Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Wrecked in a Standing Keeler: Schooner Days CCCCXCIII (493)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 26 Apr 1941
Full Text
Wrecked in a Standing Keeler
Schooner Days CCCCXCIII (493)

by C. H. J. Snider


LIKE the Straubenzee half a century later, whose adventure was chronicled a couple of weeks ago, the Ann Jane Brown in which young Alf. Burritt shipped in December, 1854, had to try more than once before reaching Cobourg.

The first time, after leaving Kingston with her cargo of high wines, fish and rails for the Grand Trunk then building, she got within three miles of Cobourg. Then it began to snow hard, and in the rising wind the main peak halliard parted. The mainsail was torn in getting it in, and by the time a new halliard had been rove and the sails had been reefed the schooner was to leeward of both Cobourg and Port Hope, so Capt. Manson let her run west before the rising gale.

It screamed and blew from the eastward, churning up a wicked sea which filled the yawlboat and washed it from the davits on the stern and the snow came down so thick that the schooner dared not haul in for the shelter of Gibraltar Point, where Toronto hid in the darkness of midnight, but had to keep on running.

Towards morning a light gleamed ahead, and Capt. Manson knew he would have to take the risk of running the Burlington Piers, or driving ashore, for Hamilton and the end of the lake was right ahead of him. But fortunately the wind lulled for a shift, and by daylight it came in from the west, allowing the schooner to be put about and head back down the lake for her destination.

Past Toronto she went flying, but by the time she got abreast of her native Port Hope it was blowing too hard to go in there, or into Cobourg, next stop, seven miles away. So on she tore twenty-four miles farther, to Presqu'isle, last chance for a harbor for her on the north shore this side of Kingston.

By great good luck she luffed in under Presqu'isle Point and got one anchor down. The vessel was all iced up and it was so cold and blowing so hard that the spray froze on the chain cable, making it a solid icicle. And as brittle as an icicle it seemed, for after one short hour's respite the chain snapped in a heavy squall, and the schooner blew out to sea again.

They were able to get enough sail on her to keep her clear of the Scotch Bonnet and of Nicholson's Island, and the wind went northerly enough to save her from Wicked Point and Point Peter. Right back to Kingston the Ann Jane Brown drove, ice on deck almost as high as her bulwarks—there was two feet of it solid—her cabin flooded, the galley fire out, and no chance to get food or rest. Passing Nine Mile Point on Simcoe Island she almost ran down two schooners which had already anchored there for shelter. She was steering wild with so much ice cluttering her, but by great good luck she passed between the pair.

In Kingston harbor she lay two days, getting snow and ice from her gear and making various repairs, and as soon as the wind shifted she hove up her one remaining anchor and made her third approach to Cobourg, which was a hundred miles away. She got almost as close as the first time, when the wind shifted ahead and blew very hard, with snow. It was getting dark; there was no possibility of making the ill-lighted harbor of Hardscrabble, as Cobourg was then nicknamed, so once more the Ann Jane Brown's helm was put up, her sheets eased off, and back she scuttled for Kingston.

"No Hardscrabble this year," said Capt. Manson. "We're going back all the way to Kingston, and I'll lay her up there till spring. Keep her away south-by-east. That'll clear Point Peter!"

Down came the snow so thick you could not see the straining foresail from the wheelbox. The wind whirled it in clouds, the running, yapping seas leapt the rail and washed it in clotted gobs from the deck, but the deck seemed to fill again immediately. Whether with foam or flakes 'twas too dark to tell.

Eight, bells, midnight. The fifteenth of December, 1854, was no more.

While all hands were on deck for the changing of the watch they heard a roaring, a roaring deeper than the snarl of waves bursting around.

"Sounds like surf!" shouted Wm. Stewart, the mate.

"How can it be surf?" thundered the captain. Like all the Mansons he had the voice of Boanerges. "An east course takes her clear of everything in Prince Edward County, and she's been going east-by-south. There's no land between us and the other side of the -."

While he bellowed above the gale the schooner settled as though the bottom had fallen out of her, rose as on springs, dipped again with a resounding series of thumps, and stopped suddenly as if air brakes had been jammed on. Then she bumped some more, but not much, and waves burst over her rails as though she were a reef. She was hard and fast aground.

They were seasoned lakemen and wasted no time. They had no yawlboat, and could not have launched one if they had, for the seas were bursting over the stern. Without orders each man ran below for his bag, and, coming up, began to climb the rigging. The mate was the first man aloft, Capt. Manson and young Alf were the last. Young Alf didn't know what to do, and stayed to help the captain batten the forescuttle and the cabin companionway.

"That dam' railroad iron's pulled our compass out," he shouted against the gale. "The fifty tons of it in the hold has acted like a magnet!"

His last glimpse at the faithless compass had showed the lubber's mark at E by S.

It was a ghastly long night in the rigging. Young Alf soon saw why every man had dived first for his bag. With their bags and scanty extras in the way of clothing they protected themselves as much as might be against the piercing cold and the spray and the snow. It wasn't so bad after the snow froze 'on them in great spray-cemented lumps.

Morning came at last. As so often happens, the snowstorm blew out by daylight. The shore, only a quarter of a mile away, was all mantled in white. The wind had dropped and the seas were subsiding. Reefs showed all around. On the shore smoke began to rise from a farmhouse chimney and from fish shacks.

"This ain't Point Peter," bellowed Capt. Manson. "We're on Wicked Point, miles above it. Damn that iron!"

"Fishermen coming out!" hailed back the mate from his higher perch.

Soon a stout fishboat was immediately below the huddled figures. The Ann Jane Brown, one of the last of the "standing-keelers," had taken a list when she struck, being less flat in the bottom than a centre- boarder. The slant of her masts made them overhang the water.

The mate had been the first up and he was the first down. He was in such a hurry to get into the fishboat that he stepped on Capt. Manson and Alf, lower in the rigging, as he slithered past. He was first into the boat. Two more of the crew dropped in and she pushed off, loaded deep enough in the sea that was still running.

"We'll be back for you!" promised the Prince Edward men, and they were. They stopped only to light a fire on the beach—other famers had gathered—and off they pushed again for Capt. Manson and Alf and the cook. By ten o'clock they had them ashore, stiff and sore, their caps frozen to their hair and their clothes bracking as their rescuers pounded the ice from them.

The mate was standing steaming by the bonfire.

"What made ye leave the ship, Bill?" roared Capt. Manson through the icicles of his moustache.

"Captain," swaggered the mate, feeling better for the warmth, "I always take the ball on the first bounce."

"You do, eh? Well, take that!" quoth Capt. Manson, landing a strong right on Bill's open mouth. It knocked him cold again on the beach shingle, where the fire had malted the snow.

"Now, Alf," continued the captain, with a reminiscent rub of the ear on which Bill had unceremoniously stepped so recently before, "soon as ye get thawed and some dry clothes from the farmers, you drive to Picton and telegraph to Port Hope. Tell Mr. Marsh the vessel's ashore on Wicked Point and we'll land what cargo we can and maybe we can get her off before she breaks up."

"You won't get her off till next spring, Mister," volunteered a fisherman. "But if you can lighten her some maybe you can heave her in farther over the ledges, and then the icebanks will form outside of her and protect her. It freezes solid a long ways out on this here Wicked Point."

'That what you call it?"

"Yep, and Salmon Point, 'cause we get a powerful lot of salmon trout off a here."

That explained the beach lined with net-reels and fish shacks. So much fish was taken on the west shore of Prince Edward County in those days that vessels used to come down from Hamilton to load it — fresh, smoked or salted — from all the beaches between Bald Head and Point Peter. And fish, fresh, smoked or salted, was the diet of that side of the county all winter long.

Young Alf soon found that out, for at the first farmhouse, where he got a change of clothes and a buckboard to take him to Picton, he was stuffed by the hospitable people with fried fish until the bones choked him. He set out in agony from a sore throat, but the jolting over the rough road, which almost shook his teeth out, dislodged the obstacle and he was able to speak his message to the agent of the old Montreal Telegraph Co., the pioneer of the "magneto-electric telegraph." The invention had been introduced in Canada only six or seven years before.

When he got back late that night it was to a wild scene on the beach. The bonfire still blazed, fed by drift-wood and the cedars that then throve mightily along the shore, and farmers, fishermen and sailors were milling around it. Some of the cargo had been landed, including the eighteen casks of high wines. Every sailor carried a gimlet then, even if he had no jackknife (only yachtsmen use shear-knives on the lakes) and most farmers were as adept as sailors as tapping a barrel of cider. They had found a use for the high wines the shippers never intended, and while it may have speeded the lightering of the Ann Jane Brown, to certainly loosened the tongue of Atholl Township. Everybody from Soup Harbor to the Sandbanks wanted to have a hand in salvaging the schooner - or her cargo - and the sixteenth of December ended with Capt. Mansion being drawn in state on a stone boat, on a pyramid of eighteen wine barrels, not all quite full, a yoke of oxen supplying the motive power. He was the only sober man in the party and he knew what he was doing, despite thirty-six strenuous hours without sleep. He saw the wine—what was left of it—safely locked in the stable before he went to bed. Also, he left word for Alf to go in the morning to Milford village on the Black Creek, ten miles across the county, to get two teams and a portable capstan, to get that thrice-accursed railroad iron out of her.

The weather stayed fine after its late spitefulness, and in a couple of days, with the teams and more yokes of oxen and the capstan they hove much of the cargo out of the Ann Jane Brown. They stripped her of her outfit and got it ashore, and dragged her well inside the line where the protecting barrier of icebanks would form. All hands got home for Christmas, young Alf going back to Burritt's Rapids.


Schooner Days was able to make a study of the last of the pioneer standing-keel schooners of the Great Lakes before she bedded her septuagenarian bones in the bottom of Toronto Bay thirty years ago. By coincidence this vessel was named the Ann Brown, but she was no relation to the Ann Jane Brown of Port Hope, whose adventure on Wicked Point is here recorded. The Ann Brown of Toronto was built over a hundred years ago on the high bank of the Bay on the corner now occupied by the Royal York Hotel. She was a tiny thing, 36 feet long, 11 feet beam, 6 feet deep in the hold, and looked no bigger than a canal-sized schooner's yawlboat; so primitive that her "stove" was a wooden fire-box, filled with sand. She traded from here to Manitoulin Island for furs in her early career, and carried grain, cordwood and stone between Port Credit and Toronto later. Although no larger than a small cruising yacht, she was at first square rigged forward, with topsail and topgallantsail—the t'gallant could not have been much bigger than a dinghy's jib—and to the last she boasted seven pieces of canvas, three jibs, two gafftopsails, and her foresail and mainsail, besides a small jib used as a flying staysail. Some of her frames were 6 x 6 inches, and her rudder-casing was a fine oak log twelve inches square. One of the drawings shows how the shoe of her standing-keel was strapped on with iron clamps, the work of a Port Credit blacksmith after the original shoe had been scrubbed off on a reef, much as happened to the Ann Jane Brown at Wicked Point. This shoe helped to keep her from drifting sidewise, a function which the pivoted or sliding centreboard performed in later lake schooners.



The mainmast of the famous racing cutter, Gardenia, which was broken up in 1938, has been acquired by the Plymouth Cordage Company, of Welland; and erected as a flagpole on the grounds of the company's Ontario plant in that town. Gardenia had more winning flags than most yachts, perhaps than any, so many she could not wear them all at once, no matter how ingeniously her signal halliards were manned. One hoist of her flags was presented by her owners to the cordage company when the mast was sold. It has been rigged with its own spreaders, topmast, gaff and shrouds.

Gardenia was built by the great William Gardner on Long Island Sound in 1907 and brought to. Lake Ontario in 1913 by M. A. Kennedy, of Toronto. She passed into the hands of Commodore George H. Gooderham and was sold by him to a syndicate in 1925. Her best racing career was in the fourteen succeeding seasons, when she won the championship of her division ten times, and every trophy in the Royal Canadian Yacht Club's showcase for which she was eligible—many of them more than once. Credit for this rests with her racing skipper, E. K. M. Wedd, Fleet Captain and Rear-Commodore of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club in her time, and one of her owners. In her fourteen seasons he sailed her in every race but two. One of the odd races she won, and in the other did not finish. A good ship in good hands. Hers was the last clubtopsail on the lakes.


"A ship without a crew and with her engines running all the time, berthed herself in a deep water inlet on the coast with only an inch to spare from dangerous rocks. She had travelled about 60 miles.

"The ship, which provides one of the most amazing stories of the sea, had been on fire, and her crew must have escaped in a hurry, for they had left behind all their belongings, even their pocket wallets containing money.

"The vessel continued with her engines running slowly, and in time the fire burned itself out while the ship still travelled on. When villagers saw her berthed in the inlet they told the lifeboat authorities, and the vessel was taken in tow to a British port.

"One of the salvage party told me that with comparatively little expenditure she would be as good as ever."



Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
26 Apr 1941
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement
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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Wrecked in a Standing Keeler: Schooner Days CCCCXCIII (493)