The General Smyth

The General Smyth, the first steamboat on the St. John River, made her maiden voyage upriver May 20,1816, carrying 60 passengers. She was named in honour of Major-General George Stracey Smyth, who was, at the time, President of the Council and Commander-in-Chief of the Province of New Brunswick . The boat was 105 feet long. Like all the early steamboats, she had side paddle wheels, a raking stem or bow, and a square stern. The above sketch of the General Smyth was based on historian Captain C. C. Taylor's research into the earliest steamboats and communicated to his friend, Saint John artist, Allison Colwell. It has since been found that the boat had one mast and lug sail and was steered with a long tiller or sweep. The sail was no doubt added since in 1816 steam was something new and not to be entirely trusted. Her two cabins (fore and aft) were mostly under deck as they rose only about three feet above the deck. The twenty-horsepower engine and boiler were imported from Scotland. She was built for John Ward and his associates with its keel laid at Portland, near what is today Long Wharf, Saint John.

When the General Smyth left Indiantown on May 20th, all available space on deck as well as below deck was taken up with fuel which consisted of cordwood cut in three-foot lengths. Her speed ranged from five and one half to seven miles per hour. She reached Maugerville by nightfall where she remained until morning when she proceeded on to Fredericton. Tumultuous acclaim was accorded the steamboat at each river stop as the inhabitants had visible proof of a greatly improved means of transportation.

On the return trip, the General Smyth left Fredericton May 25 and arrived at Indiantown that evening with 50 passengers.

Before the opening of navigation in 1816, the General Smyth was advertised to carry passengers between Saint John and Fredericton.

All After Cabin Passengers 22S.6d. Breakfast and dinner or dinner and tea included. Children under 12 years 10S and servants eating after their master or mistress, 15S. All Forward Cabin Passengers 17S.6d. and children under 12 years 10S.

No gentleman on any pretex whatsoever to enter the ladies cabin. No gentlemen to wear his hat in either cabin. No gambling or cards will be allowed, nor any swearing or profane language nor any improper noise.

The Steward will keep a supply of the best liquors to be paid by those who order them.

On February 12, 1816, the following notice appeared:

The promoters of the steamboat General Smyth beg leave to inform the public that she will commence running early in May next between Saint John and Fredericton. To start every Monday and Thursday morning from the Indian House (Saint John) precisely at nine o'clock; to stop at Mr. Wordens, Mr. Scovils opposite Gagetown and at James Taylors, esq., Maugerville for ten minutes only at a time at each place, both going and coming to land or take on board passengers......

Although advertised to make two trips per week between Saint John and Fredericton, it was soon found that there was insufficient demand to warrant such a service and it was decided to make only one trip per week.

The above is a watercolour sketch of the General Smyth, as painted in October of 1816 by J. E. Woolford. The man seen leaning on the rail in the lower right-hand corner of the picture is standing on the main deck. The curved housing on either side, with a man seated on each, is no doubt a protection over the stairway leading from the main deck below to the lower cabin and the engine room. This would be necessary as the expanse of hurricane deck is only about three feet above the main deck. The helmsman midships near the stern, has his hands on the tiller. Still farther aft, two horses can be seen standing on the main deck.

The connecting smoke pipes show that only one stack was used to carry off smoke from the furnaces of the two boilers. The device on which the tea kettle sits was probably heated with a jet of steam from the boilers below.

By the end of the season of 1824, the hull of the General Smyth had deteriorated to such an extent that the owners considered her to be unsafe for further service as a passenger steamboat. After being withdrawn from service, she was dismantled, and the engine removed to be installed later in a small steamboat to operate on the Bay of Fundy.

Captain James Segee, an experienced Reversing Falls and river pilot was the captain of the General Smyth during her time on the river. Segee, a Loyalist who had settled in Fredericton after the American Revolution, was the first steamboat captain on the St. John River.