Steamboat Historians

Captain Charles Taylor

A great deal of the steamboat history was captured by Captain Charles C. Taylor. He was born in Sheffield, NB in 1868. There, on the bank of the St. John, he developed as a small lad the fascination for river steamboats that was to remain with him through a long life. In his early teens, for instance, he began to make scrapbooks of steamer items, and these proved of real value in preparing the history of St. John River steamboats. At the age of 14, he built and installed a set of paddle wheels on the family rowboat. Power was supplied by the young "skipper" who "steamed" along the shores of the river by turning cranks attached to the paddlewheels. The family pet - a black dog - comprised the crew.

Young Taylor began his long steam-boating service in 1891, when he was hired on as purser of the David Weston. He served in this capacity on the Belleisle and as both mate and purser on the Olivette, whose captain he became in 1895. It is said that he was the youngest captain ever to be on the river. Later, he took command of the David Weston and then the Victoria.

In 1907, he went to British Columbia to engage in lumbering. He soon elected to return to New Brunswick, however, and purchased the side wheeler tug, the Stella Marion, which he remodelled and renamed the Oconee. This steamer was placed on the Saint John-Wickham route in 1912. In addition to his financial interest, he also was purser-manager of this steamer.

His early rise to riverboat captain and his long career without mishap demonstrated his ability as a captain. On at least three occasions, he plunged into the water to prevent drownings. He became noted for a friendly nature and genial manner, coupled with a good memory and a ready wit.

In 1923, Capt. Taylor became associated with Harold B. Gault in the purchase of the steamboat, the Hampton. Two years later the partners bought the Premier from Capt. David Coy. Then, in 1927, they secured controlling interest in the Majestic and the D.J.Purdy, and thus brought all the river steamers under their management. Two years after that, they were to sell their holdings to Eastern Canada Costal Steamships Ltd.

Capt. Taylor's association with the St. John had not ceased, however. He saw service aboard the Premier until 1929 and spent the next four years, cheifly on the Westchester, serving the Grand Lake route. From then until 1941 - the year of his death - he was on the Majestic.

In all, Capt. Taylor's fifty-year career spanned a period that had seen great changes extending from busy, prosperous days and a plenteous company of steamboat men to service on an ancient craft, the very last of the steamers.

His life's collections, artifacts, and stories of the steamboats were a significant basis of the books on their history. Many of these items were donated and can be found at the New Brunswick Museum.

Captain Donald Taylor

Captain Donald F. Taylor was born in Sheffield, N.B., in 1900. His father, Capt. Charles C. Taylor, was a long serving steamboat man on the St. John River and his son was drawn to a career there as well. After graduating from Mount Allison Academy, and studying engineering at Mount Allison University he attended Navigation School in Saint John and began work on the river steamers in 1920. He spent time as a purser on the Oconee, the Hampton, and the Majestic. He later became captain of the Majestic and stayed with the steamboats until their end. He followed that with a career at the Canadian National Railway.

Upon his retirement, he produced three books on the St. John River Steamboats, wrote many articles, and gave talks on the subject. He, like his father, had a great memory and a wonderful knowledge of the St. John River and the people who lived along its shores. He was quick to smile and always had a good word. He died in 1997.

Captain Fred Mabee

Captain Fred S. Mabee came from a family of steamboat men. His father, Gillis Mabee, and his two brothers, Arn and Hal, were also all riverboat captains and involved with the steamboats, including ownership.

Captain Fred Mabee started his career by persuading his father to take him on the Novelty when he was quite young. As he grew, so did his experience and he was in command of that same boat when he turned 19 in 1887. He spent many years as captain on the river, including time on the Springfield, the Hampstead, the Elaine, the Crystal Stream, the May Queen, the Hampton, the Sincennes, the D.J.Purdy, the Premier, and the Westchester.

In 1936, He retired to his home in Hampton. He was a good friend to Captain Charles C. Taylor and his son, Captain Donald F. Taylor. It was about this time that he began writing letters to the younger Taylor telling of some incident or episode relating to his life on the riverboats. The greater number of the sixty-seven letters concerned his experiences early in his career and were used for the basis of many stories published after his death.

Dr. George MacBeath

Dr. George MacBeath was born in Moncton in 1924 and raised in Saint John. Despite humble beginnings, he went on to earn his doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris before returning to Saint John as History Curator, and eventually Director, of the New Brunswick Museum. He had an abiding love of material history and historical objects. He had a long and distinguished career and received many awards including the Order of Canada. He collaborated with Capt. D.F. Taylor on the excellent steamboat book "Steamboat Days on the St. John 1816-1946". He died in 2013.

Robert Wood

Robert M. Wood of Carters Point was 87 and a retired farmer when he contributed to the "Memories" column of "The Kings County Record" beginning June 27, 1979. His recollections give an excellent account of the steamboats and the impact that they had on those living along their routes. At the time, he still enjoyed his hobby as a carpenter in turning out well finished articles such as doll cradles, trays, and planters. In his earlier years, he was a sometimes builder of small boats and had a deep interest in the vessels that plied river and lake waters of southern New Brunswick.