The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
British Whig (Kingston, ON), 24 Dec 1898

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An hour spent with a long-tried mariner, as he tells of his various experiences, is always full of entertainment, and his tales are often of an instructive nature. For that reason accounts of the sailors' doings are freqeuntly recorded in the daily papers, for even reporters delight in listening to thrilling narrations. Kingston is recognized and always has been known as a marine port, and consequently has among its citizens plenty of seamen and fresh water sailors. Their biographies, fully written up, would furnish a fair-sized library, replete with interesting reading. Among the oldest mariners in the city, Capt. Matthew Patterson, owner and master of the schooner Two Brothers, can claim a leading place. He has followed the water for two years over half a century, and yet to-day he can run aloft and trim a sail with the agility of a man half his age. During his sea-faring career he has covered the Atlantic ocean, the English seas, the seas of the Orient, as well as the Canadian inland water route from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the head of Lake Superior.

Capt. Patterson was born near Belfast, Ireland, and like many of the boys of his native city he early took a fancy to a life on the water. His apprenticeship was begun at the age of thirteen years, when he shipped as a cabin boy on the schooner Trusty, which had a dog for a figure head, and sailed from Belfast to the Baltic sea. The term for apprentices covered four years, which time he put in on the Trusty and a schooner called the William. Becoming a full-fledged sailor he went to Liverpool and joined a bark named Rubicon, trading between England and Bombay. In her he spent two years, and a year later came across to Canada in the schooner City of Hamilton, of the Allan line, sailing up to Montreal. In the same year, 1853, the first Allan line steamer came across the Atlantic from England. Capt. Patterson at once made his way to Kingston, and has since made it his home. His first voyage out of this port was made in the schooner Superior, a three-master, sailed by Capt. Jonathan Curran. In this schooner he also formed one of a crew under Capt. W.R. Taylor, now known as one of the oldest captains living along the chain of lakes. The first ten years after his arrival in this country gave him a wide knowledge of lake navigation, he having served in different positions on several schooners sailing out of Chicago, Kingston and intervening ports.

Thirty one years ago he assumed his first command of a boat, being appointed master of the schooner British Lion, owned by captain Robert Gaskin. Full of ambition he had worked energetically for promotion but having reached the first officers' berth he took control with that unassuming manner which is a marked characteristic of the captain, and which has always won the respect and support of employee and employer. He spent three years on the British Lion, and with her he cut the stern off an American schooner, the Illinois, sailing out of Detroit. The fault lay with the captain of the latter, as he attempted to cross the British Lion's bow in a heavy wind, but afterwards he sincerely regretted his rash act, galling as it was for the eagle to have her tail feathers plucked out by the "British Lion." The owner claimed $5000 damages but dropped the suit before the case was entered into court. Leaving the British Lion Capt. Patterson took command of the schooner D.M. Foster, from Toronto, and sailed her seven years. His next charge was the schooner Dundee, owned by Capt. Taylor, of this city. With the Dundee the captain picked up a crew of four men, a woman and a baby from a sinking schooner on lake Erie, and who would undoubtedly have perished had the schooner not appeared. The little baby, then not christened, was called Willie Dundee, after the rescuing boat.

Among the other boats, since commanded by captain Patterson, was the schooner Fannie Campbell; schooner Singapore, built by Capt. W. Power of this city, lake barges John Gaskin, Glenora, and Winnipeg, of the Montreal transportation company's fleet, barge Sylvester Neelon, Collins Bay rafting company, barge Hyderabad and schooner Two Brothers. The latter was purchased by him two seasons ago for Lake Ontario trade. She is a small but smart little craft with a carrying capacity of 260 tons. The schooner Singapore in her day was recognized as the fastest sailor on the lakes, and when Capt. Patterson was in charge of her many exciting races were sailed. Her sailing ability made her the idol of the captain's, and it filled his heart with joy to handle the wheel when she went scudding by any canvassed craft that would come near her. A familiar saying to sailors and sailors' sons in those days ran thus: "The Hyderabad and Bangalore can never beat the Singapore." Since taking over the Two Brothers, however, the captain has passed the Singapore running before the wind, and it really grieved him to see his old favorite out-sailed.

His hardest experience was passed through when he was on the Glenora, some seven or eight years ago. It was a memorable trip and cost much anxiety to the owners of the boat and relatives of the crew. The Glenora was in tow of the steamer Glengarry and bound for the head of Lake Superior. On the way up she broke away at four o'clock one morning on Lake Superior in a heavy gale. A sail was set and after a severe tossing about in the sea, she reached Peninsula harbor at four o'clock in the afternoon none the worse for her solitary run. On the return trip, however, another break away on Lake Ontario told a different tale. The wind blew a terrific gale from the south-west,stirring the waters into a tremendous sea. When the tow line parted, the Glenora was some miles above Salmon Point, one of the most dangerous points on this lake. In such a sea it was impossible for the steamer to turn and pick her up, so sail was hoisted to give the drifting boat sufficient headway to keep out of the trough of the sea. She refused to answer the helm with any satisfaction, but, after an anxious struggle to the crew, the rugged reef at Salmon Point was cleared, and the boat was hove to. With that manoeuvre the canvas was torn to shreds and the helpless craft was carried away by the rolling waves. For two days and one night she was tossed mercilessly about by the seas, while the crew had no time to rest or sleep. Very little hope was entertained of the boat lasting long with such rough usage, but the crew remained at their posts, doing everything possible to save her. The seas, washing her from stem to stern, carried away a heavy provision box, which in its reckless passage struck against a hatch combing and tore off a considerable portion of the batten. The hatch covers were at once removed by the rush of water, and before the sailors could replace them volumes of water had found way into the hold. A scrap of canvas was stretched on the mainmast to keep the boat head to wind, and in practically a helpless condition she rolled about wither the wind and waves forced her, until she drifted into the lee of the False Ducks, when with difficulty she was guided into South Bay, with 9,000 bushels of her cargo damaged. The severe strain opened her seams, and had she not been such a firmly constructed craft she would not have lived to have figured in this fall's disaster - the grounding on Wellington beach. One amusing episode in connection with the Glenora's rough ramble is spoken of with the story. When she reached a safe anchorage Capt. Patterson at once secured the services of a farmer to drive him to Cooper's wharf, where he telephoned to the city the news of his safe arrival. During the drive of some miles the cutter upset twice, and the captain fell each time upon his guide, who was a man of rather small physical proportions. Although no bones were broken, the driver found the captain's robust form no gentle weight and he distinctly refused to continue the return journey that night, so daylight had to be awaited.

Another memorable event in the captain's experience occurred two years after his arrival to these lakes, when he sailed in the schooner Caroline Marsh. The schooner was lying at Amherstburg, Detroit river, one evening when the steamer E.K. Collins, from Cleveland, approached the harbor all aflame, and was beached about a quarter of a mile below her. Before the doomed steamer reached the shore the majority of passengers jumped overboard to escape death by fire. Capt. Patterson, with two shipmates, launched the schooner's yawl and picked up fourteen of the number struggling in the water, and also the bodies of three persons, who had drowned before help could be extended to them. In his long career he has faced many severe storms, but has yet to record his first loss of a boat or a member of his crew. No boat under his charge has even grounded but what he was able to release with the use of anchors. His nautical knowledge and skill in handling sailing crafts has materially aided him in furnishing such a clear record. He has long been recognized as a skilful and careful mariner on the lakes. With the Singapore he has worked down the Detroit river, a feat which only an experienced pilot would attempt, and when lighthouses were found no further up the western shore of Bruce county than at Goderich, he piloted schooners in and out of Georgian bay, another difficult undertaking.

Freight rates were encouraging during his earlier days on the inland lakes. From Chicago to Kingston boats were given seven and a half cents a bushel for corn and eight cents for wheat, and when he was in the D.M. Foster twenty-five and twenty-seven cents were even paid for wheat. That was during the Russian war, and that season the schooner made $8,000 clear profit. Among the Kingston captains still living, who were in active service when Capt. Patterson first arrived in this country, are W.R. Taylor, W. McKee and J. Goodearle.

The present owner of the schooner Two Brothers formed one of a family of four brothers, all sailors. One brother was drowned years ago, a second is now in Ireland, and William Patterson, the third, is master of the steamer Buckout, Bay City, Michigan. Capt. Patterson is a staunch liberal in politics, and his name appears in the list of long-standing subscribers of the Whig.

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24 Dec 1898
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  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
Rick Neilson
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pd [more details]
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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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British Whig (Kingston, ON), 24 Dec 1898