Chapter 8
Boom Town Days
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 1850 was heralded in the Hamilton Spectator on the 6 February as follows: "Forwarding - Extensive preparations are being made at this port for the business of the coming season and we are glad to learn that those engaged in the trade look confidently forward to a great increase of business, in consequence of the repeal of the Navigation Laws. Should their anticipations prove correct, we shall be only too well pleased to admit the groundlessness of the fears in which we have heretofore indulged, of the effect of throwing our trade open to the competition of the world. The Canadian forwarders, at all events, are in high spirits. Among the changes which we note with satisfaction, may be mentioned, the determination of Messrs. Macpherson & Crane, the oldest and most extensive forwarders on the Lake, to establish a branch of their business at Hamilton ... The large number of sailing vessels, steamers, barges, etc. under their control and the well-known energy with which they prosecute their business, must give an impetus to forwarding and prove beneficial to the general trade of the City ....

Macpherson & Crane had, in fact, placed a front-page advertisement in the Spectator as early as 21 January, announcing their intentions of commencing business on the James Street Wharf, lately in the occupation of M. W. & E. Browne. This wharf formed the west side of the slip at the foot of James Street and was originally Gunn's Wharf.

On the 14 March, that early bird, Capt. Edward Harrison of the steamboat ECLIPSE, made his first voyage of the season west from Toronto, landing his passengers and cargo at Wellington Square. He would, continue this routine until the ice in the Harbour broke up.

On the 14 March, the St. Catharines Journal noted, that a syndicate had been formed by Messrs. Hooker & Holton,Macpherson & Crane, and the Hon. John Hamilton, to run steamers through from Hamilton to Montreal, without trans-shipment, in 33 hours, leaving Hamilton on alternate days. They would start the service with the PASSPORT, the NEW ERA and the COMET and a new vessel HIGHLANDER (ii) was expected to be in service by 1 July, powered. with the engine from HIGHLANDER (i)

A daily line would also be maintained between Kingston and Montreal and the vessels used would be the CANADA, the LORD ELGIN and the OTTAWA CHIEF. The same paper also mentioned that

"one of our finest propellers, the WESTERN MILLER, has been chartered to take a cargo of flour to Halifax @ 3s. 6d. per barrel and bring a West Indies cargo back to Toronto @ 2s. per cwt. We shall watch with much interest future transactions with regard to freights to and from the sister colonies."

Also in March, M. W. & E. Browne advertised that the propeller CLIFTON would ply between Oswego and Hamilton during the coming season, with calls at Toronto,

The Welland Canal was due to open for navigation on the 1 April and the HIBERNIA and WESTERN MILLER had already been floated out of Shickluna's dry dock. The BRITANNIA and the SCOTLAND remained in the yard, where they had wintered.

A report on the conditions on the Hamilton Waterfront was published, in the Spectator on the 3 April, and from this we glean the facts that the ice was still solid and that M. W. & E. Browne were now conducting their business on the City Wharf on the east side of the James Street Slip. The MAGNET was ready to go, once the ice moved out. Capt. James Sutherland was again in command, with T. Thompson, late of the AMERICA, as First Mate. The purser was Geo. Malcolmson, late of the NIAGARA; Chief Steward was F. W. Fearman and the Chief Engineer was B. Wells. The reporter, with Purser Fearman for a guide, was shown the new staterooms on the main deck, the new paint job, the refurbished public rooms and the well-stocked steward locker.

The Spectator, on the 3 Aprilq gave its readers a resumé of the

"Through Line" of steamers - the PASSPORT,Capt. Bowen and Purser Putnam; the NEW ERA,Capt. Maxwell and Purser Farrell and the COMET,Capt. Taylor and Purser Berry."

On the 9 May, 1850, the St. Catharines Journal reported, that a convention was in session at Kingston for two days and that the parties involved were Macpherson & Crane and the Hon. John Hamilton and others. The editor understood that

"an arrangement had been mad to keep the fares up at the "Monopoly pitch" and that the travelling public is again to be sacrificed to the steamboat proprietors. Also that Mr. Bethune, and the company he represents, felt themselves aggrieved by the Rivermen coming on the Lake and threatened an opposition line on the River, as during part of the last season. The Americans who have two vessels on the River, under the Canadian registry, were alarmed at the prospect of opposition, such as ruined their business last year and threatened to join Mr. Bethune.MacPherson & Crane and Hamilton, not wishing to give up their Lake scheme, made a compromise. They promised to pay the Mail Line on the Lake for every cabin passenger their Through Line carries to Kingston, 2s. 6d., for every deck passenger, ls. 3d., and to the River Line the same sums for every passenger carried between Kingston and Montreal. They further agreed not to start until four hours after the Mail Boats. There was also another agreement of a peculiar nature, Mr. Bethune is to run a boat between Toronto and Lewiston, and the Through Line agreed to pay him the fare on all passengers they bring to Toronto, on their way to Lewiston, whether they go by that boat or not: This is intended to damage the steamer CHIEF JUSTICE ROBINSON, now owned entirely by Mr. Heron of Niagara. An effort will probably be made to run her off the line. If it does so happen, we hope she may make her appearance as an opposition boat to Kingston at fairly remunerating rates. The monopoly rates will be the same as last year, after the opposition had ceased; from Hamilton to Kingston 25s.; from Toronto to Kingston £l; from Kingston to Montreal, -£l. Those signing the agreement were Hooker & Henderson,D. Bethune,Capt. Thos. Dick,Hon. John Hamilton,Capt. Jas. Sutherland and Macpherson & Crane. The agreement runs from 5 May to 8 November, 1850."

Macpherson & Crane were again in the news on the 7 May, when their steamboat COMMERCE was lost off Port Maitland with 38 lives, after colliding with the DESPATCH. On Thursday, 9 May, the office of Alexander Logie, Notary Public, in Hamilton, was visited by Capt. John Cochran and Chief Engineer James Robertson of the COMMERCE. With their vessel lying in 49 feet of water about three miles outside Port Maitland, they had come to swear out a Protest and from this document we get the Captain's story.

The COMMERCE sailed from Lachine at 5:00 a.m. on 2 May, bound for Port Stanley, with about 150 passengers consisting of a detachment of men of Her Majesty's 23rd Regiment of Foot, with their officers and some dependents (wives and children) together with all their baggage and about 2 tons of other goods. The voyage up the St. Lawrence Canals was uneventful and the vessel made good time to Port Dalhousie where her ascent of the Welland Canal began. She proceeded south to Welland, where she ascended the lock into the Feeder Canal, and then headed southwest along that waterway through Marshville to Stromness, where she left the Feeder and continued on to the Broad Creek Lock, descending to the level of Lake Erie. She steamed out of Port Maitland at ten minutes before midnight, 6 May and Capt. Cochran steered south-west, a little south, to pass the shoal lying just above the entrance to the port. There was a moderate wind from the southwest and the night was not particularly dark. A few minutes after leaving the harbourt a steamer was sighted.

"a little on the larboard bow"
and, as the vessels drew closer, the helm of the COMMERCE "was put a little to port to give the DESPATCH a good berth to keep on her own side." According to Capt. Cochran, the on-coming steamer did, not "keep on her own side," but edged in and despite the COMMERCE going more to port, succeeded in ramming her, about 15 feet back of the stem. Within four minutes the foreward hold of the COMMERCE had filled and six minutes later she careened over on her starboard side and went down. The DESPATCH, although taking water remained at the scene and picked up the survivors. Capt. Cochran was later cleared, but Capt. McSwain of the DESPATCH did not appear.

The Royal Mail Line placed the PRINCESS ROYAL on the Hamilton,Toronto and Kingston service, leaving Hamilton on Tuesday and Friday. She had been re-boilered and her upper cabin was extended to provide accommodation for more than 50 cabin passengers. She was under command of Capt. Henry Twohy.

On the 24 July, the Welland Canal was shut down for three days, after the schooner WOODMAN of Kingston knocked the upper gates off Lock 4 by the Red Mill, causing considerable damage.

By the end of July, the passenger business on the Lake was not doing quite so well. The agreement regarding the "sharing of profits" made earlier in the season, was not working out and it became obvious that two lines of steamers were unnecessary. Consequently, the PASSPORT and the NEW ERA were withdrawn and the COMET was maintained on the Hamilton to Montreal run carrying cargo only.

The St. Catharines Journal of the 19 September noted that the hull of the COMMERCE was lying at the shipyard, having been raised and brought down the canal by Louis Shickluna.

October was not a good month on the Upper St. Lawrence. The propeller WESTERN MILLER, running for Macpherson & Crane, grounded off Lachine and sank in the Lachine Canal, thereby stopping all traffic. Calvin & Cook's sidewheel tug TRANSIT came to grief in the Galops Rapids, as did the steamboat SCOTLAND. The ENGLAND was reported to have stranded somewhere between Brockville and Gananoque.

On the 4 December, the Hamilton Spectator printed a letter to its editor suggesting that a company be formed to operate sailing vessels between Hamilton and Liverpool. This anonymous writer felt that brigantines of 110 tons register would be most suitable and that two trans-Atlantic voyages per year could be made, in addition to winter trading from Great Britain to the Middle East or the Azores. He was no doubt, inspired by the account of the LILLA's successful venture on the high seas.

The Spectator of Wednesday, 11 December had this to say:

"The snow storm of Saturday has effectually laid up the steamers, with the exception of the ECLIPSE, which is invariably the first on the Lake and the last to leave it. She will probably continue her trips for a fortnight longer. We learn that Capt. Harrison exchanges the ECLIPSE, in the spring, for a fine new vessel, the CITY OF HAMILTON, recently built by Davy at Bath. The engine of the ECLIPSE will be transferred to the new vessel this winter.

The MAGNET reached port from Kingston on Saturday and has gone into winter quarters. The ROCHESTER was also made fast on Saturday and we are not aware that there is a single vessel plying on the Canadian waters, except the ECLIPSE."

So ended the 1850 navigation season.


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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.