Steamboat Disasters

Experiment (1842)

Boiler explosion on trial voyage, significant damage to boat, no loss of life

A publication from 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, 1841, and towed to North Market Wharf in Saint John 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, 1841 the impatient owners decided to perform a trial run. Good sense must have temporarily deserted those involved, for the boiler still lacked a feed pump. This important piece of equipment was designed to keep the boiler supplied with water and keep it from overheating. 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 ship, 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".

Fortunately, the Experiment was not a total loss. 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, 1842, 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 from 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.

Anna Augusta (1852)

Night collision with Transit, boiler explosion, several dead

The Anna Augusta was a side wheeler steamboat built in Fredericton in 1850. She was 158 feet long and had a gross tonnage of 67.

The Anna Augusta was in an accident one night in the spring of 1852. She was on her way upriver with passengers when sometime between one and two o'clock off the shores of Hardings Point she collided with the Transit on her downward trip from Fredericton. Both boats were going full speed at the time. The powerful Transit struck the Anna Augusta on the starboard bow and stove her in. The impact buckled a boiler plate causing the boiler to explode. Passengers in the forward part were scalded by steam and boiling water, several of them fatally injured. Following a coroner's inquest, four of the officers and crew of the two steamers were charged with manslaughter caused by their "culpable inattention to duty". While they were acquitted, the more responsible owners realized that safety devices were desirable. When the Anna Augusta was being repaired, a gas signal light was installed.

In this picture, the New Brunswick delegates to the 1864 Charlottetown Conference left Fredericton on board the Anna Augusta. The conference would lead to the creation of the Dominion of Canada three years later.

The Anna Augusta was destroyed in 1867.

J.D. Pierce (1852)

Hit rocks and sank in Meductic Rapids, one dead

The J.D. Pierce was built in Augusta, Maine and brought to Saint John in May 1852. She was 110 feet long, 19 feet in beam, and had a gross tonnage of 19. She was the first stern wheeler to travel the St. John River.

The steamer was of very shallow draft. It is said that "when loaded with 100 barrels and an ordinary number of passengers, she drew only 28 inches of water".

In October of 1852, while trying to ascend the Meductic Rapids, she went out of control and in the very swift current was thrown violently on the rocks and sank in the shallow water. One passenger was lost. She was re-floated on the next rise of water and taken to Saint John where the damage was repaired.

In another turn of unfortunate events, in May 1856, while landing passengers at a beach location (Moorehouse Landing) some thirty miles above Fredericton, her boiler exploded. The pilot was killed and two raftsmen were missing. A woman was rescued from the water by the steamer Richmond (on her way downriver), but the woman later died of her injuries and shock. It was quoted that the "boiler shot like a dart through the ladies' cabin, and went out aft, and the boat immediately sank in about five feet of water". A special inquiry found the explosion resulted from insufficient water in the boiler and blame was placed on the engineer, who was charged with manslaughter.

The J.D. Pierce was subsequently demolished.

Ben Beveridge (1855)

Boiler exploded near Government House, one dead

The side wheeler, the Ben Beverage, was built in Woodstock in 1853 at a length of 118 feet and had a gross tonnage of 36.

Speed was obviously an important factor in a steamer, with the fastest enjoying many advantages. For instance, at this time, woodsmen brought down their rafts of logs from the Tobique to Springhill (just above Fredericton). Here, the men would wait for a steamer to take them back upriver, and dressed in their gay red flannel shirts, they whiled away their time in one of the taverns, such as the "Rest and be Thankful" or the "Dew-Drop Inn". This waiting throng of passengers stimulated the rival steamers to be the first at Springhill, but by local ordinance no steamer could leave its wharf at Fredericton until the Cathedral clock struck six. One morning, early in June 1855, three steamboats lay ready for the trip to Woodstock. The J.D. Pierce and the Ben Beveridge were at the middle wharf, with the Reindeer at the lower landing. At the sound of the clock, lines were cast off at the same time and the race was on. Opposite Government House at St. Anne's Point, the Reindeer was passing Ben Beveridge, both going full speed when the latter's boiler exploded extensively damaging the boat and killing the fireman. The J.D. Pierce hove to and rescued the passengers and crew - including the engineer. It was the engineer who had been responsible for the explosion, having allowed the water to get too low in the boiler. He wisely concealed himself until Woodstock was reached, and then made his escape to the United States before he could be arrested.

The Ben Beveridge service ended with this accident in 1855.

J.D. Pierce (1856)

Boiler exploded near Moorehouse Landing, four dead

The J.D. Pierce was built in Augusta, Maine and brought to Saint John in May 1852. She was 110 feet long, 19 feet in beam, and had a gross tonnage of 19. She was the first stern wheeler to travel the St. John River.

The steamer was of very shallow draft. It is said that "when loaded with 100 barrels and an ordinary number of passengers, she drew only 28 inches of water".

In October of 1852 while trying to ascend the Meductic Rapids, she got out of control and in the very swift current was thrown violently on the rocks and sank in the shallow water. One passenger was lost. She was re-floated on the next rise of water and taken to Saint John where the damage was repaired.

In May 1856 while landing passengers at a beach location (Moorehouse Landing) some thirty miles above Fredericton, her boiler exploded. The pilot was killed and two raftsmen were missing. A woman was rescued from the water by the steamer Richmond (on her way downriver), but the woman later died of injuries and shock. It was quoted that the "boiler shot like a dart through the ladies' cabin, and went out aft, and the boat immediately sank in about five feet of water". A special inquiry found the explosion resulted from insufficient water in the boiler and blame was placed on the engineer, who was charged with manslaughter. The J.D. Pierce was subsequently demolished.

B.F. Tibbets (1856)

Burned travelling on Grand Lake, no loss of life

Late in 1847, Benjamin Tibbets decided to move to Quebec where he felt there was a better market for his new invention, the compound steam engine, which he had great success with in the Reindeer on the St. John River. He became a partner in a foundry operated by a relative at Point Levis. During the next few years, he built several engines. One of these was installed in a hull he designed, and the resultant steamer so pleased the owners that they named her B.F.Tibbets. Another was installed in the Novelty, a Quebec-Levis ferry noted at the time for her speed. During the winter of 1851-52, Tibbets was busy with engines for three steamers under construction in Quebec.

Early in 1852, Tibbets' machine shop burned to the ground. Although some of the patterns were salvaged, they too were later destroyed during a second fire. This loss was a great shock to him, as his great desire had been to own his own foundry, but he was now faced with financial ruin. He remained in Quebec until June 1853, but by that time tuberculosis had seriously affected his health. Hoping to recover, he returned to New Brunswick to live with his uncle, Henry MacFarlane, at Scotchtown. But nothing could be done for him. He died on November 19, 1853, at the relatively early age of thirty-five.

A very appealing bit of tradition is associated with Tibbets' death, and the tale has been recounted over and over again. It's essential point is that the very night the inventor lay dying, the B.F.Tibbets, a steamer he had built during his years in Quebec, burned to the waters edge just a few miles away. Like so many other traditional accounts, this one has no foundation in fact. The records make it quite clear that the B.F.Tibbets appeared on the St. John in 1855, nearly two years after her builders' death. While it is true she burned, this did not happen until June 5, 1856. But what an exciting story surrounds her loss! This is what truly happened:

On the first of June that year, the B.F.Tibbets was sent to Grand Lake to tow a raft of lumber to Saint John. She had just started back from the upper end of the lake when fire was discovered in the engine room. Fanned by a high wind, the flames spread quickly, and Captain Crothers barely had time to head the stricken vessel toward Flowers Cove before he was driven from the wheelhouse. Two of the crew had to run to the stern, where their only means of escape was a raft boat. Before they even had time to let go of the tow-line, they were forced by flames into the boat. It drifted several yards astern of the steamer, but there it was held fast by the tow-line while the flames were driven directly in their path by the wind. Both the men were forced to jump overboard, and clung to the side until the tow-line finally burned through, allowing them to escape.

Meanwhile, the rest of the crew had gathered on the bow deck of the burning vessel where they were frantically trying to maneuver into position another raft boat that was being towed alongside, forward of the paddle wheel. Since the paddle wheels were still turning, there was a danger of the boat being broken to bits with certain injury and probably death. Then Captain Crothers ordered all but the mate into the boat. When the painter was cut, he and the mate held the boat off with pike poles, and with effort kept it clear of the onrushing great paddle. Once they saw the boat was free, the two jumped overboard and swam desperately to save themselves from death by the paddle wheel. They succeeded in reaching the already overloaded raft boat and clung to it as it made for the safety of shore. Such is the story of the spectacular end of the steamer that had been named in Benjamin Tibbets' honor.

Richmond (1861)

Struck Grahams Point and sank, no loss of life

The Richmond was built in 1853 in Indiantown by James R. Tupper of Woodstock. She was primarily designed for service between Fredericton and Grand Falls. She was 124 feet long with a beam of 21-1/2 feet and had a gross tonnage of 49. She had two compound engines built by Flemming and Humbart of Saint John, which operated two separate stern wheels independently.

Before the heavy lumbering operations seen today, the wooded slopes along the St. John River and its tributaries retained the moisture more than in much later years. The forests slowed the runoff of the spring freshet and permitted longer periods of navigation.

By 1855, considerable work had been done in removing boulders and in generally improving the channel in the upper part of the river.

On April 16, 1856, the Richmond began service on the upper part of the river on April 26. She missed about six weeks during two dry periods in mid-summer and finished the season on October 13.

In July 1861, while on a trip downriver, the Richmond struck Graham's Point, broke in two and sank. No lives were lost.

Sunbury (1863)

Boiler exploded near Oak Point, eleven dead

The Sunbury was built in Lancaster for D.D.Glasier & Sons and was launched in 1863. Her length was 122 feet, her beam was 24 feet, and she had a capacity of 108 tons. She was a side wheeler with two boilers, two furnaces, and originally two smokestacks side-by-side. Later, one stack was removed.

She was placed on the Saint John to Fredericton route. Late in the afternoon of Friday, November 13, 1863, she sailed from Indiantown with a load of heavy freight and over fifty passengers. She also had a schooner named Ino in tow. When nearing Oak Point, the captain blew the whistle, a signal for a small rowboat to come out from Flewelling's Wharf (later Oak Point wharf) to receive a passenger or a few packages of freight from Saint John. This was done and just as the small boat was cast off, a terrific explosion occurred, the noise of which was heard by passengers on the Forest Queen at Purdy's Point, some fourteen miles downriver. One of the boilers on the Sunbury had exploded, a portion of which went through the steamer's hull below the waterline. Many of the passengers were thrown into the water and those remaining on board soon found themselves struggling in the water as the steamer sank immediately in about thirty feet of water.

The quick actions of the officers and the crew of the Ino are credited with preventing a great loss of life. Eleven people lost their lives, but practically all rescued were pulled out of the water in the darkness and were taken aboard the schooner.

One of the rescued was a man who had been sitting on a barrel of flour. The story goes that the explosion left him surrounded by steam, flour, and water, with the result that he was hauled aboard the schooner completely encased in dough.

The Sunbury was raised soon after the disaster, taken to Saint John, placed on blocks, thoroughly repaired, and made ready for the following season.

On November 12, 1865, while on her way to Fredericton in a heavy snowstorm, the Sunbury ran hard aground on the shore in Upper Sheffield. The steamer was unable to free herself, so word was dispatched to the Glasier office in Lincoln. At this time of year there was grave danger of being caught by the new ice then forming around the steamer. Glasier immediately sent a crew of men with rigging down to Burton on the opposite side of the river. A rope was made fast to a tree and the other end taken across the river by boat to the Sunbury. Several turns of this very long rope were then taken around the main shaft (between the engine and one paddle wheel) so that when the engine was reversed, the rope would wind up on the shaft and assist in the action of the paddle wheels in re-floating the steamer. This proved very effective and in a short time the Sunbury was backing away in deeper water and leaving a track in the ice that had formed around her, which in a few hours would have held her captive for the winter and in grave danger of the run of heavy ice in the spring.

The Sunbury was one of the vessels that was laid up during the winter freeze-up at Swan Creek, a tributary of the St. John River located in the Parish of Burton above Gagetown. This spot provided a better "bedroom" than either Fredericton or Indiantown. Swan Creek is virtually a lake, and a portion of it is called Swan Creek Lake. The water is deep, and the creek is well sheltered. From the early years of the steamboats, Swan Creek had been used as winter quarters for many of them. Sometimes as many as four passenger steamers and several towboats and sailing vessels would tie up there for the winter, with a watchman being left to look after the fleet. Here, the boats were safe from the breaking up of the ice on the main river, and the ice was nearly always gone from Swan Creek before it was out of the St. John.

The Sunbury continued this service for a number of seasons and then, for a few years, was used by Glasier as a tugboat, before being dismantled in 1879 and her engine placed in the Lilly Glasier.

Heather Bell (1865)

Burned at Fredericton wharf, no loss of life

The side wheeler, the Heather Bell, was launched January 14,1861 at Carleton, Saint John. Her length was 145 feet and her beam 20 feet, with a capacity of 136 tons. When light, she drew less than 4 feet of water. The paddle wheels were 23 feet in diameter and were powered by two compound engines. She proved to be very unsteady, rolling from side to side and causing "much discomfort and uneasiness to the passengers". The next winter stabilizers were fitted on her sides.

Initially, the Heather Bell was advertised to run three trips per week from Indiantown to Curley Island in the Salmon River, stopping at Gagetown each way. In mid-season this was changed to two trips per week. The following year she changed to the Indiantown- Fredericton route.

On June 8, 1865, while lying at her wharf at Fredericton, a fire of unknown origin suddenly engulfed the steamer in flames. The crew only had time to rush ashore to safety. The flames soon burned tthrough the mooring hawsers and the burning steamer drifted across the river to the shoal water at Saint Marys.

Olive (1869)

Saxby Gale blew her on shore and tore hurricane deck off, no loss of life

In mid-summer of 1865, the keel was laid for the steamboat Olive in Carleton, Saint John. She was built by the Olive firm for the Express Line. She was launched six weeks later. Within the next fortnight, the side wheel machinery taken from the wreck of the Heather Bell had been installed, and she made her maiden voyage on the river. The speed of her construction can be attributed to the readily available labor and timber supplies existing at the time. She was given the name Olive in honor of her builder and was declared to be "as clean looking as a race gig". She was 161 feet long, had a beam of 23 feet, and a capacity of 343 tons.

On October 4, 1869, while on her way to Fredericton as a night boat, she encountered a terrific storm, which later received the name of "The Saxby Gale". The gale struck with tremendous force when the Olive was passing Scovil's, below Gagetown. As she proceeded up through No Man's Friend, it soon became evident that due to the high wind she was becoming quite unmanageable. At first, the passengers did not realize the extent of the hurricane and continued their revelry in the saloon, but very soon they were brought face to face with the worst storm in the history of transportation on the St. John River. Despite Captain Weston's best efforts in the heavy wind and total darkness, the steamer was blown ashore on the Harrison interval. As she struck, the furious gale ripped the saloon clear of the deck below and carried it overboard, putting out all the oil lights.

Panic seized the passengers. The captain and crew first tried to ascertain if any of their number had been carried overboard with the saloon. They then tried to calm the travelers, many of whom were struggling with each other for possession of life preservers. One man, a portly liquor dealer from Saint John, was found to have two life preservers firmly tied to his person, although by this time the Olive was held firmly on the shore by the gale force wind. Fortunately, no lives were lost, and no serious injuries occurred. Damage to the vessel, other than the saloon, was minimal. In the morning, the wind abated, and the Olive was freed from the shore and proceeded on her way to Fredericton.

One of her final duties was to supply for a short time on the Grand Lake route for the steamer May Queen, which unfortunately had run aground in the Salmon River.

In 1876, the Olive was taken out of service. It was rebuilt and renamed the Prince Arthur. The Prince Arthur was transferred to Lake Ontario in 1878.

Royal (1881)

Burned at Fredericton wharf, no loss of life

During the fall of 1880, a keel was laid for a new steamboat by Hilyard Bros. in Portland,Saint John. During the winter, work progressed rapidly and on February 28, 1881, she was launched and towed to the Dulops Shears at York Point where her machinery was installed. The boiler was built at the Burrel Johnston works in Yarmouth and brought to Saint John on the schooner Yarmouth Packet. Due to the business boom in Saint John, the foundries there could not make a boiler in time for the opening of river navigation.

The stern wheeler was named the Royal, her length was 149 feet, her beam was 22.8 feet, and a capacity of 271 tons. The two horizontal engines of low-pressure type had 18-inch cylinders and a 5-foot stroke. They were made by James Harris and Co. of Saint John.

On May 4, the Royal made a trial trip and showed wonderful speed for a stern wheel steamboat. On May 6, she made her first trip to Fredericton.

The following advertisement appeared in the newspapers in the month of May:

The Steamer Royal, Captain G. VanWart will leave Indiantown at 9:30 am for Fredericton, connecting with the New Brunswick Railway and steamer Florenceville and continue until further notice going up on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays.

Returning will leave Fredericton on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7:00 am, making the usual stops along the River"

The Royal continued on this route for about three months when she was destroyed by fire while lying at her wharf at Gibson on August 5, 1881.

The fire broke out at night. The steamer Star lying at her wharf in Fredericton went across the river to assist the Royal but could do nothing to save her. Captain Van Wart and the other nine members of the crew escaped safely, but a valuable cargo, including many trunks belonging to Normal School students, was a total loss.

The engines of the Royal were salvaged and were used in Davidson's Sawmill at Martin Head.

Acadia (1891)

Burned at Gregory's Pond, no loss of life

The side wheeler, the Fawn, was rebuilt for the 1886 season and renamed Acadia. She was 140 foot long and had a 391-ton capacity. She burned at Gregory's Pond, Saint John on December 5, 1891.

Olivette (1898)

Burned in Saint John, no loss of life

The steamboat, the Olivette, is seen here at Burton. The busy scene captured by a prominent photographer, N. F. Albright, recalls many activities arranged to attract Frederictonians to Burton on a day's excursion.

The side wheeler, the Soulanges, was renamed the Olivette in 1893. She was 135 feet long and had a capacity of 201 tons. The Olivette was burned at Saint John on November 30 1898.

Star (1902)

Burned at wharf in Indiantown, warehouses burned, no loss of life

The side wheeler, the Star, was built in Portland, Saint John in 1873. She was 153 feet long and had a gross tonnage of 328.

An 1887 advertisement by the Star Line lyricizes: "She is the most beautiful Star on the Washedemoak route to Coles Island"

She burned at Indiantown on September 25, 1902.

Pictures above is a tranquil scene at the Narrows on the Washademoak, as the Star prepares to cast off.

Originally intended as a tugboat, the Star - seen here at Palmer's Wharf - was the first vessel to regularly ply the Washademoak route to Coles Island. There she ran for the greater part of the period of 1873-1902 and was referred to as a "splendid little steamer". Captain Garrett Van Wart was her first master.

A replica of the Star is held in a private collection.

David Weston (1903)

Burned near Craigs Point, three dead

The owners of the Union Line realized the advantages of a large boat and one with up-to-date passenger accommodations to attract the rising volume of business. An order for building a steamer with the desired facilities was placed with John Retallick of Carleton, Saint John in the fall of 1865. Great care was taken in the construction, birch and hackmatack being used for her timbers, and the best quality spruce for the planking. The launching took place the following May, when Saint John's newest steamer was given the name David Weston, in honor of her captain.

Captain Weston was a fine steamboat man. He had started his career at the age of fifteen as a kitchen boy on the Fredericton commanded by his uncle, David Currier. In the following years he served as deck hand and later as mate on several steamers. In 1852 he had been given his first command when he was appointed master of the Union. Two years later he was transferred to command the Anna Augusta, where he remained until the building of the steamer that bore his name. These twenty-eight years of service had won him wide popularity.

Captain Weston gave a watchful eye to the fitting out of his new boat, particularly to the installation of the engine that had been built at the Phoenix Foundry in Saint John. It was a 250 horsepower low-pressure beam engine, with a cylinder forty inches in diameter and having an eleven foot stroke. The two boilers were manufactured by the McLaughlin Works in Saint John. Each was fitted with 180 tubes. Both boilers were tested to 65 pounds and were designed for a working pressure of 43 pounds. In July the David Weston was taken through the falls to Indiantown where, her lines having been made fast to the wharf, her machinery was run for testing for nearly a whole day. It was found that three pounds of steam were sufficient to revolve the paddle wheels that were 29.6 feet in diameter, and equipped with seven foot floats.

On the first day of August, two hundred people boarded her for her trial run when the David Weston went as far as Hardings Point. It was found that she would be able to provide fast transportation because she moved along at a rate of seventeen miles per hour. But it was the commodious accommodations that came in for the most praise.

The new 177 foot side wheel boat was really quite grand. She had a 552 ton capacity and she gave an impression of luxury and comfort with her cozy-looking cabins and finely carpeted dining room. The 140 foot long grand saloon has such touches of Victorian elegance as marble top tables and plush covered chairs, and sofas decorated with tassels and fringes. An elaborately ornamented circular stairway, at the forward end leading to the main deck, gave the final dash of splendor.

When it came time for lunch, it was found that no fewer than 90 people could be seated at one time. Best of all, unlike her predecessors, the David Weston had her dining quarters on the saloon deck. This meant the the river traveler would no longer have to use a dining room below the main deck, seated in dark and dingy surroundings and assailed by the stench of bilge water. Now he was able to enjoy the passing scenery with his meal and to "breathe the pure air impregnated with the sweet fragrance wafted from the meadows and gardens along the river".

So, heaped with praise the David Weston began her 38 year career on the St. John, a record for length of service by the time fire destroyed her at Craig's Point on September 19, 1903, when three lives were lost.

Her run was the main river between Saint John and Fredericton, where she maintained a schedule of three trips a week. Here she became known for her speed, good accommodations and regularity. This was a happy combination that made for business success.

A replica of the David Weston can be found at the New Brunswick Museum.

Clifton (1905)

Burned at Reeds Point wharf, no loss of life

The stern wheeler, the Clifton, was built in Hampton in 1887. She was 91 feet long and had a 87 ton capacity. She replaced the Novelty on the Hampton-Indiantown run. The Clifton left Hampton every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday at 5:30 am and returned on the same days, departing from Saint John at 4:00 pm. She was burned beyond repair at Reeds Point wharf in 1905.

Beatrice E. Waring (1906)

Burned at Indiantown wharf, no loss of life

The powerful 140-foot stern wheeler, the Beatrice E. Waring, was built by Alward N. Harned at Saint John in 1903 for the Springfield Steamship Company and used on the Belleisle route. In addition to being the first steamboat with electricity, she had fourteen steam heated staterooms. She also boasted a 5,000-candlepower searchlight and had a 373 ton capacity.

The vessel was lost by fire on March 16, 1906.

Springfield (1907)

Burned at Hatfield Point wharf, no loss of life

The Springfield was a stern wheeler which was previously named the Brittain and before that the Oscar Wilde. She was 111 feet long with a capacity of 45 tons. She served on the Belleisle route as the Springfield starting in 1891 although she did serve on other routes.

Late in 1907, the Springfield burned while tied to the wharf at Hatfield Point. She was cut loose and floated over to the marsh nearby. In the 1970s, it was reported that the boiler could still be seen at low tide.

The Springfield, from the Belleisle route is pictured here in the foreground, while docked at Brown's Flat in the 1890s, probably on a Sunday during the early part of July. Next to her and following out are the Victoria from Saint John, the Olivette from Colwell's Creek, the Hampton from Wickham, and the Star from Coles Island.

The Springfield lands a party of picnickers at Woodman's Point.

Crystal Stream (1907)

Burned at Coles Island wharf, four dead

The side wheeler, the Crystal Stream, was built in Bulls Ferry, New Jersey in 1873. It was 132 feet long, had a 25 feet beam, and had a draft of 9 feet 3 inches. She had a 304-ton capacity and was placed on the Washademoak route in 1903 to replace the Star. There, she operated until a disastrous fire ended her career at Coles Island on June 20, 1907. Four crewmen perished in the fire.

Aberdeen (1908)

Burned at Coles Island wharf, no loss of life

The stern wheeler, the Aberdeen, was launched at the Hilyard Yard in Saint John in the spring of 1894. She was built by Richard Retallick and was a staunch, 137-ton steamer, was 140 feet in length with a 22-foot beam, and her depth of hold was 4 feet.

That same year she began service of three trips per week between Fredericton and Woodstock, under the command of Thomas Duncan, with Lance Lockwood her pilot, and John Johnston the engineer. Her crew included three female members who looked after the cooking and the running of the dining room. Most of the crew labored for a dollar a day, in addition to sleeping quarters and board.

The Aberdeen left Fredericton each Tuesday and Saturday at 6:00 A.M., having made connection with the Indiantown steamboats the previous day. About 18 stops would be made before reaching Woodstock. In addition to passengers, a variety of cargo was carried. Consignments for the trip upriver included farming equipment and such staples as flour and molasses. The freight rate on a hogshead of molasses was 25 cents, and at times as many as 50 barrels might be carried on a run. With the need to maintain her schedule, the deckhands of the Aberdeen were kept busy between the frequent stops, getting freight ready for unloading at the next wharf on hand trucks and moved to the gangway.

Significant was her long, raking stem. This peculiarly shaped bow, together with her shallow draft, allowed the Aberdeen to nose into shore almost any place to make stops. When the boat hit the riverbank, the bow rose out of the water until it had a firm hold of the bank. A gang plank run out from her overhanging deck was all that was necessary to allow passengers and crew to make a dry transit.

Gang planks with handrails for passengers were seldom used anywhere on the river except at Saint John and Fredericton, and often for picnics and excursions at places such as Crystal Beach. At stops along the river three or more gang planks were commonly used to bridge the gap between the deck and the wharf. These were 10, or preferably 12, inches wide, three inches thick, and about 14 feet long, depending to some extent on the size of the steamer.

On the upper river, there was a specific method used in floating free a steamboat that had been nosed into a riverbank to make a stop. The stern wheel would be put in reverse, forcing some water under and along the sides of the steamboat, providing additional buoyancy. While this took place, the rudders were maneuvered from side to side, causing the stern to swing back and forth, thus loosening the bow.

In 1902, the Aberdeen made the earliest trip of a season on record when she sailed from Woodstock on April 3. Each year when the water became too low, she served as a supply vessel on other runs. When exactly to transfer her from the upriver run was an important question. Over the years a system had been worked out to supply that answer. When the water was falling fast in the late spring, it was a dangerous undertaking to navigate this part of the river. So, once the water dropped to a certain point on a water mark that had been set in Woodstock, it was a sign to get downriver and over the river bars as fast as possible. Yet, steamers were sometimes caught above the bars because of fast dropping water, with that at Bear Island giving the most trouble. On these occasions, a captain would head his boat for the bar and just before striking, he would call for the engine to be reversed. This caused the stern wheel to pile up the water around the boat, allowing her to pass over the bar safely.

When the water barred her from the Woodstock run, the Aberdeen operated on a regular schedule from Fredericton to Gagetown. She also found additional revenue from carrying picnic parties, one of which numbered 500 people. Then, too, there were the moonlight excursions that she offered, particularly on the upper river. Many of the young gallants of Woodstock would take their best girls aboard on a Saturday night for a cruise under the stars to Meductic.

The Aberdeen continued to serve that stretch of the upper river until 1906. While she had successfully contended with droughts and freshets, she finally lost out to the railroad for freight and passenger business. She was sold that season to Captain G.H. Perry for $4000. Next year, she plied the St. John and Washademoak to Coles Island, in opposition to the Crystal Stream, but then burned to the waterline at Coles Island on June 17, 1908. With her passing, regular steam service ceased on the river above Fredericton.

Sincennes (1911)

Burned at Coles Island wharf, two dead

The side wheeler, steel hulled Sincennes was built in Montreal and brought to the St. John River in 1909. She was 142 feet long and had a 122-ton capacity.

The Sincennes was destroyed by fire in 1911 at Coles Island and two of the crew lost their lives. The following year she was rebuilt and renamed the D. J. Purdy.

Hampstead (1916)

Burned at Saint John, no loss of life

The 94-foot steamer, the Hampstead, was built in 1894 at Hampton, N.B. by owner - operator, Captain J. Gillis Mabee. She had a capacity of 159 tons. Captain Mabee had with him his three sons, Fred, Arn, and Hal. Fred, who was initially mate, eventually became the captain.

Under Captain Gillis Mabee's command, the steamer first ran daily from Hampstead to Saint John in the morning and returned at night, but it was soon decided to make Wickham her up river terminal point.

The Hampstead was the first propeller passenger steamboat to operate on the St. John River. Her single propeller was driven by what was known as a "fore and aft steeple compound steam engine". The engine consisted of two units; each unit had a small diameter H.P. (high pressure) cylinder placed directly above a L.P. (low pressure) cylinder. The L.P. cylinder was larger because the steam, after passing through the H.P. cylinder, had expanded and required more space. A long piston rod extended from the piston of the H.P. right through the L.P. cylinder to the connecting rod which was attached to the crank on the main shaft and propeller. The two units were identical in construction except that the cranks were at right angles. This resulted in a smoother running engine, less strain on the working parts, and no danger of stalling on center. For its day, this was a very economical engine. After the Hampstead was destroyed by fire the engine was salvaged and installed in the Premier and was still in good working condition when she was withdrawn from service in 1933.

The Hampstead later served the head of the Belleisle and then for several years she operated a suburban service between Gagetown and Fredericton. She left Gagetown each morning and made stops at Gunters, Upper Gagetown, Sheffield, Barkers Wharf, Upper Sheffield, Burton, Maugerville, Court House Wharf, Oromocto, Wilmots, Upper Maugerville, and Glasiers. On board were Captain H.C. Crabbe, mate Theodore Vallis, stewardess Mrs. Vallis, and engineer William Hurder.

She fell victim to fire late in 1916. A replica of the Hampstead can be found at the New Brunswick Museum.

Victoria (1916)

Burned at Lancaster, no loss of life

In early 1897, the contract for the construction of the side wheeler, the Victoria was awarded to Edward McGuiggan, a noted Saint John builder. The model used was that of the old steamer the Rothesay. The frame was built of spruce, the bottom of birch, and spruce for the gunwales, while the stern was fashioned from hemlock, and the rudder from oak. Her length overall was 200 feet, while her beam was 30 feet long. She had a capacity of 631 tons.

All the joinery work was supervised by George Beatty. The main saloon was elegant and spacious, with mirrors filling the spaces between the windows the length of the room. Gold leaf decorations surmounted each window, while the floor was covered in deep pile carpeting. The prominent furnishings were the solid mahogany chairs and couches, richly upholstered in plush. A new touch was the soda fountain that extended across the forward end of the dining saloon. She is referred to in contemporary accounts as "palatial", and she did outshine all her rivals.

Steward, Arthur Ganong, is shown here with the Victoria's dining room staff. All are in readiness for the arrival of the first hungry passengers. Who of those that have had the experience of being such a passenger could ever forget the wonderful repasts that were offered up in this setting? The white linens and efficient service complimented the tempting menu of salmon, fresh from the river, served together with choice vegetables grown in the passing fields, hot shamrock rolls with country butter, and a generous portion of strawberry pie, warm from the oven, for those who were still able to partake.

Machinery for the Victoria came from the government steamer, the St. Lawrence, when it was overhauled and adapted at Phoenix Foundry in Saint John. It was an 11-foot stroke, a beam engine with a 40.5-inch cylinder. The boilers carried 47 pounds of steam and the engine was fitted with adjustable cut off gear. Her 26-foot side wheels were expected to propel her at a rate of over 17 miles per hour. Total cost of the Victoria when she was ready for service was $57,000 and she was to prove the biggest, and probably the most luxurious, of the St. John River steamboats.

Although the Victoria made one trip to Fredericton in 1897, it was late in the season, and it was decided not to place her on the route until the following spring. But in May of 1898, she began a long career on the St. John where she became known for excellent service. In addition to her scheduled run, the Victoria conveyed many day and moonlight excursions out of both Fredericton and Saint John, as well as picnic groups to different parts of the river. Some seasons as many as 35 excursions were offered during the holiday period, and at times these sailed as far as Gagetown. On one of the picnic outings to Browns Flat, the Victoria carried 952 passengers. Most of the steamers carried their loads of excursionists between regular runs as time and opportunity permitted.

A writer of that day recounted in an enthusiastic article the enjoyable trip her had on the Victoria. Here is an excerpt:

"To the person wishing to take a short holiday, there cannot possibly be a more delightful one than a run on the river in a Star line steamer. The cost is cheapness itself. The fare to Fredericton is only $2, with the option of returning by train, and with ample time in Fredericton to see the beauties of the capital. Of course proportionately low rates are offered for different points on the river. A day on the river will add more to the complexion than all the rouges a chemist ever concocted; it will lift the mind from the cares of the household, the shop, the office, it will add strength to the body, inflate the lungs with pure air and sharpen the appetite without any artificial tonic. It is the balm for old and young.

The Victoria was occasionally called upon to make a round trip to Fredericton. During the Fredericton Exhibition of 1903, for example, she left Indiantown every weekday morning at 7 o'clock and returned the same day, making frequent stops, both going and coming, for freight and passengers.

Quite a few of the river steamboats used "trimmers" to keep on an even keel. These were wooden barrels or casks filled with sand or gravel and weighed about 600 pounds. Trimmers were rolled from one side of the boat to the other, as required. The largest of the steamers carried 9 trimmers, 5 near the forward gangway and 4 near the gangway aft. They were particularly useful on the side wheel boats because greatest efficiency and speed could not be obtained with one paddle wheel deeper in the water than the other.

At times it was necessary when running cross winds and seas to give the boat an intentional list to prevent the seas from pounding up under the overhang with subsequent damage to deck and superstructure. Sometimes, when crossing Grand Bay from Kennebecasis Island to Boars Head with a strong northeast wind and flood tide, it was advantageous to give the steamer a downward list to starboard to avoid unnecessary pounding. A bell pull located in the wheelhouse was connected to a small bell on the main deck, and this was to call deck hands to roll trimmers. The bell was also rung twice to summon a deck hand to the wheelhouse for necessary instructions from time to time during a trip. In a heavy wind for instance, it could prove difficult to get the boat near enough to a wharf for a deck hand to throw an ordinary line. In such cases a deck hand might be ordered to the saloon deck, or hurricane deck with a "heaving line".

The Victoria was considered a very fast boat. On one occasion, she made the run from her wharf to the McAlpine Bluff, halfway to Fredericton, in 2 hours and 29 minutes. As John Dunham recorded in his poem:

Now there was the glorious "Vic"

Whose answer to helm was quick

She e'er did contrive

While the river she'd ride

All rivals to handily lick

While the Victoria was the premier steamer on the St. John at the time, she did not always show a profit to the owners of her operation. In 1905, for example, her revenue consisted of $5,689 from passengers, $4,426 from freight, $1,499 from picnics and excursions, and an additional $775 from subsidies. Yet, expenditures for the year were $13,147, leaving a net operating loss of $779. In fact, of all the steamers of the Star Line, it was only the Pokanoket that showed an operating profit in 1905.

The fact is that with the new century, business for the steamboats on the St. John declined rather steadily. Improved roads and other means of transportation meant less business and a corresponding slimmer - and even non-existent - profit margin, and fewer steamboats were in operation.

The Victoria burned at Lancaster on February 3,1916. A replica of the Victoria can be found at the New Brunswick Museum.

This sight would have been a familiar one to those who lived along the river at the turn of the century. The wood boats, indigenous sailing vessels which had been the chief carrier of freight, were plentiful on the river between Fredericton and Saint John. Here we see the Victoria about to pass one of these slower moving craft at Evandale on the lower St. John.

In this image, the Victoria is at Indiantown about 1915. The vessel is preparing to leave on her run to Fredericton. Her captain, Ed Day, can be seen stranding aft of the paddle box, directing operations as she swings out into the river.

May Queen (1918)

Burned at Saint John, no loss of life

The 160-foot side wheeler, the May Queen, was built in West Saint John by John Retallick and launched in the spring of 1869 by the Union Line. She had a 339-ton capacity. When she was launched, there was a beautiful colored medallion, representing the Queen of the May, in the center of the paddle box. Her owners had designed her for the Grand Lake and Salmon River route and there she ran for the next eight seasons. Her old beam engine from the Forest Queen operated satisfactorily and a twice a week schedule was maintained. The trip upriver started at eight in the morning on Wednesday and Saturday, and Chipman was reached shortly before seven the same evening. The fare was $1.25, while breakfast cost 25 cents, and a dinner or supper cost 40 cents. Captain C.S. Brennen's crew consisted of a mate and purser, an engineer, two firemen, four deck hands, a steward and a stewardess, a cook and a kitchen boy.

The May Queen was one of the steamers present at the celebrated rowing race between the Paris crew of Saint John and the Tyne crew of England in 1871. Many spectators boarded steamers to view the Paris crew, which had won the world four-man rowing championship in Paris four years earlier. The Paris crew won the 1871 race in record time, but there was little celebration as the stroke of the Tyne crew collapsed near the end of the race and died within a few hours. His name was James Renforth, and his name was adopted by the community nearby.

About mid-summer of 1877, the Union Line management decided to place the Fawn on the Grand Lake route, and to have the May Queen on the night run between Indiantown and Fredericton. Here, she competed with the Soulanges or "sour oranges" as she was called by her detractors. There was a good deal of racing and jockeying for positions between the two. Both boats came below the Reversing Falls to receive and discharge freight. While the May Queen had better speed, she also had more stops to make, and at times the two boats would be alongside each other. On dark nights the Soulanges would show up very bright because she had no stack screen and the sparks from her burning softwood flew high in the night sky. At the same time, the owners of the May Queen ran the following advertisement in the Freeman:

Commencing Thursday 6th inst. and until further notice Stmr. "May Queen" Capt. John McMulkin will leave Indiantown from Union Line Wharf on Tue., Thur., and Sat. afternoons a 6 o'clock for Fredericton and Gibson, calling at intermediate landings.

Returning will leave N.B.Railway Wharf at 3 o'clock on Mon., Wed., and Friday after arrival of the train from Caribou, Woodstock, etc.

Competition, such as that between the May Queen and the Soulanges, on occasion brought about a price war. That year, for example, freight and passenger rates were reduced, and before the close of the season flour was being carried for five cents a barrel. The Soulanges lowered the price for one-way Fredericton passage to 25 cents. Just ten years before, the Forest Queen had advertised to carry passengers to Fredericton for 20 cents. It is evident that during the years of keenest rivalry on the lower part of the river, fares were reduced to a minimum. A ticket to Oak Point and return could be had for 25 cents, which included tea and a sandwich any time the traveler felt like calling at the kitchen. No wonder that a saying at the time was that "it is cheaper to travel than to stay at home".

In the fall of 1880, the May Queen was placed on Small's Blocks in West Saint John for extensive repairs. The most striking of these was the raising of the hull by 18 inches. To do so, it was cut in two just below the guard and the upper section raised. This resulted in improved accommodation, including ample space for berths.

In the years before the building of the railway from Saint John to Fredericton, the night steamer service was popular. Professional men, especially, found it convenient. After a day's work in Saint John, one could leave at 6 o'clock on the night boat and be in Fredericton the next morning, jusst in time for a full day's work. From all accounts, it is unlikely that much sleep was to be had on board. There appears to have always been a game of whist in progress, a storyteller to listen to, or the ample wares of the bar to be enjoyed. On one occasion, several men had travelled to Fredericton on business. On their way back, a few days later, they celebrated long and well. Arriving at Indiantown at an early hour, they felt unequal to the exertion of going home, and reasoned it would be sensible to stay at Indiantown until the afternoon boat arrived. Having solved this problem, they went for a stroll in the hills of Pokiok. As luck would have it, the day boat was late and it was well along in the evening before the weary celebrants could go home with the excuse of just having arrived from Fredericton.

Uniforms for officers had been worn for the first time in 1886, when the Union Line introduced the practice. About four years before that, the May Queen deck hands had worn caps with that steamer's name. Soon, officers of most other lines were wearing uniforms and in some cases the deck hands wore a shirt with the name of their steamer lettered across the front.

The May Queen was to remain a night boat until 1884 when she returned to the Grand Lake route under a new group of owners, headed by Captain Brennen. In all, she was to remain in service for 49 years, giving her the record for durability, so far as the St. John River steamboats are concerned.

She was destroyed by fire on February 5, 1918.

Champlain (1922)

Burned at Glenwood wharf, no loss of life

The Champlain was built in 1904 from the wreck of the Queen, which had served on the river for only part of a year. She was 135 feet long with a 266-ton capacity. She was screw propelled and spent most of her career on the Belleisle route. She was an excellent market boat, having worked up a good trade in both freight and passengers. Her end came at Glenwood on April 25, 1922, where she was destroyed by fire, even though strenuous efforts were made to save her. For years, her remains were to be seen just below the wharf there.

Market boats were usually in Saint John before mid-afternoon. Farmers and butchers would travel to the city with their country produce and meat. At the Saint John terminus, they were met by various wholesalers and retailers whose goal it was to purchase at the lowest price. As the quality of the produce offered for sale varied considerably, and packaging was not standardized, there was a good deal of bargaining, and at times, plain haggling resulted.

Many farmers were strictly honest and made sure that berries or potatoes in the box, or crate, were of a uniform size throughout. Others were not above wrapping a piece of ice in the cow hides they had for sale, a clever idea since they would weigh more at the time, yet the incriminating evidence would have melted before the hides were open.

In the early season, a "sellers" market, existed but later as produce became more plentiful, the buyers had things pretty much their own way. One farmer, incensed at the low price offered him, carried his produce to the side of the steamer and dumped it overboard, remarking: "I am sure now at least of getting my crate returned".

The above picture is of the Champlain stopped at a wharf from a postcard mailed from Public Landing in 1913.

Dream (1922)

Sunk off Gorhams Bluff in a squall, five dead

The steamer, the Dream, was built in Newark, New Jersey in 1880. She was 63 feet long and 20 feet wide. She was brought to Saint John and used as a pleasure craft, primarily by Senator W. H. Thorne, for more than thirty years.

She was bought by the Oconee Steamship Co. and rebuilt for passenger and freight service. In April 1922, the Champlain burned at Glenwood and the Dream replaced her on the Saint John-Jemseg route.

On October 20, 1922, the Dream was making her way down river. She was maneuvering around Gorhams Bluff when a stiff northwest wind hit her starboard side and she listed. Water entered her port side portholes and within a minute she was sunk. Many of those on board clung to floating debris and were in the water an hour before rescuers arrived. Five passengers lost their lives.