We get a great deal of pleasure from the research which yields the information which goes into this feature each issue. To present the most complete history possible of an old steamer is a gratifying achievement but sometimes our efforts confront us with problems which produce considerable frustration. In such cases, we may either scrap the proposed article in the hope that further information will appear at a later date to allow us to finish it properly, or else we may go ahead and present it anyway on the chance that one of our readers may happen to have access to the necessary data. This month's feature, a case in point, has perplexed us for many months and, having exhausted our normal sources of information, we present it here anyway. Perhaps one of our members may be able to solve a most interesting problem.
The steamer ROTHESAY had a short life of only 23 seasons and her career on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River accounted for only slightly more than half of that period. Nevertheless, she was a very significant ship, typical in appearance of the best dayboats of her time. She is all the more interesting at this late date in view of the apparent ease with which certain so-called historians have been able to propagate incorrect information concerning her and even to mix her history up with that of the completely dissimilar steamer ROTHESAY CASTLE, an iron-hulled former blockade runner.
ROTHESAY's hull was built of oak timbers planked with tamarack, and her deckhouses were of white pine. She was strengthened by the arch trusses usual to her era, but they were relatively inconspicuous and certainly did not mar her appearance. She also carried hogchains rigged on short poles fore and aft. She had three principal decks, the main, saloon and hurricane. The forward section of the main deck was reserved for the carriage of freight, this space running back as far as the paddleboxes; astern of this area were the passenger entrance foyer, purser's office, and finally the ladies' cabin. From the foyer, the central stairway ascended to the saloon which occupied the deckhouse from the paddleboxes aft, and which gave exit to the after shelter deck. The forward part of the saloon deck cabin was occupied by the dining saloon and exits were provided to the forward observation deck; it was, of course, unusual for a dining saloon of this period to be located anywhere other than hard aft on a lower deck. The hurricane deck carried the usual octagonal "birdcage" pilothouse along with the officers' quarters, the four lifeboats, and other miscellaneous gear.
ROTHESAY was launched on February 2, 1867, and, registered at Fredericton, N.B., as C.54485, she was soon placed in service on the St. John River run between St. John and the provincial capital, Fredericton. It would be no overstatement to say that ROTHESAY was Enoch Lunt's pride and joy; she certainly was his largest and most palatial steamboat. She was operated by what was called the "Express Line", actual management of the boat resting with Enoch Lunt and his two sons, Joseph A. and Reuben G. Lunt. Their father passed away in 1873 and, thereafter, the sons carried on with the steamboat business under the corporate title of Enoch Lunt and Sons.
ROTHESAY's light construction was ideally suited for river service and permitted her a good turn of speed; she could easily manage 20 knots without being pushed. A report in The Morning Freeman of St. John, dated June 18, 1867, recorded that "The new steamer ROTHESAY made a splendid run to Fredericton, making the whole distance to Fawn's Wharf in 5 hours, 14 minutes. She returned in 4 hours, 51 minutes which, not allowing for delay caused by floating timber about the Fredericton boom, was quite a record."
In point of fact, however, there can be no arguing the fact that ROTHESAY, as splendid a steamboat as she was, was far too big and too expensive to operate for her to be a success on the St. John River. When railroad competition made itself felt in 1876, Reuben Lunt at last made the fateful decision to withdraw ROTHESAY from service. She made her last trip between St. John and Fredericton on September 10, 1876, it being announced after her retirement that she would take up new duties on the St. Lawrence River.
The following summer, ROTHESAY made her appearance in the waters of the upper St. Lawrence and she was re-registered at Prescott on July 20, 1877. It seems probable that the Lunts, who had retained ownership of the boat, intended to place her in service in the Thousand Islands area. This prospect did not at all amuse the directors of the famous Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd. of Montreal, which had various vessels running on the upper St. Lawrence. They did not deem it at all desirable to be forced into competition with a steamer as good as ROTHESAY, and this was the beginning of an animosity which was to last for many years.
The trouble between the R & O and the Lunt interests was brought to a temporary solution when an agreement was reached whereby Enoch Lunt and Sons would withdraw its steamers ROTHESAY and PRINCE ARTHUR from all routes serviced by the R & O on the upper St. Lawrence River and would, in addition, agree not to operate any such services for a period of ten years. In return for this concession, the Lunts received a payment of the princely sum of $10,000 from Richelieu and Ontario.
With the R & O happy and the Lunts' pocketbook more pleasingly filled, the operators of ROTHESAY cast about for some other area in which they might operate their boat. As it happened, the brother-in-law of Reuben Lunt was one Donald MacDonald of Toronto, and he arranged for the removal of ROTHESAY to Toronto for service there in 1878.
During 1878, her first season on Lake Ontario, ROTHESAY served the route from Toronto to the Niagara River. Her manager was Donald Milloy, who operated under the banner of the Toronto, Niagara and Buffalo Steamboat Company in conjunction with the Canada Southern Railway (which, in 1878, became an affiliate of the Michigan Central Railroad). ROTHESAY'S companion on the route was CITY OF TORONTO, a steamer which had been owned by Capt. Duncan Milloy from 1864 until his death in 1871. The Milloy Estate sold CITY OF TORONTO to one E. O'Keefe, Toronto, but the Estate retained an interest in her throughout the intervening years and it seems quite natural that she and ROTHESAY wound up running under the same houseflag.
ROTHESAY, however, seemed always destined to be a thorn in the side for somebody. If R & O had been annoyed at the prospect of having her as the opposition on the St. Lawrence, Barlow Cumberland and the Hon. Frank Smith of the Niagara Navigation Company Ltd. were even more upset in 1878 when ROTHESAY appeared on the Niagara Route, running as competition for their beautiful steamer CHICORA. As it turned out, ROTHESAY was relatively successful on Lake Ontario, but her popularity would never eclipse that of the durable CHICORA. With her light construction suited for river trade, ROTHESAY had no problems with the lake in calm weather, but she was not well adapted for the heavy seas which Lake Ontario can easily produce.
Things changed somewhat in 1879, for CITY OF TORONTO traded loyalties and operated along with CHICORA for the Niagara Navigation Company, whilst the Lunts, MacDonald, and Milloy kept ROTHESAY running in opposition. For the first part of the season, ROTHESAY ran up the Niagara River as far as Lewiston, New York, after making calls at Youngstown and Niagara-on-the-Lake.
During the 1879 season, the competition between the two Niagara lines became very keen indeed, the result being a fierce rate war that developed between ROTHESAY and her rivals. CITY OF TORONTO was soon out of the picture, however, for she ran into a heavy fog whilst on the 2:00 p.m. sailing from Toronto on July 25, 1879, and ran aground near the mouth of the Niagara River; she damaged herself to such an extent that she was out of service for the balance of the season. The accident left CHICORA and ROTHESAY to fight for the patronage of those seeking relief across the lake from the hot summer streets of Toronto. The rate war continued with a vengeance, a situation which undoubtedly did nothing to improve the balance sheet of either line.
ROTHESAY and CHICORA continued in opposition on the Niagara route in 1880, but negotiations were under way in an effort to cool out the rate war and restore a more profitable fare system for each boat. ROTHESAY stayed in service until September 15, 1880, on which date she made her last trip of the season and then laid up for the winter at Toronto. As fate would have it, she would never again run to Niagara, and Barlow Cumberland would thereafter be free to operate his CHICORA without major opposition.
The Toronto Globe of April 20, 1881, reported that ROTHESAY had received extensive repairs during the winter. Her boiler was thoroughly overhauled under the superintendence of Neil Currie of Toronto's Esplanade, while woodwork consisted of a new bridge tree, new spring beam, and new wales. The saloon was also refitted and furnished in "first-class style". The same report also revealed that ROTHESAY would be commanded in 1881 by Capt. Donaldson, who had been her master in 1880. First officer would be Robert Smith, while George Munro and Duncan Fraser would be chief and second engineer, respectively. The Globe reporter also hinted that ROTHESAY's sailing properties were being improved, but gave no details. In its issue of Friday, June 3, 1881, the Globe noted that ROTHESAY was still in the hands of the workmen and that alterations for the better lighting of her saloon would be a great improvement.
Despite such comments concerning repairs and improvements, ROTHESAY was apparently refused a licence for lake service in 1881, it being possible to secure only a river "ticket" for her. Why this should have been, we do not know, for she had already operated three full seasons on Lake Ontario and was apparently receiving all necessary maintenance. Were the operators of the opposition boat, CHICORA, not such fine and respectable gentlemen, one might have suspected hanky-panky of some sort.
As ROTHESAY could obtain a licence only for the St. Lawrence River trade, the Lunts transferred her to service in the Thousand Islands, operating between Kingston and Prescott. A new company was set up at this time to run the vessel and it was said that former-Governor Smith of St. Albans, Vermont, held a considerable interest in the new venture.
As might have been expected, the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Co. took an extremely dim view of the reappearance of ROTHESAY in its territory only four years after this unwanted competition had been dispatched from the area. The R & O felt quite strongly that the Lunts had violated the terms of the 1877 agreement; the Toronto Globe of August 27, 1881, reported that R & O, through its counsel, had taken action against Enoch Lunt and Sons of St. John for $20,000 for alleged breach of contract. The 1877 pact had stipulated that, if the Lunts broke their contract with R & O, they were to pay the larger firm the sum of $20,000, this amount being exactly twice what R & O had originally been forced to pay the Lunts to get ROTHESAY out of their territory . The claim alleged that not only had the Lunts permitted ROTHESAY to be run by them in upper St. Lawrence River service, but also that they had set up a rival company in order to achieve their ends. In consequence, R & O demanded enforcement of the penal clause. We have been unable to determine the outcome of the litigation, but it seems to have had some bearing on the ownership of ROTHESAY, even if she did not actually leave the upper St. Lawrence. Enoch Lunt and Sons seem to have sold ROTHESAY sometime during the 1881 navigation season.
The Mercantile Naval List and Maritime Directory for 1882 shows ROTHESAY's owner as Ambroise E. Lalande, Montreal, while in 1883 it indicates that she was owned by Allan R. Oughtred, Montreal. Strangely enough, the 1883 Canadian List of Shipping shows this gentleman's name as J. R. Oughted.
In his writings on the history of the Niagara River passenger service, Barlow Cumberland noted that ROTHESAY, after leaving Lake Ontario in 1881, ran between Kingston and the Thousand Islands until she grounded and was abandoned in 1882. We have no idea where Cumberland got this information, which he penned in 1913, but ROTHESAY's career did not end in 1882 and we have no record of an accident befalling her that year. We do know, however, that on June 27, 1883, whilst downbound from Clayton, N.Y., to Dickinson's Landing, she took a shear and stranded near Thousand Islands Park. The Department of Marine and Fisheries 1883 report of wrecks and casualties recorded that the loss was partial and assessed damages at $500.
There are indications that ROTHESAY was sold at auction in 1884, perhaps as a result of her 1883 accident, but this cannot be confirmed. The 1884 Mercantile Navy List and Maritime Directory indicates that her owner was then James G. Ross of Quebec City, although Ross' name does not appear in the Canadian List of Shipping until 1886. Some reports indicate that she was operated from 1884 onwards by the St. Lawrence Steamboat Company and this would seem to be confirmed by the appearance of the legend "St.L.S.B.Co." on certain artifacts recovered from ROTHESAY's wrecked remains.
On December 6, 1886, ROTHESAY passed down the St. Lawrence from Gananoque to Ogdensburg, N.Y., to go on the marine railway there for repairs and a partial rebuilding scheduled for the winter months. A report dated February 14, 1887, stated that the rebuilding of ROTHESAY was progressing rapidly at Ogdensburg, but gave no further detail. Once released from the shipyard, she returned to service on the upper river and, in fact, she was re-registered at Prescott on August 4, 1887.
We presume that ROTHESAY ran in the Thousand Islands throughout the mid-1880s. There is evidence to suggest, however, that she strayed back onto Lake Ontario in 1888 or 1889. It is this point that has been so perplexing, for it would appear that ROTHESAY ran to Lorne Park, possibly calling there as a way stop between Toronto and Oakville. Many steamers are clearly documented as having served that route over the years, but ROTHESAY is not one of them. Nevertheless, there exists a good photograph of the Lorne Park dock showing both MACASSA and ROTHESAY at the wharf, each boat clearly identifiable. MACASSA did not enter service until 1888, and ROTHESAY was lost in 1889, so the date can be pinpointed as lying somewhere during those two seasons. In the absence of any other documentation that ROTHESAY ever ran that route, or even that her lake licence had been reinstated, we do not know what to make of the photo. Was ROTHESAY only at Lorne Park on a special charter? Perhaps one of our readers will know the answer.
The latter part of 1889, at least, saw ROTHESAY back on the St. Lawrence. On the evening of September 12, 1889, she was downbound from Kingston for Prescott. Just above Prescott, she found herself in collision with the wooden tug MYRA of the Ogdensburg Coal and Towing Company. Both vessels were severely damaged and soon began to fill with water.
MYRA filled so rapidly that she could not be beached and sank with the loss of two lives. She had been built in 1884 by Shickluna's shipyard at St. Catharines. Registered as C.88634, she measured 82.0 X 17.2 x 8.6, 73 Gross and 37 Net tons. She was long owned by James Buckley, Prescott, and served the fleet of the Ogdensburg Coal and Towing Co. She was salvaged and rebuilt after the 1889 accident and by the second decade of the new century was owned by Sincennes MacNaughton Tugs Ltd., Montreal. MYRA remained active until August 13, 1930, when she was sunk in collision with the canaller WALTER B. REYNOLDS in Coteau Lake on the St. Lawrence. At the time, MYRA was steering tug for the barge REDCLOUD which was in tow of the tug JOHN PRATT. Both tugs and the barge were operated by Sin-Mac Lines Ltd.
After the collision, ROTHESAY's master knew that his ship had been seriously damaged. She was headed for shore and was successfully beached in shallow water on the Canadian shore, about a half-mile above Prescott. She settled with her bow above water but with her stern submerged, much of her passenger accommodation remaining dry. Perhaps due to her light construction, it was deemed that she was not worth salvaging; accordingly, she was declared a total loss and the wreck was abandoned.
The Canadian List of Shipping for 1889 shows her owner as one J. J. Kenney of Toronto. Mr. Kenney was manager and chief attorney of the Western Assurance Company, Toronto, and he represented the insurers of ROTHESAY who took over ownership after the September 12 accident. All removable gear was salvaged from the wreck and the half-submerged steamer was left to rot away.
The passage of time and the river, however, did not completely scour the remains of ROTHESAY from the shore. In 1901, the wreck was blasted with dynamite by a crew from the Royal Military College at Kingston, the cost of the operation ($368.00) paid by the Canadian government. This demolition attempt was not completely successful but it did move the remains into deeper water. The hull now lies in some 35 feet of water and has frequently been explored by divers. Amongst the artifacts located in the wreck are a number of coat-check tags, all clearly marked with the name ROTHESAY.
ROTHESAY's career on the Great Lakes was short, but the steamer was a significant vessel of her time and deserved a fate better than that which befell her. She also deserved a more special place in the history of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River than has previously been accorded to her.
(It is our hope that this feature may help to clear some of the mystery which has surrounded the career of this early steamboat. For their assistance with the research of ROTHESAY's story, we extend sincere thanks to George Ayoub, Gerry Girvin, Jim Kidd, "Scotty" McCannell, Dan McCormick and Windsor Price. We also acknowledge the writings of the late Capt. Frank E. Hamilton. Detailed mention of Lake Ontario steamboating at the time of ROTHESAY is made in Barlow Cumberland's book, "A Century of Sail and Steam on the Niagara River" (1913) and John Ross Robertson's "Landmarks of Toronto" (1893). Various lists and registers were consulted but their entries are at best inconsistent and must be treated accordingly. At no time did ROTHESAY ever appear in an issue of Lloyds Register.)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.