Judgment on a Comedy of Errors

Table of Contents

Title Page
The Editor's Notebook
Marine News
St. Lawrence River Ferries
Marine Memories
Our Mistake
City of Ottawa Revisited
Ship of the Month No. 56 India of Garden Island
The Interprovincial Steamship Company, Halifax
Judgment on a Comedy of Errors
Late Marine News
Table of Illustrations

The QUEEN was a steel-hulled, beam-engined passenger steamer built in 1888 at Montreal by W.C. White for the Ottawa River Navigation Company. She was renamed SOVEREIGN before entering service and from 1889 through 1905 the 162.4-foot vessel operated between Montreal and Carillon. On March 17, 1906 she burned while in winter quarters at Lachine and the hull sank. Abandoned to the underwriters, she was sold to Charles Sessewein in 1906 and was raised and towed to Sorel where she was rebuilt and lengthened to 200 feet. She was then sold in 1907 to the St. Lawrence Canadian Navigation Company Ltd. and in 1907 and 1908, under the name IMPERIAL, she ran the Montreal -Quebec route along with WHITE STAR.

After 1908 IMPERIAL operated for the King Edward Park Company from Montreal to King Edward Park, being managed at various times by Alexandre Desmarteaux and Charles Mignault. In 1928 she was bought by the Georgian Bay Transit Company, Midland, and was taken to the latter port for service on Georgian Bay. However, her hull and boilers were condemned before she could be commissioned and she was broken up for scrap instead.

But in 1907 she was involved in a rather interesting accident at Montreal. The whole comedy of errors is recounted in the following report by O.G.V. Spain, Dominion Wreck Commissioner.

Judgment in IMPERIAL and GERMAINE Collision Case

The court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above mentioned shipping casualty, and, after hearing all the evidence it was possible to obtain, finds as follows:
It appears from the evidence adduced that the steam vessel SOVEREIGN (so-called IMPERIAL) is a vessel reconstructed from the wreck of the Ottawa River Navigation Company's steamer SOVEREIGN which was burnt in March 1906 and purchased by the present owners, the St. Lawrence Canadian Navigation Company Ltd., from Charles Sessewein; and she has been plying between the ports of Montreal, Three Rivers, Sorel and Quebec without a proper certificate of registry or license since shortly after the opening of navigation. The vessel has been lengthened considerably and been reconstructed without any special survey, though a copy of the certificate of survey (written in pencil) signed by William Paul, surveyor for the port of Sorel (who is also the manager of the company), was handed into court. In his evidence, manager Paul stated that he was assisted in the survey by a man by the name of J.K. Noel, of H.B.M. Customs; Mr. Noel under oath denied this.
Mr. J.K. Noel of H.B.M. Customs, whose duty it appears from his evidence is to inspect all vessels and to see that their certificates of registry and inspection are in proper order, knew that the steamer IMPERIAL (so-called) had no certificates and yet allowed her to continue to run with passengers and cargo between the ports aforesaid, in direct contravention of the law relating thereto; this whole matter appears to have been most irregular and is brought by the court to the attention of the Department of Customs.
At about 5:00 p.m. on August 23, 1907 the steamer IMPERIAL (so-called), in charge of William Paul, senior, as master, backed out from her berth at Sec No. 20 (Montreal harbour) and when clear of the end of Victoria Pier, starboarded her helm to cant the vessel head down river; when orders were given to steady the helm, the wheel could not be righted and the vessel continued to move in obedience to her starboard helm till she struck and sank the barge GERMAINE; the wheel chains are supposed to have jammed in the rudder blocks and freed themselves again when she backed out after striking the barge. The evidence is also very unsatisfactory with regard to the signals to the engineroom; the master in his evidence states that although he knew the bells could not be relied upon, he gave the signals to stop and go astern by the bell, but finding that the engines were still going ahead, he went down to the engineroom himself to communicate with the engineer, instead of using the whistle as he was in the habit of doing to signal the engineer to stop and go astern, there being no means of repeating the signals or communicating with the bridge from the engineroom either by a repeating signal or a voice tube. Section 621, Chapter 113. entituled "An Act respecting Shipping in Canada" is as follows:
"Every passenger Steamboat shall be provided with wire tiller ropes, or iron rods or chains, correctly and properly laid with suitable rollers for the purpose of steering and navigating the vessel, and shall use wire bell pulls for signalling the engineer from the pilothouse where the bells are used, together with tubes of proper size so arranged as to transmit the sound of the engine bells to the pilothouse, or other arrangement approved by the inspector to repeat back the signal. 61. V. c. 46. s. 32." The evidence proves that there was a lack of discipline and want of organization and of regular inspection on this vessel and that she was navigated in a haphazard manner.
There was manifestly a want of care taken in reference to the equipment; the rudder chains had been foul on previous occasions from preventable causes, and the signal bell to the engineroom had also failed to work on account of the members of the crew having used the bell wires as clothes lines. The Inspector of Hulls overlooked the fact that there was no system whatever of repeating signals from the engineroom to the bridge; this should have been taken exception to by the inspector at the time of his inspection, and he should have called the attention of the owners to the omission. The defence of inevitable accident cannot be sustained. Captain William Paul, who holds a certificate as master of a passenger steamer on minor inland waters, is severely censured and warned to be more careful in the future, as the court considers that it is the master's duty to see that the steering gear and means of communicating his orders to the engineroom are in proper order, more especially since, as stated above, similar circumstances have occurred frequently. It is also recommended by the court that the Department of Marine and Fisheries deal with the Inspector of Hulls for his negligence in this respect.
The court therefore finds the steamer IMPERIAL (so-called), her master, and owners are responsible for the sinking of the barge GERMAINE, which was providentially unattended with loss of life.

- Report of the Department of Marine and Fisheries, 1908.


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