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 year 1854 began with the news on the 8 January, that Messrs. Macpherson & Crane had sold. out to Holcomb & Henderson, a good move for the former, but unfortunate for the buyers. The prosperity which had been enjoyed for several years had but one year left before the severe depression set in. Holcomb & Henderson's occupancy of the James St. Wharf in Hamilton would be brief.

In the meantime, however, things were happening along the waterfront. Near the foot of John Street, a large hull was under construction to replace the QUEEN OF THE WEST. The work was being supervised by Capt. Edward Harrison and the machinery salvaged from the burned hull was being reconditioned and made ready for fitting in the new one. Three major shareholders in this enterprise were R. Benner,Thomas N. Best and M. W. Browne.

On the subject of machinery, a new foundry and engine works was being erected on James Street North at the corner of Simcoe Street, occupying some two acres. The principals in this organization were Frederick Garner Beckett,Henry Beckett Sr.,Henry Beckett Jr. and Samuel Beckett, who had come from Manchester. Their plant, which would proudly bear the name "Atlas Works" over its main entrance, consisted of a number of substantial brick buildings. There was a foundry, 100 x 40 ft., machine shop, 3 stories, 120 x 50 ft., finishing dept., 2 stories, 50 x 36 ft., boiler shop, 2 stories, 170 x 50 ft., blacksmith shop, 80 x 36 ft. and a combined wood and pattern shop of 2 stories, 120 x 40 ft. Power was supplied by two 35 horse-power engines and it was expected that about 120 men and boys would be employed.

On the 19 Jan. 1854, it was announced that the steamer PRINCESS ROYAL, owned by Bethune & Co., had been chartered by the Great Western Rail Road, to carry locomotives from the Genesee to the Burlington Canal, commencing on the 25 January.

By the 9 March, tentative arrangements were being made for the Lake Ontario steamboats. It was surmised that the ARABIAN,MAPLE LEAF,ST. LAWRENCE,LORD ELGIN and possibly the CITY OF HAMILTON would be placed on the Hamilton to Montreal mail service. The MAYFLOWER, which had operated on the Cape Vincent Line in 1853, was acquired by Stark, Hill & Co. of Ogdensburg, to replace the ill-fated OCEAN WAVE. The HIGHLANDER and the CHAMPION would form the Toronto and Cape Vincent Line. The PRINCESS ROYAL, after the completion of her G.W.R.R. charter, would resume her trips between Toronto and the Genesee.

In St. Catharines, the new steamer WELLAND was being built under the supervision of Capt. Donaldson, to replace the MAZEPPA. The engine for the WELLAND was being assembled at the Novelty Iron Works by Thos. Towers, from parts imported from New York. It was mentioned that the MAZEPPA might be placed in service between Toronto and Whitby.

The Rochester Union published some additional news as follows:

"At Niagara Dock, two splendid steamers are now on the stocks for the Great Western R. R. They are nearly 300 feet in length and will be finished in a superior manner to excel in size, speed and, splendor, anything on the Lake. They are being built under the direction of Captains John Masson, late of the steamer ROCHESTER and Jas. Sutherland, late of the MAGNET. These boats are designed to form a daily line between Hamilton and Oswego. The Chippewa and Niagara R. R. are building a steamer to run between Niagara and Toronto in connection with their road. Capt. Thos. Dick of the PEERLESS, has an iron steamer building on the Clyde. The PEERLESS was brought to this country in pieces and put together at Niagara, but the new steamer will cross the Atlantic under her own steam. She will be so constructed that a section of her bow can be removed to enable her to ascend the canals, the locks of which are only 200 feet long. Donald Bethune, proprietor of the British steamers running between this city and Toronto, is now in Europe contracting for two swift and elegant iron steamers for the Ontario trade. He has again been awarded the contract for carrying the Royal Mail from Hamilton to Montreal. The Hon. John Hamilton is building a fine steamer for both Lake and, River trade, of capacity for passing the lower canals."

This item appeared, in the Niagara Mail on 19 April:

"The Abbey Brothers of Port Robinson, launched a fine schooner on Thursday last, (13 April) named the ANTELOPE, for Edward Browne of Hamilton. Her dimensions are: length of keel, 110 ft., length over-all, 118 ft., beam, 23 ft. and depth of hold, 10 ft. Her burthen is 180 tons. The model is said to be a beautiful one and reflects the highest credit on the enterprising builders, whose exertions to advance Port Robinson and procure for the place an enviable notoriety in ship building are worthy of praise. The docking privileges afforded by the Welland Canal are unsurpassed in the county and we hail, with pleasure, every attempt made by deserving mechanics to avail themselves therefrom. Capital, inexhaustible resources and indomitable perseverance must make this Canada a great place."

Navigation opened on the 5 April when M. W. Browne'sBRITANNIA cleared for Oswego and the CITY OF HAMILTON arrived with passengers and mail from Toronto. The partnership of James Nixon and John E. Swales took over the John Street Wharf and advertised that they intended to carry on the business of forwarding and storage in addition to their present one of carriers and custom house brokers.

On the regular service from Hamilton to Kingston, the ARABIAN was under command of Capt. Colcleugh, the MAGNET's master was Capt. Henry Twohy, who had taken over when Capt. Sutherland took up his duties at the Niagara Dockyard, and the PASSPORT was under Capt. Thomas Harbottle, late mate with Sutherland in the MAGNET.

On the 19 April, an advertisement listed the vessels in the Daily Through Line to Montreal and the people involved in this service were Hooker Jaques & Co.,Montreal,Alfred Hooker & Co.,Prescott,Hooker, Pridham & Co.,Kingston,Toronto and Hamilton,M. W. Browne and Land & Routh of Hamilton. The vessels, together with their masters were: OTTAWA,McGrath, BRITANNIA,Beatty,ENGLAND,Hannah,HIBERNIA,Mowat,ONTARIO,Stalker,ST. LAWRENCE,Savage,FREE TRADER,Moore,LORD ELGIN,Bruce and JOHN GARTSHORE,J. Reid.

An interesting item regarding the OTTAWA appeared in the Milwaukee Sentinel on the 9 May and read as follows:

"The steamer OTTAWA,Capt. McGrath, arrived here yesterday morning from Kingston, Canada, with 80 tons of railroad iron for the La Crosse & Milwaukee R. R. Co., and 100 tons of limestone. The OTTAWA left Kingston on the 20 April. She was built at Montreal and has usually run on Lakes Ontario and Erie. Her wheels work in hollowed spaces in her hull and the vessel has, but for her walking-beam, more the appearance of a propeller than a steamer. This is her first appearance in these waters and she will leave for Chicago in a day or two. The OTTAWA is owned by Hooker, Pridham & Co. She loaded pork in Chicago for the voyage back to Montreal."

Three days later, Holcomb & Henderson published their roster of vessels and it consisted of the new steamer HURON, recently completed at Sorel under command of Capt. D. Wells, the GEORGE MOFFATT, built at Chatham in 1853, under Capt. Twitchell,REINDEER,Capt. McGrath and the SCOTLAND,Capt. Patterson. They provided service to Lake Erie ports with the WESTERN MILLER,Capt. Sughrue and on the St. Lawrence, they had the PORCUPINE,Capt. Cowley and 6 barges of 200 tons each. Also, on the Lakes were the schooners GOVERNOR,Capt. Taylor,CALIFORNIA,Capt. Goodearle and PREMIER,Capt. Fitzgibbon.

The Niagara Mail, on the 10 May, gave an account of the launch of the steamer ZIMMERMAN at the Niagara Dockyard:

"This large and beautiful steamer, built for the Erie & Ontario Railway, was launched on Saturday, 6 May. She was named in honour of Samuel Zimmerman and was christened by Miss Louisa Dickson.Mr. Shickluna, her skillful builder has done himself credit by this boat."
Samuel Zimmerman, a contractor of somewhat dubious integrity, was enjoying considerable popularity in Niagara at this time. His efforts involving the improvements to the docks and the establishment of the car works had endeared him to the citizens and there were even rumours to the effect that he might be asked to run in the next election as their representative. But, alas, there was no happy ending. Sam was killed in the Desjardins Canal train wreck, the steamer ZIMMERMAN went up in a blaze of glory, the car works failed and ultimately the docks rotted and crumbled.

There was an exciting time on the Welland Canal on 12 May, when the steamer REINDEER, which was passing through St. Catharines, upbound, just below Lock 5, suddenly charged ahead and knocked the lower gates off. The mate admitted that he rang the wrong bell.

Negotiations had been going on for some time for the sale of the steamer CITY OF HAMILTON for service on the Bay of Quinte and as a result, she was replaced by the HIGHLANDER. Another vessel that went to the Bay at this time, was the ROCHESTER. She had been acquired by Maxwell & Co. for service between Belleville and Montreal and was renamed SIR CHARLES NAPIER. She had been built in 1843 at Oswego.

On the 30 May, the steamer JOHN GARTSHORE succeeded in tearing a gate off Lock 19 at Cornwall, while downbound. She was apparently damaged, since her passengers and their baggage were transported by land to Coteau Landing.

This spring, travellers who found it necessary to visit Toronto, had the choice of two steamers. The MAZEPPA,Capt. E. Butterworth, left Hamilton at 1:30 p.m. and called at Oakville and Port Credit, or the HIGHLANDER,Capt. McBride, which left Hamilton at 7:00 a.m. daily, except Sunday and called at Wellington Square,Oakville and Port Credit. This service was maintained until the HIGHLANDER was transferred to the Toronto and Rochester run and was replaced by the CHIEF JUSTICE ROBINSON,Capt. Jas. Dick.

The new steamer AMERICA for the Great Western Railway, was launched on the 15 June 1854, at the Niagara Dockyard. Her over-all length was 296 feet, beam over the guards was 71 feet and her moulded depth was 13' 9". She had a registered tonnage of 1,564 and the horse power of her engine was approximately 1,000. Her sponsor was Miss Phelps, of the Thorold family prominent in the lumber business. Her Master is Capt. John Masson.

The following testimonial to Captain James Sutherland was published on the 1 July and is self-explanatory:

"To Capt. Sutherland,

Allow me, on behalf of the late officers of the steamer MAGNET, to beg your acceptance of this tea set, as a mark of our respect and gratitude for your uniformly kind and gentlemanly conduct towards us while under your command. We, also, sincerely trust that you and all the members of your family may long continue to enjoy health, prosperity and all the other blessings of this life.

Signed:James Malcolmson, MateJohn Malcolmson, 2nd Mate William Brunt, Engineer John Painter, 2nd Eng'r F. W. Fearman, Steward P. McGuire, Bar Keeper George Malcolmson, Purser.To the officers of the steamer MAGNET, lately under my command:Gentlemen,

On receiving from you this very elegant and useful, but quite unexpected present, permit me to say, that although I feel undeserving of the gift, I nevertheless highly appreciate the motive which induced you to present it, and for which, be pleased to accept my best thanks and those of my family for your friendly wishes for our welfare. This pleasing interview gives me also the opportunity of stating that I attribute the past success of the MAGNET in a great measure to the friendly and harmonious feeling which existed between myself, my officers and crew. Praying that every success and happiness may ever attend both you and your families, I remain,

Yours very sincerely, J S

The AMERICA's sister-ship, the CANADA, was launched, at Niagara on the 15 July, her sponsor being Miss Henderson of Hamilton and one week later the EUROPA, somewhat reluctantly entered the waters of Hamilton Harbour amid the cheers of a huge crowd which had gathered around her place of building at the foot of John Street. The third beautiful white elephant was now afloat. The EUROPA measured 223.6 x 27.5 x 13.0 and had a registered tonnage of 341. Her machinery came from the wreck of the QUEEN OF THE WEST. She was built under the supervision of Thomas Collier, brother of naval architect George Collier of New York.Thomas Collier was also supervising the construction of the steamer CLIFTON at Macklem's shipyard in Chippewa and she was completed in September. The EUROPA's owners, according to her register, were Richard Benner,(R. Benner & Co., grocers), Thomas Noakes Best,(Best & Green, auctioneers) and Michael Willson Browne, wharfinger, all of Hamilton. Although Browne still listed himself as a wharfinger, his younger brother Edward appeared to be doing most of the waterfront business. Michael was already interested, in the insurance business and would ultimately involve himself in city politics.

The three gentlemen mentioned above had made a very bad investment, as has been pointed out already, the days of large passenger steamers were about to enter a sharp decline and in the years to come, when economic conditions improved, those steamers that survived would rely upon the patronage of people who had the time and money to enjoy a more leisurely form of travel. The EUROPA passed to the ownership of James Coleman of Dundas in 1856 and in 1857, Thomas Patton, banker of Montreal, was the registered owner. In 1861, after long periods of idleness, she was sold to Montreal interests and left Lake Ontario.

Edward Browne, with considerable foresight, placed an advertisement in the Hamilton Spectator, stating that the steamer MAYFLOWER,Capt. MacDonald, would depart from Hamilton on 25 July, on a pleasure cruise to Kingston,Montreal,Quebec,Cacouna, the Saguenay River and Ha Ha Bay.

In an effort to improve business by taking advantage of the advent of the railroad era, the wharfingers had conceived a plan to build a tramway from the Great Western Rail Road to the City Docks. M. W. Browne, as spokesman for the group became embroiled with the directors of the railroad, who, after some argument, flatly refused to have anything to do with the proposition and the great Isaac Buchanan stated that

"if the tramway was built, it was very doubtful that the railway would permit their cars to be handled over it."
If the directors of the railroad thought that all shipping would beat a path to their wharf, they were very much in error. The City Docks had a good many productive years ahead of them, even without rail connection.

About midnight on Friday, the 4 August, a loss occurred on Lake Ontario, when the propeller BOSTON, bound from Chicago to Ogdensburg collided with the schooner PLYMOUTH, off Oak Orchard and, went down in 20 minutes. The BOSTON had a cargo of pork, corn and whiskey and there were 28 persons aboard. Capt. McNett succeeded in getting all hands into three boats and they made their way into the Genessee late on Saturday. The BOSTON was built in 1848, was 259 tons burthen and, was owned by Crawford. & Co., of Ogdensburg, N.Y.

On the 7 August, M. W. Browne announced that he had sold his interest in the City Wharf to a partnership consisting of James and John O. Nixon and John R. Swales.

In September, the Toronto Globe stated that the new iron steamer HER MAJESTY, built by Denny of Dumbarton for Capt. Thomas Dick, being nearly 90 days unreported, was assumed to have foundered at sea. Denny the builder, had made the passage in her to Cork and said that the delivery crew were hand-picked men. He felt that she must have been destroyed by fire. She had sufficient coal for 13 days, which should have got her to Newfoundland, if not to Quebec. There were 20 men lost and the editor of the Globe rejoiced in the fact that Capt. Dick was fully insured.

Josias Bray, who gave his address as "Provincial Insurance Office, Hamilton", was advertising for sale, the steamer PROVINCIAL. This was the former WILMINGTON, which had been in service between Wilmington and Charleston and had now fallen on bad times as a result of the railroad era. She had undergone an extensive overhaul late in 1853, according to the notice and as fully equipped for the passenger trade. Her beam engine had a bore of 46" and a stroke of 120". Bray's prospects of selling her were not bright.

On the 15 September, M. W. Browne notified shippers that the new propeller BANSHEE,Capt. Trowell, would, for the remainder of the season, ply between Hamilton,Toronto and Oswego, where her agents were Messrs. Clemow & Bloore.

The harbour was busy on the 9 and 10 October, when the following steamers arrived in port: BAY STATE,Capt. A. Reid from Cape Vincent; the HIGHLANDER,Capt. Perry and the QUEEN CITY,Capt. Evatt from Toronto. From Kingston came the MAGNET,Capt. Twohy and the ARABIAN,Capt. Colcleugh, while the arrivals from Montreal were the SCOTLAND,Capt. Patterson, the OTTAWA,Capt. McGrath and the HIBERNIA,Capt. J.Moore.

The schooner PREMIER,Capt. Fitzgibbon, arriving on the 11 October, carried this cargo for the Great Western R. R.: Two locomotives and tenders, 150 tons of coal, 60 tons of axles, 38 tons of pig iron, 100 bbls. resin and 10 tons of iron pipe. She came from Montreal and her agents were Holcomb & Henderson.

The new steamer AMERICA of the Great Western R. R. Co. made a trial run from Niagara to Toronto on the 23 November and covered the distance in 2 hours and 25 minutes. Not bad time.

A late arrival in December was the schooner MINERVA COOK from Garden Island with a cargo of rails. The enterprising firm of Calvin & Breck, in their little private domain on Garden Island in Kingston Harbour, were now, in addition to their timber rafting, shipbuilding and ship-owning and salvage businesses, engaged in the transporting and stock-piling of this new commodity, "railroad iron". Though their tiny island would never hear the shriek and clatter of the iron horse or any other mechanical monster of a later age, Calvin & Breck saw no reason to pass up a share of the action.


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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.