Ship of the Month No. 158 Algerian

Table of Contents

Title Page
The Editor's Notebook
Marine News
Ship of the Month No. 158 Algerian
Segwun in her Centennial Year
Help Us With Caribou
The Last Voyage of Red Wing and Frank A. Sherman
Additional Marine News
Table of Illustrations

In recent issues, we have done our best to feature in these pages a wide variety of vessels. We continue these efforts this month as we present the history of one of the famous old passenger and freight steamers which operated on Lake Ontario and the Upper St. Lawrence River. She was built in the middle part of the nineteenth century and lasted well into the new century, enjoying a career that lasted for more than seventy years. She carried four names in her lifetime but we have chosen, to head this feature, the name which she carried for more years than any other, and under which she was best known.

Our steamer was christened KINGSTON (I) and she was built for the Montreal to Lake Ontario trade of the Royal Mail Line, which was operated by the Hon. John Hamilton of Kingston. She was an iron-hulled, beam-engined, combination passenger and freight vessel, and her hull was prefabricated on the River Clyde in Scotland. It was then knocked down and shipped in pieces to Canada, where it was assembled in 1855 at Montreal by Bartley and Dunbar. The hull was 174.0 feet in length, 26.2 feet in the beam (although she was considerably wider across the guards), and 9.0 feet in depth. Her old measurement tonnage was 345 Gross and 201 Net. She carried no official number at this stage of her career, for there was no central registry of Canadian steamers in those years and official numbers were not assigned.

KINGSTON was powered by a large vertical beam engine, with a cylinder of 45 inches diameter and a stroke of 120 inches, which drove radial sidewheels of 26 feet diameter, the wheels being housed in huge fancy paddleboxes rising high above the upper deck. Steam was provided by two firebox-type boilers, which measured 19 feet by 8 feet, 6 inches, and which undoubtedly were (at least originally) fired with wood. To conserve space, and thus increase her cargo capacity, KINGSTON's boilers were mounted one on either side of the engineroom (instead of forward or aft of the engine) thus resulting in the placement of the large walking-beam between her two tall funnels. We have not seen a likeness of KINGSTON, and it is possible that none exists, but there seems no doubt that she was typical of the steamers of her day. Freight was carried in the hold and also on the forward section of the main deck, with several large cargo ports being set into the sides of the cabin on that deck. Far aft on the main deck was passenger accommodation, probably in the form of the dining saloon and/or the "ladies' cabin". Crew quarters were located in the hold and probably far forward on the main deck. The purser's (or clerk's) office would undoubtedly have been placed on the main deck, probably at the after end of the freight area near the stairway to the upper cabin. Those passengers, mostly immigrants heading westward to new homes in Upper Canada, who booked deck passage only, were expected to find space for themselves amongst the freight, and if a mattress was required, it was up to the passenger to bring it with him/her. Needless to say, the pleasures of the dining saloon were not available to deck passengers, who had to shift for themselves as far as meals were concerned.

On the upper or promenade deck was located the deckhouse in which accommodation in staterooms was provided for the cabin passengers. The facilities, while not likely to please cruise devotees of the 1980s, undoubtedly were rather splendid for their time and considered quite luxurious. There would have been open promenade space down the deck on each side of the cabin, interrupted of course by the paddleboxes, and a large open observation space forward, which would have been a popular place from which to watch the progress of the ship through the canals or down the rapids. There would have been no passenger access to the hurricane deck, upon which were located the clerestory which admitted light to the cabin below, the lifeboats, the pilothouse set far forward, and the stacks, walking-beam and ventilator cowls. The single mast was set far forward, probably ahead of the pilothouse.

KINGSTON was a worthy addition to the fleet of the Royal Mail Line in those years when steamer operations were in their infancy on the lakes, and she appears to have run quite successfully. The Hon. John Hamilton, however, encountered financial difficulties about 1860 and, as a result, the Canadian Inland Steam Navigation Company was formed in the spring of 1861 to take on the operation of the Royal Mail Line service. Hamilton sold KINGSTON and her running-mate PASSPORT to a syndicate comprised of Douglas Prentiss, Clark Hamilton (son of the Hon. John Hamilton) and Alexander Campbell, who acted as trustees, this sale taking place on March 12, 1861. The trustees, in turn sold KINGSTON and PASSPORT on June 26, 1861, to the Canadian Inland Steam Navigation Company, which continued the operations of the Royal Mail Line. By this time, the line had become little short of an institution, for it was an essential route of shipment and communication in the days before the proliferation of railroads and when road travel was virtually non-existent.

In her early years, KINGSTON seems to have operated without any major problems, for we know of no accidents involving her until 1872. She must have been in excellent condition in 1860 when she had aboard, on three different occasions, H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII. On August 28, the Prince, accompanied by the Governor General and a large entourage, boarded KINGSTON at Dickinson's Landing to proceed down the St. Lawrence River, through the rapids, to Montreal. On September 7, His Royal Highness again boarded KINGSTON, this time at Cobourg bound for Toronto, and arrived at the dock which then was located at the foot of John Street, Toronto. On September 11, the Royal party left Toronto in KINGSTON, bound for Montreal.

The 1864 "Register of the Shipping of the Lakes and River St. Lawrence, compiled by Robert Thomas, General Inspector of the Late Board of Lake Underwriters" reported that KINGSTON was of 432 Gross Tons and was valued at $35,000.

An advertisement by Alex. Milloy, Agent, dated 1st May, 1866, gave details of the C.I.S.N.Co. "Royal Mail Through Line", and noted that it provided service for Beauharnois, Cornwall, Prescott, Brockville, Gananoque, Kingston, Cobourg, Port Hope, Darlington, Toronto and Hamilton, "direct without transhipment". "This magnificent line" was composed of the first class steamships GRECIAN, Capt. Hamilton; SPARTAN, Capt. Howard; PASSPORT, Capt. Kelley; MAGNET, Capt. Fairgrieve; KINGSTON, Capt. Dunlop; CHAMPION, Capt. Sinclair, all of which were listed as "new" iron vessels, and the "rebuilt" steamer BANSHEE, for which no master was shown. One of the ships was due to leave the Canal Basin, Montreal, at 9 o'clock each morning (except Sunday), and would clear Lachine on the arrival of the train which left the Bonaventure Street Station at noon.

The line connected at Prescott and Brockville with the railways for Ottawa, Kemptville, Arnprior, etc., and at Toronto and Hamilton with the railways to "Collingwood, Stratford, London, Chatham, Sarnia, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Galena, Green Bay, St. Paul, etc.", and with the steamer CITY OP TORONTO, which operated across Lake Ontario, for "Niagara, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, etc." The advertisement also noted that "the steamers of this Line are unequalled, and from the completeness of the arrangements, present advantages to travellers which none other can afford. They pass through all the rapids of the St. Lawrence and the beautiful scenery of the Lake of the Thousand Islands by daylight."

KINGSTON remained on her original route until June 11, 1872, on which date she cleared Brockville, bound for Toronto with some 100 passengers aboard. (Exact records were not always kept in those years in view of the number of deck passengers carried, some for only short portions of the route.) When off Grenadier Island, some eighteen miles upstream from Brockville, KINGSTON was found to be on fire. She was quickly turned and headed for the island, and grounded in shallow water, thus enabling all but two persons to reach shore safely and escape the fire which completely destroyed the vessel's superstructure. The official report of the Dominion Department of Marine and Fisheries states that KINGSTON was completely destroyed, but her iron hull and her machinery were salvaged and subsequently were towed down to Montreal for rebuilding.

The steamer was thoroughly reconstructed, with her machinery refurbished and a whole new superstructure built. She was placed back on the old route from Montreal to the ports of the upper river and Lake Ontario. She was rechristened (b) BAVARIAN at this time, in line with the company's fashion of naming ships for residents of far-distant lands. As far as we are aware, she still had no official number at this time, although her home port remained Montreal. We must assume that her appearance was not much different than when she operated under the name KINGSTON, but of this we cannot be sure, for there is no known likeness of her under the name BAVARIAN either. This really is no great surprise, for as BAVARIAN she lasted less than one full season.

On November 5, 1873, BAVARIAN was downbound from Toronto on her regular run. When some eight miles offshore and between Oshawa and Port Darlington, she was once again found to be afire. The blaze could not be extinguished and the ship's superstructure was totally destroyed, some fourteen persons reportedly losing their lives in the fire. No doubt much of the loss of life could be attributed to the cold waters of the lake at that time of year, which would very quickly put an end to anyone unfortunate enough to have to leap into the lake to escape the flames. A press report later stated that the body of BAVARIAN's master was recovered from the lake some 25 miles off Charlotte, New York, a month after the fire that gutted his steamer.

The burned-out hull of BAVARIAN was towed into Oshawa on November 6, 1873. Later, she was towed down the lake to Kingston, where William Power and Company rebuilt her and once again refurbished her original machinery. The vessel remained under the ownership of the Canadian Inland Steam Navigation Company, but she was renamed (c) ALGERIAN in 1874, no doubt in a concentrated effort to avoid any adverse associations which the name BAVARIAN might have had for the travelling public. Her home port remained Montreal, but at last she was given an official number, this being C.71609. The Dominion List of Shipping recorded that she was now 175.3 feet in length, 27.1 feet in the beam (we do not know her beam over the guards on the main deck) and 9.9 feet in depth, with tonnage of 914 Gross and 575 Net (although the "Inland Lloyd's" showed her "New Tonnage" as 456). Perhaps because she was so completely rebuilt in 1874, and perhaps because this was the first time that the steamer was assigned an official number, the Dominion List thereafter showed that the vessel was "built" in 1874 at Kingston, and made no reference to the fact that her hull and machinery dated back to 1855.

ALGERIAN, the former KINGSTON and BAVARIAN, is seen downbound in the St. Lawrence River rapids in this superb photo by William Notman.
ALGERIAN was a very handsome steamer, although once again she probably looked not greatly different than she had as KINGSTON or BAVARIAN. What counts is that we do have photographs of her as ALGERIAN. Suffice it to say that she still had her big radial sidewheels housed in gaily decorated paddleboxes which rose high above the hurricane deck. She had but one mast, set immediately forward of the pilothouse. Her two tall stacks, unraked, were set athwart the forward end of the walking-beam, with fancy iron scrollwork decorating the spreader bar between the stacks. Five lifeboats were carried on the hurricane deck on either side of the long clerestory; one boat was set in radial davits on each side both forward and aft of the paddlebox, and an extra boat, without its own set of davits, was placed on deck just abaft the second boat on the starboard side, where it could be moved under the davits in an emergency once the other boat had been cleared away.

ALGERIAN's bow was curved below the main deck, but the stem was straight above that. There was a tall straight steering pole attached to the stem post and she also carried a very long spearpole which was slung outward from the stem at a very rakish angle, no doubt to assist the pilot in keeping her on course during the dangerous runs down through the rapids. There were facilities for stretching a large awning over the forward end of the promenade deck to shade passengers who wished to watch the river scenery. ALGERIAN's anchors were carried on the main deck forward, worked from a single davit on the promenade deck at the stem post.

ALGERIAN undoubtedly had her share of bumps and scrapes in the rapids and canals of the St. Lawrence, as did all of the boats running in those waters, but basically she seems to have overcome the bad luck that dogged her earlier. It is recorded that she went aground in the Split Rock Rapids of the St. Lawrence on August 11, 1875, whilst downbound from Hamilton for Montreal, but she soon was refloated, repaired, and put back on her usual route.

In 1875, the old and established Richelieu Company merged with the Canadian Inland Steam Navigation Company to form the Richelieu and Ontario Navigation Company Ltd., Montreal, and ALGERIAN thus became part of what would, for no less than 38 years, be the largest fleet of vessels then operating under the Canadian flag. Several other operations were acquired as the years passed, and the Richelieu and Ontario's services were so extensive that the fleet, quite appropriately, advertised under the banner "Niagara to the Sea".

Another view of ALGERIAN, also thought to be from the camera of Notman, shows the steamer on the upper St. Lawrence River.
Even the most extensive of operations, however, can encounter financial difficulties at times, and it certainly has been common for corporations involved in expansionary stages to suffer cash-flow problems. So it was with the R & O in the 1890s and, although the company continued to operate all of its many vessels with no outward change in appearance, the ownership of ALGERIAN and most of the other boats of the fleet was transferred to the Montreal Safe Deposit Company. This arrangement lasted until 1907, when the company took back the registered ownership of its various vessels, having achieved a more solid financial position as the years passed.

Some reports indicate that ALGERIAN may have been damaged by fire in 1904, but we have been unable to find any documentation in this respect. As well, there are sources which would suggest that the Calvin Company of Garden Island, Ontario, took over ownership of ALGERIAN that same year. While the steamer may have been involved in a mishap of some nature, she remained in the Richelieu and Ontario fleet and it seems likely that the Calvin Company, a very famous builder and operator of ships and rafter of timber, simply attended to whatever repairs ALGERIAN required. It is known, nevertheless, that the ship was renamed (d) CORNWALL in 1904, perhaps in an effort to make her name more suitable for the service in which she operated.

By this time, however, the ship was losing her usefulness to the R & O fleet. The company had built much new tonnage around the turn of the century, and big new steamers such as TORONTO and KINGSTON were running the Toronto to Prescott section of the Lake Ontario to Montreal route. As a result, CORNWALL spent most of her time on the river section of the route but even this, too, would soon end, for newer and more efficient vessels were built for the service through the rapids.

In 1913, the R & O was the principal company involved in the series of mergers that led to the formation of Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., Montreal, but CORNWALL had passed from the fleet just before the creation of the new firm, and thus never wore its colours. It was in 1912 that the R & O sold CORNWALL to the Calvin Company, whose name has already been mentioned in this narrative. But at that time, the Calvin Company was phasing out its own fleet operations as it had become deeply involved in the ownership and operation of the famous old Montreal Transportation Company Ltd. So it was that, in 1913, the Calvin Company sold CORNWALL to Capt. John Donnelly of Kingston. That this should have happened is really no surprise, for Donnelly was wreck master to the Calvins and, on October 30, 1913. CORNWALL had settled to the bottom approximately 2 1/2 miles below the upper entrance to the Cornwall Canal in the St. Lawrence. It would appear that Donnelly salvaged the steamer for the Calvins and then was allowed to assume ownership of her, probably as payment for his services in refloating her.

CORNWALL was registered at Kingston to John Donnelly and she was rebuilt as a wrecking steamer for the Donnelly Wrecking and Salvage Company, Kingston. CORNWALL retained much of her original superstructure, although it was cut down somewhat so as to make her more suitable for salvage work. Her promenade deck cabin was cut back considerably, and much of the after section of the main deck cabin was removed to provide open work and winch space. A heavy four-legged A-frame was built just forward of the pilothouse and was fitted with a boom and a clamshell bucket. The original mast was taken out and a new and heavy mast, equipped with a long boom, was set at the after end of the truncated cabin. The steamer retained her two tall funnels and, of course, her high walking-beam, but her paddleboxes were much smaller at this period for she had been fitted with feathering wheels. (With their buckets hinged so as to get more power from the passage of each bucket through the water, feathering wheels were far more efficient than the old-style radial wheels, and thus could be much smaller in diameter.) As a result of this reconstruction, CORNWALL's dimensions became 176.6 x 27.1 x 9.9. 588 Gross and 304 Net.

The wrecker CORNWALL (right) assists the steamer ROCK FERRY, aground at the Main Ducks, Lake Ontario, May 1916. Fred Belyea photo courtesy Lorne Joyce.
Over the following fifteen years or so, CORNWALL participated in many salvage operations for Donnelly and she proved to be a worthy addition to his fleet. On our photopage, we include one of a series of photographs that were taken when CORNWALL was assisting the Fairhaven Transportation & Coal Company's wooden-hulled steamer ROCK FERRY, (a) MERRIMAC (11), which stranded on May 17. 1916, at the Main Ducks in Lake Ontario. In fact, ROCK FERRY was the first steamer to go aground there after the lighthouse was erected on Main Duck Island in 1915. The efforts of CORNWALL were successful and ROCK FERRY was refloated and returned to service.

However, there was no getting around the fact that CORNWALL was growing old and her machinery was far from modern. Newer and more powerful salvage boats were taking their place on the lakes, and by the 1920s, CORNWALL had been laid away in the infamous boneyard for old vessels which then existed at Portsmouth, Ontario. But the people of Kingston and environs were less than pleased with the presence of a marine boneyard on their doorstep, with all of its mouldering and/or sunken wrecks. Accordingly, steps were taken to clean up the refuse which had been left there by so many fleets that had cast off old steamers which had so little salvage value left in them that they had just been thrown away instead of sold to scrappers. Consequently, CORNWALL was stripped in 1929 and her old iron hull was then towed out into Lake Ontario where, with the help of dynamite charges, it was scuttled in deep water.

Thus ended the career of one of the more famous relics of the early years of steam navigation on Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River. She had served well over the decades and was a credit to her builders and many re-builders. She had provided an invaluable service to the people of the centres for which she and the other Royal Mail ships were the only means of communication and transportation, and in later years she was popular amongst excursionists on the river and in the rapids service. Even in her twilight years, she provided a much-needed service to other vessels which found themselves in difficulty. What more could be asked of a steamer? It is to be regretted that lake boats being operated today do not face any prospect of enjoying such long and distinguished careers.

* * *

Ed. Note; Ye Ed and your Secretary very much enjoyed putting together this particular feature. We would like to hear from members who might happen to have additional information on this famous old steamer, and particularly anyone who might know of the existence of a photograph of her as either KINGSTON (I) or BAVARIAN.

It is interesting to note that certain sources have indicated that CORNWALL was dismantled in 1950 at Kingston. Unfortunately, this results from a confusion of boats with the same name. The vessel that was scrapped at Hamilton in 1950 was the steel bulk carrier CORNWALL, (a) MILINOCKETT (l6), (b) HERBERT K. OAKES (25), (c) STEELTON (II)(43), which had been operated by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, was traded to the U.S. Maritime Commission (with JOHNSTOWN and SAUCON) for new tonnage, and finally was broken up by Stelco.


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