The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Constance (Revenue Cutter), C, 1 Dec 1892

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      The City of Buffalo Absolutely at the Mercy of English Gun-boats in Case of War.

      War Vessels Are Being Constructed at Owen Sound For the Use of the British Government.
A most significant article is that which recently appeared in the Toledo Blade regarding the three so-called Canadian revenue cutters that are being built on the Great lakes. Rumors of their exceedingly man-of-war-like construction have been rife, but that these vessels, though small, are veritable armored cruisers is a rather startling fact.
There are three of these little warships now practically completed and, though called revenue steamers, they are undoubtedly a direct violation of the treaty of 1817, though the Canadian government will not admit it. The reporter who went on an investigating tour to Owen Sound, in company with a former United States naval officer, discovered that the two vessels which are building there are authorized by the British government direct and that their movements will be directed by the British Admiralty at London, not by the Canadian revenue Marine Service. The names of these lake men-of-war are CONSTANCE, PETREL, and CURLEW. The two first were built at Polson's shipyard at Owen Sound and the CURLEW at Hamilton. They are sister ships, 150 feet long, 25 feet beam and of 10 feet draft. Their engines are all situated below the water line and the vessels have ram bows. Their armaments is of the most complete and formidable type.
      Forward two guns are so placed in sponsons as to cover an arc of fire from a point dead ahead to one astern. There is a stern gun in an armored turret, so fixed as to sweep an arc half way around the cruiser, and intersect each arc of the forward guns. These three pieces are breech-loading Maxim-Nordenfeldt rifles, 14 pounders, capable of piercing four inches of solid steel, and can throw a shot with execution 6,000 yards. Besides these deadly guns are four Hotchkiss rapid-firing guns, capable of throwing 32 shots a minute, each of which will pierce 1½ inches of steel easily.
      These vessels have an assumed speed of 14 knots an hour, though 12 or 13 knots is about their average gait. These three cruisers are the first of the kind ever built on the lakes. They are not revenue cutters, but men-of-war.
Lieut-Commander McGregor and a crew of 50 men have charge of the three vessels now, though the crew is connected with the CONSTANCE alone, this being only one of the three cruisers in commission.
      That the utmost secrecy was observed in the construction of the CONSTANCE and PETREL, the two boats which violate the treaty, is apparent. Owen Sound is the most out-of-the-way place imaginable and so close-mouthed were the builders that people living in the immediate vicinity of the shipyard were unaware of the character of the boats. It has been known that England could on short notice put a formidable fleet of gunboats on Lake Ontario, but a favorite argument of Americans has been that the Welland Canal could be easily blocked to prevent their entrance to the waters on which the bulk of the Great Lake commerce is carried. The presence of these new British "Revenue Cutters." However, puts a different face on the matter. The United States has no ships that are capable of preventing these vessels from doing as they please. The only American war ship, if war ship it could be called, is the antiquated, side-wheel tub, MICHIGAN, the first iron boat on the lakes, and now nearly half a century old. The revenue cutters ANDY JOHNSON, FESSENDEN, and PERRY are, it is true, of more modern construction, but their machinery is situated above the water line and entirely unprotected.
The MICHIGAN is armed with three 3-inch breech loading rifles and two Gatlings. Then there are four brass 30 pounders, cut down from muzzle loaders and are said to be accurate with solid shot for about a mile.
      The PERRY has two 3-inch breech loading rifles. The FESSENDEN has two 3-inch breech loading rifles, two 20 pound Dalghrens and one 30 pound Parrott, which they wouldn't dare fire if they could. The JOHNSON has two 20 pounder Dalghrens and one 30 pound Parrott.
      Secretary Tracy is evidently aware of the important advantage England would now hold over us on the lakes in event of trouble, and has several times demanded of the British Minister an explanation of his Government's action, but has been invariably told that the new vessels were nothing more than revenue e cutters, and in no way violate the treaty. It is a satisfaction to know that after the character of these ships became known the Secretary at once set on foot plans for an American "Revenue Cruiser" larger and more powerful than any of the British craft mentioned. These plans are now ready and only await the favorable action of Congress to begin their construction. The plans call for a steel vessel, 190 feet long, 28 feet beam and 12 feet draft, to carry a crew of 75 men and to be capable of a sustained sea speed of 16 knots. Its armament is to consist of one 4-inch rapid fire pivot gun forward, a broadside battery of four-pounder Hotchkiss rapid firing guns, two one pounder guns of the same type aft.
      The situation may be briefly summed up as follows: The enormous commerce of the Great Lakes is carried almost entirely in American bottoms; the fifth and sixth maritime ports of the world and the greatest shipbuilding ports in the country are American lake cities absolutely without harbor defences. Canada, with insignificant commerce, has three war ships capable of laying lake cities in ashes and destroying American merchantmen. The United States has at present absolutely no means of preventing such devastation.
      Buffalo Enquirer
      December 19, 1892

If the following statement, which appears in the Cleveland Leader be true, the reporters who went to Owen Sound were fabricators of the latest and most improved type:
      The CURLEW. One of the Canadian gunboats which have been exciting so much comment, has been employed in the Bay of Fundy in fishery protection service for about four months, so that the statement about her wintering at Hamilton is incorrect. The CURLEW is about equal to a fifth rate yacht in size, carries a crew of 17 men, and her sole armament is one six-pound smooth bore gun. The torpedo tubes, which some of the correspondents saw on her, are hawse pipes, which are carried through her turtle back bow. Two other gunboats now on the lakes are similar to the CURLEW in every respect and they are intended, not for lake service, but for the protection of the fisheries in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and on the Atlantic coast.
      Buffalo Enquirer
      December 30, 1892

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paranoia at building, Owen Sound
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William R. McNeil
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Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Constance (Revenue Cutter), C, 1 Dec 1892