Chapter 7
Good Times in Port
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 navigation season of 1848 was heralded in the press as early as February, in a lengthy advertisement by Van Dewater Brothers & Co., of Oswego, just bursting with good old Yankee enthusiasm to get out there and drum up the business. Among a multitude of agents, we find listed M. W. & E. Browne,Hamilton, C. W., representing not only Van Dewater'sOswego & Welland Line, but also the ponderously entitled New York, Utica & Oswego Line of Lake Boats. This organization claimed to have at its disposal the steamboats NIAGARA,CATARACT,LADY OF THE LAKE,ONTARIO,ST. LAWRENCE,TELEGRAPH,CLINTON and the propeller CLIFTON, together with

"a contemplated steamer direct to Toronto and Hamilton."

Hot on the heels of this, we find an advertisement placed by Messrs. Gunn, Land & Routh, shipping and commission agents, who are representing the steamboats MAGNET,BRITANNIA and COMMERCE, in addition to the schooners POMONA,SOVEREIGN,CHIEF JUSTICE ROBINSON,LADY BAGOT,JESSE WOOD

"and several others."
They gave their premises as "foot of MacNab Street and Wellington Street." This would mean, the wharf later referred to as the "Commercial Wharf" at the foot of MacNab and Land's Wharf, which could be reached from the foot of Wellington Street.

H. & S. Jones of Brockville, having appointed M. W. & E. Browne as their Hamilton agents, placed a notice in the Spectator in April announcing their intention of running the new steamboat DAWN between Montreal and Hamilton. They stated that

"this boat is fitted up particularly for deck passengers and freight, but can take a few gentlemen in her small cabin."
This is very interesting, and it indicates that the trade of the country was increasing to such an extent that some ship-owners realized, that it was now possible that steam vessels should pay their way without having a lot of expensive accommodation for passengers. At this time, at the dawn of the railroad era, sidewheelers on the lakes were continually increasing in size and in the extravagant decor provided for passengers, especially on the Upper Lakes. There were a number of these so-called "floating palaces" which never earned a dollar. They were, in fact, floating deficits. Shipowners who now felt the need of vessels designed primarily for cargo, were looking to the future.

An additional sign of the times appears in the advertisement for the steamboat TELEGRAPH,Capt. John Masson, which reads as follows:

"Will commence running on the 10th April, and will leave Hamilton daily at half past six a.m. for Niagara,Youngstown,Lewiston and Queenston, and arrive in time for the Railroad Cars for the Falls of Niagara and Buffalo, and for the American steamers for Rochester,Oswego,Syracuse,New York,Montreal and Quebec."

The Hamilton and Toronto service was maintained by the steamboat ECLIPSE,Capt. Edward Harrison during the 1848 season.

The Hamilton Spectator of Wednesday, 19 April reported that:

"The bark ELEONORA of Kingston, in attempting to come into the canal during the night, missed stays and ran upon the pier. We regret to learn that she parted amidships and that her hull now lies in the canal ... and it is feared that she will be a total wreck."
This was the former steamboat GREAT BRITAIN.

On the same day, the Kingston News was quoted as saying:

"Two steamers designed for freightage over the lake and river have been started during the past few days - the COMMERCE, owned by MacPherson & Crane and the DAWN, by H. & S. Jones & Co. These vessels are expected to carry from 2,500 to 3,000 barrels of flour from any of the Western Ports and deliver their cargoes, without breaking bulk, at Lachine or Montreal .... We are certainly disposed to doubt the success of the experiment, but we shall not fail to view with satisfaction, every effort to reduce the cost of transportation over our inland waters. The steamers IRELAND,SCOTLAND,ENGLAND,EARL CATHCART,DAWN and COMMERCE, each of them over 2,000 barrels burthen, are now engaged in the trade and two or three more will shortly be added, and these will afford a sufficient test of the question at issue, especially as an equally large class of schooners and barges is now being substituted for the small craft which were in vogue some two or three years ago."
The fact that the editor
"doubted the success of the experiment"
indicated that he had been talking to some Forwarders who naturally took a rather dim view of steamers laden with cargo from Montreal, emerging from the Thousand Islands and passing Kingston on their way to ports in the West. Their fears were not without reason, but the forwarders would remain in business for many years, thanks largely to the bungling of the government's canal-building policies.

About 9:00 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday, 18 April, the steamer NIAGARA,Capt. Childs, left Oswego for Rochester with some 100 passengers. The wind was blowing fresh, and increased throughout the forenoon until at the dinner hour it was found impossible to set the tables or prepare the food. The wind continued to rise until the NIAGARA was about four miles from the Genesee River piers, at which time her rudder was carried away. Capt. Childs attempted to rig a jury rudder, but failed and then headed out into the Lake, so as to have some sea-room. About 6:00 p.m., at an estimated eight miles off-shore, her funnel went over the side and the fires had to be extinguished. Now being at the mercy of the wind and the sea, rolling violently, the crashing of mirrors, crockery, furniture and everything movable was added to the howl of the winds, and the unfortunate NIAGARA was driven toward the south shore. Anchors were let go, but at 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday, she came to a crashing halt half a mile west of the piers. By sunrise, when all hands managed to get ashore in the boats, there was five feet of water in her main cabin. The principal shareholder was T. S. Paxton of Utica, N.Y. and rumour had it that there was no insurance, which seems strange.

In May 1848, the MAGNET replaced the SOVEREIGN in Bethune's Line of steamers. The SOVEREIGN, was originally the NIAGARA, built in 1838 and renamed in 1843 and the Cobourg Provincialist had this to say regarding the MAGNET:

"Everything about this fine boat presents such an appearance of great strength, as to induce a feeling of security, and this, added to the long-established reputation of her commander, Capt. Sutherland, will undoubtedly make her a favourite on the Lake.Mr. Bethune, we think, has acted wisely in getting her into his line."

The steamer DAWN had a close call in May, when attempting to ascend the Galops Rapids, heavily laden and with about 20 passengers, she struck bottom and sustained rudder damage. Two days were lost while repairs were made.

An undated item from the Dundas Warder, reprinted in the St. Catharines Journal on the 18 May, tells of a visit to Dundas by the steamboat BRITANNIA. It said, in part:

"This splendid new vessel left our wharf ... amid the cheering of a vast number of persons attracted by this noble-looking vessel. Everything about her reflects the highest credit on her builders as well as her owners. Her engine is upwards of 70 horse power, and wherever it goes, will speak more loudly than words for the character of the Dundas Foundry. The BRITANNIA left with a large quantity of flour, pork and live stock on board. We wish her enterprising owners (all of whom reside here) every success."

During the summer, the BRITANNIA, the COMMERCE, the DAWN, and the FREE TRADER continued to attract the attention of the press in Montreal, which called them

"the new class of freight steamers."
The FREE TRADER, built in Montreal by Augustin Cantin in 1848 for Luther H. Holton of Montreal and F. Henderson,Kingston, made the news when she arrived from Toledo, Ohio.

The Montreal Transcript in June, took note of a new development in the business of passenger travel on the St. Lawrence, and we quote in part:

"A great deal of interest has lately been taken by the Montreal public, in consequence of the development of an entirely novel feature in the steam navigation of the St. Lawrence above the city. We allude to the fine class of vessels which are now daily making the passage down the Lachine Rapids and landing their passengers from the United States and Canada West at the wharves of Montreal.

At the time the LORD SYDENHAM came down these rapids some 7 or 8 years ago, the feat was considered as something extraordinary, and it has continued to be talked of as such since. The present advantages afforded by the completion of the canal, has however, brought down a number of the splendid craft belonging to the Royal Mail Line and the steamers of the Ogdensburg Line. We hear that the proprietors intend to send their vessels down these rapids on their daily runs, it being found perfectly safe, and of great convenience to themselves, the vessels of course, passing through the canal on their upward passages.

Recently, on the invitation of Mr. Moody, agent for the Ogdensburg Line, a party of gentlemen went to Lachine by railroad and returned to Montreal on the BRITISH QUEEN, one of the finest vessels of that Line. The trip took one hour and she came through the rapids in splendid style, and certainly it is a beautiful sight. As to danger, it is ridiculous to think of it. The BRITISH QUEEN clove the waters, the rapids boiling, tossing and whirling around her, throwing the spray out on either side. The passengers were delighted with the trip and on arrival at Montreal, toasts were drunk to Capt. Chamberlain and his steamer."

Thus was begun a mode of travel that remained popular for over one hundred years, in fact, until the end of steamboating on the St. Lawrence River.

With the optimistic remark about the absence of danger in the running of the Lachine still fresh in mind, we read this report:

"We regret that we have to report the loss of the steamer DAWN. It seems that at about 4:00 a.m. yesterday, 19 June, she left Lachine to descend the rapids, but she unfortunately entered the channel at the same time as several drams (of timber)."
In order to avoid collision, she was put about and made to stem the current, but she struck heavily on a rock, glanced off, and almost instantly fetched up on another which stopped and held her. The deck cargo of 400 barrels of flour was jettisoned, but to no avail. Further damage was received by the vessel when another dram, hurtling into rapids, sideswiped her as it went by. Fortunately, there was no loss of life and the DAWN was refloated and returned to service some months later.

By mid-July, the Montreal papers were reporting vessels passing, instead of stopping -

"the BRITANNIA from Hamilton, with flour, arrived ‘off' this city and proceeded immediately to Quebec."
And this also, "Hooker & Holton's steamer FREE TRADER arrived from Michigan City and Chicago with 11,000 bus. of wheat and sailed immediately for Quebec. We learn that her enterprising owners are well satisfied with her performance on the trip and propose to send her back on a similar voyage.

Citizens of the district, feeling the need of a swing bridge over the Burlington Canal, had submitted a petition to the Dept. of Public Works in Montreal. The request was refused on the grounds that "abutments" would have to be built and these would impede navigation and the flow of the current through the canals causing the deposit of sediments. There must have been a political reason for this, and the Hamilton Spectator pointed its inky finger at

"that eminent engineer, Mr. Killaly."
It would have been obvious to many of its readers, that the negative decision was not the result of any engineering study and the letter containing the refusal could have been written equally well by the village idiot.

The building of another "floating palace" was reported by the Kingston Argus. In August:

"Another Lake Steamer - The proprietors of the American Line launched the hull of a splendid new boat at French Creek [Clayton N.Y.] on Thursday last, which they named the BAY STATE. She is about the size of the ONTARIO and will be fitted up in the same gorgeous style as that vessel and the CATARACT. We understand that the new steamer commenced at Oswego by Capt. Vandewater, and intended to run between Oswego and Lewiston in connection with the Syracuse & Oswego Railroad, has been purchased by the above company. When finished, she will be much the largest steamer on Lake Ontario. It is expected that the NIAGARA will be ready to take her place in the line some three weeks hence. In the summer of 1850, if not before, there will be, in all probability, a morning and an evening line of these magnificent steamers along the South side of the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario from Ogdensburg to Lewiston, an accommodation which the completion of the Railroad commenced at Ogdensburg, will no doubt fully warrant."

Service by Canadian steamboats on the Lake during the summer of 1848 consisted of the following. The Royal Mail Line was running the MAGNET,Capt. Sutherland, from Hamilton to Toronto and Kingston,CITY OF TORONTO, from Lewiston & Queenston to Toronto and Kingston, under command of Capt. Gordon.PRINCESS ROYAL,Capt. Twohy, from Lewiston & Queenston to Toronto and Kingston. All three called at Port Hope and Cobourg. Other services were supplied by the ECLIPSE,Capt. Edw. Harrison, between Hamilton and Toronto; the AMERICA,Toronto,Cobourg and Rochester; the ADMIRAL,Capt. Wilkinson,Hamilton,Toronto and Oswego; the CHIEF JUSTICE ROBINSON,Capt. Jas. Dick, from Toronto to the Niagara River ports. The TELEGRAPH,Capt. John Masson was on the run from Hamilton to Lewiston, but in September she was replaced by the ROCHESTER, also commanded by Capt. Masson.

In September, the Quebec Chronicle was rejoicing over the success of the steamers BRITANNIA and COMET in the Quebec-Hamilton trade and one cannot help thinking of the irritation caused in Montreal and Kingston by these reports, as well as by the sight of these vessels passing by, leaving nought but a cloud of wood smoke in their wake.

The steamer DAWN,Capt. W. T. Johnson, was back in service in October having been fully repaired and took on 200 tons of flour for Montreal.

On the night of Tuesday, 7 November, the schooner ELLEN, owned by M. W. Browne of Hamilton, came ashore at West Lake,Prince Edward County with the loss of nine persons. She had left Kingston and called at McDonald's Cove, near West Point to load a cargo of white fish, but when almost laden, a storm developed, and she was forced to put out into the lake, but before daylight, she was driven back before the gale, a complete wreck. It was understood that her hull would be sold "as lies."

On the 9 December, word was received from Port Stanley that the steamboat SCOTLAND, which had stranded near that port, had been successfully refloated and laid up there for the winter. Her cargo was said to be considerably damaged. The bad weather was not confined to Lake Erie. From Kingston came word that the schooner CLYDE, from Hamilton, made port with damage to her rigging and the schooner CHIEF JUSTICE ROBINSON, with wheat, went ashore at Presqu'ile, a notoriously dangerous place.


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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.