The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Two Rats and Vanished Vessel: Schooner Days LXVI (66)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 17 Dec 1932
Full Text
Schooner Days LXVI. (66)

Many more guesses at the identity of the ancient wreck which reappears with each season of low water, on the south shore of the Island, opposite the lighthouse, have been received by The Telegram. It is a strange thing that in a city which is about to celebrate its centenary, and which has been a place of habitation by white men for one hundred and eighty-three years, no one can, with certainty, name a wreck which has been a landmark for half a century. The wreck is of sufficient size to have challenged attention when it was first stranded, for it is of a vessel a hundred feet long or more. An Oakville reader of The Telegram offers one interesting theory; a Pickering reader another.

SCENE—Capt. Hamilton's Wharf, at the old foot of Yonge street, about where the subway is now.

Time—A morning in November, 1874.

Characters in the order of their appearance:

Old Scotch sailor, nicknamed Bolivar.

Young Toronto sailor, nicknamed Slasher.

Young English sailor, named Charlie Gill.


Slasher: "Hello, Bolivar. Seen Charlie?

Old Scotch sailor: "Mair's the peety, Slasher. "

Slasher: "Why so short? Where you going with your bag? "

Old Scotch sailor. "Gin ye'd see whit I've seen, Slasher, ye and yon Chairlie wad baith be bearin' yer bags ashore too. Chairlie's aboard, and I'm quittin' the Awmiral."

Slasher: "What for? "

Old Scotch sailor:"Twa rattons walkit doon her bow line the morn."

Slasher: "Why, if two hundred rats walked down the Admiral's bow line then I'd be willing to ship in her. But not till then. Her forecastle's alive with them. They say the time the old tub ran from Wellington Square to Oswego, barley loaded, in seventeen hours, her bottom got so hot with the friction that the rats were skipping overboard with scorched tails."

Old Scotch sailor: "Dinna mock, Slasher. Tak heed, and bid Chairlie Gill tak heed. "

Slasher saunters to the wharf end and finds Charlie Gill aboard the drogher Admiral, all ready to sail. She lies scupper-deep with 150,000 feet of lumber for Oswego. He is just in time to cast off her lines as the tug grunts her out, and to call to Charlie Gill, chanteying with the crew on the fore throat and peak halliards.

Slasher: "How many in your crowd, Charlie?"

Young English sailor: "Ten—" ‘King Louis got 'is 'ead cut off'— "without Bolivar and the rats— "‘W'ich spoiled 'is constitution.'"

Crew, in chorus: "Weigh, haul away, "We'll haul away, Joe!"

Slasher: "Well, good trip, Charlie."

Young English sailor: "See you by Christmas."

(End of Act I. )

* * *


Scene—Capt. Hamilton's Yonge

street wharf, afternoon of same day.

Slasher, returning to the waterfront, buffets his way across the railway tracks against a strong southwest wind which has arisen. He sights six sailors zig-zagging up the wharf, wet inside and out, each fondly clasping his dunnage bag.

Slasher: "What, did you all quit her? Where's the Admiral. Charlie?"

Young English sailor—"In pieces on the Point. She never got clear. We six slid off on top of her deckload and sailed over the bar and down the Bay on it."

Slasher—"You'll be jugged for desertion!"

Young English sailor—"No bloody fear! She deserted us. The water was as high in her as the upper bunks when we ducked into the forecastle for our bags, and when the deckload washed off her bulwarks came with it, red rotten. She was in pieces twenty minutes after she struck. "

Slasher—"And is the Old Man and the rest of the crowd lost?"

Young English Sailor—"No, Billy Ward and the lifeboat crew picked the four of them off the wreck. We could see them while our raft of deckload was washing over the bar. "

Slasher—"How'd she come to hit the Point, anyway? "

Young English Sailor—"Caught in the first squall of this sou'-wester before we had finished making canvas on her. You know what a brute she was to steer. The Old Man always said the harder it blowed the slower she goed. She just lay down and wallowed, and before you could do anything with her she was bumping the bottom with the new seas washing over her."

Old Scotch sailor joining the group: "I tauld ye sae."

CAPT. JOSEPH WILLIAMS, old time lake sailor of 1860, '70 and '80, writes in from Simcoe Point House, Pickering:

"I believe the wreck at the Toronto light is the old Admiral, which was lost in '74 or '75. I saw her before she went out. She was lumber loaded for Oswego. She was caught with a south-southwest squall and never cleared the point. She was carrying one hundred and fifty thousand feet of lumber. "

Capt. Williams may be right though the position of the wreck would indicate that the vessel of which it is the remains had cleared the point. It lies on the south side of the island, not the west. Still, the island has been walking westwards a few yards every year, and where the wreck is now may have been the point, or west of the point, sixty years ago. At that time the lighthouse marked the southwest corner of the island pretty accurately. Vessels entered the harbor by the Queen's Wharf channel where the motors buzz along Fleet street, and south of that was a mile or more of open water to Hanlan's Point. The whole western sandbar of the island, now covered with houses, had not yet emerged. In places small vessels could sail across it. There was plenty of water for the Admiral's deckload to wash over it, with the crew on top thereof.

Capt. Williams adds: "About the Baltic, whose picture you gave recently, when I first saw the Baltic, she carried a square fore topsail, and was bound for Port Credit to load wheat. Your picture shows only a squaresail."

(True enough. Captain. Dave Reynolds, who sailed in her for five years, said she was re-rigged that way with the squaresail and without the square tore topsail, when they rebuilt her with a plumb stem instead of the spoon bow which butted the Queen's Wharf. )

"In 1878," continues Capt. Williams, passed her in the Queen's Wharf channel, sunk, coal loaded. The pier was too strong for her.

"I also passed the Highland Chief the same day, sunk on the old Monarch's boiler, at the eastern channel going into the bay. The Southern Belle sunk herself on the same boiler later. This boiler never was buoyed, and was lying in eight or nine feet of water.

"Here are some of the old wrecks at and east of Toronto: The schooner Cawthrie was lost off Birch Cliff, about 1845, loading stave bolts off

the Highlands.

"The next schooner was lost at Kew Beach, between Lee and Leuty aves, but I cannot remember her name.

"The next one was off the Woodbine race course, a schooner lost in the year 1856, general cargo from Lake Erie, grinding stones from Cleveland.

"A mile west of that, off Leslie street, the schooner Fearless went ashore in a snow storm, with about three hundred and fifty tons of coal aboard. Captain Ferguson was the only one drowned. The crew were taken off by Dave Ward and his men.

"The next wreck west of the eastern channel was the Jane Ann Marsh, in a blinding snow storm from the east, she had about one hundred and fifty cords of wood aboard. The crew were taken off by William Ward and his father, and fisherman.

"The Sarah Ann Marsh was lost in Georgian Bay, the Caroline Marsh at Oswego, three sisters, all belonging, to Port Hope.

"What became of the Northman of Hamilton? The last seen of her was by Captain O'Brien, of the Brothers, south by west of the Toronto Light, working down the lake with a head wind. The Northman, a large three-masted schooner, came about and was never seen after. The nine or ten thousand bushels or grain in her must have shifted, and she rolled over."


In regard to that old wreck at the Island I think I can solve the mystery, writes Just A Wanderer, who in real life is an octogenarian resident of the ancient port of Oakville, Ont. I have no doubt that it is all that is left of the Mary Amelia, the first vessel built in this little harbor of ours, in the year 1836.

Capt. Jacob Randall and his brother-in-law, Capt. John Jeffrey, came here to Oakville from Shelburne, Nova Scotia, in 1826. They first built vessels near Hamilton. In 1836, having prospered as lake sailors and finding white oak in excellent quantity and quality on the ridge north of here, they built a schooner for themselves and called her the Mary Amelia, after Capt. Randall's wife. After a short time, Capt. Randall's wife died, and the ship-building partners sold the Mary Amelia. They built another schooner and called her the Mary Everest, Capt. Randall having taken a Miss Everest to be his second bride. Randall street in Oakville, on the east side of the river, commemorates Capt. Randall. His house was the first one built on it. Rebecca street, continuing Randall street on the west side of the river, was named after Capt. Randall's daughter.

In the following year, 1840, they built still another schooner, and called her the John Jeffrey. After this they sold their yard to the Simpson brothers, John and Melancthon, and went sailing again in the John Jeffrey, with Capt. Randall in command. They traded on the Upper Lakes.

In 1857 the John Jeffrey was lost with all hands, in a gale in Lake Huron. Capt. Randall's frozen body was found on the beach, lashed to the mainmast.

The Mary Amelia, first mentioned, was sold by Randall and Jeffrey to some parties down the lake. At this time they were building a large stone foundry here and a store and warehouse on the waterfront, with limestone brought from Kingston, and the Mary Amelia had a profitable trade, carrying wheat from Oakville to Kingston and bringing stone back. The foundry was on the west side of the creek above the bridge. It has since been torn down, but some of the Kingston limestone is still to be seen in the walls of the stone building now used as a stable on the east banks of the river, above the Oakville Club.

I don't know the Mary Amelia size, but she was considered big for her time. She was well built, of good white oak, with very heavy deck beams and three-inch planking, all sawn out by hand in the woods. There was no mill at the time that could cut longer planks than twelve feet.

My father came to Oakville in 1834. He lived on the same street with these two captains and helped them build the Mary Amelia. He had shipped in her for what proved to be her last voyage. She was lying at the pier, ready to go out, with her lines singled up, in fact, when an argument arose as to whether she was not too deeply laden, and whether she wasn't so much down by the head as to promise a lot of hard work for the man at the wheel.

The outcome was that father threw his box out on to the dock and followed it.

"All right, " said the captain, "throw off our lines and we'll go without you."

Father threw off the lines and the remainder of the crew made canvas, and out the Mary Amelia went She never came back. She was never seen after she vanished below Marigold's Point.

My own belief is that she strained with her heavy load and became unmanageable as the weather grew bad, it and went down with all hands. The wheat in her would swell and burst her sides. What was left of her has, perhaps, years afterwards, washed in opposite Toronto Light and been buried in the sand and gravel, coming to light with periods of low water.

It is true enough that he who saveth his life shall lose it. Poor father escaped drowning in the Mary Amelia and left here for England some years later, in 1857, when I was seven years old. He went as first mate in the steamer Tempest, from England for Australia. She must have gone down with all hands, for nothing was ever heard of her, nor of him. I advertised for particulars of father, years afterwards, as there was money left to him in the Old Land, but could get no information. I still have the sea-chest he threw out from the Mary Amelia.

Capt. Randall and his partner are said to have also built vessels called the Constitution, Burlington, Oakville and Lord Nelson. Of these the Burlington may be the early steamer of that name, built at Oakville and launched July 10th, 1837, which plied between Toronto, Hamilton and Dundas, via the Desjardins canal, under Capt. John Gordon. She was burned.

Just A Wanderer has an interesting theory, but it has to take this hurdle; the wreck on the Island shore had a centreboard. Her centreboard box is the most prominent feature of her left to-day. Centreboards were not in general use in 1836. The Mary Amelia was probably a "standing keel." If she could be proved to have had a centreboard Just A Wanderer's case would be 100 per cent. better.




Ribs of wreck on Lighthouse Point, which defies identification, although known to be there for the last fifty years.

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
17 Dec 1932
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.621111 Longitude: -79.378611
Ron Beaupre
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
WWW address
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Two Rats and Vanished Vessel: Schooner Days LXVI (66)