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 first marine activity of the year 1851 was reported by the Hamilton Spectator on Wednesday, 5 March, with these words:

"The Propeller IRELAND - This vessel, which was driven ashore and afterwards sunk at Port Nelson last autumn, was towed into Burlington Bay on Sunday last by the steamer CHIEF JUSTICE ROBINSON. The ice being still pretty firm in the centre of the Bay, the vessels could not reach the wharves, which however, was not the intention, as the IRELAND is to be taken to Niagara for repairs and is only placed, in her present quarters for safety from the weather. The operation of raising the vessel was undertaken by Messrs. Ives, who own a marine railway at Amherstburg and are well known on Lake Ontario as experienced sailors, and ingenious mechanics. They resided for many years in Kingston where they built and sailed a number of schooners, but latterly their attention has been directed to the railway business and the simple fact that, although distant a couple of hundred miles, they were engaged to raise the IRELAND while so many competent men reside conveniently to the scene of the disaster, affords evidence of their ability and energy. We regret that the gentlemen did not follow the example of many of their old friends and transfer themselves from the foot of the Lake, to the head of the Lake, where there is a splendid opening for such a business."

Capt. Edward Harrison opened navigation on Saturday, 22 March when he brought the AMERICA in from Toronto. The steamboat had been built in 1840 at Niagara and was filling in until the new CITY OF HAMILTON was completed. The ROCHESTER was expected to commence her service to Lewiston on 31 March and the MAGNET, agleam with fresh paint, awaited word from Kingston, indicating that the ice had finally moved down the River.

The St. Catharines Journal greeted Spring with the following dispatch on the 27 March:

"We are pleased to see indications of prosperity evinced in our Town by new buildings, foundries, increased trade, and last, but not least, the stir and bustle always to be seen and heard at the shipyard of our worthy citizen, Louis Shickluna. We are pleased to see on the stocks, two new vessels, a schooner of 250 tons and a propeller of 400 tons burden. We have been highly pleased also to find that a double dry dock has been made by Shickluna, which will facilitate repairs considerably. In coming into St. Catharines from Queenston, a large new building will attract the attention of the stranger - the Novelty Works of Mr. Thomas Towers, another of our enterprising citizens. The machinery used in this establishment was purchased in England...."

Among the shipping notices in the papers at the beginning of April, we find. that Macpherson & Crane, under the heading

"Through Line - Express & Freight from Quebec & Montreal to Hamilton,"
were advertising the steamers COMMERCE,Capt. Purdy,WESTERN MILLER,Capt. Cochran and SCOTLAND,Capt. Marshall. They had warehouses at Hamilton,Dundas and Port Stanley and they stated that their Kingston shed was formerly Hooker & Holton's at the foot of Princess Street.

The PRINCESS ROYAL,Capt. James Dick, would leave Kingston on Mondays and Thursdays for Cobourg,Pt. Hope,Pt. Darlington,Toronto and Hamilton. The PASSPORT made her first appearance in Hamilton on Tuesday, 8 April, when she arrived from Kingston.

The Royal Mail Line this year, would consist of the steamer HIGHLANDER,Capt. Stearns,OTTAWA,Capt. Putnam and LORD ELGIN,Capt. Farlinger.Capt. Bowen, formerly of the PASSPORT, has procured the fast-sailing steamers ST. LAWRENCE and FASHION. The BRITISH EMPIRE,Capt. Moody and the BRITISH QUEEN,Capt. LaFlamme, will constitute the "American Line" and as heretofore be the only vessels of a regular line calling at Lancaster.

More news from St. Catharines stated that Louis Shickluna launched the schooner HALIFAX on the 3 April and Capt. William Donaldson would institute service between St. Catharines and Toronto about the 15 April with the steamboat MAZEPPA. This vessel had been built at St. Catharines the previous year under the name FARMER.

P. S. Stevenson, a Hamilton commission merchant, was busily looking for cargo for the schooner JAMES COLEMAN booked for a voyage to Halifax.

"Parties desirous of importing West India Produce, Fish and Oils direct from Halifax will have an opportunity of securing ship-room for a few tons, by application to the undersigned...."

Hooker & Holton were advertising the propeller FREE TRADER, from Ogdensburg-Prescott to Kingston,Oswego,Toronto,Hamilton and Port Stanley.

On the 17 April, Louis Shickluna launched the BRANTFORD, a fine new propeller, amid the cheering of crowds of people and the valiant efforts of the Town Band. Built for the firm of Holcomb & Henderson, she measured, 153.5 x 23.6 x 9.7; Gross 341; Net 226. Her master was Capt. King of St. Catharines.

The same issue of the St. Catharines Journal, that of 24 April, which reported the launch of the BRANTFORD, also reported the sudden demise of the steamer COMET, owned by Macpherson & Crane. It reads:

"Steamboat Explosion - We are informed by Capt. Lester Peavy of the brig ANDES, of a terrific accident of this kind, which occurred at Oswego on Monday afternoon. The steamer COMET of Kingston had just discharged a cargo of flour and was turning down river, when the boiler exploded after the wheels had made one or two revolutions. The whole upper part of the vessel seemed to rise in a nass, then fell in fragments. In a few minutes the hull settled in 12 feet of water alongside a dock on the west side of the river. Six men were rescued alive, five of whom were not given much chance of survival, one body was taken out of the wreck and seven were missing."

A hastily-convened Coroner's jury examined the wreck the day after the explosion and under the guidance of a

"scientific engineer from Troy, N.Y."
with the improbable name of Starbuck, arrived at the conclusion that the explosion
"was caused by the want of sufficient water in the boiler."
The reporter who wrote this up, remarked that
"it is not believed that any fault can be ascribed to the officers of the boat."
Since both engineers were killed in the blast, we suppose that this seemed the easiest way to close the book on the case.

At the village of Port Perry on Lake Scugog, a launching took place on the 24 May. The steamboat was named WOODMAN and was built by Messrs. Chisholm, Rowe & Cotton, for George Crandell, who became quite a notable steamboat owner on the Kawartha Lakes. She was 100 feet long and her engine was built at the Dundas Foundry by John Gartshore.

The new CITY OF HAMILTON was greeted by the local press on the 11 June and, we quote,

"This new and elegant steamer, built expressly for the route between this City and Toronto, reached. her wharf on her first trip on Saturday last (7 June). She has taken the place of the AMERICA and we understand she makes the run in three hours, stops included. She is owned by Donald Bethune of Toronto. On Saturday afternoon, a large concourse of ladies and gentlemen availed themselves of the generous invitation to a luncheon and a pleasure trip around Burlington Bay. The chair was taken by Donald Bethune, supported on his right and left by Sir Allan MacNab and Mayor J. R. Holden. Mayor J. G. Bowes of Toronto was present along with W. Dickson, M.P.P. for Niagara and many other dignitaries, great and small. The table literally groaned under the burden of delicacies with which it was loaded and altogether, the spread was sumptuous. Champagne and wine sparkled temptingly and full justice was done them by the assembled guests."
This was followed by the usual Victorian parade of toasts and responses thereto, and everyone finally went ashore with that sense of well-being induced by free meals, free drinks, free ride and promises of goodies after the next election, which politicians cannot resist making, when they have a sea of smiling faces before them.

The storage, forwarding and commission business in Dundas, formerly operated by Messrse Knox & Fairgrieve, was leased by a partnership consisting of Jas. Black of Hamilton and Morgan Johnson and Hiram S. Pettit of Dundas. In Hamilton,M. W. & E. Browne were agents for Hooker & Holton of Montreal, who advertised the steamboats BRITANNIA,Capt. McArthur and the ENGIAND, Capt. Graham, as well as the propellers HIBERNIA,Capt. Pollock and FREE TRADER,Capt. McMillan.The Brownes placed an interesting advertisement in the Spectator on 7 October, stating that the VANDALIA was in port, taking cargo for Chatham and intermediate ports.

Late in the season, three new names appeared in the sailing notices on Lake Ontario. These were the steamers CHAMPION, built at Montreal by Augustin Cantin and measuring 175.8 x 24.3 x 10.7 with a Gross tonnege of 373, Net 127. She was listed as owned by Macpherson & Crane of Montreal. The second was the MAPLE LEAF, built at Kingston by John Counter and measuring 173.2 x 24.7 x 18.6, Gross 399.She was powered. by a beam engine 52 x 132" and was owned by Donald Bethune & Co. The third in the trio was the MAYFLOWER, which was the rebuilt COMET, under command of Capt. Patterson, late of the steamer PHOENIX on the Grenville-Bytown run on the Ottawa River. The COMET was originally built by George N. Ault at Portsmouth and measured 174.0 x 23.5 x 10.0; Gross 336. She had two beam engines. Her first owners were Jos., Jas., and L. Platt, but was sold to John Fraser in 1849. She came into the possession of Macpherson & Crane in 1849. After the explosion in Oswego, she was refloated by the steamer PORCUPINE and was then towed to Montreal by the steamer SYRACUSE for rebuilding.

The St. Catharines Journal of Thursday, 6 November 1851, offered a few choice items among which were:

"The first steam engine ever constructed in our town it now being made at the Novelty Works...."
This was probably the engine for the steamer BOSTON, under construction at Quebec. And this item:
"Double Shipwreck on Lake Erie -The schooner PRINCE ALBERT, loaded with staves for Messrs. Eberts & Robertson of Chatham, and owned and commanded by Capt. Wm Taylor, was lost off Long Point in the late gale on the 21st October. The captain and crew were saved by the steamer VANDALIA, which, shortly after was run into by the schooner FASHION and sunk in about four hours. The VANDALIA was loaded with cargo for Kent County."

The season ends with this from the Oswego Times:

"The Launch -At about noon to-day, Capt. George S. Weeks launched the hull of the new steamboat and, as she dipped into the water, his son, George Jr., christened her QUEEN OF THE WEST. We learn that she has been sold to a Canadian company and that she is to be finished and receive her machinery at Hamilton, C. W. ..."
The purchasers were Captain Edward Harrison and others. The hull was towed to Hamilton and the contract for her machinery went to the Dundas Foundry.


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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.