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 1856 opened on the 19 April, when the ice in the harbour broke up. Four days later, the steamer GEORGE MOFFATT,Capt. Twitchell, arrived from Oakville, followed by the PEERLESS,Capt. Jas. Dick, from Toronto. The PEERLESS would operate daily, except Sundays to Toronto from Nixon & Swales' Wharf. The first departure was the schooner GOVERNOR,Capt. Peter Davis, which sailed for Toledo.

The "Royal Mail Line" for this season was to consist of the MAGNET,Capt. Twohy,ARABIAN,Capt. Sclater,PASSPORT,Capt. Harbottle and the KINGSTON,Capt. Hamilton. The KINGSTON, Off. No. 71609, was an iron-hulled side-wheeler built in 1855 at Montreal by Bartley & Dunbar, for the Hon. John Hamilton. She measured 174.9 x 26.2 x 9.0. had a gross tonnage of 344 and net 201. Her beam engine was 45 X 120" and steam was supplied by two fire box boilers, each 8'6" x 19'0". Despite two disastrous fires, she had an extremely long career.

Holcomb & Henderson's

"Through Line"
comprised the steamers HURON,COLONIST and BRITANNIA.

The EUROPA,Capt. Murdock, sailed under the banner of the "Independent Express Line" to Brockville, connecting with the G. W. R. R. and the Grand Trunk. Also on this route were the CANADA and the AMERICA,Captains Willoughby and Masson, respectively. They called at Cape Vincent,Brockville and Ogdensburg. The "Independent Freight Line" had one vessel, the BOSTON,Capt. Gibson, sailing from Nixon & Swales' Wharf.

The first arrival direct from Montreal, expected on 1 May, was steamer BOWMANVILLE,Capt. C. Perry which was operating with the same vessels as in 1855.

In June, Edward Browne was again advertising the steamer RANGER,Capt. Hayes, for Bruce Mines and intermediate points.

The Great Western Railway called for tenders for construction of a steam ferry to operate at Detroit. Her dimensions were to be 162 x 32 x 10 and she was to be ready to receive her machinery by the first week of October. Her name would be UNION. Her builders were Charles Hunt and Steven Knight and she was launched from Jenking' Yard in Windsor.

The first loss of the season occurred on the night of Thursday, 17 July, when the new propeller TINTO, bound from Montreal to Toronto was destroyed by fire a little above Kingston. Of the 37 persons aboard this vessel, 18 were lost.

The next disaster on the Lake was the burning of the steamer WELLAND at Port Dalhousie on the morning of 15 August, as steam was being raised for her regular trip to Toronto. This was a heavy loss for the citizens of St. Catharines, who had an investment of £15,000 in the vessel and insurance coverage of only £5,000.

In August, Daniel Charles Gunn announced that his "Locomotive, Steam Engine & Forge Works" were now open for business. This was located east of Wentworth Street and north of the G. W. R. R. tracks, close to the west fork of Sherman Inlet. He had the services of one, W. L. Kinmond, late of Dundee and Montreal,

"a practical and experienced locomotive engineer and general machinist."
Gunn, at this time, lived at 43 Main St, and gave his occupation as "land agent".

A waterfront fire of some magnitude occurred in Hamilton on the 13 October and quoting from the St. Catharines Journal:

"About 2 a. m. the extensive warehouses of Messrs. Nixon & Swales at the foot of James Street were discovered to be on fire and such was the combustible nature of the goods in store and of the buildings themselves, that in one hour the whole premises were in ruins and property to the amount of $120,000, at a rough estimate, was destroyed. It is believed that the fire originated in a lot of waste cotton belonging to the Railway, which lay just outside the warehouse on the west side. The steamer PASSPORT was at the wharf, but not in her usual slip. This was a fortunate circumstance, as she was enabled to haul off, whereas had she been in the berth usually occupied by her, it is thought she could not have escaped. As it is, the loss is entirely confined to the old frame buildings, the wharf and the goods in store. Fortunately, there was no wind at the time or there is no saying where the destruction might have stopped. A little to the north-west of the burnt warehouses are two others filled with groceries which could not have been saved if the wind had been blowing that way. On the west side are Messrs. Holcomb & Henderson's Wharf and warehouses, which were saved with difficulty, while to the south is a miserable shanty full of gun-powder. Great as the destruction is, it might have been much worse."

The economic recession was now beginning to make itself felt in shipping circles and a number of vessels were offered for sale. The EUROPA had been transferred to James Coleman of Dundas and the MONTMORENCY, built in 1852, was to be sold at auction on the 15 November. Earlier in the year, the steamer CLIFTON, owned by the Macklems of Chippewa and built by Thomas Collier, who had built the EUROPA, was offered for sale.

A storm on the 8 November caught the schooner FOREST QUEEN,Capt. Zealand, while on a voyage from Oswego to Hamilton and she sank alongside the east pier at Charlotte, while trying to reach shelter, She had a very small cargo - 150 bbls. of salt, Another storm, this time on Lake Huron, saw the former Lake Ontario steamer MAZEPPA driven ashore at the Saugeen River, She was engaged in hauling stone for lighthouse construction at Point Clark,Chantry Island,Cove Island and others.

On the 7 November, the London Free Press delegated a reporter to attend a public meeting at the City Hall in that Western city. The meeting was chaired by the Mayor of London who lamented over the poor attendance, probably because most of those present were from Port Stanley and St. Thomas and the purpose of the gathering was to discuss a proposal to establish direct trade with Great Britain.

This was sparked by the deluge of publicity that followed the successful voyage of the schooner DEAN RICHMOND, from Chicago to Liverpool. The spokesman was one Richard Evans, who explained that it was proposed to build vessels at Port Stanley especially to carry cargoes of agricultural products across the Atlantic. As talks continued and several impressive dollar figures were picked out of thin air, a gentleman by the name of Josiah Blackburn wisely pointed out that the DEAN RICHMOND had been chartered for the voyage, not built specifically for ocean trading. Hence, he asked, why should the present company commit themselves to the expense of building tonnage, when the British cared little about the vessels so long as she was capable of delivering their wheat? If it was merely a case of showing the flag as a means of advertising the country, the flag would be flown on whatever vessel was sent, whether she be brand new, or had a few well-tried seasons under her bottom. The meeting adjourned and the members went home presumably to mull over these thoughts. It did serve to show that interest in this business was becoming more widespread.

Daniel Gunn's locomotive manufactory was having its brief hour of glory. In a letter to the editor, he stated that he had sold one locomotive to the Great Western and was building two more on speculation.

The steamer LORD ELGIN, while en route from Toronto to Montreal with a cargo of 2,000 bbls. of flour on the 2 December, stranded on Long Point of Prince Edward County. Her crew managed to get ashore. She had been built in 1845 at Oswego, as the SYRACUSE and was sold Canadian in 1852.

O. S. Gildersleeve advertised the steamer CITY OF HAMILTON for sale, under the name of CITY OF THE BAY. She had been built in 1850 at Bath by Peter R. Beaupré, for B. F. Davy, et al. of Belleville. She measured 156.0 x 24.7 x 8.6 and her low pressure beam engine had a cylinder 40 x 126", working on 45 p.s.i.

On the 19 December, the Hamilton Spectator copied a report from the Kingston News, without bothering to put a date on it, stating that the schooner ANDREW STEVEN had reached that port after receiving much storm damage. She had been on her way to Hamilton with 1,000 bbls. of whitefish and when off Niagara, she lost her mainsail, fore topgallant sail and had her mizzen split from top to bottom. The violence of the storm was such that she was driven eastward, under bare poles, from Niagara to near Long Point, approximately 126 miles in about 10 hours. In view of the damage, it was decided to lay her up at Kingston for the winter.


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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.