Many years ago, in the early days of "Scanner", we featured an article entitled "Turret Steamers on our Inland Seas". It was an attempt to provide a history of those turret-type vessels which served our waters, and it was one of the first major items concerning the turrets ever to appear in a lake marine historical journal. In the interim, however, we have been able to develop so much additional information concerning these interesting freighters that our original feature requires updating in order to keep the records current. While we do not propose to revise our entire turret "fleet list" in these pages, we thought that we would choose one of the more interesting of the turrets to be the subject of an individual feature which would incorporate much of the newly-gleaned detail.
The arrival of the Duluth-built whaleback steamer CHARLES W. WETMORE at Liverpool in 1891 caused a considerable stir amongst British shipowners, most of whom had never seen a ship of such unusual design. The Liverpool firm of William Johnston and Company Limited awarded an order for a vessel of the same type to William Doxford and Sons Ltd. of Sunderland in 1892. The result was SAGAMORE, a large whaleback which never saw the waters of the Great Lakes and which spent much of her life under the Belgian flag. Doxford, a shipbuilding yard founded in 1840, then set about attempting to improve the whaleback design, realizing that it had several shortcomings, especially as far as use on salt water was concerned.
The result of Doxford's experimentation was the "turret" design, so-called not because the ships featured anything remotely resembling turrets, but because their most notable feature, a long trunk deck with curved sides, was a direct development from the turrets used to support the cabins on whaleback vessels. From the turn of the bilge to a few feet above the load line, turret ship did not differ much from the conventional hull form of cargo vessels. Above this point, the shell plating curved inward to create a narrow deck space (commonly called the "harbour deck") which was, of course, nothing more than a part of the shell plating. From the inner side of the harbour deck, the plating curved to rise perpendicularly to meet the narrow upper deck, on which was erected the bridge structure as well as the usual deck fittings, including winches, derrick posts, hatches, etc. The crew's quarters were extremely cramped as a result of the narrow deck and, as one who sailed in these ships during their lake service recalled, "if you walked into a cabin, you had to back out".
The first of the turrets built by Doxford was TURRET herself, a 280.2-foot steamer completed in 1892 for the Turret Steam Shipping Company Ltd. Subsequent turrets ranged from canal-sized boats to hulls in excess of 450 feet in length, and they were built in a variety of designs to suit the cargo requirements of their owners. Most carried their engines amidships, but a few were built with machinery aft. Some carried raised forecastles, the earliest of these being turtlebacked to keep them dry, while many also had a step in the deck. In addition to their pronounced trunks, the one feature that marked each and every turret hull was a complete lack of sheer.
The turret design provided a number of valuable features, all of which made it very popular in its day and considerably fattened Doxford's pocketbook. The stiff deck configuration gave much-needed longitudinal strength in a day when ships' lengths were increasing faster than the technology needed to design them in proper fashion. As well, cargo loaded into the trunk section of the hull tended to shift downwards during a voyage, thus filling up spaces in the cargo hold and providing a "self-trimming" feature. The curve of the harbour deck served to turn away boarding seas and the cabins on turret vessels stayed generally more dry than on other types of hulls. The turrets were very cheap to build, particularly as Doxford turned them out in great numbers over a period of two decades.
The turrets' most valuable asset, however, was the fact that they boasted a lower net tonnage per deadweight ton than did other steamers of their era. This meant that they paid considerably reduced port charges, which usually were based on net tonnage. As well, the tolls levied on the Suez Canal were based on breadth at upper deck and the narrow trunks of the turrets resulted in significant savings on each canal passage.
Their radical design, however, did not win the immediate favour of shippers or crews and it proved difficult to arrange insurance. In fact, Lloyds Classification Committee refused approval of the plans when they were originally submitted. In order to demonstrate the seaworthiness and cargo-carrying advantages of the turrets, Doxford built the first few hulls in association with Capt. William Petersen, each party sharing the cost and the risk. Capt. Petersen himself commanded TURRET on her first voyage and, based on his account of the manner in which the vessel weathered heavy seas, Bureau Veritas agreed to class the ship and the various underwriters dropped their opposition to the design.
TURRET CAPE was the twelfth turret steamer to be built by Doxford and she was completed in 1895 as the yard's Hull 234. She was a virtual sister of TURRET CROWN, built the same year as Hull 233. She measured 253.0 feet in length, 44.0 feet in the beam (approximately 22 feet across the "turret"), and 19.4 feet in depth; her tonnage was registered as 1827 Gross and 1142 Net when she was enrolled at Newcastle, England, as Br.104283. She was powered by a triple-expansion engine with cylinders of 22, 36 and 59 inches and a stroke of 39 inches, the machinery having been built by the shipyard as was the case with almost all of the turrets. Steam was provided by two coal-fired water-tube boilers, measuring 12'7" by 10'11", which had been manufactured by Babcock and Wilcox Ltd., London, England. Both TURRET CAPE and TURRET CROWN carried their machinery aft and bridge amidships.
TURRET CAPE was completed for the Turret Steam Shipping Company Ltd., the same firm that Doxford had originally formed to operate the turrets in an attempt to persuade other owners to order similar hulls. She was managed by Petersen, Tate and Company, the organization headed by Capt. William Petersen, which had been instrumental in backing Doxford against the arguments of the non-believers. During the late 1890s, ownership of TURRET CAPE was transferred to the St. Bede Trading Company Ltd., but she remained under the management of Petersen.
Like TURRET CAPE and TURRET CROWN, TURRET CHIEF and TURRET COURT (which differed in that their machinery was located amidships) were of dimensions which permitted them access to the Great Lakes via the old St. Lawrence and Welland canals. The other four steamers were larger and, of them, only SCOTTISH HERO was ever brought into the lakes, this passage requiring her to be cut in sections at Levis during May, 1906. TURRET AGE was sold for other service in 1901, whilst TURRET BAY and TURRET BELL were lost to the line as a result of accidents occurring in 1904 and 1906, respectively. The four canal-sized turrets were brought into the lakes for the first time in 1902 to operate in the grain trade between Port Arthur and Port Colborne. The Canadian Railway and Shipping World reported in December of 1902 that the four turret ships would all winter at Owen Sound, Ontario.
The connection between the Canadian turrets and Capt. Petersen was severed in 1904 when the Canadian Lake and Ocean Navigation Company Ltd. took over management. This firm had been created specifically for that purpose by the MacKenzie and Mann group. Canadian Lake and Ocean was reorganized in 1907, when D.B. Hanna took over as president and Zebulon A. Lash as vice-president. Directors of the company were Hugh Sutherland, F.H. Phippen, Frederick Nicholls, E.R. Wood, Sir Henry Pellatt and Noel Marshall, all of whom were either close to or were members of the MacKenzie and Mann group. The vessels of the Canadian Lake and Ocean Navigation Company Ltd. came under the management of the Canadian Interlake Line Ltd. in 1911.
November 18, 1911 was not a good day for TURRET CAPE, for it was then that she stranded on Cove Island in Lake Huron. Immediate salvage efforts were not met with success and she remained ashore throughout the following winter. During the spring of 1912, the famous Reid Wrecking Company of Sarnia and Port Huron tackled the job of salving TURRET CAPE and, in due course, managed to refloat her. Her owner attempted to abandon her to the underwriters in view of the extent of the damage but, as reported in the Railway and Marine World issue of July, 1912, the owner eventually withdrew the abandonment and accepted settlement of $35,000 from the insurers. The owner (apparently still the Canadian Ocean and Inland Navigation Co. Ltd.) resumed possession and had her taken to Collingwood where she was repaired by the Collingwood Shipbuilding Company Ltd. TURRET CAPE was able to re-enter service in June of 1912.
In 1913, the year of its formation from a number of other major Canadian lake fleets, Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal, took over the Canadian Interlake Line Ltd. and, hence, the management of TURRET CAPE. That same year saw the ship survive a brush with disaster that could easily have brought her career to an untimely end. In the infamous Great Storm of November, 1913, TURRET CAPE was caught out on Lake Huron, downbound with a grain cargo for Goderich. Rather than crossing to Goderich and exposing herself to wicked beam seas, she hugged the west shore of the lake and, somehow avoiding the fate that befell so many larger and newer boats on Lake Huron during those days of devastation, she eventually reached the shelter of the St. Clair River. There she waited until the fury of the storm had abated and Capt. D.P. (Pat) McCarthy considered it safe to head his ship back up the lake and over to the Canadian shore. TURRET CAPE arrived at Goderich some 48 hours late and, considering the harrowing circumstances and the fact that wreckage and bodies were strewn along the shore near Goderich from vessels less fortunate than TURRET CAPE, much relief was felt by all concerned when she arrived safely.
The good fortune of TURRET CAPE was all the more remarkable when contrasted with the fate of TURRET CHIEF in the same storm. Early on the morning of November 8, upbound light on Lake Superior, she was swept onto the rocks of Keweenaw Point near Copper Harbor. She was not salvaged until 1914, for the wreck was so far up on the shore that it was necessary to use hydraulic jacks to lift her up off the rocks so that she could be pulled free.
Like many of the British-built canallers, TURRET CAPE had retained her Newcastle registry but, on November 4, 1915, the Canadian Lake and Ocean Navigation Co. Ltd. (of 1 Toronto Street, Toronto, which was the head office of the Canadian Northern Railway) changed her home port to Toronto. She was still under C.S.L. management at the time, but her services were soon required on salt water to aid in the war effort. Unlike many of the Canadian canallers, she was not requisitioned for overseas service but, on December 1, 1915, her ownership was transferred to the Cape Steamship Company Ltd., Halifax, a subsidiary of the Dominion Iron and Steel Co. Ltd., Sydney, which was the firm for which TURRET CAPE operated when she first came to Canada.
TURRET CAPE ran for the duration of the war in the coastal coal trade and, in 1917, the Dominion Iron and Steel Co. took over active management of the ship from C.S.L. which had, until that time, continued to operate her even though she was no longer engaged in lake service. At the close of the war, many of the lakers which had been sent to salt water during the hostilities were returned to the lakes, but TURRET CAPE was not amongst them. She remained on the coast and, in 1926, with a change in corporate structure, the British Empire Steel Corporation Ltd. became her owner and manager.
In 1927, the Inland Waterways Navigation Company Ltd. of Montreal, controlled by Robert A. Campbell of Montreal and John E. Russell of Toronto, took over TURRET CAPE and returned her to lake service. By 1929, however, she was under the ownership of the Inland Waters Navigation Company Ltd. of Montreal, of which Mapes and Ferdon Ltd. was manager. But Mapes and Ferdon ran into severe financial difficulties during 1930, the resources of its fleet not being sufficient to withstand the pressures of the Great Depression. At the time of her owner's failure, TURRET CAPE was laid up at Port Colborne, her engine and boilers unable to pass inspection.
The Reid Towing and Wrecking Company Ltd. paid a visit to TURRET CAPE during the 1932 season and removed her boilers and engine which, presumably, had been purchased by Reid for further use. TURRET CAPE appears to have remained at the wall in Port Colborne until July 22, 1934 when she was towed down the Welland Canal by the Sin-Mac tug RIVAL. She was laid to rest at Port Dalhousie in the pond above Lock 1, moored alongside the inactive steamers MALTON and WAHCONDAH.
In 1935, TURRET CAPE was taken over by the Fort William-Montreal Navigation Company Ltd., 300 St. Sacrement Street, Montreal, which appears to have been an affiliate or subsidiary of Robin Hood Flour Mills Ltd. The company may have been connected with a Robin Hood subsidiary known as the Fort William and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd. which owned a dock at Fort William where Robin Hood flour was transferred from rail cars to lake steamers. By August 5, 1935, the Muir Bros. Drydock Company at Port Dalhousie had removed the old pilothouse and cabin structures from TURRET CAPE and had erected a small wheelhouse aft. The ship was taken from the shipyard, moved down through old Lock 1, and was moored on the east side of the lower harbour at Port Dalhousie, just above the Niagara, St. Catharines and Toronto passenger dock.
By 1940, however, TURRET CAPE was again lying idle at Port Colborne, her days as a flour barge finished. In March of 1941, the strange old vessel was purchased by Saguenay Terminals Ltd. of Montreal, a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of Canada Ltd. Towed to the Lauzon yard of Davie Shipbuilding and Repairing Ltd., she was rebuilt as a diesel-powered bulk carrier with a new pilothouse and all cabins aft atop a new raised quarterdeck which occupied the full width of the ship, not just the trunk. Her tonnage, as rebuilt, was registered as 2079 Gross and 1158 Net. The diesel engine that was placed in her was a six-cylinder Sulzer which had been built in 1938.
In October, 1941, TURRET CAPE cleared Montreal for the U.S. east coast. Saguenay intended that she operate in the bauxite ore trade between British Guiana (South America) and Port Alfred, Quebec. Some sources allege that the ship was renamed (b) SUN CHIEF during the 1941 season, but there are extant photographs of her during this period which show her displaying a TURRET CAPE nameboard on her bridge. (During the war years, when most ships were painted all-grey, names were not normally displayed on hulls, but rather on nameboards which could be hung on the sides of cabins when required.) It would seem that the official change of name from TURRET CAPE to SUN CHIEF did not actually take place until 1947, at which time her port of registry was changed to Port Alfred, Quebec. The new name followed the Saguenay custom of giving all of its vessels names beginning with the word or prefix "Sun". This custom is still in use today, although it is now more usual for Saguenay to charter ships rather than to purchase them.
TURRET CAPE made herself busy in the bauxite trade during the early years of the war but then she embarked on a rather strange assignment. A large number of vessels of assorted types and sizes were employed in the bauxite trade and it was necessary for them to negotiate the busy Demerara River in order to pick up the cargoes which were so vital to the war effort. Unfortunately, the river was fouled by obstructions and, as well, a large sandbar had formed off the port of Georgetown, British Guiana. Accordingly, TURRET CAPE was taken in hand by the firm of Sprostons Ltd. of Georgetown and was converted during 1944 to a suction dredge. She operated as a dredge until the various obstructions to the bauxite freighters had been removed, and she was then taken back to Sprostons Ltd. and reconverted to a bulk carrier. As far as we are aware, out of the 182 turret steamers built between 1892 and 1911 (176 by Doxford and six under licence by other yards), TURRET CAPE was the only one ever to serve as a dredge.
Once reconverted for bulk service, TURRET CAPE ran bauxite from the Demerara River to Trinidad, where there was an aluminum smelter as well as a large stockpile of ore for shipment abroad by larger ocean-going vessels. TURRET CAPE continued in this service even after the conclusion of World War II, the need for aluminum in industry having reached record proportions. It is not known for certain whether TURRET CAPE/SUN CHIEF was ever painted in the colours normally worn by Saguenay freighters subsequent to the war, namely a bright green hull with silver cabins. In any event, Saguenay continued to use SUN CHIEF in the bauxite run until 1948, at which time it was decided that she was too small for the service. Replaced by larger boats, SUN CHIEF was relegated to standby status and was laid up at Mobile, Alabama.
The war, however, had been extremely unkind to the fleet of canal-sized lake freighters which had been pressed into coastal and transatlantic service as well as the bauxite trade from the Caribbean. Many of the canallers had fallen victim to enemy action and to the rigours of service on the open ocean, with the result that the number of canallers available to handle grain shipments through the St. Lawrence Canals during the post-war years was not sufficient to meet the demand for tonnage. As a result, Canadian operators of canallers looked far afield in an effort to locate suitable vessels.
Eventually, the idle SUN CHIEF attracted the attention of Capt. Robert Scott Misener of Port Colborne who, in 1949, purchased her for his Sarnia Steamships Ltd. He brought her to Port Colborne and there had her refitted for lake service. It was on April 9, 1950, that she was renamed (c) WALTER INKSTER and was re-registered at Toronto. She was painted in the usual Misener colours with a black hull, white cabins, and black stack with two silver bands. The following year, 1951, brought for INKSTER a transfer to the ownership of Misener's Colonial Steamships Ltd., Port Colborne.
WALTER INKSTER came very close to receiving a last-minute reprieve from the cutting torches. During April, 1957, it was rumoured that she would be purchased and returned to service by Capt. Steve Ahern, a veteran of the old Lloyd Tankers fleet. Ahern had become a shipowner in his own right and operated in coastal service an interesting assortment of old hulls, most of which were long past their prime. INKSTER would have fitted in well with such company, but the sale was never completed and the old turret continued to moulder away in Muir's Pond.
During May of 1959, WALTER INKSTER was moved to the west side of the pond and moored under the hill adjacent to the entrance to the Port Dalhousie drydock. By this time, her sides had been well decorated with assorted graffiti inscribed there by paddlers and oarsmen who frequented the nearby Henley regatta course. She was gradually cut down to the waterline and, during the month of August, was moved into the drydock so that the dismantling could be completed. WALTER INKSTER's register was officially closed on September 15, 1959.
And so came to an end the career of the last of the five turret steamers to sail the waters of the Great Lakes, a career which had spanned six and a half decades. The day of the turret had long since ended even on the high seas, for gone was the day when reduced upper deck area resulted in any saving in port or canal fees, and the shipbuilders of the world had developed other methods of building long ships with the necessary longitudinal strength but without the clutter of interior supporting posts beneath the turn of the harbour deck that made the turrets difficult to unload using modern machinery.
One other turret was scrapped the same year as WALTER INKSTER, this being Doxford's Hull 359 of 1906, the steamer HERMANN FRITZEN, (a) NONSUCH (13), (b) CLEARWAY (25), (c) EFSTATHIOS (25), (d) WERNER KUNSTMANN (38). She arrived at Hamburg for scrapping by Eckhardt and Company on April 24, 1959, and it is probably safe to assume that her last remains disappeared under the torches before the last bits of WALTER INKSTER were cut up at Port Dalhousie. Only one turret hull lasted longer than the INKSTER, namely Doxford's Hull 238 which was completed in the same year as was TURRET CAPE, 1895. Built as DICIEMBRE, and 340 feet in length, she spent her entire life under the Spanish flag, subsequently sailing as (b) BEGONA NO. 4 and, from 1927 onwards, as (c) NUESTRA SENORA DEL CARMEN. She met her end on January 27, 1963, when she stranded to a total loss on the Spanish coast.
As a finale to our history of the long-lived TURRET CAPE, it seems appropriate to leave our readers with a bit of a brain-teaser. TURRET CAPE and TURRET CROWN were built in 1895 with a length of 253 feet and a beam of 44 feet, just as were TURRET CHIEF and TURRET COURT in 1896. No other turret steamers were ever built to these odd dimensions, which just happened to suit perfectly the size of the locks of the old Canadian canals. (The canals were then being rebuilt to these dimensions and this work was completed in 1899.) None of these four ships even traded into Canadian waters until 1900 and it was not until 1902 that they actually entered the Great Lakes. But could Doxford and Capt. Petersen, perhaps, have originally intended to send a fleet of turrets into lake trade? We can but speculate at this late date, as the answer will never be known for certain.
(For his assistance with research, we extend thanks to our Chief Purser, James M. Kidd. A most valuable source of information on turret steamers is "The Doxford Turret Ships" by Leonard Gray and John Lingwood, published in 1975 by the World Ship Society. Also of value concerning TURRET CAPE'S wartime exploits is an article by the late Prof. Fred Landon which appeared in the Summer 1949 issue of "Inland Seas".)
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.