Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Adventures of The ELIZA WHITE: Schooner Days DXCI (591)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 22 May 1943
Full Text
Adventures of The ELIZA WHITE
Schooner Days DXCI (591)

by C. H. J. Snider


FIRST time of view of the Eliza White was in '91 or '92 when she was lying at the old Adamson elevator at the foot of West Market street, with a picturesque cargo of peas, peas in bulk and peas in kegs.

She was a smart looking packet of medium size as we called these that could carry 300 tons deadweight; neat in white bulwarks and topsides, lead-colored from the fourth strake of planking below the covering board, with the white of her upperworks broken by the grey coveringboard, black beading in the bulwarks, green main rail, and dark red hawsepipes. She was clipper-bowed, her stem making a graceful quarter-circle from bowsprit to waterline, and her quarters fell in neatly. Her registered dimensions, discovered long afterwards, were 93 feet measured length, 23.3 feet beam, 8.3 feet depth, 106 tonnage.

Port Hope, Ontario, was on her stern opposite her name, but elsewhere Port Burwell on Lake Erie was written over her, for that's the style of medium fore-and-after such builders as Freeman or Foster there turned out. Port Burwell had several building yards with a stand of white oak and white pine close by, and it supplied many handsome vessels for Lake Ontario, beside as lot that were not so handsome. Port Hope seemed to be a magnet for Port Burwell schooners, new or second-hand, and a dozen of them changed the name of their hailing place thus.

There was a brisk air of bustle aboard the schooner and it was in keeping with her hustling appearance. Yet smart as she looked, the Eliza White was then at least as old as Confederation, and rivals hinted darkly at her "ripeness." Although officially recorded as built in 1867 they cited the entry in the old Toronto Harbor Master's book proving that the schooner Eliza White had closed the season of navigation for 1852 by arriving in Toronto on the 15th of December in that year. They also said she was "ha'nted" by the ghost of a cook who had been murdered aboard her, or some woman who had died by violence.

When, where and by what means the unfortunate lady had come to her death even the most imaginative never professed to have heard. Possibly the shade was ringing the wrong doorbell, because there had been another Eliza White, built at Port Nelson a hundred years ago - 1845 to be exact - a vessel of 50 tons, or half the registered tonnage of the Port Hope-Port Burwell craft. She was probably the Christmas robin that had got on the Toronto harbor books so late in 1852.

Wherever she began her career, our Eliza White had very good right to "of Port Hope" on her stern, for she got a thorough rebuild there in 1887, which probably accounted for the smartness of her appearance in the gay nineties. Three weeks out of the drydock after this rebuild she went through an experience which would have ended the life of a weaker vessel. Capt. Nelson Hudgin, of Picton, who died early this year, related it only last summer.


Capt. Slammon, of Port Hope, sailed the Eliza White at this time, and Levi Carter was mate. Nelson Hudgin was one of the crew. She was bound up the lake in company with other vessels, and when off the Devil's Nose the wind blew as though old horny had taken an extra pinch of snuff, and the jibboom snapped at the bowsprit cap. It being impossible to get her further to windward, Capt. Slammon turned back. There was debate between him and the mate as to what course to follow. She could have got into Charlotte for shelter in a few hours, but the mate argued for keeping her in the lake and letting her run till the gale eased up, if she had to go all the way to Kingston. It was pitch black, after midnight, and Charlotte was not an easy place to take in a gale in the days of the old wooden piers, crossed by a railway swing bridge.

So they took in the mainsail and wore her around, with the mate at the wheel and all hands on the foresheet and boom tackle. In spite of their efforts the foresail jibed with a crash that broke the fore gaff and rendered the sail useless; they had a hard time securing the boom and cutting the remnants of the torn canvas free, the ship being now unmanageable in the trough of the waves and the lowered mainsail ballooning up and thrashing around threatening to take the mainmast out of her. The seas were spilling in on both sides, and over the bows and over the stern, filling the deck to the rail.

Working with capstan bars in water up to their waists, the crew knocked out some of the new bulwark planking and through the gaps let her roll her deckload of water overboard into the lake. The mainsail was brought under control by passing a towline around both gaff and boom end heaving the ends taut. Nelson Hudgin took the mate's place at the wheel. This was at four bells in the middle watch, two o'clock of a morning blacker and dirtier than any of them had ever seen. The ship was rolling her rails in as she wallowed along, controlled only by the brand new fore staysail, set on a boom to the bowsprit end. To retain this lifesaver for a final emergency it was downhauled and strapped to its boom, leaving the ship under bare poles. Even stripped thus of all sail the Eliza White ran or drifted at a rate of ten miles an hour before the furious gale.

The lights of Charlotte, where other vessels were taking shelter, came up abeam and faded astern as down the lake she wallowed, the seas breaking in on both sides and spouting out through the broken bulwarks. No one could get below for warmth or a mug-up, for the fore scuttle and cabin companion were both battened down to keep the seas out. Even so, the water in the forecastle was up over the bedding in the top bunks, before they got the scuttle covered with canvas and spiked down. There was seven inches of water only in the pump-wells when they first began pumping her. After that there was no means of sounding the wells, for they were flooded with the continuous pouring of the seas over the deck. All hands except the helmsman worked the pumps when they could, but it seemed like sweeping the tide back with a broom, for the water on deck was often up as high as the pump spouts.

Nelson Hudgin was at the wheel twelve hours and a half. His hands were in blisters, his muscles strained and cracking, his body soaked with equal parts of sweat and lake-water, by the time he got through. The farther they rolled down the lake the rougher it got, until on in the afternoon the False Ducks and Main Ducks and Galloos and Stoney Island and its Calf broke the run of the seas and the islands of the Lower Gap, the Pigeon, Charity Shoal, Amherst, Simcoe, Salmon and the Snake bettered the job.

In smoother water they hoisted the carefully preserved staysail and ran into Kingston harbor and let go both anchors. There was seven feet of it in the forecastle, for it drained back very slowly through the floor and bulkhead until they got the augers boring through. But in the hold the water was only nine inches—a tribute to the thoroughness of the rebuilding work, and the skill of Nelson Hudgin's steering. Capt. Slammon said he had saved the vessel.

"Did you see anything of the Woman in White that night?" Schooner Days asked.

"I thought she was all over the lake every time I looked around," said Capt. Hudgin, "for the white tops were bursting all around us like popcorn in the pan. But I never saw that white woman, though I've often heard tell of her."


Capt. Jack Marks' partner did—-Capt. Marks who ran the R.C.Y.C. launches up to a few years ago. He died in 1939; one of a great company of the "old guard," professional and Corinthian, who have ended all their yachting in the last decade.

Jack was not always a club captain. Sixty years ago he was the boy master of the schooner Wood Duck, and forty years ago he was captain of the Eliza White.

The old gentleman with the scythe and sandglass caught up with the Eliza White again at the end of last century and she was once more in need of rebuilding. A crowd of Markses, Fishers, and old waterfront hands went at it with a will in the winter of 1903-4 when she lay in the old "Hospital," the open sewer-mouth at the foot of Jarvis street where grease and scum and gas tar gave the leaking hookers temporary surcease from sorrow. By the time they got through with her she had a new coat of paint, blinding bright green, covering some rather rough carpentry work, principally short lengths of pine plank spiked on to her decayed oak timbers faced-up with new wood strong enough to hold the nails.

She had gone down hill so far that she was no longer fit for the grain or coal trades. After the rebuild she limped around painfully, with ragged lower sails and worse topsails, and finally none, in stonehooker activities.

Capt. Jack Marks was sailing her. "By good luck," he told Schooner Days six years ago, "I got a chance to take a cargo of fertilizer up to Aldershot, on the north side of Burlington Bay, for the market gardens outside of Hamilton. There wasn't a big freight on it, but times were hard and I had to make a living.

"The Eliza White, as you'll remember, was a good chunk of a vessel for the time when she was built. She was 103 feet long on deck, and they used to sail such vessels with a captain, mate, cook, and at least two men forward, sometimes four.

"I couldn't afford to lay out much in wages, and I could take my time about the trip, so I persuaded a relative—I don't want to tell you which one—to go with me, and one summer afternoon, with the help of the dock wallopers, we hoisted her two big sails and the three jibs—she was without gafftopsails by this time—and floated off for Hamilton.

"It was beautiful settled weather, and we toddled along, with nothing to do but steer, trick and trick about, until, in the course of twenty-four hours, we nosed through the Burlington Piers, across Hamilton Bay, and up to the bank at Aldershot.

"It was evening when we made fast. I went up to the village to tell the market garden owner his cargo had arrived, and we were ready to unload. On the way back to the vessel I met my entire crew of one man running up the road with his I bag on his back.

"'What's the matter?' I sang out as I saw him.

"'I'm quitting," he panted. "I wouldn't spend the night aboard that vessel if you gave me her and this trip's freight to boot."

"What's wrong?"

"Why, as I was sitting smoking in the cabin, after you left, all at once a woman in white walked through the room. She looked right at me and the look in her big black eyes froze me fast to the chair. I've never seen such horror and terror and fear and pain. And all the time she kept wringing her hands with the most awful motion, as if her fingers had turned to live snakes!"

"I tried to argue with him, but I might as well have argued with a man in the D.T.'s. Whatever the thing was, that wasn't his trouble, for he was not a drinking man, and the strongest stuff we had on board was lake water.

"Wild horses wouldn't drag him back to the vessel, so I let him go. I went on board. By this time it was quite dusk. I felt a bit queer when I opened the cabin slide. The lamp he had left lighted was burning steadily, with a little triangle of soot forming on one side of the chimney where it was turned up too high. Everything was perfectly quiet. I could hear the water lapping gently outside.

"A moth brushed my face, flying in towards the light. I could have screamed.

"But that' was all that happened.

I had a smoke and turned in. Next morning the garden man came down with a gang with wheelbarrows and began unloading. My crew of one came back. He said he would stick with me, but he wouldn't go into the cabin. And he never did.

"We got the gang to help us hoist the ragged sails and started back for Toronto. The bridge tender at Burlington sang out, 'Storm warnings for a heavy gale from the eastward' as the Eliza White passed out through the piers. 'We're bound for Toronto,' I said, and in Toronto the old crate arrived after an all day drift from Hamilton, before a west breeze. When we let go an anchor off the foot of West Market street the wind died out completely. Next morning it blew hard from the eastward.

"I never heard of any reappearance of the Woman of Aldershot, and I never heard it accounted for. People have told me that a murder must have been committed on board the Eliza White, long before she left Lake Erie perhaps—but I have never found anyone who knew the details.

"When we got home in Toronto my relative, who had a hardly spoken a word since coming back on board, said, 'Sell her Jack sell her.' By chance someone wanted to buy her for the cedar post trade. Georgian Bay or somewhere, and I did sell her soon afterwards and never heard of her or the white woman again."


Panface Harry, who made the last trip in the Eliza White that she ever made, told an equally gruesome tale of her demise. According to him she picked up a cargo of cedar posts, apparently in Lake Erie, for delivery at Sarnia or Port Huron, and spent an eternity baffling about the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and River St. Clair. She had lost her last anchor, and the only thing she could do to hold her own when a squall came was to run on the mud of the soft lee shore and wait till the water rose to float her off. Every whiff of wind counted as a squall, and tore her decrepit sails in the lowering. So they spent a month herringboning torn sails and waiting for the current to float them off.

At last a puff of greater violence than any yet experienced blew them on a bar, and falling water allowed her to heel over and strain considerably. In the night she filled with water as she lay on the bottom, and the crew, who slept on deck, woke up to find that the cedar posts packed in her bows had swollen with the submersion, burst off the new planking from the old framing and were floating out through the gaps!

They signaled for a tug and were towed off to a drydock, stern first, floating with decks awash from the buoyancy of the cargo, but losing freeboard all the time through posts popping out of the bows, making a wake of cedar logs under the jibboom.

All of which is harder to believe than the ghost story but it ends the odyssey of the Eliza White, unless that sound encylopedia of marine lore, Capt. Jack Harkness, of Sarnia, can contribute a confirmatory or contradictory chapter.


THE ELIZA WHITE lying idle in Toronto Bay in 1894, when yachts, steam and sail, still used the old Gooderham moorings off the foot of Trinity street.

Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
22 May 1943
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.3088 Longitude: -79.84098
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 43.25506 Longitude: -77.61695
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.22976 Longitude: -76.48098
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.65009 Longitude: -80.8164
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.9436938397788 Longitude: -78.2951598828125
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.33341 Longitude: -79.76632
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.65011 Longitude: -79.3829
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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Adventures of The ELIZA WHITE: Schooner Days DXCI (591)