On several occasions in recent months, we have mentioned some of the wooden lake bulk carriers which were so common during the last century. It is common knowledge amongst marine historians that these little workhorses were eventually supplanted in their toils by the large iron and steel hulls which would open the door to more economical shipment of large quantities of assorted goods and raw materials. What is not so well known, however, is that there was actually another step in the changeover from wood to steel hulls.
The composite hull was an attempt to take advantage of the strength of the steel hull while still retaining the resilience of wood. This method of construction called for the fitting of charcoal iron frames with steel hull plating down to the waterline. The lower sides and bottom were finished in white oak planking secured to the iron frames. Those who advocated this type of construction argued that vessels whose hulls were built completely of steel or iron were more vulnerable to damage in the event of stranding than were their wooden counterparts. Eight freighters and one passenger steamer were built on this principle during the ten-year period ending in 1891, but no more were constructed after the steel hull had demonstrated that it was quite capable of standing up to normal service.
Many of the composite hulls, however, had long careers on the lakes. The last composite vessel of any size to operate in these parts was the steamer YANKCANUCK (I), (a) MANCHESTER (22), (b) JOSEPH W. SIMPSON (38), (c) MINDEMOYA (46), which was built in 1889 and dismantled in 1959-60.
One of the proponents of the composite method of hull construction was Captain E. M. Peck of Detroit and Cleveland. In his later years, this gentleman was interested in shipping as both a vessel owner and operator but, during earlier times, he had built many fine vessels. Peck was convinced that a composite hull would sustain less damage in a grounding than would one built of steel, and that repairs would be easier and considerably less expensive to put in hand.
Captain Peck (whose first name was Elihu, in case anyone was wondering) entered the shipping business in 1847 at the age of 25 when he built the 200-ton schooner JENNY LIND. A master shipbuilder, he formed a partnership in 1853 with I. U. Masters and together they built some fifty schooners and steamers prior to the death of Masters in 1864. The Peck and Masters shipyard at Cleveland was responsible for the construction of such famous passenger and freight steamers as WINSLOW, IDAHO, ATLANTIC, METEOR and PEWABIC, and the government revenue cutters JOHN SHERMAN and WM. P. FESSENDEN (I).
Peck had obtained his master's papers and for four years had sailed the small propellor FOUNTAIN CITY which had been built at the Peck and Masters yard in 1857. After the death of his partner, he carried on alone, remaining in the shipbuilding trade through 1870. One of his most famous hulls was the wooden bulk carrier R. J. HACKETT of 1869. The HACKETT is generally considered to have been the prototype of today's modern lake bulk carrier.
Capt. Peck then set off to pursue a career as a shipowner. During the 1870s, he was associated with R. J. Hackett and together they controlled the Vulcan Transportation Company, Detroit, and the Northwestern Transportation Company, Detroit, the first named of these firms having been incorporated in 1869. Peck and Hackett together, along with other associates who appeared on the scene from time to time, accumulated quite a fleet of vessels.
Came the year 1888 and the Northwestern Transportation Company was in need of a new bulk carrier. Knowing Elihu Peck's fondness for the composite form of construction, it is not surprising that this was the type of ship that was ordered by the company. She was to be the third of four such vessels in the fleet. The contract for her building was let to the Detroit Dry Dock Company which built her as Hull 79 of its yard at Wyandotte, Michigan.
The new steamer measured 266.0 feet overall, while between perpendiculars she was 252.6 feet in length. Her beam was 40.2 feet and her depth was 18.6. As built, her tonnage was registered as 1,809.11 Gross and 1,572.34 Net. She was powered by a triple-expansion engine with cylinders of 19, 30 and 52 inches and a stroke of 40 inches. Steam was supplied by two coal-fired cylindrical boilers measuring 11 by 11 feet, these being Number 59 and 60 built by the Dry Dock Engine Works which also manufactured the engine.
Enrolled at Detroit as U.S.135983, the steamer was christened E. M. PECK in honour of her famous owner. It should be noted that she was not the first boat to be named for the captain. A schooner of 168 tons built by Peck and Masters at Cleveland in 1857 had also been named for him and she was followed in 1863 by a 102.4-foot wooden steam tug also built at Cleveland. The tug E. M. PECK (II) was later renamed (b) C. E. BENHAM and was operated for many years by Capt. Charles E. Benham and later by the Great Lakes Towing Company. She was stationed at the Soo for a considerable period of time and ended her life under Canadian registry during the First World War. The big composite steamer, then, was actually commissioned as E. M. PECK (III).
The PECK proved to be a successful boat in the ore trade in which she was placed and her early years seem to have been relatively uneventful. She was a handsome steamer with a pleasing sheer to her hull and stylish rake to her masts and stack. She was, no doubt, the object of considerable pride on the part of Capt. Peck and, when he passed away on May 8, 1896 at the age of 74, his body was placed aboard E. M. PECK to be carried in state from Detroit to his old home, Cleveland.
With the late remains of Elihu Peck duly laid to rest in Cleveland's Lake-view Cemetery, control of the Northwestern Transportation Company passed in 1896 to Lewis C. Waldo who, in 1890, had moved to Detroit from Ludington, Michigan, and who also managed the operations of the Roby Transportation Company. Yet another change in management came just after the turn of the century, when control of the Northwestern Transportation Company passed to Harvey H. Brown and Company of Cleveland. It was not unusual that Brown should have had an interest in this fleet, for back when Peck and Hackett had gone into the shipowning business in 1869, they had done so to carry the iron ore from the Jackson Mine at Marquette, Michigan, to Cleveland. The general agent for the Jackson Mine was a gentleman by the name of Fayette Brown, the father of Harvey H. Brown. In fact, Fayette Brown was the chairman of the board of Harvey H. Brown and Company until his death at the age of 86 in 1910, at which time Harvey took over.
Nevertheless, E. M. PECK did not remain with the fleet long enough to see the company through the changeover from Fayette to Harvey Brown. She was sold in 1903 to the Calumet Transportation Company, of which F. W. Smith was manager. It appears to have been about this time that her port of registry was changed to Duluth, Minnesota. E. M. PECK, still retaining her original name, continued in the ore trade and, apparently, was still able to hold her own despite the proliferation of much larger all-steel hulls. In 1911, the management of the Calumet Transportation Company was taken over by the famous Capt. Charles L. Hutchinson of Cleveland, and E.M. PECK thus became a part of the large fleet of steamers and barges which, for many years, would be operated by Hutchinson and Company.
So severe was the damage to E. M. PECK that she was declared a constructive total loss and was abandoned by her owner. The vessel was purchased (allegedly for the price of $4,200) by the Reid Wrecking Company Ltd. of Sarnia which scraped the remains up from Racine harbour and hauled them off to its shipyard at Port Huron. Reid then enrolled E. M. PECK at Sarnia as C.130439, her tonnage being reported in 1914 as 1651 Gross and 988 Net.
It is not known how much work was actually completed by Reid but it is apparent that E. M. PECK was purchased as she lay at Port Huron by A. B. Mackay of Hamilton. Mackay had the PECK taken to the Ecorse, Michigan, yard of the Great Lakes Engineering Works for the completion of repairs. It was at this time that she was shortened by about six feet in order that she might operate through the old St. Lawrence and Welland Canals. Her wrecked machinery was replaced by another triple-expansion engine, this one having cylinders of 15, 27 and 44 inches and a stroke of 40 inches. Steam came from one coal-fired Scotch boiler measuring 12'6" by 11'6". Both boiler and engine were manufactured in 1914, presumably by Great Lakes Engineering Works.
We rather imagine that Great Lakes Engineering Works subsequently wished that it had never touched E. M. PECK. The repairer sent Mackay an account in the amount of $21,000 for services rendered but payment was not forthcoming. G.L.E.W. eventually had to take Mackay to court in an effort to secure payment of the repair bill.
Presumably as a result of the litigation, E. M. PECK was sold in 1915 to the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd. of Toronto which returned her to service under Canadian registry as (b) MALTON. This name was chosen to honour the small town located to the northwest of Toronto, for the Mathews family farm was established there. Today, Malton has been swallowed up in the urban sprawl and is the site of the Toronto International Airport.
MALTON, in Mathews colours, was a handsome vessel, although more so in her later years than when originally purchased. Her hull was black, forecastle rail and cabins were white, and the stack was black with the usual two silver bands. Although no insignia appeared on her bows in the early years, Mathews later decorated her with his distinctive monogram, a large white 'M' at the centre of two concentric circles, between which was the inscription 'Mathews S.S. Co. Ltd.'. The entire forecastle was eventually painted white instead of just the closed wooden rail which extended the full length of the forecastle.
MALTON's forward end looked very little different that it had back when she was built. A square pilothouse, with three large sectioned windows across its face, sat directly on the forecastle immediately forward of a small texas which provided accommodation for the master, and atop it was the usual open bridge. A heavy mast was stepped immediately aft of the cabin. Her two old-style anchors were carried atop the forecastle and two small davits were fitted there to lift them over the side. A rounded "mushroom" anchor was carried in the starboard hawsehole. Another touch of the past was seen in the open section on each side of the after end of the forecastle; heavy stanchions supported the weight of the deck above.
The appearance of the ship was improved considerably in the early 1920s. There were no structural alterations to the after cabin itself, but the mainmast was relocated just abaft the stack and was stepped on a pleasing angle to that it rose parallel to the raked stack. A modern pilothouse and texas were fitted, much along the lines of the forward cabins which were being given to the new canallers built during that period. Both houses had rounded fronts. In addition, the old anchors were removed and replaced by more up-to-date models which nestled away inside anchor pockets.
MALTON operated for Mathews without major incident during the war years, but immediately thereafter, she was involved in a string of accidents. It was fortunate for all concerned that none were of a really serious nature. The first of these incidents to be recorded occurred on August 7, 1918, when MALTON, under the command of Capt. J. A. Smith and bound from Erie to Montreal with a cargo of coal, struck a bridge in the Welland Canal. Then, on October 29. 1919. whilst upbound light from Montreal for Port Colborne, again with Capt. Smith in command, she grounded in the Lachine Canal. Damage in this accident was assessed at $6,000 and, although this does not seem a very large figure today, it was serious money back in 1919 and indicates that there was a fair amount of damage to the ship. We wonder what Capt. Peck, with his theories on composite construction, would have thought of the repair bill.
The next mishap occurred on July 27, 1921. Capt. Smith was still in command as MALTON was downbound with grain from Port Colborne for Quebec. When the boat was approximately one mile west of Cedars Bridge in the Soulanges Canal of the St. Lawrence system, she was involved in a collision. Strangely, the Dominion Wreck Commissioner's report does not identify the vessel or object with which MALTON collided! In any event, damage to MALTON amounted to approximately $10,000 on this occasion.
The steamer's next flirtation with fate came on June 11, 1922. She was downbound with grain from Port Colborne to Montreal, still with Capt. Smith in command, and was negotiating her way down the old Welland Canal. When in a position between Locks 26 and 25. she collided with the Canada Steamship Lines steamer HAMILTON which had, only the previous year, been converted from a barge. Damage to MALTON was minor, approximating only $500.
On November 17, 1922, MALTON was upbound light from Montreal to Buffalo for grain. Whilst making her way up Lake Ontario, she somehow managed to strand on Main Duck Island and remained fast there until released on November 30. She was towed back down the lake to Kingston and was placed on the drydock there, repairs being completed over the winter months. It is entirely possible that it was during this sojourn in the shipyard that MALTON received her handsome new forward cabins. In any event, she re-entered service in the spring of 1923 and her life thereafter seems to have been free of major difficulties.
Not so, however, the financial affairs of Alfred Ernest Mathews, the principal of the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd. During the twenties, Mathews attempted to cash in on the booming business conditions by adding ten new vessels to the fleet. Mathews had been associated with James Playfair in several joint ventures, but their connection was severed in 1925. This was unfortunate for Mathews, for while Playfair survived the financial woes of the Great Depression, Mathews did not. Despite indications that business conditions were worsening, Mathews continued to build new canallers, the sisterships LIVINGSTON and WATERTON being constructed for the company in 1928 and another pair, FULTON and SOUTHTON, as late as 1929. During the 1927 navigation season, Mathews had mortgaged his entire fleet to the hilt to finance his continued expansion program, and when the bottom fell out of the lake shipping business in 1930, Mathews was caught with his pants down.
On January 8, 1931, upon application by the mortgagees, the Montreal Trust Company Ltd. and the National Trust Company Ltd., Mr. Justice Middleton of the Ontario Supreme Court issued an order appointing G. T. Clarkson, of E. R. C. Clarkson and Sons, as receiver and manager of the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd. He was directed to manage and operate the vessels on behalf of the mortgagees and bondholders, and Mathews was instructed to hand over to him forthwith all of the ships and any other property of the firm.
On February 10, 1931, upon petition of the Toronto Dry Dock Company, the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd. was adjudged bankrupt by the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Ontario in Bankruptcy, a receiving order being issued and F. C. Clarkson installed as custodian pending the first meeting of the creditors. To say that Mathews' creditors were numerous would be to make an understatement of gargantuan proportions. A total indebtedness in the sum of $3,196,267.67 was calculated and, at the creditors' meeting on March 19, 1931, it was revealed that, even if the entire fleet of boats were sold, insufficient funds would be realized to pay off even the secured and preferred creditors and nothing would be left over to satisfy any of the ordinary claims.
As a result, the decision was made to operate the fleet in 1931 in an attempt to reduce the indebtedness. Needless to say, Mathews himself had been removed from office as president and a director of the company, which then ran under Clarkson management. During 1932 and 1933, the fleet was chartered to Toronto Elevators Ltd. Two canallers had been repossessed by their builders and five others were sold. Business conditions being what they were during those years, most of the Mathews boats operated only occasionally; only the most economically operated vessels saw any amount of service and, due to her age and condition, MALTON was not one of these. She last turned her wheel in 1931 and then was laid to rest in Muir's Pond above Lock One of the old Welland Canal at Port Dalhousie. There she languished, usually in the company of assorted idle vessels from various fleets.
Late in the 1933 season, the remains of the Mathews Steamship Company Ltd. were sold to Colonial Steamships Ltd. which had been formed specifically for that purpose by Capt. R. Scott Misener and the Hon. H. C. Schofield. Colonial put most of the Mathews ships back in service in 1934, complete with their old colours which had been adopted by Misener as his own. Some of the boats, however, were of no use to Colonial, and MALTON definitely fell into this category. She remained laid up in Muir's Pond until sold for scrapping in 1934. She was taken down through Lock One and was moored along the east wall of Port Dalhousie's lower harbour. There she was stripped of her superstructure and much of the steel upper portion of her hull.
The bottom section of the hull, with its iron framing and wooden planking, was taken out into Lake Ontario during 1935 and was discarded along the shore to the east of the Port Dalhousie piers. There her remains may still be seen at times of low water, the last extant reminders of the work of Captain Elihu M. Peck.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.