Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Lakes to Liverpool Eighty Years Ago in "NEVER SAY DIE": Schooner Days DLXXXV (585)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 10 Apr 1943
Full Text
Lakes to Liverpool Eighty Years Ago in "NEVER SAY DIE"
Schooner Days DLXXXV (585)

by C. H. J. Snider


Algoma Copper, Michigan Barrel Staves, Western Wheat, Ontario Salt, Were Outbound Cargoes On 100-Ft. Keel Taking 4 Months For Voyage


WHAT do you say to shipping in the Never Say Die for the season? Believe it or not, to-day is May 14th, the season that of 1859, and grandfather is still, therefore, in knee pants. Don't let that stop us.

The Never Say Die can only carry a dead weight of 400 tons. It would take three dozen of her to make one Gleneagles such as wintered in Toronto this year, but she has already made good on her name—and her captain on his, which is Gale.

Newly launched in Cleveland for Warner and Halmer, she loaded wheat in Chicago in the fall of '56 and started east in the hope of getting out of the lakes before the St. Lawrence canals froze. By the 3rd of November she had got through the Welland Canal and was boiling down Lake Ontario. The fair wind she had increased to a gale, and in the night she lost first her foretopmast and then her main. In a brigantine the foretopmast, carrying all the jibs and everything on the foremast above the foreyard, is a most important spar. The Never Say Die couldn't or wouldn't handle thus shorn of her wings, and drove ashore at Nine Mile Creek, east of Oswego, before morning dawned. Her crew made up of captain, mate, six sailors and a woman cook took to the rigging while the lower masts still stood. With morning light they saw how close they were to the beach, and heard the shouts of farmers running down to their rescue. Clearing one of their hawsers which had not been washed overboard, they made a broken spar fast in one end and floated ashore. With the help of the farmers the end was taken to a tree on the bank and the other end carried up to the main crosstrees of the vessel, which were still higher. Down the thread of safety so formed all nine slid to safety on the shore.

The gale subsided, the Never Say Die had not broken up, and the wheat in her, though damaged, was not a total loss. It was shoveled overboard and some of it was recovered, being dried out after washing up on the beach. The empty vessel, already lightened of her tophamper by the gale, floated off and was taken into Oswego for repairs.


Bought by R. H. Harmon and Co., of Cleveland, she came back to Lake Erie. On April 7th, 1858, she was sunk in her home port. It was at the time of the spring fitting out, and perhaps the Lake Erie ice opened up her seams. At any rate she was refloated, and Captain Charles Gale, her present master, first white child born in Chicago," was placed in command of her. The same claim to fame has been made for more than one, but Capt. Gale was born in Chicago Feb. 17th, 1817, of English parents. This would be five years after the Indian massacre, which wiped out the original settlers around Fort Dearborn, on the Chicago Creek.

The Never Say Die, 110 feet long, is lying in the twisty Cuyahoga Creek in Cleveland, Ohio, waiting for the tug Peter Smith to take her out. This tug business is still scoffed at by the old sailors, who poled, sailed, warped or kedged their vessels in and out of the lake harbors for half a century, or towed them by their own yawlboats—but you can't get such men nowadays.

Bob Moodie brought the first tug, the Firefly, to Toronto two years ago, in 1857. There was so little business for turn that the Harbor Board gave him $100 as an inducement to stay. Now there are tugs all over the lakes. Here in Cleveland everybody expects to use them.

It's certainly easier being towed out in half an hour behind this snorting Peter Smith than to sweat half a day at the capstan bars heaving the Never Say Die from bend to bend of the Cuyahoga and out into the lake. There is little wind and what there is is from the southeast and well ahead of us. By the time the Peter Smith drops us we have all plain sail set—foresail, topsail and topgallant on the foremast where we are square rigged, and gaff-and-boom, mainsail and gafftopsail on the main, and three jibs. We're a "brig" as they call it on the lakes, really a brigantine, which is a cross between a schooner and a true brig. Real brigs are square rigged on both masts. They've been scarce on the lakes since the War of 1812. Brigantines are plentiful, and schooners ten times more so.

Whither bound? Oh, to a place called Queenstown in Ireland, about four thousand miles away. A long trip, yes, fifteen lake vessels went on ocean voyages last year. It's no novelty now, since the Eureka sailed around the Horn to California from this very port of Cleveland with the '49'ers of the gold rush.

The first leg of our voyage is down Lake Erie to the Welland Canal. Second day out we pick up the schooner Dousman and race her in the light wind, coming up on the big new Chicago schooner Goldhunter as we do. Later we pick up the Grand Turk, of Buffalo, another fine two master built five years ago. We're all bound for the briny, with cargoes of grain or lumber below decks, and barrel staves above. The staves in their present stage are short narrow planks of ash and oak. They will be tapered and trimmed to shape in some cooperage across the sea.

Port Colborne is crowded with vessels dismantling for canalling or re-rigging after climbing up from Lake Ontario. We all anchor outside and plunge bows under in the westerly squall at night, but the anchors hold though the stocks break, and a tug takes us in when day breaks fair and calm.

In Port Colborne we all have to top up our bowsprits and davits and get our anchors inboard and cockbill our long lower yards, and masthead our upper ones, if we are square riggers, to clear the canal locks and bridges. We all look as though we had been in collision in the crowded harbor.

It takes two spans of horses three days to tow us through to Port Dalhousie, parting lines, running around in the bends and having to heave over the locksills. Five vessels are going down the twenty six stair steps to Lake Ontario, one at a time, and the towpaths are lively with mules, horses, drivers, helpers and sailors running lines.

On the evening of May 22nd, eight days after leaving Cleveland, we are all at anchor in Kingston harbor at the foot of Lake Ontario, the Never Say Die riding like a duck in the fresh gale, the others dragging down to the Cataraqui Bridge or Fort Henry. There are river tugs here and one takes us and the Godhunter and the Grand Turk and the Dousman in two with three empty barges. These latter act as lighters, for the little 9-foot St. Lawrence Canals will not let the laden lakers through. We get aground in the Rapide du Plat, and break our wooden anchor stocks and hempen headgear, and have to cut a good hawser to save the tug from capsizing. The Turk goes so hard aground she cannot get of. In Montreal we reload our staves from the lighters, and the tug Rowland Hill tows us down to Quebec.


Here we get water casks, for we are no longer able to drink from the bucket hove overside. As the month of May goes out so do we, making a good run down the St. Lawrence and though the Gulf. On June 5th we spring our mainmast. Capt. Gale, undaunted, strips the groaning spar of all sail, sends down the maintopmast, fishes the lower mast with stout oak pipe staves, fraps these splints with chains, and gets the mainsail aloft again by dark. It is awkward, having to use a lacing and toggles instead of mast hoops, because these will not ride over the chains, but the mast takes us to Greenock in Scotland.

We get there on the Fourth of July, twenty-eight days after saluting Her Majesty in her yet unnamed Dominion on her birthday. This we had done passing Brockville on the twenty-fourth of May.

Excitements of the ocean passage, after springing the mainmast, were icebergs, whales, and floating tree trunks which the lookout took for a floating wreck. Ireland was sighted twenty days out from Newfoundland, but the call at Queenstown was only for orders. Our captain, being a pious man, though born in Chicago, goes to church in Glasgow and notes the text in the log; with a typical Chicago comment on the slowness of Glasgow in unloading his cargo. It takes eight days to get the cargo out of us; it would be done in a lake port in one.


Then we drop down to Ardrossan, and load 300 tons of Scotch iron for Cleveland—a cargo which sounds very quaint in the light of Cleveland's steel mills of 1943.

Westward bound, on July 30th in a high sea and flat calm the rolling of the Never Say Die carries away the mainboom guy and a lot of gear. Capt. Gale goes aloft himself to clear the wreckage. He slips and falls into the belly of the mainsail and from there to the deck. He is, as he records in his log book, "taken up for dead, in much pain." But he continues to navigate his ship, as the log in his own clear hand shows, and in after thirty-five days beating against the baffling westerlies, losing spars and gear, we sight Canada again.

In the Gulf of St. Lawrence we carry away our jibboom in a squall. This means further delay, but at midnight the schooner R. H. Harmon, named after one of our owners, comes alongside and lends us a stick to make a new spar. We keep company, and on Sept. 6th engage the steam tug Samson to tow us up to Quebec.


Samson is not as powerful as the slayer of so many Philistines, and from time to time has to drop us and steam to the nearest woodpile on the riverbank to renew his strength. Steamers and locomotives are burning wood in Canada at this date, and for twenty years afterwards.

The tug John Bull relieves the weary Samson at Quebec, but when he gets us to Montreal eight teams of oxen cannot tow us against the wind in the St. Lawrence canals. Twelve teams are required to drag us through.

On Sept, 24th at 1 o'clock in the afternoon we get our lines out on the spiles in the Cuyahoga Creek again, after a passage of sixty-five days from Ardrossan and a voyage of four months and fourteen days from Cleveland. We have heard nothing of our consorts which we left at Quebec on our outward voyage.


The Never Say Die is outward bound again for Britain within six weeks. Peter Smith tows us out on Nov. 3rd, but, though we beat the ice in the Welland Canal, we are hung up in the St. Lawrence at Berthierville with so much snow and ice in the river that we winter there and do not start out until April 23rd, 1860.

A rough spring passage to Liverpool this time, and we lose some of our deckload of staves in mid-Atlantic. She opens up, and we pump her all the way to a Liverpool drydock, and find the oakum in the bottom hanging in bights. Her whiteoak hull is sound, and caulking is all she needs. We are off to sea again on June 28th, and our course home is so true that in mid-Atlantic we pass through the deckload of staves we lost six weeks before.

A month to a day after leaving Liverpool we sight Newfoundland. It is blowing hard, a heavy sea running. We reef the mainsail and are setting it again when Johnny Sharon, one of our crew of eight, is knocked overboard. He drowns before we can reach him, so we come home with our flag at half mast.

It has been a fast trip to the St. Lawrence, but slow after that, for our return freight is mixed cargo, and we have to deliver it at all sorts of way ports on the river and the lakes. It is Aug. 5th when we reach the St. Lawrence, but Sept. 3rd before we are back in Cleveland, ten months after last leaving it.


Capt. Gale leaves next season for the command of the big new schooners Quayle and Martin are turning out each winter in Cleveland, but the Never Say Die goes marching on. In 1863 she makes an early call at Bruce Mines in Algoma and loads copper for Liverpool; first shipment from that port. At Detroit, on her way down to the sea, she loads her customary deck encumbrance of staves, and sails on May 27th. She is back in Detroit on Oct. 14th, after a voyage of four months and eighteen days. Her new captain, Stingleman by name, has not let any grass grow on her keel, but she has been sold en voyage and when she arrives she cannot recognize herself at all. She has new owners, Shaw, Cunningham and Co.; a new master, Capt. Jennings, and a new name, the Cressington. Here follows a confession: She never was the Never Say Die at all. Her registered name was the James G. Deshler.

With memories of the Scotch iron she carried to Cleveland four years before, the Cressington loads salt, pig iron and staves in Detroit, and once more clears for Liverpool. She reaches the ocean, but is never more heard from after losing sight of land.

Capt. Gale was a mariner superior to many lake captains and sea captains of his time. For one thing he understood and practiced celestial navigation. By this is meant not sky piloting, but the art of finding one's position on the earth's surface by observing the position of heavenly bodies at a particular time. Capt. Gale also kept logbooks in beautiful copperplate handwriting, and one of these has been brought to light by his fellow townsman, Commodore W. E. Phillips, of Sarnia, Capt. Gale commanded many vessels. The schooner Chapman of Port Burwell, which he lost, lumber laden, above Long Point, on a voyage to Cleveland. The John F. Warner, built by Quayle and Martin, Cleveland, in 1855, the Saranac and the Narragansett, larger, and built by the same firm in the one year, 1861, and the barquentines Thermatus and Frank Perew.

He died full of years in 1906 and was buried under the Masonic square and compass and the three links of the Odd Fellows in Lakeview Cemetery, Sarnia, overlooking the greatest marine traffic in the world passing down the Detroit River.



"Port Colborne was crowded with vessels dismantling for canalling, or re-rigging after climbing up from Lake Ontario."—Above the arrow, the NEVER-SAY-DIE.

WITH SPARS TOPPED FOR CANALLING We all look like half wrecks or collision victims when in the canal.

This is old LOCK III of the second Welland Canal, a survivor of the original canal still to be seen near Glen Rose bridge, St. Catharines. Through this lock, after it had been enlarged to 150 feet x 22 x 10 in 1855, struggled the commerce of the Great Lakes to Europe, in dozens of little wooden sailing vessels, while the American Civil War was raging and afterwards. The St. Lawrence Canals locks through which they had to pass were even smaller. The present Welland Canal, with its 800-foot locks, is the fourth of the name.

Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
10 Apr 1943
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Scotland, United Kingdom
    Latitude: 55.61667 Longitude: -4.81667
  • Quebec, Canada
    Latitude: 46.08336 Longitude: -73.18245
  • Illinois, United States
    Latitude: 41.85003 Longitude: -87.65005
  • Ohio, United States
    Latitude: 41.51949 Longitude: -81.68874
  • Former known as Queenstown:
    Munster, Ireland
    Latitude: 51.85046 Longitude: -8.2948
  • Michigan, United States
    Latitude: 42.33143 Longitude: -83.04575
  • Scotland, United Kingdom
    Latitude: 55.8689 Longitude: -4.35445
  • England, United Kingdom
    Latitude: 53.41058 Longitude: -2.97794
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.40812 Longitude: -76.63578
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.90012 Longitude: -79.23288
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.20011 Longitude: -79.26629
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.042777 Longitude: -79.2125
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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Lakes to Liverpool Eighty Years Ago in "NEVER SAY DIE": Schooner Days DLXXXV (585)