Chapter 9
Depression Years
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 Hamilton Spectator of Thursday, 22 March 1860 reported the testing of the new Desjardins Canal Swing Bridge, as follows:

"Yesterday morning, the Chief Engineer of the Great Western Railway,George Lowe Reid, in company with Directors Brydges,Becher,Reynolds and Gates, as well as a number of citizens, proceeded by special train to the new bridge for the purpose of testing its stability and trust worthiness. The test, we are happy to say was of the most satisfactory character, leaving no room for doubt that the bridge is as strong as possible and capable of bearing a weight six times heavier than can be put on it at one time. Two of the heaviest freight engines in the Company's service, the Titan and the Pollux were selected to test the bridge. These engines, with their tenders fully equipped, weighed upwards of one hundred tons and though the bearings at the ends of the bridge were only temporarily adjusted, the deflection was only three tenths of an inch. The bridge consists of two tubular girders of wrought iron, the line of railway passing between them, supported by wrought iron floor beam, which rest on the bottom flanges of the girders. The clear span is 66 feet. The girders are nine feet in height over the turntables 3 foot 6 inches at their extremities, and two feet in widths having double webs of solid plate connecting top and bottom flanges. The weight of the girders and floor beams is 62 1/2 tons, that of the turntable and gearing, 30 tons, and the flooring, 15 tons, making a total of 107 1/2 tons. The flooring is 31 inch oak plank, laid crosswise, in preference to irons which is generally used. This is brought up flush with the rails, so that if a train should happen to de-rail, there would be no drop from rail to floor. The heaviest load that can ever be brought to bear upon the bridge will only strain the girders to the extent of 3 1/2 tons per square inch, while their breaking point is 20 tons per square inch. The cost of the structure will be almost $20,000. The iron work was manufactured by Messrs. Fairbairn & Son of Manchester, who sent out with it, one of their most trustworthy foremen, Mr. Lambert, to superintend the erection. The turning apparatus is of the most simple construction and can be worked with the greatest ease by one man. The swing bridge over the Welland Canals immediately below Look 12 in Merritton, which is nearly finished, is of the same design, but smaller in size."

The Hamilton Times of the 31 March, reported that two fires had broken out in the past two weeks at the Coal Oil Refinery of James Miller Williams, the one-time railway car builder. Williams (1818-1890), was a very astute business man, who knew when to start business and what was more important, he knew when to take his profits and get out. Born in Camden, N.J., he was given a little formal schooling and then apprenticed in a carriage-building shop. His family moved to London, C.W. in 1840 and two years later, young James embarked on the sea of matrimony and also opened his own wagon-works. He then came to Hamilton at the appropriate moment and established his railway car works near the West Fork of Sherman Inlet. He supplied the need for construction cars while the Great Western Railway was being built and then as the end of the job hove in sight, he closed the car works and centred his attentions on Lambton County, to the West. While in the wagon business in London,Williams numbered among his customers the Tripp Brothers of Woodstock, who had been labouring mightily in the so called "gum beds" of Enniskillen Township. From about 1851, these men had been making various products out of the seepage from the oil which, over the centuries had been oozing upward and congealing on the-surface in this swampy forest of black ash timber. Their main desire was to produce caulking for ships, but they had discovered, also, that it was possible to make illuminating oil, which of course, in those times, would have a highly saleable value. Williams, had no doubt visited the gum beds and seen the Tripps' primitive methods. This would be enough for a man with as agile a mind as Williams, to try to find better ways and the opportunity appeared to be his, Charles and Henry Tripp had acquired a Government charter and their organization was entitled The International Mining & Manufacturing Company - fairly long in words and very short on money. Two years later, in 1856, they were in financial difficulties and beginning to sell some of their land. A year or so later, at a Sherriff's Sale, James Miller Williams was the successful bidder.

He arrived on his newly acquired land, equipped with a small still and conducted some experiments. He also began to dig wells, and in 1858, a hole only 14 feet deep gave forth 50 barrels a day. He immediately built a small refinery and went into production of coal oil, teaming it over an atrocious excuse for a road, to the Great Western station at Wyoming. This brings us back to Hamilton and the former car works, in which Daniel C. Gunn had built a few locomotives and failed at the end of 1858. The Burlington Bay Dock & Shipbuilding Co. never did get off the ground and since there were no investors and no prospective buyers, Williams foreclosed his mortgages. He now had his property for an oil refinery that could receive Enniskillen crude oil by rail or Pennsylvania crude oil by schooner from Erie. It appeared to be the ideal location. He remained in the oil business until 1880, by which time, his interests were in the tinware business and in politics.

Early in May, the "barque"PLYMOUTH,Capt. Thomas Fleet, 355 tons register, cleared from Chatham, C.W., for Europe, direct. Although she was referred to as a "barque", she was more likely a barkentine, or topsail schooner. Her owners were the Rae Brothers, of Hamilton. The PLYMOUTH's cargo consisted of 12,000 sq. ft. of black walnut, 2,000 sq. ft. of oak timber and 8,000 West India staves. Most of this was taken aboard at Chatham, while the balance was loaded at the Morpeth Rock in the Township of Howard, on Lake Erie. The PLYMOUTH would not be alone on the Atlantic, the THOMAS F. PARK, of Amherstburg, having already sailed and the E. S. ADAMS,Capt. Edw. Nelson, was at Wallaceburg loading oak and black walnut timber, flour, pork and peas. The WH. H. MERRITT,Capt. Smith, was loading a cargo of oak at Belle River, in Essex County and Muir Brothers' schooner ALEXANDER was expected at Chatham, to load oak and staves.

An advertisement placed in the Hamilton Spectator on the 7 May, notified the citizens that the small steamer VALLEY CITY,Capt. Wilkinson, would operate daily, except Sunday, from MacKay's Wharf to Oaklands and the Beach. The VALLEY CITY had been built by John Malcolmson in 1859 for A. McTaggart, forwarder of Dundas. She measured 90.0 x 14.2 x 6.29 quite a small vessel. McTaggart kept her until 1861, when he sold her to Wm. Sutton of Kincardine, who in turn, disposed of her one year later to T. B. Van Every of Goderich. By June, she was running a Sunday trip to Wellington Square.

The steamer BOWMANVILLE,Capt. MacMillan, commenced service on the 17 May to Montreal and Quebec, leaving Thursday evenings at 8:00 p.m., Edward Browne was handling her bookings at his wharf and the uptown agents were E. L. Ritchie & Co.

On the 29 May, another harbour ferry,

"the new propeller"
YOUNG CANADIAN, was advertised as giving service from the Railway Wharf to Rock Bay, every 30 minutes.

The evening of Wednesday, 27 June, saw the departure of the schooner GEORGE LAW,Capt. Campbell, for Liverpool. Her cargo, shipped by Brown, Gillespie & Co., included flour, peas, oatmeal, bacon and butter.

This notice appeared in the Hamilton Spectator on the 26 June,

"Sale of Steamer EUROPA, in Chancery between Thomas Paton, plaintiff, and Richard Benner,Michael Willson Browne,Thomas Noakes Best,James Coleman,Capt. John Masson,William Bellhouse and the Bank of Upper Canada, defendents. In pursuance of the decree in this cause and with the approbation of the Master of this Court at Hamilton, there will be exposed for sale by public auction, at the Auction Rooms of Thomas Noakes Best in the City of Hamilton on Friday, 20 July next, at 11 o'clock, the steamer EUROPA now lying at MacKay's Wharf. It went on to describe the vessel and stated that she would be sold subject to a reserved bid which was fixed by the sale master. The buyer would be required to deposit £1,000 and to pay off the balance in six half-yearly payments, bearing interest at 6%."

Capt. John Malcolmson made the switch from sail to steam when he purchased the propeller NEW ENGLAND and transferred her registry on the 20 August, renaming her MAGNET. She had been built in 1853 at Ohio City, now part of Cleveland, and measured 136.0 x 25.5 x 9.1; her gross tonnage being 337 and her net 274. He kept her until 1867 and sold her for further trading when he built a new vessel for himself.

By this time, the City was busy with preparations for the visit of His Royal Highness, Edward, Prince of Wales, in September. Among the functions to take place would be the official opening of Hamilton's fine new water works on the 20 September. The plans called for the Prince to leave from the Railway Wharf aboard the PEERLESS, which would anchor in the Lake, from which point the little steamer YOUNG CANADIAN would act as a tender and transfer the royal party to a landing near the water works. The steamer BOWMANVILLE would tag along, loaded with those of lesser rank. However, as Robbie Burns said -

"the plans of mice and men, etc. etc."
- went awry when His Royal Highness climbed aboard a carriage uptown, which should have taken him to the Wharf. Instead, the Police Constable, seated with the driver ordered the latter to head for the water works over-land. The Prince saw the immediate country-side, while the dignitaries on the steamers waited and wondered. The steamers finally cast off and disembarked their red-faced passengers at the designated spot. They did, however, have the honour of returning the Prince to the City, as per plan. During the ceremonies, the eminent engineer, Thomas C. Keefer, designer of the water works had the honour of meeting His Royal Highness and Adam Brown delivered an address.

Though there was cheering and flag-waving in the streets, there was little, if any rejoicing in the City Treasurer's Office. Hamilton had been on a wild spending spree and the game was just about over. Back in 1850, the sum of £12,500 was set up as capital for the Hamilton Gas Light Company and this could be doubled. Two years later, the City financed an Orphan Asylum and then began to pay out money for the new water works. Then there was good money thrown away on shares in the Hamilton & Port Dover Railway, a scheme of that master con artist Allan MacNab. It would be 20 years before a tie was laid on that line. To consolidate the City Dept. a loan of £50,000 was secured. In 1856 a further £300,000 was borrowed to complete the water works. And so it went, from bad to worse. Very soon there would be no money in the corporate till. During this grim period, the population of the City dropped by almost 25%, for in those times, if there was no work, people packed their bags and departed. No hand-outs, no feather-bedding. The world owed no man a living.

Late in November, a violent storm raged across the Lakes and by the 28th of that month, reports began to appear in papers at every port. This from Buffalo:

"Propeller DACOTAH, gone to pieces and all hands lost, 18 miles west, near Evans Centre; propeller MOHAWK arrived here in tow of the DUNKIRK and the MARY STEWART; barque TORRENT ashore four miles east of Barcelona; schooner J. P. MACK ashore ten miles west of Pt. Colborne; schooner CONVOY ashore three miles east of Pt. Maitland; propeller WABASH VALLEY, total loss on Lake Michigan; schooner J. S. NEWHOUSE ashore at Goderich, as is the schooner CURTIS MARTIN; barque QUEBEC ashore near Kingston and the barque S. D. WOODRUFF is sunk at that port, Schooner WELLAND ashore at Presque Isle, C.W."

The gale lasted two full days and was accompanied by blinding snow. From Oswego came this list of casualties:

"schooner J. J. MORLEY ashore near Kingston; schooner GAMECOCK ashore at Pt. Peninsula; schooner MINNEHAHA dragged her anchors and went ashore at Cape Vincent; the MARGUERITE ashore at Nelson's Island; the CASCADE, driven into Sackett's Harbor, badly damaged, but she made it; the MARY SELINA ashore at Chaumont Bay; the COMET ashore at Big Sodus; propeller COASTER went to pieces eight miles below Glenora and a steamer reported sighting no less than seven vessels ashore between Kingston and Sackett's Harbor.

The schooner EDITH of Oakville, became a total loss, as did the OMAR PASHA, whose cook drowned. Both these near Stoney Point Light. Three unidentified schooners were ashore between Sackett's and Henderson Harbor, The schooner TORNADO, with corn from Chicago, came ashore while trying to make Kingston. She broke up and all hands were lost. Near South Bay,Prince Edward County, the schooners ST. GEORGE,MARY,WILD ROVER and

"two or three others".
names unknown, were ashore. The news from Port Colborne was equally grim. The schooners SACRAMENTO and CUYAHOGA were both ashore there and the JEANNIE MACK is on the beach ten miles west. There were three vessels on Point Abino, names unknown, The schooner MARCO POLO capsized off Long Point,Lake Erie. The Rochester Democrat reported an unknown vessel ashore ten miles east of Charlotte. The barque B. A. STANNARD was ashore on Lake Huron, near False Presque Isle. The schooner MARY WILLIAMS was ashore near Munroe, Mich. And so the season ended with plenty of news and all of it bad.


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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.