Our Ship of the Month No. 159, featured in the December issue, was the wooden steamer HIAWATHA (13), (b) CABOTIA. It will be remembered that she was owned by the George Hall Coal Company of Canada Ltd. at the time of her grounding on Main Duck Island in Lake Ontario on August 25, 1919. In the centre picture on the photopage accompanying the feature, we saw three wooden Hall steamers laid up at Montreal, and we identified the middle ship as CABOTIA. There is no doubt that SENATOR DERBYSHIRE is on the left, and JAMES W. FOLLETTE on the right, but there has been considerable doubt as to whether it is CABOTIA in the centre, some sources identifying this vessel as COMPTON, (a) MASSACHUSETTS (98), (b) EASTWOOD (11).
Well, we have done some digging and, thanks to another photo, which was taken at Montreal by J. Boyd, and which came to us via the collection of the late Alan Howard, we can confirm that the vessel on our photopage is neither CABOTIA nor COMPTON. In fact, she is ROCK FERRY, (a) MERRIMAC (11), and all details of her hull, cabins, etc., are an exact match, so there can be no doubt whatsoever concerning this identification.
Upon reading our comments regarding the engine and boilers of HIAWATHA, Donald Page of Kingston did some investigation of his own. We had said that new boilers were fitted in 1889 by the Lake Erie Boiler Works, Buffalo. Page finds that the 1898 American Bureau of Shipping register shows these same boilers (dimensions as we reported and 125 p.s.i. working pressure) were fitted in 1888, and were caulked in 1889 and 1891. He quite rightly remarks that, if these were new boilers, then the fact that they required caulking so soon does not sound impressive. As well, the 1913 A.B.S. shows that only one of the boilers was still in the ship then, so it would seem that one of the (quite possibly ailing) boilers was removed sometime between 1898 and 1913. In fact, many of the older wooden steamers that were still active on the lakes at that time were functioning on only one boiler; that this might be the case with CABOTIA would seem to be borne out by the tall and very thin stack she carried at the time of the 1919 wreck, compared with the big, heavy funnel which she had at the time of the photo dating from the 1890s.
Don Page also notes that the 1913 and 1919 A.B.S. show the steamer's two-cylinder compound engine as having cylinders of 21 and 58 inches and stroke of 46 inches. This agrees with our data (which came from the 1899 Great Lakes Register) except for the diameter of the high-pressure cylinder, which we had as 25 inches. It is possible that either set of information could be wrong, but there might be another explanation. Don suggests that the engine might have had similar treatment to that given the C.P.R. ALBERTA-class steamers (see Mid-Summer 1987 issue), in which the h.p. cylinder was "bushed down" to accept a higher boiler pressure.
Don remarks "we tend to forget the sketchy nature of early American boilers. They were very lightly built, with no stay tubes and few through stays, the boiler depending on the flaring and caulking of the plain tubes to hold it together. Usually, when U.S. ships came into Canadian registry, their boiler pressures had to be lowered by 30 to 40 percent of that allowed by the U.S. authorities, to meet the more stringent demands of the Canadian Board of Steamship Inspection, which were based upon the British system.
"It was an annual charade along the Canadian lake waterfronts in the spring at fitting-out time, when the steamboat inspector descended on each ship to set the boiler safety valves. Shortly after he left, the engineer and owner's superintendent engineer reset them to their old U.S. values, because in many cases the engines would hardly run with the pressures allowed. All concerned knew what was happening but no one had anything to say beyond 'she carried that pressure on the American side of the line, so I guess she can carry it over here'."
We still would like to hear from anyone who might have a photo of CABOTIA operating under that name, for as matters now stand, the only identifiable view is the wreck photo from the Willis Metcalfe collection.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.