Maritime History of the Great Lakes
H.M.S. NANCY in Winter Quarters: Schooner Days CCLX (260)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 3 Oct 1936
Full Text
H.M.S. NANCY in Winter Quarters
Schooner Days CCLX (260)


“WHAT,” inquires a voice with a deep-sea roar in it, “has become of the Nancy?”

It is not the first, second or tenth inquiry which has been made since, the Exhibition closed, so to lighten the labor of The Telegram switchboard artists this column comes.

The Nancy herself, all that is left of her, is housed on Nancy Island at Wasaga Beach.

The Nancy for which inquiry is made is the model of His Britannic Majesty’s schooner of that name which was on view in the Educational Exhibit in the Coliseum during the Exhibition. It is a detailed reproduction, on a scale of one-sixteenth, of the 18th century fur-trader which became a man-of-war, when Canada needed her, and which went down in the Nottawasaga River with colors flying in 1814, after a creditable career in trade and storm and battle in defense of this fair land.

On Children’s Day at the Exhibition this model had so many visitors that the attendants feared it would be crushed flat inside its plate glass case. By the end of the day the cover was misted over with a pattern of little round blurs, calling cards left by hundreds of thousands of button-like noses and pudgy thumbs and fingers. Many of these seemed to have belonged to baby giraffes for they were six feet or more above floor level. The model case is six feet high and it is placed on a table 30 inches above the floor. Sherlock Holmes solved the mystery by discovering that the youngsters had been standing on one another’s shoulders to get a peek. Long ere nightfall the day’s supply of descriptive pamphlets, provided by the Department of Education with commendable forethought, had been exhausted. Many visitors made special trips to the Exhibition afterwards to get them.

But this is keeping the deep-sea roarer waiting a long time for his information. The answer to his question is that the address of the Nancy model, for the time being, is the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology, Bloor street west, at Avenue road, open from 10 to 5 daily, 2 to 5 on Sundays, pay days Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays at moderate price, and always worth it, and all other times free. The Nancy is only the ground floor, straight through from the main entrance from Avenue road, and she is assuredly in magnificent surroundings and excellent company. She may not be there always perhaps not for very long. So go to see her while the seeing is good. It will never be better.

The original Nancy was built for Forsyth, Richardson and Co., fur traders, and was armed against possible attack by Indians or rivals in the Northwest fur trade. In the War of 1812 she carried troops to the battles of Fort Meigs, Fort, Stephenson and Detroit, and supplied the British garrison holding Mackinac. Lieutenant Miller Worsley, R.N., was placed in command of her, with a crew of bluejackets, for she became vitally essential to the preservation of Britain’s hold on Mackinac and the western half of the continent. She fought her way out of the St. Clair River against an American force lining the bank for her capture, and kept the Mackinac garrison supplied until August, 1814, when three American vessels over-powered her in the Nottawasaga River, after an all-day battle. Lieut. Worsley and his men escaped and captured two of her destroyers; and so the Mackinac garrison was saved from starvation and surrender. The burned and sunken Nancy in the river for one hundred and thirteen years, until raised by the Ontario Government. She is in the custody of the Nancy Committee. The purpose of this large model of her is to show what she was like in life; only the bones, so to speak, of the original vessel, are left up at Wasaga.

The Department of Education of this province showed enterprise and advanced educational methods in displaying the Nancy at the Exhibition. If there was one arid piece of pasture in the public school curriculum of the nineteenth century it was Canadian History. This was tagged on as a sort of appendix to the English History book, which was itself dry enough to burn without lighting. We got the impression that Canadian history consisted of a lot of French names and the dates of Acts of Parliament. That it ever concerned a spanking schooner, with topgallant sails and shotted guns, a swallowtail streamer and a figurehead with hoop-skirts billowing in the breeze, was utterly beyond our ken.

Two questions asked oftenest about the model are:

(1) “What did it cost?” and

(2) “Who does the little girl at the helm represent?”

Answer: (1) Plenty.

As the model is not for sale it does not seem necessary to be more specific. The material in it, apart from its historical value, which is irreplaceable, could be bought for $100. It contains pine, oak, cedar, walnut, basswood, iron, glass, lead, silk, cotton, paint, oil and varnish. The rest is workmanship. The labor of assembling these materials used about 600 working hours. These were spread over a long period. Years of research and preparation preceded the actual time of construction.

President Roosevelt’s model of the Bounty, also shown at the Exhibition, was valued at $10,000. The Nancy model did not cost that to build, nor anything like that amount, but it is larger and more complete. It is fully equipped with workable sails, such as the Nancy had. The Bounty model had none.

Neither had the Bounty model a figurehead, although the Bounty herself had “a pretty figure of a woman in a riding habit,” as Capt. Bligh noted. The Nancy had a figurehead, too, a young lady in hat and feather and costume of her time, 1789; and that figurehead, carefully carved and colored, is reproduced in her model—blue skirted, full breasted, yellow-haired—not a platinum blonde—and rosy-cheeked.

Answer (2):

“The skipper had taken his little daughter

To bear him company.”

The little girl in the short skirt at the model’s tiller is a human figure introduced to assist the appreciation of dimensions. If you know that a little girl of ten would stand so high at the Nancy’s helm you have a better general idea of the size of the vessel, her guns, ropes and all on board, than if you have been told that the scale was one-sixteenth, or three-quarters of an inch to a foot. That is so, but it is information only readily comprehended by draughtsmen.

When you see that the little girl is just able to push at the tiller you understand why they are “relieving tackles” on the helm. The Nancy’s tiller was a stout piece of oak nearly eight feet in length, and in blowy weather, especially with the wind on the quarter, the helmsman had to have help—either another man, or tiller-ropes rove through pulley-blocks.

The little girl is a cute youngster and she has been the Nancy model's mascot for all the years it has been growing. She has always preserved the correct proportions—and it is no easy task to get your belaying pins, blocks, deadeyes, ropes, ratlins and everything else neither too large nor too small.

A complete set of figures of the Nancy’s crew—nine for the fur-trader or thirty-seven for her as a man-of-war — carved and colored in the costumes of the time — would be ideal. But that would take a lot of doing; in fact only a figurine genius who had made a study of the sailors of the period could accomplish it without spoiling the whole thing.

As a rule when figures of sailors are introduced in a model they look comical and clownish and very, very wooden; worse than cigar store Indians.

The little sweetheart of the quarterdeck may be taken to represent the skipper’s daughter, whose eyes were blue as the fairy flax.

Alexander Mackintosh was skipper of the Nancy. We do not know that he had a daughter; but we do know, from his logbook, that he often had British army officers and their children on board as passengers.

The little lady on the quarterdeck—not to be confused with the larger lady at the other end of the ship—might even be supposed to represent the daughter of the original owner, the Hon. John Richardson. That honor is, however, more properly reserved for the figurehead. From the correspondence he left it is evident that Mr. Richardson, a deep-sea privateersman who had gone into the fur trade, took great pains over this ornament, and intended it to represent someone in particular, either his daughter or her mother.

Both Mrs. Richardson and Miss Richardson had Ann for their first names, and Nancy was the household name of both. Mr. Richardson had the Nancy’s figurehead carved in New York or Boston by the Skillings, who had shops in these two ports.

It appears that he had difficulty in obtaining one of the proper size and after he got it, there was the further difficulty of transporting it five hundred miles or more to the Nancy’s launching place.

In making the model it has been assumed that the figurehead finally secured was full size. This makes a striking piece of decoration, not out of proportion nor out of keeping with the taste of the time.

Eighteenth century figureheads sometimes ran to gigantic dimensions, but this was in the great three-deckers. The Bounty, which was not much longer than the Nancy, had a figurehead seven feet high. The Nancy’s (in the model) is supposed to be five feet. The Bounty was 84 feet 6 inches long “in the range of the deck,” the Nancy 70 feet in this measurement; she was 81 feet from figurehead to taffrail. The Bounty was, of course, of double the tonnage, for she was slightly wider than the Nancy and almost twice as deep.

In placing this veracious reproduction of the Nancy before the public, with the co-operation of the Nancy Committee, the Ontario Department of Education did more to popularize history than a regiment of professors.

Everything shown there is as the Nancy had it when alive; muzzle-loading cannon, the black nose of each neatly plugged with its tompion; swivel-guns mounted on timberheads, to sweep the deck of mutineers or invading boarders, or mow down the rowers in boat attacks; the shot racks filled with round-shot; a handspike windlass for heaving in the anchors; hempen cables which preceded the use of chain; tarred rope shrouds and stays which were used before wire rigging was invented.

It would be an incurious child indeed, who would not ask “Why?” these things are so, even if not one child in a thousand knew that in these days cannon are loaded at the breech, emma gees and archies have replaced swivels, power capstans have taken the place of wooden windlasses, pliable wire the place of rope, and steel rods the place tarred shrouds.




Sir,—As an interested reader of your Schooner Days I note in Saturday’s issue a mention of a schooner the “Wave Crest.”

Could this be the “Wave Crest” that was for some time used, I believe, as a naval training ship in Toronto and later was sold to a local man here and arrived in our harbor some 12 or 15 years ago, and still decked out with her tall spars and sticks, a sight good to behold? She was used for some time between Owen Sound and North Shore ports. Later on she was equipped with Diesel oil engines. Not being built for a propellor it had to be put to one side of the stern post, or off centre.

After a few runs with her oil engines she caught fire and was burned while up at a North Shore port. Another boat that was dismantled here and towed out for a breakwater, such as the enclosed clipping speaks of, was the “Ariel” and I can well remember her as she lay in the local harbor with her tall masts stretching up to the skies, as we thought, anyway, as boys. A schooner under full sail out in our Owen; Sound bay was a beautiful sight. Alas, now gone forever! Now nothing but ugly freighters and smoke clouds.

I remain yours,

—H. S. BUNT ,

728 2nd avenue east, Owen Sound.

No, Mr. Bunt, the “Wave Crest” you mention was an ex-yacht, once well known in Toronto, where, as you say, she was a training ship. The “Wave Crest” mentioned in Schooner Days recently was a fine black round sterned schooner of 300 tons capacity. She was wrecked at Oak Orchard on Lake Ontario in 1899, and her crew had to burn their mattresses in the crosstrees to get the lifesavers to come out for them.


Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
3 Oct 1936
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.5168 Longitude: -80.01637
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.56717 Longitude: -80.94349
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.65011 Longitude: -79.3829
Richard Palmer
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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H.M.S. NANCY in Winter Quarters: Schooner Days CCLX (260)