The Experiment

A publication back on September 4, 1841, proposed that an "iron steamboat" was in a "state of considerable forwardness" in Saint John. This was a reference to a steamer being built by George Craig at Navy Island. She was appropriately called the Experiment, and quite possibly was the first attempt at iron shipbuilding in Canada.

The Experiment was launched on October 16 and towed to North Market Wharf for the installation of her 40-horsepower high pressure engine. She was a graceful side wheeler, 95 feet in length, and had a gross tonnage of 52. She was equipped with two schooner rigged masts.

On January 27, the impatient owners decided on a trial run. Good sense must have temporarily deserted those concerned, for the boiler still lacked a feed pump, that important piece of equipment designed to keep the boiler supplied with water to keep it from running dry and exploding. Lines were cast off and the Experiment steamed to the mouth of the harbor and back, performing her run to everyone's satisfaction. But just as she came alongside North Market Wharf, her boiler burst with a terrific explosion. Most of the visiting dignitaries escaped without a scratch, but there was no trace of poor Mr. Craig, the unhappy builder. When someone reported that he had been seen on the sinking vessel, almost all agreed he had drowned. A few hours later, however, he was "discovered by a lad, sitting on a log under the wharf in a state of stupor and exhaustion, and taken from thence and medically attended".

But the Experiment was not through. Her hull and engine were still intact, her boiler was replaced, and her upper works rebuilt. This was the first steamboat explosion to have occurred in the province.

Having started her career with such a memorable bang, it might be expected the Experiment would have continued to be noteworthy. Such was not the case, and she began night boat service on July 23, and completed the season without incident. The next spring, she was advertised to be sold by auction, but no sale took place. A second notice of sale that summer helpfully pointed out that she was available with or without machinery, and that her machinery was well adapted for a mill. Oliver Jones of Digby then purchased the Experiment and her registry was transferred to Nova Scotia the following year. In 1859, she was resold and refurbished for use on the Annapolis River.