In the February issue, we featured the Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River sidewheel passenger steamer PASSPORT and, in so doing, touched on a small portion of the history of the famous Royal Mail Line, which was her first operator. While researching the history of PASSPORT, we came across the following little gem of an item, which appeared in Volume Two of Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto, which was published in 1896 by John Ross Robertson, and we thought that our readers might enjoy it as much as we did. It gives a rather humourous look at the type of incident that could well occur back in the days when steamboats were operated in a much less formal manner than was to become commonplace in later years.
"One of the Royal Mail Line's most trusted and faithful officers, and a great favourite (who shall be nameless), one time committed the great mistake of starting from Toronto to an American port an hour before the advertised time. It was supposed that he had been indulging too freely that morning (which was most unusual, as he was practically a total abstainer), and although the mate and engineer remonstrated with the captain, it had no effect. The consequence was that he left his purser ashore and others of the crew, and what was worse, an Englishman and his wife, who intended to go with the steamer on their way to England, and who had sent the nurse and children, including a young infant, to the boat in advance, discovered, when too late, that the steamer had left. One can imagine their feelings on learning the facts.
"Mr. Bethune (Donald Bethune, who was one of the original owners of the Royal Mail Line, which began operations in 1841 - Ed.), the proprietor, on being told the state of affairs, got ready another steamer which was in port, and started in pursuit of the runaway, overtook her, and transferred the crew and passengers. Fortunately, the boat arrived at her port in time and no harm came of the affair. The captain was suspended for the trip, but on returning to Toronto was reinstated, and such was the confidence reposed in him from his general unexceptional conduct, that his own promise was deemed a sufficient guarantee that the offence would not occur again, and it never did."
Incidentally, Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto is a six-volume set of invaluable glimpses into the early history of the City of Toronto, reprinted and updated from articles which had appeared in "The Toronto Evening Telegram", of which Robertson was founder and long-time publisher. The original edition of Landmarks was limited to one thousand copies, and they are understandably somewhat rare today. Highly prized, they will command an extremely handsome price. But copies of individual volumes occasionally turn up in old book stores and can be secured at reasonable price. Only Volume Two contains any amount of material of marine interest, and it does contain a great deal of valuable information. Any readers interested in the history of early navigation on Lake Ontario, and particularly the ships running out of Toronto, would be well advised to try to obtain a copy.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.