Back in March 1973, we featured in these pages the story of the two famous double-ended sidewheel Toronto Island ferries MAYFLOWER and PRIMROSE which graced the waters of Toronto Bay from 1890 until 1938. Both of these popular steamers came into close contact with the Toronto - Hamilton passenger boat TURBINIA at various times during their lives and whereas this contact saved MAYFLOWER from destruction by fire in 1907, PRIMROSE's meetings with TURBINIA very nearly proved to be the end of the ferry steamer.
The fire episode involving MAYFLOWER occurred on August 6, 1907 when fire destroyed the old double-ended ferry SHAMROCK (I) at the Bay Street ferry docks and spread to the one-year-old terminal building. MAYFLOWER was moored nearby and would have been destroyed as well had not TURBINIA, which had just arrived in port an hour before, manoeuvred alongside and pulled the ferry to safety, her crew extinguishing the fire which was beginning to attack the ferry's wooden superstructure.
In our earlier article, we mentioned a collision which occurred on August 13, 1916 between PRIMROSE, which was heading for the Bay Street docks from the Island, and TURBINIA, which was leaving her dock to proceed to the coaling wharf. Capt. B. W. Bongard of TURBINIA and Capt. Alex Brown of PRIMROSE both drew severe criticism from Dominion Wreck Commissioner, Capt. L. A. Demers, for their actions, but the collision resulted in no serious damage.
We had been aware of the fact that PRIMROSE and TURBINIA had met on an earlier occasion as well but we had been unable to comment in any detail as a description of the incident was not available. We are most grateful to member Robert J. MacDonald of Erie, Pennsylvania, who has made available to us a page from "The Marine Review" of October 19, 1905 containing the results of the enquiry into the accident which was conducted by Commander O. G. V. Spain, Dominion Wreck Commissioner. His report follows.
"The TURBINIA and the PRIMROSE were lying at their respective wharves in Toronto on August 12, 1905; TURBINIA stern out and PRIMROSE bow out. In accordance with her usual custom, TURBINIA backed well out into the bay, somewhere in the vicinity of 1,000 yards, far enough as the captain considered to make his turn and proceed through the Western Channel. PRIMROSE left her wharf and ported her helm when she was clear, and proceeded on her course to her destination at the Island. After getting out far enough and just as she started ahead, TURBINIA signalled a steamer, presumably KATHLEEN (another Toronto Ferry Company boat), which vessel got out of her way. The helm of TURBINIA was then put hard a-starboard and at this time there were some 1,500 yards between PRIMROSE and TURBINIA. At this point, there is conflicting evidence in regard to some small boats in the vicinity of TURBINIA; however, there is no doubt that it did not require much manoeuvring on the part of TURBINIA to clear these boats as her helm was kept hard a-starboard the whole time.
"When within 500 or 600 yards of PRIMROSE, it apparently occurred to Capt. Bongard of TURBINIA that PRIMROSE might possibly be in his way, and at this distance he signalled with two blasts of his whistle; this signal was taken no notice of (sic.) by the master of PRIMROSE and from the many witnesses examined there appears every reason to believe that the signal was not heard on board the latter ship, more especially when it is taken into consideration that the master of PRIMROSE was in full view of the master of TURBINIA and no action was observed on the part of PRIMROSE after the two blasts were given, and this fact should have been evident to the master of TURBINIA. The master of TURBINIA did not repeat the signal and still held to his course, giving the danger signal when within about 300 yards of PRIMROSE and reversing his engines. Capt. Murphy of the LUELLA (yet another Toronto Ferry Company steamer) stated that he was about 200 yards to the southward and westward of the two vessels at the time of the collision and previous to it he thought TURBINIA was going under the stern of PRIMROSE, and he could not understand when he heard the two whistles why TURBINIA apparently intended to cross the bows of PRIMROSE, as there was ample room between PRIMROSE and the shore (with no obstacle in the way) for TURBINIA to pass.
"The court is of the opinion that the engines of TURBINIA should have been stopped when the two blasts were given and no notice taken of this signal by PRIMROSE, which vessel, as already stated, at that time was some 500 to 600 yards distant. The master of TURBINIA appears to have been aware from the time he started to make his turn, after backing out from the dock, of the position of PRIMROSE, that is to say when she was some 1,500 yards away, and secondly, when she was 50 or 600 yards distant from him. There is no doubt that both vessels were in fault in regard to speed, as laid down by the regulations of the Toronto Harbour Board, PRIMROSE slightly in fault, and TURBINIA considerably so.
"Taking all facts into consideration, the court considers that it ought to have been brought to the mind of the master of TURBINIA that the courses upon which the vessels were approaching, and attending circumstances, involved risk of collision, and as TURBINIA was the overtaking vessel, with PRIMROSE on her starboard side, the onus is thrown upon the master of TURBINIA in not doing that which the rule prescribes, that is, to keep clear of the overtaken vessel.
"It seems to the court that it showed lack of judgment on the part of the master of TURBINIA that, having a vessel fitted with every modern appliance under his command, with an experienced wheelsman at the helm, and with steam steering gear with which, as the nautical expert retained by the Turbine Steamship Co. so aptly put it, she can be steered accurately with one finger, he should have been unable within a distance of 1,500 yards to avoid a collision which he himself apparently considered a possibility. From the evidence adduced there is no doubt that, had it not been for the action of the master of PRIMROSE in porting his helm when a collision was imminent, TURBINIA would have struck his vessel stem on, as her helm at the moment of striking was still hard a-starboard.
"The court cannot favourably comment on the action of the master of TURBINIA after the collision occurred. From the evidence, it appears that TURBINIA proceeded on her course after the collision without making any inquiries as to what damage had been done or whether PRIMROSE was in need of assistance. The court can well see that it is possibly not so material in this case to ascertain what damage had been done as it would have been had the casualty occurred on the open lake, but considers that the well-known rule of 'standing by' should have been observed in this case, as it is a recognized fact that a ship should obey this rule, even at some risk to herself, and although the other appears to be in no danger.
"Taking all these facts into consideration, the court considers that Capt. Bongard showed a very grave lack of judgment, thus endangering the lives of hundreds of passengers on both vessels, and therefore suspends his certificate for nine months from August 12, the date of the collision,
"The court wishes to bring to the attention of the Harbour Commissioners of Toronto that the second paragraph of section 8, by-law 11, of the bylaws and regulations of the harbour, seems to be entirely a dead letter, it being proved by all the witnesses at the investigation who were questioned on the subject, that not only is the law in regard to the speed of four miles an hour not carried out, but that it is impossible to carry it out. This being the case, the court would suggest that this by-law be amended to more fully meet the requirements of the increasing trade of the port of Toronto. It is understood that these by-laws came into operation nearly twenty years ago.
"The court also desires to point put to the Toronto Ferry Company that the system of not having a proper look-out on board the ferry boats, and the captain more or less enclosed in the pilothouse, is not a good one, although the court is fully aware that the same practice is followed elsewhere ."
After reading the judgment, Com'd'r. Spain read the following statement: "The master of PRIMROSE holds a service certificate as master of a passenger steamer in inland waters. The master of TURBINIA holds a certificate of service as master of a fore-and-aft-rigged sailing ship in inland waters, which certificate is endorsed to act as master of steamers also. The certificate of Capt. Bongard did not entitle him to command a passenger steamship, but he is exonerated from any wilful desire to act in a wrong capacity as he might have misunderstood the limitations of his permit."
In consequence of the suspension of Capt. Bongard's certificate, James Mann, first officer of TURBINIA and who in 1904 was mate on the Niagara Navigation Company's steamer CHIPPEWA, was placed in command of TURBINIA.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.