Posts Tagged With: steamboats

The Steamer “Royal Tar”

Tourism being the currently touted gem of Maine business, we pay close attention to the port of Portland, and its cruise ship business. For many years, the Maine attraction at that port was the ferry service that docked near the bridge. It was replaced by the high-speed cat, but now we can ogle over the gigantic liners that visit the Old Port. Back in the 1800s there was also regular steam service through a string of steamers between St. John’s New Brunswick and Portland Harbor as well.

One of the most famously known of these steamers was the steamer Royal Tar, which burned on a trip during a gale (shown to the right burning during the tragedy). Francis B.C. Bradlee writes this of the event in his book Some Account of Steam Navigation in New England:

Although many of the early coast of Maine steamers previously mentioned may have, and probably did, make sporadic trips to St. John, N. B., and ports in southern Nova Scotia, the first regular service of which there is any knowledge was in 1836, when the wooden sidewheeler “Royal Tar” (named for King William IV of Great Britain) was built at St. John, N. B., to run regularly between that place and Portland, Maine, where she connected with the Boston steamers. The “Royal Tar” was 164 feet long, 24 feet beam, and measured 400 tons; she cost $50,000 to build, and was owned by John Hammond and D. J. McLaughlin of St. John; she made her first trip to Portland in May, 1836; with over 200 passengers.

A few months later this steamer was lost under such tragic but curious circumstances as to render the disaster long memorable in the annals of New England steam boating. On Friday, Oct. 21, 1836, the “Royal Tar” left St. John for Eastport and Portland, having on board a crew of 21 persons and 72 passengers. She also carried Burgess’ collection of serpents and birds, Dexter’s locomotive museum and a brass band. Among the animals on board were an elephant, six horses, two dromedaries, two lionesses, one royal Bengal tiger, one gnu, and a pair of pelicans. As a result of a high northwest wind, the “Royal Tar” remained at anchor at Eastport until Tuesday, the 25th, when at 2 P. M. she got under way and resumed her voyage. She had not much more than got outside when the gale increased in violence and she ran in for shelter near Fox island.

The story of her loss was told by Capt. Thomas Reed, her commander, in these words: “The steam being down after we had been at anchor about half an hour, the boat was discovered to be on fire immediately over the boiler, under the deck. The cable was slipped instantly and the fire engine set to work, but in five minutes the men could not stand at the pump, which was below, the smoke nearly suffocating them. At this awful juncture there was a rush for the boats, there being only two. Sixteen of the passengers and crew took the largest boat and went away before the wind, which blew so hard they were afraid to bring her to. I got possession of the jolly boat, with two men, and picked up another man belonging to the caravan who had jumped overboard.”

“In about half an hour we saw a schooner coming to us, which proved to be the United States revenue cutter Veto, Capt. Dyer, who rendered us every assistance in his power. He ran the cutter close to the burning steamer, then in a sheet of flames, and succeeded in taking out forty passengers, who must have perished had not the cutter come to our assistance.”

One of the passengers, Hinson Patten by name, gave an account of the affair which explains the conduct of Capt. Reed in taking the one remaining boat. He says: “Capt. Reed took charge of the stern boat, with two men, and kept her off the steamboat, which was a very fortunate circumstance, as it was the means of saving from forty to fifty persons, and to him all credit is due for his deliberate and manly perseverance throughout the whole calamity.” Another account mentions that the elephant jumped overboard, crashing down upon a raft that was being hurriedly constructed, thus destroying the raft and losing the lives of several passengers. The horses also leaped overboard, and it was said that the elephant and a pony succeeded in swimming ashore. That statement was contradicted by an item in a St. John newspaper, which stated that every animal belonging to the menagerie was doubtless lost. The elephant was seen a few days ago floating near Brimstone island. Other accounts state that when the horses jumped overboard in their wild panic, instead of making for the shore, they swam round and round the burning steamboat until they became exhausted and were drowned.

Twenty-nine passengers and eight of the crew of the “Royal Tar” perished in this dreadful disaster, and the money loss was estimated at not less than $125,000. Capt. Reed was presented with a purse of $750 in gold for his gallantry in saving so many of his passengers; at a later date he was made harbor roaster of St. John, a post he filled acceptably for many years.

A steamer named the “Gazelle” took the place of the “Royal Tar,” and she also was wrecked by running ashore near St. John in June, 1838; there was, luckily, no loss of life.

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Shipbuilding in Waterville Maine

When it comes to shipbuilding in Maine, the first community that pops into most people’s noggins is the city of Bath, home to the world renowned Bath Iron Works. Many other communities follow along behind Bath, all of them along the coastline of this state. Therefore, it may well come as a surprise that the city of Waterville, Maine also has a history of shipbuilding, however brief as it was. Long gone are the days when a boat could ply the Kennebec from Skowhegan all the way to its mouth betwixt Phippsburg and Georgetown, thence to points elsewhere along the coast.

As early as 1794 ships were built in what was then a small village along the river, and they were launched with the spring freshets, with many orders coming from Boston. Also scores of smaller boats, such as the flat bottomed shallow draft steamboats were built which plied the Kennebec on a daily basis, transporting freight and passengers up and down the river. Construction of a lock and dam was completed in Augusta in 1837, thereby increasing the ability of larger vessels to come and go along the river during the warmer months. During the winter this same river, especially below Augusta enjoyed a thriving ice industry.

Most of the shipbuilding firms were located between where Sherwin Street and the Dam below Bridge Street. A careful archeological search may find some remnant of this once vital industry.

The following excerpt from the Centennial History of Waterville, edited by the Rev. Edwin Cary Whittemore in 1902 describes some of the shipbuilding history of Waterville:

What was once a thriving and profitable industry has long since disappeared and been almost forgotten. That Waterville was ever a ship building port will probably be news to many. Not only long boats, for home use, but schooners, brigs and even ships, were built, some as early as 1794. The abundance of ship timber close at hand made it possible to build cheaply and orders were received from Boston and elsewhere. The shipyard of John Clark was at the foot of Sherwin St., next above the yard of Nath’l Gilman, then that of Asa Redington and next north W. & D. Moor’s built many steamboats. It was necessary to launch them, the sea-going vessels, on the spring or fall freshets; they were then floated down river to Hallowell or Gardiner, where they received their rigging and outfit and took their place in the commerce of the country, but never to return to the port whence they started.

The following is probably a complete list with masters and owners.

1794. Schooner Sally, 92 tons, master, Rillae; owner, John Getchell.

1800. Ship Ticonic, 268 tons, master, Geo. Clarke; owner, John Clarke.

1810. Ship Hornet, 214 tons, master Wm. Fletcher; owner, N. B. Dingley.

1818. Brig Dingley, 106 tons, master, Thos. Jones; owner, Nath’l Dingley.

1826. Brig Elizabeth, 182 tons, master, John Sylvester; owner, Johnson Williams.

1805. Brig William Gray, 156 tons, master, Gideon Colcord; owner, Geo. Crosby.

1807. Schooner, Ticonic, 123 tons, master, Daniel Smith; owner, Nath’l Gilman.

1807. Schooner Thomas, 70 tons, master, Levi Palmer; owner, F. P. Stilson.

1810. Schooner James, 117 tons, master, Gideon Colcord; owner, Jas. Stackpole.

1809. Brig America, 136 tons, master, Wm. Pattee; owner, Peleg Tallman.

1809. Brig Madison, 160 tons, master, Caleb Heath; owner, Wm. Sylvester.

18n. Brig Hiram, 142 tons, master, Jos. Lemont.

1812. Sloop Aurora, 61 tons, master, Wm. Poole; owner, Asa Redington.

1814. Francis & Sarah, 290 tons, master, T. S. Winslow; owner, Rob’t G. Shaw.

1824. Brig Gov. King, 138 tons, master, N. Harding; owner, Nath’l Gilman.

1824. Schooner North Star, 107 tons, master, R. Crocker; owner, N. Gilman.

1825. Brig Waterville, 178 tons, master, N. Harding; owner, Johnson Williams.

1826. Brig Lydia, 178 tons, master, J. W. Lamont; owner, Johnson Williams.

1826. Brig Neutrality, 132 tons, master, R. Crooker; owner, Johnson Williams.

1827. Schooner Brilliant, 82 tons, master, R. Brown; owner, K. G. Robinson.

1829. Schooner Martha, 89 tons, master, R. Ellis; owner, Russell Ellis.

1835. Brig Wave, 47 tons, master, John Lewis; owner, J. M. Moor.

After the passing of shipbuilding came the era of steamboats. William and Daniel Moor under the firm name of W. & D. Moor were the leading captains of industry in this line. The first was the Ticonic, built at Gardiner. She made the first trip to Waterville, June 1, 1832, and was received with great demonstrations of rejoicing.

The Water Witch built by W. & D. Moor in 1842 was the first steamer launched in Waterville. It was quickly followed by others and soon a considerable fleet was plying between here and Augusta and Gardiner. In one season five steamers left the wharf daily. They were flat bottomed, of light draft, with stern wheels, and were of about 42 tons burden.

They prospered until the opening of the railroad to Augusta when the doctrine of the “survival of the fittest” relegated them to other scenes.

In 1890 an attempt was made by some of our enterprising citizens to restore steam navigation on the Kennebec. July 10th the steamer City of Waterville sailed from Bangor for this port. She has not yet arrived.

Near its close, the era of steamboats was marked by a terrible accident. May 23, 1848, the steamer Halifax, a new boat and the finest of the fleet, was making her record trip to Augusta; on leaving the lock the boiler exploded and six persons were killed and others severely wounded. Of the dead James Hasty, the pilot, and Vedo Micue, fireman, resided here.

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