Maritime History of the Great Lakes
"Where Are the Nine?": Schooner Days CXXXVIII (138)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 12 May 1934
Full Text
"Where Are the Nine?"
Schooner Days CXXXVIII (138)


IT is not for the purpose of reviving ancient animosities nor of performing the chores of those ministers of hell, the armament vendors, that we dwell with interest and with pride on the war of 1812; the last war may it ever be between two nations greatest of all the world, measured in value to humanity.

This war of 1812 taught many lessons; perhaps the best was that disarmament is not necessarily a mere utopian ideal, but a thoroughly possible and practical reality.

Any two nations that want it can have it. The whole world can have disarmament if the whole world wants disarmament. It does not require any solemn league and covenant, it dos not require any supervisory body, it does not require a treaty. All it requires is good will between two peoples. Where there is a will there is a way. No will, no way.

Sir James Lucas Yeo, successful commander of the British fleet on the Great Lakes during the war of 1812—the St. Lawrence was his flagship—wrote to Lord Melville in 1815, when the Treaty of Ghent, ending the war, was ratified: "The preservation of Canada by means of a naval force on the lakes, will, in my opinion, be an endless, if not a futile, undertaking."

This, mark you, from the man who had been lord of Lake Ontario from the moment the St. Lawrence was launched; the man to whose broad-pendant one hundred and twenty-one commission pendants dipped. What did he mean? He meant that there was no end to an armament race but destruction.

And what happened? Instead of filling the ether with endless propaganda about quotas and ratios, and adjoining to meet in further futile conferences, Great Britain and the United States appointed two plain men, Mr. Rush and Mr. Bagot; and by the spring of 1817 they had exchanged notes, agreeing that -

"The naval force to be maintained upon the American lakes by his Majesty and the Government of the United States shall henceforth be confined to the following vessels on each side, that is:

On Lake Ontario, to one vessel not exceeding 100 tons burden, and armed with one 18-pound cannon;

On the Upper Lakes, to two vessels not exceeding like burden and armed with like force;

On the waters of Lake Champlain, to one vessel, not exceeding like burden and armed with like force;

All other vessels on those lakes shall be forthwith dismantled, and no other vessels of war shall be there built or armed."

This agreement was approved by the president and ratified and proclaimed on April 28th, 1818. It has never become a treaty. It is simply a sane and sensible human understanding, and, with reasonable interpretation for Fenian raids, rum-running, and fish-poaching, it has worked so perfectly that anything else between the two countries should be unthinkable.

Japan could make an agreement : like that with the United States and France could make one with Germany. Every nation could make an agreement like that with every other nation. It would end the armament industry; and it might even affect the stock value of International Nickel. But one hundred and twenty years of amity between Britain and the United States proclaim with still small voice which cannot be ignored that where there is a will there is a way to disarm and stay disarmed.

Talking about the square riggers of 1812—the subject comes up through the attention bestowed upon the super-dreadnought of her time, the St. Lawrence, and the other ship the Americans built to beat her, the New Orleans, which never got launched—it may be admitted that this is straying from Schooner Days.

Yet if there had been no 1812-ers on the Great Lakes, with battle thunders belching from their checkered sides, the schooner days which followed in the piping times of peace might have been vastly different. The old 1812-ers were the fore-runners of the commercial fleets. Indeed, some of them were commercial vessels commandeered for war, and others which were specifically built for war were commandeered for peace later, and ended their days as useful cargo carriers. So perhaps, we may be pardoned for spending time upon them, when we get the opportunity of viewing them, as it were, in the flesh.

Mr. James Dennis of Mount Dennis, the suburb founded by his family a hundred years ago, has all ready for the United Empire Loyalists' exhibition for next week a beautiful model of more than usual interest. It has been the writer's privilege to examine her carefully and take some photographs, and she is such a close representation of a lake warship of 1812 in life that it seems a duty to pass on a description of her in some detail.

Mr. James Dennis is a great-grandson of John Dennis who came to Toronto shortly after the place had been founded as the town of York, and who set up a shipyard at the mouth of the Humber River. Here he built, among other craft, the famous Toronto Yacht. This was a schooner, launched in 1799, and intended for the conveyance of the early governors of the province on their official journeys up and down the lake. She was also a Government despatch vessel and conveyed Indian goods for the annual distributions among the tribes. She was wrecked on Toronto Point either in 1812 or 1817. There are some who believe that the old bones still visible immediately south of the lighthouse are hers, although this the writer doubts.

John Dennis and his son, Joseph, both of them able shipwrights, removed to Kingston after the establishment of the Royal dockyard at Point Frederick in 1805, and there participated in the building of at least nine ships of war for the Royal Navy on the lakes and the Provincial Marine. Joseph Dennis, grandfather of our Mr. James Dennis, made nine models representing the ships he and his father had created. At a venture these were probably the Toronto Yacht; the brig Duke of Gloucester of six guns; the brig Earl of Moira of fourteen guns; the ship Royal George of twenty-two guns; the ship Wolfe of twenty-four guns; the brig Lord Melville of fourteen guns; the ship Prince Regent of fifty-eight guns; the ship Princess Charlotte of forty-two guns; and the; three-decker ship-of-the-line St. Lawrence of one hundred and twelve guns.

Where are the nine?

The question sounds like the one asked after the ten men of old had been healed by the Redeemer. It is known that two of the models went to Los Angeles. Six others have been scattered about among members of the great Dennis clan. It would be most interesting to locate and examine them, for they might give us first hand information regarding the ships named above or they might possibly represent other historic vessels, such as the ship Sir Isaac Brock, built here in Toronto, or the schooner Prince Regent—not to be confused with the ship of the same name—which was also built at this port in the first year of the war in 1812.

But the ninth model, praise be, is in the hands of Mr. James Dennis, and can be readily identified.

There is little room to doubt that it is the model of the ship-rigged sloop-of-war Royal George which his great-grandfather built at Point Frederick, Kingston, in 1809. The dimensions for beam and for draft. correspond exactly, on a scale of 1/4-inch to the foot, with the known dimensions of the Royal George. She was 27 feet 7 inches beam and 12 feet in the hold; measured 510 tons and had a crew of 200 men. A ship which followed her down the ways at Point Frederick in 1813 was the Wolfe, later named the Montreal. She was 12 feet deep in the hold and drew 13 feet 6 inches, which is exactly what the draft of this supposed Royal George model scales to at 1/4-inch to the foot.

In length the model does not correspond to the keel measurements given for either the Royal George or the Wolfe, 101 and 107 feet respectively. The keel of the model is only 19 inches which would give a length of 76 feet and no more, on the scale mentioned. The one criticism which suggests itself to the expert on the first glance at this model is that the ship appears short for her width and and depth. To the eye she appears to be very deep, and very lofty. It is quite possible that Joseph Dennis, the model maker, encountered limitations in finding a suitable block of wood from which to carve, and had to content himself with one shorter than he desired. This often happens when model-makers set out to make a representation of a craft, rather than a scale reproduction of her. Moreover, it is possible that Joseph Dennis would not be allowed to make a model in his time from the actual Admiralty plans. He would have to use his eye and his general knowledge of dimensions; and any sailor will tell you that there is no dimension about a ship subject to. more difference of opinion and debate than her length. Even the records of length in the official registers show great variations sometimes for the same vessel.

The Royal George has a most picturesque history. Launched in 1809 she had a battle with the American fleet in the Bay of Quinte the first year of the war and was driven into Kingston Harbor and almost sunk at her moorings by the combined broadsides of the enemy's's fleet of half a dozen vessels. But soldiers from the garrison twice reinforced her spent gun crews, and she beat the enemy off. Refitted during the winter she very gallantly flung herself between the commodore's crippled flagship and the advancing American fleet in the running fight known as the Burlington races, which stretched from Toronto to Hamilton, September 11, 1813. Zigzagging back and forth in the interval between the two flying fleets the Royal George fired broadside after another and held off the Americans until the whole fleet safely entered Burlington Bay. Then she herself popped in, her masts going over the sides as she rounded up in the safety of the anchorage. She was again refitted and in the following year took part in the brilliant capture of Oswego from the Americans, undergoing their hottest fire right in the mouth of the river.

There is not the slightest doubt that this model was made during the lifetime of the Royal George by a man who was thoroughly familiar with the Royal George both in her build and rig. It may be 125 years old. There are many evidences for the expert that the work was contemporary with the ship. The rigging follows all the practices of the period of the war of 1812, many of which died out soon afterwards and were unknown to later model-makers. Both the form of the ship's hull and the arrangement of her deck conform to the first decade of the nineteenth century. The stem is curved up in a splendid old-style cutwater, with cheeks and headrails and fiddle-head. The stern is widened out with graceful quarter-galleries. The deck is fitted with the antique belfry for the ship's bell at the heel of the bowsprit; it has a high gallows or framework over the main hatch for the accommodation of the launch or longboat; it has a high wooden capstan, on which a swivel gun is mounted, and it has openings aft for the companionway and skylight.

The deck is flush and the bulwarks are pierced with eleven ports on each side and two stern ports. The Royal George's armament varied from time to time, but she mounted from 18 to 22 guns. The Wolfe, which was a little larger, had twenty-three guns. It was usual to have more ports than guns in the old men-of-war, the bridle ports in the bows and the stern ports aft being often kept empty except during pursuit or chase. Then guns would be shifted into them.

Joseph Dennis provided only eleven guns for his model. They occupy : all the port on one side leaving the stern ports empty. This was not meant to indicate that the Royal George's guns had to be shifted from side to side, but the model is very cleverly constructed so as to give two presentations of the ship. The starboard side shows her only above the water line, rigged and afloat and ready for service. The port side shows her right down to keel as she would appear in drydock. The guns are each hand carved from dark wood in one piece showing both the cannon barrel, the gun carriage and the solid wooden wheels on which all was mounted.

Navigation Opening

From Capt. Jas. McCannel, commanding C.P.R. steamer Assiniboia:

"We had a rather hectic time in the ice. One afternoon after hard work only made 100 feet from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., less than 1-16 mile. The Hamonic was bucking the ice and usually after six races at the windward she was fast and could not budge. Then I started to cut her loose and it was some job. Once we, put our cables on her, and her cables on us. Both heaving and backing had no effect, and then I cut some more. It was piled in layers and frozen. When I got her free huge pieces as big as your office were coming up.

"It was glorious when we broke through. All marine interests were watching us. A seaplane circled around us about spar high. Some 23 miles above Whitefish we again encountered ice extending beyond vision. Then headed for the highlands of Sauble, from there cut through ice heading for Stanard Rock, which we passed 8:15 p.m. and had ice nine miles past and clear till in Thunder Bay. We stayed together till I turned for Fort William. There was a good deal of rejoicing when navigation opened. I was rather tired and lay down for a nap. After two hours at 6 shed I went up to the Plymouth Cordage to unload 30 cars of twine.

"At 2 p.m. the mayor and wife, along with members of Chamber of Commerce and a couple of ladies came down, read the address, put the silk hat on, which, by the way, is four sizes too small. The photographer was there with his gatling gun, and I made a short reply and then gave me an order on Bryans store for merchandise. At the same time Capt. Johnson was treated likewise at Fort William.

"We loaded flour and cleared following morning about 5. I cut two canalers out near the Welcome, then fog and rain set in along with the ice. I met ice midway between Passage and Whitefish. At Perisiance Island ice got heavy and was raining and very foggy, so stopped till fog cleared in the morning. Passed through about nine or ten miles of ice east and west of Cove Island. The hot sun and southerly winds did the trick. Had it continued cool with northerlys we might be there yet.

"But now many boats are moving, which seems good, but if a shifty nor'wester drove the ice down in the bay it would still be doubtful if any of us could force it. This is four years I have been the first in Fort William, and I think Capt. Johnson can claim the same."


Two views of the model of the first full-rigged ship-of-war on Lake Ontario, made by Joseph Dennis, son of the builder of the ship - one hundred and twenty-five years ago. At the base of the model is the telescope of John Dennis, the master builder. It bears the inscription, "Day or Night, Bracher, Balby and Co., London".

Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
12 May 1934
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.63342 Longitude: -79.4663
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 48.332222 Longitude: -87.098611
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 46.51677 Longitude: -84.33325
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 48.401388 Longitude: -89.267777
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.65011 Longitude: -79.3829
Richard Palmer
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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"Where Are the Nine?": Schooner Days CXXXVIII (138)