Ship of the Month No. 122 Turret Chief

Table of Contents

Title Page
The Editor's Notebook
Marine News
Captain Horace L. Beaton
Fifty Years Of Shipbuilding Excellence: 1933 - 1983
The Times They are a-Changin'
Captain Horace H. Thorn
Ship of the Month No. 122 Turret Chief
Additional Marine News
Table of Illustrations

Three years ago, in our issue of October, 1980, we presented as our Ship of the Month No. 95 the story of the steamer TURRET CAPE. She was the first of the "turrets" that we had ever featured in this manner, and we were glad to be able to do so, for very little detailed information had previously been published concerning the exploits of the turrets on the Great Lakes. Now, three years later, it seems appropriate that we should present the story of yet another of these interesting vessels, all the more so because she was very closely connected with an event whose seventieth anniversary occurs later this autumn. That tragic event was the Great Storm of 1913, and our featured vessel is TURRET CHIEF.

When we featured TURRET CAPE, we included a rather detailed description of the turret style of ship and the manner in which it developed. We do not intend to repeat the whole of that detail here, but a portion of it may be interesting to those newer members who have only recently joined our Society and begun to receive our publication.

Even though the turrets were all built on salt water, they traced their history right back to the Great Lakes, for they were developed from Alexander MacDougall's whalebacks.. In particular, the visit of the whaleback CHARLES W. WETMORE to Liverpool in 1891 inspired a similar vessel, SAGAMORE, to be built for a British firm by William Doxford and Sons Ltd. of Sunderland in 1892. Doxford then set about attempting to improve the whaleback design in an effort to overcome some of its shortcomings, especially for salt-water service.

The result of Doxford's experimentation was the turret design, so called not because the ships had anything resembling turrets, but because their most notable feature was a long trunk deck with curved sides, a direct development from the turret structures that supported the cabins on the whalebacks. From the turn of the bilge to a few feet above the load line, a turret ship did not differ substantially from a conventional freighter hull. But above that point, the shell plating curved inward to create a narrow deck space (commonly called the "harbour deck") which was really nothing more than part of the shell itself. From the inner side of the harbour deck, the plating curved to rise perpendicularly to meet the narrow upper deck, on which were located the bridge structure and the usual deck equipment. As may readily be imagined, the crew's quarters located in the narrow cabins were very cramped indeed and led to some rather colourful descriptions invented by their occupants .

The turret design introduced several valuable features which made it popular amongst shipowners, who ordered such steamers in large numbers from the Doxford shipyard. The turrets possessed a very stiff deck configuration which gave them much-needed longitudinal strength. As well, cargo loaded into the trunk section of the hull tended to shift downward during a voyage, thus filling up spaces in the cargo hold and providing a "self-trimming" feature. The curve of the harbour deck helped to turn away boarding seas so that the cabins on turret vessels stayed rather more dry than those on other types of ships. The turrets were cheap to build, with Doxford turning them out in great numbers over a period of about twenty years.

More to the point from an economic consideration was the fact that the turrets boasted a lower net tonnage per deadweight ton than did other vessels, and thus paid lower port charges, which were calculated on net tonnage. And their narrow trunks resulted in considerable savings on each transit of the Suez Canal, where tolls were levied on the basis of breadth at the level of the upper deck.

One of the most enthusiastic proponents of the turret design was Capt. William Petersen, who operated many of the ships and worked in association with the Doxford shipyard in the construction of some of the earliest turrets, especially prior to the time that the turrets came to be popular amongst shipowners. It was for the Dominion Turret Line Ltd. of Newcastle, England, a firm managed by Petersen, Tate and Company, that TURRET CHIEF was built in 1896. She was Hull 248 of Doxford's Sunderland yard, and the twenty-fifth turret vessel produced by that famous shipbuilding firm.

TURRET CHIEF was 253.0 feet in length, 44.0 feet in breadth, and 19.7 feet in depth, with Gross Tonnage of 1881 and Net Tonnage of 1197. It should be noted that her beam across the upper deck, atop the trunk, was only some 22 feet. She was powered by a triple-expansion engine with cylinders of 20, 34 and 57 inches, and a stroke of 39 inches. The steam for this machinery was supplied by two coal-fired water-tube boilers (probably measuring approximately 12'7" by 10'11" if they were similar to those installed in TURRET CAPE) which were built by the Babcock and Wilcox Company Ltd. of London, England.

TURRET CHIEF was enrolled at Newcastle as Br.106605. She was an almost exact sistership of TURRET COURT (Br.106608) which also was built in 1896, as Doxford's Hull 249. Of the eight turret ships that were to run in Canadian service on the Great Lakes and/or the St. Lawrence River, the four that served the longest and became the best known were the canallers TURRET CAPE, TURRET CROWN, TURRET CHIEF and TURRET COURT. The CAPE and CROWN carried all their machinery aft, while CHIEF and COURT differed in that their engines and boilers were located amidships.

TURRET CHIEF operated for the first few years of her life on salt water. However, Capt. William Petersen had contracted with the Dominion Iron and Steel Company Ltd. of Sydney, Nova Scotia, to haul coal up from Sydney to Montreal. At least eight turret steamers are known to have been assigned by Petersen to this route, and TURRET CHIEF was one of them. Even though she was built to dimensions which permitted her access to the Great Lakes, via the old St. Lawrence and Welland Canals, it would seem that she did not venture up past Montreal during the seasons of 1900 or 1901, when she ran the coal service from Sydney to Montreal.

Petersen's coal contract appears to have expired in 1901, and the ownership of some of the turrets that had been used in that service then passed to the Canadian Ocean and Inland Navigation Company Ltd. This firm had been created by the Mackenzie and Mann interests of Toronto, who had wide holdings in the Canadian shipping and railway industries. Through the offices of Capt. James B. Foote, who represented Mackenzie and Mann, William Petersen Ltd. remained the manager of the turret vessels.

Canadian Ocean and Inland Navigation brought all four of the canal-sized turrets (CAPE, CROWN, CHIEF and COURT) to the Great Lakes in 1902 and operated them in the grain trade, chiefly on a route between the Canadian Lakehead and Port Colborne. TURRET CHIEF'S first lake cargo was grain from Fort William for Midland, and she sailed on this first lake trip on September 29. 1902. The four turret canallers spent the winter of 1902-03, their first on the lakes, laid up at Owen Sound, Ontario. TURRET CHIEF'S activities during 1903 were much the same as in 1902, except for the fact that she almost received a name change that year. It was proposed to rename her Z. A. LASH, in honour of Zebulon A. Lash, the Mackenzie and Mann corporate treasurer and legal advisor, but the change was never officially registered and the ship continued to operate as TURRET CHIEF.

The long-term connection between the four canal-sized Canadian turrets and Capt. William Petersen came to a close with the end of the 1903 navigation season. In 1904, the operation of the four steamers was taken over by the Canadian Lake and Ocean Navigation Company Ltd., a corporation which had been formed especially for that purpose by the Mackenzie and Mann group. It would appear that a number of famous names from the Canadian finance and shipping circles were associated with the firm at that time, amongst them being R. O. and A. B. Mackay, A. E. Ames, J. H. Plummer, Sir Henry Pellatt, and the Lash family. Capt. J. B. Foote served as marine superintendent.

The Canadian Lake and Ocean Navigation Company Ltd. was reorganized in 1907 following what appears to have been a disagreement of some nature amongst the various parties. At that time, an equally well-known group of gentlemen took over the management of the company. D. B. Hanna assumed control as president, with Zebulon A. Lash as vice-president. Directors of the corporation were Hugh Sutherland, F. H. Phippen, Frederick Nicholls, E. R. Wood, Noel Marshall and Sir Henry Pellatt, all of whom were either close to or were members of the Mackenzie and Mann group.

The vessels of the Canadian Lake and Ocean fleet came, in 19H>******* under the management of the Canadian Interlake Line Ltd., Toronto, which had been formed that year as a result of the merger of the Merchants Mutual Line Ltd. and the Canadian Lake Transportation Company Ltd., both of Toronto. The new firm had as its officers several other famous gentlemen, all of whom were known for their many associations in the shipping industry, both before and after this point in time. The president of the new company was M. J. Haney, the managing director was Capt. J. W. Norcross, and the operating superintendent was Capt. H. W. Cowan. (And anyone who has not heard of them has not been reading the pages of "Scanner" very well over the years I)

In 1912, the fleet was reformed as the Canada Interlake Line Ltd., Toronto, with M. J. Haney as president and Roy M. Wolvin as vice-president. The directors were H. Munderloh of Montreal, E. H. Ambrose of Hamilton, and J.F.M. Stewart, T. Bradshaw and Capt. J. W. Norcross of Toronto, with Norcross serving as managing director. And so, more famous names came to be associated with the operation of TURRET CHIEF. Two others had departed, however, for R. 0. and A. B. Mackay, who had been associated not only with the Merchants Mutual Line Ltd. but also with the Canadian Lake and Ocean Navigation Company Ltd., as well as with many other lake shipping concerns, withdrew from the scene (at least as far as TURRET CHIEF and her running mates were concerned) when the Norcross - Wolvin interests took over in 1911.

Anyone who thinks that the history of Canadian shipping is a simple matter need only look at the associations and cross-involvements of parties such as Pellatt, Stewart, Hanna, Haney, Norcross, Wolvin and, of course, the Mackays, to see just what tangled webs they wove. It seems unlikely that the complete machinations of these various financiers and shippers will ever be properly delineated. Suffice it to say that they made the study of Canadian lake shipping history a most fascinating subject indeed.

Despite the formation of these various other companies, the name of the Merchants Mutual Line was still used after 19H.and indeed for several further years to come, for many of the various ships operated by this group of companies. But in 1913. there occurred a development that would put an end to most of these small fleets and merge them all into the largest Canadian fleet that would ever sail the lakes. Thanks mostly to the efforts of Roy M. Wolvin and Capt. J. W. Norcross, with the assistance of many of their close associates and backers, a great number of these assorted firms were merged together during 1912 and 1913, and the latter year saw the official formation of one big new company, which was originally known as the Canada Transportation Company Ltd. During 1913, the year of its creation, however, the company was reconstituted as Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal.

Thus did TURRET CHIEF, as well as her sister, TURRET COURT, and the engines-aft canallers TURRET CAPE and TURRET CROWN, enter the fleet of C.S.L., although each had gone through a number of different ownerships over the intervening years. The year 1913, however, although it brought such momentous corporate developments, was not a good one for either TURRET CAPE or TURRET CHIEF, for both were caught in the Great Storm which developed during the month of November, and which wrought havoc all around the lakes. The CAPE was downbound with a grain cargo for Goderich and was caught out on Lake Huron; she was able to avoid disaster and finally reached the shelter of the St. Clair River after a hard-fought battle with the elements, and some days later made her way back up to Goderich with her cargo intact.

But TURRET CHIEF was much less fortunate. Under the command of Capt. Thomas Paddington, the steamer passed upbound through the Soo Canal before dawn on Friday, November 7, 1913. She was well out into Lake Superior before her master noted anything peculiar about the weather, but late that day she was struck by the full force of the gathering storm. Riding light, TURRET CHIEF soon fell victim to the huge seas that were generated by the intense storm, and lost steerageway, the wind and waves driving her off the course that her captain thought he was following.

This scenic view of TURRET CHIEF during 1914 salvage operations not only shows how close she was to the shore of Keweenaw Point, but also illustrates the narrowness of her upper deck and the width of the harbour deck.
Before dawn on the morning of Saturday, November 8th, TURRET CHIEF was cast ashore on the Keweenaw Peninsula, some six miles east of Copper Harbor, Michigan. The crewmen were able to leave the wreck by sliding down ropes to the rocks below, and they stayed near the ship in makeshift huts until Monday morning. They were then found by local Indians, who led them through the bush to safety. There were, fortunately, no lives lost in the stranding.

The Keweenaw Peninsula has been the site of some interesting (albeit tragic) shipwrecks over the years, protruding as it does like a thumb from the south shore of Lake Superior, but no other wreck there has ever been as spectacular as that of TURRET CHIEF. The helpless steamer was thrown so far up on the shore that she was virtually high and dry for much of her length, and her bow was right up against the high cliffs that line the Keweenaw shore. Numerous photographs were taken showing TURRET CHIEF in this predicament, for seldom had a ship been seen so far up on shore.

Needless to say, the steamer was abandoned to the underwriters, and salvage crews then went to work trying to get her back in the water. TURRET CHIEF was so far up on the beach that it was necessary to use hydraulic jacks to lift her up far enough from the rocks so that she could be pulled back into water deep enough to float her. The salvagers finally pulled the vessel free of her rocky perch, and she was floating again on Monday, July 6th, 1914. She was towed to Port Arthur while arrangements were made to dispose of her. The underwriters had paid $100,000 to the Canadian Lake and Ocean Navigation Company Ltd. (which, despite numerous changes of management since 1911, was still her official owner), and then offered her for sale on an "as is" basis. By September of 1914, however, ther [sic] had been no bidders.

Late in 1914, TURRET CHIEF was purchased by the Entente Steamship Company Ltd. of London, England, of which Leopold Walford (London) Ltd. were managers. The steamer was rebuilt for her new owner at Port Arthur, and she was then taken to Lorain, Ohio, where she was reboilered by the American Shipbuilding Company. Her new steam plant consisted of two Scotch boilers, measuring 14 feet by 11 feet, which were installed during the summer of 1915.

Renamed (b) VICKERSTOWN by her new owner, the steamer cleared Lorain on Wednesday, August 18, 1915, and she proceeded to Chicago where she loaded a cargo of grain for delivery to Quebec City. She then sailed for Jamaica, where she took on a cargo of sugar consigned to Russia. During most of the First World War, she served as a munitions carrier, running her dangerous cargoes between Britain and Archangel, Russia. In 1918, she was renamed (c) JOLLY INEZ.

This 1923 Young photo of JOLLY INEZ in Little Rapids Cut proves that she was then operated by International Waterways Navigation Co. Ltd.
In 1922, the Entente Steamship Company Ltd. sold JOLLY INEZ to the International Waterways Navigation Company Ltd. of Montreal, and the steamer was brought back to the lakes. In fact, Capt. H. W. Cowan of Canada Steamship Lines Ltd. (remember him?) was the official purchaser of JOLLY INEZ, and the sale to International Waterways Navigation was not registered until 1924. Whatever her ownership, JOLLY INEZ sailed her old home waters of the lakes from the time of her return in 1922 until the end of her days.

International Waterways, a company controlled by Robert A. Campbell of Montreal and John E. Russell of Toronto, painted JOLLY INEZ in its usual livery, with black hull, white cabins, and a blue stack with a black smokeband. The steamer frequently appeared in Toronto harbour with coal cargoes during this stage of her life. It is interesting to note that, by 1927, her former sistership TURRET COURT, and also TURRET CAPE, had joined JOLLY INEZ in the International Waterways Navigation fleet. It is claimed that JOLLY INEZ reverted to her Walford ownership in 1927, and that she was taken over by Walford Lines Ltd., London, the Leopold Walford Shipping Company Ltd., managers, but the International Waterways Navigation Company Ltd. was still operating her late in 1927, when the steamer suffered the second major stranding of her career.

On Wednesday, November 16, 1927, JOLLY INEZ was on Lake Huron, upbound light from Milwaukee for Fort William, and under the command of the notorious Capt. Harry Finn, when she stranded under very peculiar circumstances on Saddlebag Island in False DeTour Channel. False DeTour is, of course, a shallow passage running between Drummond Island and Cockburn Island, whereas DeTour Channel, the lower entrance to the St. Mary's River, runs between the western side of Drummond Island and the mainland shore of Michigan's upper peninsula. JOLLY INEZ did herself grievous injuries in this occurrence and she was abandoned to the underwriters. The insurers of the ship, however, were not impressed by the circumstances under which JOLLY INEZ had stranded, and they resisted payment of the insurance claim.

The steamer was salvaged during 1928 by the wrecking crews of the T. L. Durocher Company of DeTour Village, Michigan. Stripped of most of her superstructure, and with her shell plating cut away down to the harbour deck except for two "islands" at bow and stern, she was returned to service by Durocher as a lightering barge. Rechristened (d) SALVOR and registered at DeTour under official number U.S.170538, her Gross Tonnage was 1731, while her Net Tonnage was recorded as 1688. SALVOR was given a large double A-frame amidships, and from this contrivance were worked two heavy cranes, one slung forward and one aft. The power plant for the cranes was located between the two halves of the A-frame, perhaps consisting of one or both of the steamer's old boilers, and a smokestack protruded upward between the two frames. There were two large hatches forward and another pair aft.

In addition to her work as a salvage lighter, SALVOR also served as a stone barge, operating most of the time on Lake Michigan. To operate as a lowly barge was quite a comedown for the once-proud steamer, but it should be remembered that three of the four turret canallers did see service as barges at some point during their lives. In addition to SALVOR, the TURRET CAPE was operated as a flour barge for an affiliate of Robin Hood Flour Mills Ltd. in the 1930s, and TURRET COURT finished out her days as a barge (mostly inactive) for Sin Mac Lines Ltd., Montreal.

The end for SALVOR came on Friday, September 26, 1930. Bound from DeTour to Muskegon, Michigan, with a load of breakwater stone, the barge was in tow of the Durocher tug R. P. FITZGERALD. The tow encountered heavy weather and SALVOR foundered in some twenty-five feet of water, less than three miles from the Muskegon harbour entrance. Five members of SALVOR's crew were lost in the accident. The vessel herself was never salvaged despite the fact that she rested in fairly shallow water. T. L. Durocher was encountering financial difficulties at the time, and these problems eventually forced the winding-up of his firm and its activities. And no one wanted the old TURRET CHIEF.


Previous    Next

Return to Home Port or Toronto Marine Historical Society's Scanner

Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.