the war but 1917 was not kind to TURBINIA. Under the command of Capt. A. Jeffreys, she managed to run aground three times in six days; she hit bottom in the Niagara River off Queenston on June 30, stranded on Gibraltar Point, Toronto Island, on July 1st, and did the same thing inside Toronto harbour on July 5. One enquiry was held to cover all three accidents and the Canadian Railway and Marine World of September 1917 reported on it as follows:
"Capt. L. A. Demers, Dominion Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Capts. J. B. Foote and Jas. McMaugh as nautical assessors, held an enquiry at Toronto recently into the causes which led to the stranding of Canada Steamship Lines' TURBINIA in the Niagara River, June 30, on Centre Island, Toronto, July 1, and in Toronto harbour, July 5. The court found that the grounding in the Niagara River between Queenston and Lewiston was due to an error of judgment on the part of the master, A. Jeffreys, in miscalculating the force of the current and wind but that it was not of a culpable nature. Regarding the second grounding, the court considered that the master did not apply his judgment in the proper channel; he had expressed his doubts as to the correctness of the compass but did not take means to ascertain its deviation; he was running at too great a speed during fog and did not use the lead as he should have done. He bears a good reputation as an officer and for this reason the court dealt leniently with him and suspended his certificate for one month from July 20. The court absolved the mate, M. J. Lawless, from blame for the stranding but remarked that his conduct indicated indifference.
"With respect to the third grounding, the evidence was not very clear, as the master stated that a number of small boats were almost blocking the channel and in endeavouring to clear them he grounded. The wheelsman and second officer said that they saw no boats. The court found that he was not in fault in this case but warned him to be more careful in future and not to lose sight of his responsibilities as master."
TURBINIA survived her accident-fraught summer of '17 but that was the last season she was to spend on the lakes for half a decade. At the close of the season she was requisitioned for war service, presumably because of her capability for speed. She saw service in British waters as a troop carrier and hospital ship and busied herself in this manner until the close of hostilities, at which time she was laid up at Southampton. She was advertised for sale at public auction on June 17, 1919 but was withdrawn from the sale.
The following year saw TURBINIA reactivated and reassigned to the C.S.L. day line between Montreal and Quebec City. She did not last long on this route, however, and she soon found herself back in ordinary, this time at Sorel. There she remained, her hull showing the ravages of the passing years in great streaks of rust, until 1937 when she was sold for scrapping to Les Chantiers Manseau Ltee., the firm which was later to become Marine Industries Ltd. She was cut up for scrap at the Sorel shipyard.
TURBINIA was a noble and daring experiment on the part of her owners and it was unfortunate that she did not prove to be quite the success that she might have been. Instead, she was the first of the three running mates on the Hamilton service to be retired and was outlasted by steamers fifteen and sixteen years her seniors.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.