The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), Nov. 18, 1834

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p.2 The Canal - work continues on St. Lawrence Canal. [Cornwall Observer]



Having some business to transact at Toronto before the opening of the spring navigation, we resolved to seize time by the forelock, and spare ourselves the trouble and expence of a tedious and disagreeable journey over land in the winter, by anticipating its performance at the present time. On Thursday sen'night, the 6th inst. we embarked on board the St. George. We had several reasons for choosing this vessel for the vehicle to travel in, one of which we think will suffice the most inquisitive reader, and that is, the St. George was the only steam boat then running on the lake, the William IV excepted, the latter not expected for several days. A voyage to the head of Lake Ontario and back, in an American-built steam boat, in the stormy and frosty month of November, is, however ignorant Atlantic seamen may scout the idea, no joke. The tempestuous aspect of the weather, the rough and troubled state of the lake, and the unwieldy and dangerous condition of the ordinary steam vessels, all conspire to increase the importance and necessity of Life Insurance, in the mind of every man, who planks his foot on any of the gorgeous three-deckers that navigate this inland ocean.

It has often occurred to us, that were the plan of building steam boats on the British system, brought into operation in Canada, that the safety of human life and property would be thereby much increased; and by these boats running much earlier and later during the season, than the present vessels are capable of doing, sufficient gain might be made to compensate for that deficiency of passengers to be expected during the hot summer months, when the superior and loftier accommodations of the american-built boats would carry all before them. What passenger, we ask, would go on board a rolling washing tub like the William IV when he could obtain footing in a safe sea-boat like the King of the Netherlands? Or what person would not much rather wait a few days and even pay a dollar or two extra, for inferior accommodation, when by so doing his carcase could be insured, and his passage to the place he intended to travel to, be guaranteed to him in the course of a few hours. In boats built on the model we propose, the promenade deck, the ladies' cabin, the wings, and the ponderous walking beam would all have to be removed, and nothing exposed to the action of the wind and waves, but the bare hull, masts and sails of the vessel itself, with the paddle boxes well guarded. In this state experience has proved that a steam ship to be almost as safe as an ordinary vessel, as no greater number of accidents happen to them, independent of the rupture of their machinery, than occur to other sailing craft.

It has been objected to this plan, that British-built steam-boats would draw too much water for the Lake Harbors. To which we reply, that a vessel of this description, of the size of the Great Britain, (500 tons) would require a depth of water equal to 18 or 20 feet; but a vessel of half that burden (250 tons) quite equal in point of size to every useful purpose, would not draw as much water as the Great Britain now draws, (12 feet) and nobody has yet found out, that this superb vessel is too deep for the Canada waters. Capt. Harper, of the St. George, who commanded for many years a British Steam Packet, between Liverpool and Dublin, is not only of opinion, that the British system of building steam vessels would be found both useful and profitable, but that the time is fast approaching, when such craft will be imperiously called for.

Another serious objection to the Canadian steamboats is the constant recurrence of the accident of breaking their shafts. Instead of looking over the list of boats which have met with this accident during the present year, it will be easier to call over the names of those which have not. Excluding the Rideau Canal steamers, the Kingston and Sir James Kempt are all that at present recur to memory; while the accident in some cases has happened to the same vessel twice or three times. The remedy consists in using wrought iron shafts. This may be easier said than done. From the want of proper machinery, we believe that wrought iron shafts of the necessary size could not be manufactured in Canada; and that the expense of importing them from England would be attendant with expense and delay, more than proportionate to the delay and expense of replacing a broken cast iron shaft, by another of the same kind of metal. This may be all very true, and what (missing line) sufficient power be too great for one individual, let it be done by a company; the same capital that built the Great Britain might also have erected a wrought iron shaft manufactory, with a greater chance of realizing gain; for let once proper shafts be used on board a single steamboat, and we shall hear no more of vessels being laid up to have their machinery repaired. In more than one instance during the past season, the breaking of a shaft has been attended with the actual loss of £500 passage money and freight, besides the expense of the new shaft, and the detention of the boat in harbor. This is a matter of moment to the stockholders in the several vessels, but as it touches their pockets, some possibility exists of its being attended to.

Had it not been for these plaguey steamboats, and the necessary enlightenment of men's minds by the writing of these our strictures, we fully intended to have travelled as far as the "Ducks" at the very least, in this the commencement of our peregrination. Basta! "sufficient for the day is the evil thereof." We shall get better acquinted as we go along; in the mean while, Sweet Reader, we bid thee, till next week, Fare well.

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Nov. 18, 1834
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Rick Neilson
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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British Whig (Kingston, ON), Nov. 18, 1834