The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Daily News (Kingston, ON), March 14, 1865

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Some years ago, when the present village of Portsmouth was simply "Hatter's Bay," it was frequently the winter quarters of a number of small craft, and the place of transportation, as it were, for old worn-out veteran steamers and schooners which had seen better days and were once well-to-do in the world; a kind of Chelsea Hospital for the shattered pensioners and sea-worn and mutilated veterans of "the craft;" a nautical lying-inn hospital for old harridans of scows, and their proper complement and punts; besides affording a capital harbor into which during a high wind vessels might run if they could, and lay in safety. An occasional steamboat or schooner was built there (besides now and then a smaller craft) and launched into the deep water of the narrow bay, the occasion being regarded as a kind of year of jubilee in the maritime history of the place. It once boasted of its marine railway, at which time a good deal of business was done in the way of repairs to vessels. With the change of name the place seems to have been wedded to better days and possibly to dream of the "good time coming" which Mr. Edward Berry inaugurated four years since. The launch of the Aylestone and the Braunstone, sea-going vessels of large tonnage, inaugurated a new era, and gave Portsmouth a dignity which older villages and much older towns could not be greatly blamed for envying.

A stranger visiting Portsmouth just now would be likely to form a high opinion of it. He would perceive immense quantities of timber lying on the ice and on both sides of the roads leading to and through the village, covering several acres in extent, with many a strong arm hewing it into the various shapes required for the several uses to which it isshortly to be put. All this timber he would see has arrived during the present winter, with many more of the huge Aanacks of the forest which are being continually brought in. Besides this, the safe, capacious and effective boom completed last summer, and extending across the bay, confines a vast number of logs and spars, which other busy hands, with the aid of horses, are getting out. The fact is Mr. Berry has taken full possession of Portsmouth, and did his encroachments continue in the same ratio for ten years longer, the village would become a good sized town, or the inhabitants must be crowded back "towards the setting sun" like the American aborigines, until they gradually settled down in "fresh fields and pastures new" somewhere beyond Rockwood. At the same view the gazer would also perceive, just as he passed the corner of the western wall of the Provincial Penitentiary, the hulls of two large vessels looming up across the bay, and beyond these three others, and portions of a sixth, all in various stages of completion. Three of these are of 1350 tons each, one of 1200 tons, and two of 1100 tons each, in all 7,450 tons, which added to the capacity of the two previous vessels launched from the yard, one 1011, the other 441 tons, makes a total tonnage of 8,902 in less than three years. Two of these vessels are nearly completed, and the intention is to have them sail about the end of April; a third about the close of May; a fourth in June; and the two others in August and September. The keel of the sixth vessel is not yet laid, but a large part of the frame is in readiness to be put together so soon as one of those now on the ways, and fast being completed, shall be launched, which it is expected will be about the close of the present month. As you pass along from one of these immense hulls to another it is easy to perceive the great strength with which they are put together, the care which is given and the expense which is incurred to make them perfectly substantial and seaworthy, fit to oppose the billowy resistance they may possibly encounter, and the gales that may lie in wait for them during the ocean voyages they are destined to perform. Independent of the great strength of the timbers, these are still further strengthened by strong iron knees, firmly bolted down, as well as equally substantial iron supports for the decks fastened to the ends of the beams and running towards their centres; the iron knee and beam supporter being in one piece, so bent and formed as to answer the double purpose referred to. These vessels are all intended for the East India trade. An incredible quantity of iron is used up in their manufacture, the iron for the knees alone being 23 tons for each vessel; the iron for bolting and rigging (including chain plates, ring bolts, etc.) 35 tons to each vessel; with about two tons for each vessel of yellow metal bolting below the water line. Making a total weight of iron for the six vessels of 360 tons. On one of the vessels the figure head (a woman) has already been placed, and another Amazonian-looking heroine over six feet in height is ready to occupy a similar prominent position on the vessel next in order of completion. These were made in Quebec, where better facilities exist than at Kingston for heavy carving of this description.

To assist in carrying on all this varied labor in the ironing and other departments two blacksmith shops have been erected, one having six, the other three forges in constant blast; a shop where the iron knees are shaped and drilled; a saw mill in full operation for the production of planking; two immense steaming boxes; a siding machine for making knees; and a trenail machine for turning out trenails; have been erected, and a moulding loft is being built. Vast piles of trenails have been and are still imported, but it has been found that a much cheaper and better plan is to make them on the premises, as many of those purchased have to be remodelled; so that in process of time nearly the entire quantity to be used will be made here. The work at this shipyard is all given out to contractors, who have the privilege of sub-letting portions of it to others; so that there are about twenty-five contractors in all who employ and pay their own hands, the proprietor looking to them for the performance of the work. One of these, a M. Laprise, of Quebec, the largest contractor, is building an entire vessel and has begun another. Messrs. Cameron and Mudie have the contract for carpenter's and joiners work, and the moulding loft is being built by them. The workmen employed in the yard, amounting to about three hundred in all, are nearly two-thirds French Canadians, who have been more or less engaged in ship-building in Lower Canada for many years. Mr. Saunders, of Brockville, is also a contractor for a part of one of the vessels. In addition to the men employed by the contractors, Mr. Berry employs two or three foremen, blacksmiths, and a few laborers on his own account. His two principal foremen are Mr. Wm. Yeomans and Mr. Robinson, the former of Quebec. There not being accommodation in Portsmouth for this large addition to its standing population, about one hundred of the workmen have had to procure dwellings or lodgings in the city. Many of the French Canadians have brought their wives and families up with them.

Taking all these facts into consideration, it may well be supposed that the outlay for the carrying on of this large establishment amounts to no trifling sum. The weekly wages are about $2,000, besides payments made to farmers for timber to the amount of about $1,000 a week. About $1,600 of the $2,000 for wages is paid to contractors. The timber is brought by the farmers from all parts of the surrounding country, some of it from a long distance. Certain special kinds of timber have been and are still being brought in by the Grand Trunk Railroad from the direction of Smith's Falls; a good deal of it from the township of Goldsborough.

It is now four years since the Portsmouth shipyard came into possession of Mr. Berry, during the last two years of which special attention has been given to ship-building, with what success, so far, the public are well aware. The Aylestone and Braunstone have both been decidedly successful, and it is to be hoped, as there can be little doubt, that the six others now in course of construction will be equally so. The Braunstone, it might be stated, has recently left Liverpool for Port de Galle, in the Island of Ceylon, with a cargo of coal, having been chartered by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company for that purpose; the intention being to freight her with a cargo of cocoanut oil and cotton on her return trip to Liverpool.

It would hardly be fair to conclude this notice of Mr. Berry's extensive ship-building operations at Portsmouth without complimenting the inhabitants of that fortunate and ambitious little incorporated village on the position it has acquired and must henceforth necessarily hold in the ship-building annals of Upper Canada; the fine deep water of its bay rendering it particularly suited to the purposes to which it has so long been and is now so fully employed. We look upon Portsmouth as an almost integral part of the city, or at least as a near neighbor of which we have every reason to feel proud and respect; so much so in fact that we have devoted to it this first article on "The Industry of Kingston," closing with a fond hope and almost certain anticipation that "its shadow may never grow less" than it is at present, and that Mr. Berry's extensive venture in ship-building may prove as successful as the enterprise is bold, or as the most sanguine speculator could desire.

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March 14, 1865
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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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Daily News (Kingston, ON), March 14, 1865