Table of Contents

Title Page
Author's Note:
Table 1: Estimated Cost per Ton of Early Canadian Great Lakes Steamboats
Competition and Profitability
Table of Illustrations

By the fall of 1824 rumours were circulating that the Frontenac would for the first time face direct competition for traffic from another Canadian steamer. Alexander Hamilton's older brother Robert, it was reported, was building a new lake steamer at Queenston. 90 At the same time, a group of York investors were promoting a small steamer to provide daily service on the crossing to Niagara.91

A general meeting of the Frontenac's proprietors was called in late November 1824 and the decision was made to put her up for auction. 92 Captain Hugh Richardson, commenting the following summer on this plan of action, was utterly contemptuous. "I cannot conceive" he wrote, "what occasion there can ever be to sell a steam-vessel wholesale, (except to advantage). The stock being transferable, let every one dispose of his share as he pleases. And when the vessel comes to be worn out, the most valuable part of the stock remains, the Machinery, Anchors and Cables." Richardson estimated the engine was still worth 2500 and the other recoverable parts another 1500. His solution would have been to appraise the value of the remaining equipment and raise sufficient capital to replace the hull.93 But after eight seasons the original stockholders were prepared to walk away from their problems and advertised her for sale without reserve.94

The Hon. John Hamilton was one of the most important businessmen in Great Lakes shipping from his purchase of the Frontenac in 1825 to his final years as General Manager of the Canadian Inland Steam Navigation Company in the 1860's. (NAC, C-25519)
It is unclear just how many serious bidders gathered on the King's wharf on the wintry afternoon appointed for the auction. By the time the auctioneer brought down his hammer the bidding had crept up to a paltry 1550. 95 The high bidder was 22 years old--John, the youngest brother of Alexander and Robert Hamilton. Hardly without means, on his 21st birthday John had shared in the final division of his father's estate. Despite splitting his patrimony with six brothers, John found himself a very wealthy young man. The Frontenac would be his contribution to a partnership with his brother Robert. 96

While rumours first made the rounds that the Hamiltons were going to break up the Frontenac that summer, in fact they fixed her up and ran her for another two seasons. 97 When the end finally came in the summer of 1827, they offered her for sale in Kingston. After receiving no serious offers, she was taken up to Niagara where men began the work of stripping her of everything useful. 98

Early on the morning of September 15, as the steamer Niagara made the crossing from York to Niagara, Joseph Pickering and his fellow travellers "discovered a fire a-head, which we all supposed to be the lighthouse of Fort Niagara, but found it the large steam-boat Frontinac [sic], set adrift after being fire by some incendiary.... Our Captain ordered a hawser to be fastened to her bows, which as yet had not taken fire, and we towed her into her old station on the beach, so that but little of her iron will be lost." 99 The boilers were still on board but were so damaged that they could not be transferred to the new vessel Robert Hamilton was having built. A reward of 100 was offered for the capture and conviction of the arsonists. 100

The engine of the Frontenac lived on. The Ward brothers of Montreal were paid 1100 to supply new boilers, shafts and paddle wheels and to transfer the engine into Robert Hamilton's new steamer Alciope. 101 As Richardson had recommended, the Alciope was about half the size of her predecessor. Five years later, when the Alciope was re-engined, the old Boulton & Wattt engine was taken up the Niagara portage and installed in the Adelaide, a steamer Robert Hamilton and some associates were building at Chippewa. Again the engines would have the distinction of powering the first British steamer on one of the lakes.102 By contrast, the burned out hull of the Frontenac still lies abandoned off the Niagara beach. 103


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