Chapter 5
Ericsson Wheels
Table of Contents

Title Page
1 A place called Hamilton.
2 Public Works and Private Enterprise
3 Port Hamilton
4 1837-1839
5 Ericsson Wheels
6 1844-1847
7 Good Times in Port
8 Boom Town Days
9 Depression Years
10 Better Times Ahead
11 1867-1870
12 Prosperity for the Shipbuilders
13 The Second Railway Building Era
14 1884-1888
15 The Electric Era
16 The Iron Age
Table of Illustrations


The year 1841 opened, with the news of the destruction by fire of the steamboat BURLINGTON, at Queen's Wharf,Toronto on 27 March. The Kingston Whig gave a fairly complete account of the Forwarding Business, as follows:

"Vast preparations are making in all parts of the Province to carry on the forwarding business between Upper and Lower Canada, next season, on a scale commensurate with its increased importance. Last spring the immense exports to Lower Canada, of Canadian and American flour took the trade by surprise, and although a large business was done, yet it must be confessed, a great proportion was done in a manner very unsatisfactory to the feelings of both Shippers and Forwarders. This is ever the case when a particular trade expands itself, before the means of doing it are equally extended.

The Ottawa & Rideau Company(Messrs. McPherson & Crane), relieved from the intolerable burden of towing all of the Upper Country imports from Lachine to Kingston, will devote the whole of their steamboats and barges to the conveyance of goods consigned to their especial custody as usual via the Rideau Canal. This company will have no less than twelve steamboats on the line; three on the Ottawa River, seven on the Canal, one on the Bay of Quinte and one on the St. Lawrence, together with an infinity of barges, Durham Boats and Batteaux. A very large business will be done by them.

Messrs. Hooker & Henderson, together with Messrs. H. & S. Jones, will also run a line of steamboats from Montreal to Kingston via the Canal. Several steamers for this new Company are now building at Brockville,Prescott and other places, which, it is said, will be in sufficient forwardness for the early spring business. The boats of this company will ascend the Ste. Anne's Rapids, which is very practicable in the Spring, when the Ottawa is high, and the new lock at Ste. Anne's is expected to be finished before the waters fall.

In addition to the above, Messrs. Sanderson & Murray have notified the public of their intention to run a line on the Rideau, to be ready for the opening of navigation...

On the St. Lawrence there will be two forwarding lines, those of Messrs. Matthie, Easton & Co. and Messrs. Ferguson & McGibbon. Goods are expected to be brought up by the river with equal facility as via the Canal. This, however, remains to be proved."

Early in April, Matthie, Easton & Co. advertised their new line, with "New and Improved Barges". The partners were James Ross and Henry Easton. On the 19 April, the St. Catharines Journal informed its readers that Messrs. Bronson & Crocker, of Oswego, had a new vessel, to be called VANDALIA, under construction, and that they hoped she would be ready in June to go to Cleveland and Detroit. In this they were disappointed. Probably due to Mechanical troubles, the VANDALIA did not make her maiden voyage until November, and did not reach the Upper Lakes until 1842.

The Bytown Gazette noted, on the 13 May, that Hooker & Henderson's first steamer, the ALBION,Capt. Johnston, had arrived from Kingston. She had been built at Brockville in 1838 by William Parkyn and measured 101.2 x 16.1 x 7.6. Three other vessels for this line were under construction. They were the ST. DAVID, the ALBERT and the CANADA and the latter two were receiving their engines at Prescott. All three were expected to be operating by June, and in fact, the ST. DAVID did arrive at Lachine on the 2 June, having made the run from Brockville in 12 hours. She carried 102 bbls. of pork consigned to Lemesurier, Routh & Co.

On the 24 June, the St. Catharines Journal quoted the Montreal Courier, as follows:

"Ericsson Propeller - On Thursday afternoon, a new barge, propelled by the Ericsson screw, belonging to Sanderson & Murray, arrived in our port, from Brockville. We are informed by a gentleman who made the passage in her, that she ran in smooth water at the rate of six miles an hour and without any disagreeable motion or noise from the machinery. We saw this boat moving in our harbour yesterday morning. She ran down, and then came up against the current in a much shorter time than could have been expected. Complete success, in our opinion, had attended this experiment, and we shall, no doubt, see the Ericsson propeller in general use on our canals, in the course of another year. It is believed that this boat will not take over a week to perform the trip to Kingston, by the Rideau Canal, and down by the St. Lawrence. She was not more than 16 hours in coming from Brockville to Lachine, a distance of 140 miles."

On the subject of the ERICSSON, the Brockville Recorder had this to say:

"A decked barge, belonging to Sanderson & Murray, calculated to carry 1,000 bbls. flour has recently been fitted out with an Ericsson engine rated at 15 horse power. On the first trial, the boat ran from 6 to 7 miles an hour and so satisfied is Mr. Sanderson of its capability and adaptation to the object intended, that the boat was immediately loaded, and he proceeded with it to Montreal. The machinery is very simple in its construction and occupies but a small space in the stern of the barge.... The proprietors are about putting similar engines in two other barges, which they intend to have in operation in about two or three weeks. These Propellers are admirably adapted to Canal and River navigation, and are destined to work material changes in the method of transport and add much to the commercial facilities of the country."

Quoting the Montreal Messenger, mid-July, -

"Messrs. Sanderson & Murray's barge ERICSSON arrived at Lachine, on Sunday afternoon, but as the canal was closed, she arrived here Monday morning. There can be no doubt of the perfect success of the Ericsson propellers - let us hope that we may see them applied to larger vessels than those used in canal navigation."

On the 11 August, Louis Shickluna launched the schooner MERCHANT MILLER, for Messrs. Patton & Ranney. On the 26 August, the large schooner FRONTENAC, formerly the steamboat UNITED KINGDOM, was beached, leaking badly, on Nicholson's Island. Her crew got ashore, but the vessel was reported breaking up. She was owned by Messrs. Ives, was valued at £2,250, but insured for only £1,500.

Another loss occurred on 26 September, when MacPherson & Crane's new schooner WILLIAM CAYLEY stranded on Snake Island Reef while on a voyage from St. Catharines to Kingston.

The Port of Hamilton, in November, had its first sight of a screw steamer when the VANDALIA arrived on her maiden voyage from Oswego with general cargo and then cleared for Port Dalhousie. We are indebted to the St. Catharines Journal for the account of her visit to that port, and we quote:

"New Era in Lake Navigation - We were highly gratified, on Tuesday last, by the inspection of a new steam and sail vessel, built at Oswego, for Messrs. Bronson & Crocker, enterprising merchants and forwarders, of that town. The dimensions, we are informed are 95 x 20.1; Burden 141 tons; she is sloop rigged, with her cabins on deck - one very neatly fitted up for passengers, and the other for crew - a desideratum but seldom found, in the common run of schooners. Her primary novelty, however is the Ericsson Propeller - built at the Auburn State Prison, under the superintendence of Messrs. Dennis & Wood, who carry on an extensive business in that line, near the prison - the machinery of which lies in a very small compass, weighing only four to five tons. Her general appearance shows strength and solidity, being a handsome, compact-looking vessel, commanded by Capt. Rufus Hawkins, an intelligent, gentlemanly man, who gave every facility to strangers to inspect her thoroughly. The Engineer, Mr. Taylor, very readily explained everything relative to the machinery. There are safety valves to the engine, and a patent regulating dial, which are essentially necessary in all high-pressure engines. The screws, or paddles, on each side of the rudder, are about five feet in diameter acting on the principle of skulling. When the vessel is laden these screws act wholly under water, but at the time of our examination, there was about one foot visible. The engine is supposed to be about 15 horse power, but being constructed on a new principle, it is difficult to ascertain this, to any certainty. It appeared to us that the power was inadequate for a vessel of so large tonnage; which we doubt not will be taken into consideration when others are built; or by those who own schooners and who wish them supplied with the Ericsson propeller, which we understand to be quite practicable. The VANDALIA, for that is her name, left Oswego in very unfavourable weather with a cargo of 130 tons of merchandize, for Hamilton and Niagara. Notwithstanding the violent head winds and unusual roughness of the Lake, she pursued her course in good style, between four and five miles an hour, which speed increased to seven and eight as the gale lessened, and her canvas was brought into use. She steers, as helmsmen term it - delightfully, the movement of the screws assisting, rather than retarding, the operation of the rudder. This point was satisfactorily ascertained in the circuitous route of the canal from Port Dalhousie to St. Catharines, where we had a full opportunity of testing the merits of this ingenious invention. She glided along without any perceptible motion of the water, so that not the least injury to the banks of the canal need be apprehended, from the swell of water which arises from the paddles of an ordinary steamer.

After passing one of the smallest locks on the canal with ease, and staying an hour or two, for the inspection of the inhabitants, she returned to Port Dalhousie, on her route back to Oswego. We cordially wish her owners every success and fully anticipate, now the experiment has been tried, and so successfully answered their expectations, that next season, we shall hail a large number of vessels constructed on the same principle - believing that the route from New York, via Oswego and the Welland Canal to the far west, must and will be patronized and encouraged by the Western merchants who consult their own interests, now that promptitude and certainty in the receipt of goods will be insured, which is the grand desideratum in commercial affairs."

The return of the VANDALIA to her home port was duly recorded by the Oswego Herald, in this undated item:

"An experiment with the Ericsson propellers in the new schooner VANDALIA, built this season at the shipyard of the enterprising Mr. Doolittle, in this village, has proved highly satisfactory. The VANDALIA left here some days since, loaded for the head of the Lake. After discharging most of her cargo at Hamilton, she proceeded up the Welland Canal as far as St. Catharines and worked remarkably well in the Canal. On her return, she left Niagara on Wednesday last, at half past two p.m., and arrived here the next morning at 9 o'clock, making 150 miles in 13 1/2 hours, with nearly a head wind."


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This volume is copyright The Estate of Ivan S. Brookes and is published with permission of the Estate. The originals are deposited in the Special Collections of the Hamilton Public Library.