There were some weird and wonderful ships operating in the East, especially on the mighty Saint John River.
The United Empire Loyalists who settled along its shores were enterprising people. John Ward, a member of the large group of Loyalists who landed at Saint John in 1783, put the first steamer on the river on May 13, 1816. He obtained an exclusive chart for ten years, and operated between Saint John and Fredericton. The first ship he built was the General Smith. It could carry sixty passengers at a speed of six knots and was described as a “floating palace.”
As John Ward had an exclusive steamship contract, William Peters, a farmer up the river, invented a way to compete without using steam. He thought steam was unsafe anyway, as boilers could blow up! He built a paddle-wheeler 100 feet long with a large circular platform on the deck. In the centre of the platform was a capstan from which twelve bars projected. Peters hitched a strong horse to the bars and shouted, “giddy-up.” The horses trotted around the platform, turning the capstan, which was connected with the paddle-wheel, and away they went!
This was a 12-horsepower vessel! As it moved away from shore, some prankster shouted, “whoa!” The horses stopped. Every time Peters got the horses started, someone would yell “whoa,” and progress was mighty slow. Peters tried stuffing the horses’ ears with rags but they wouldn’t stay there. Finally he gave up. He took the horse-boat to Grand Lake, beached it, and used it as a hotel for lumberjacks! One of the most remarkable craft on the Saint John River was the Reindeer, built by Benjamin Franklin Tibbetts. He had a scientific turn of mind and was apprenticed to a watchmaker. His favourite hobby was to sit by the river and watch the steamers moving along. He noticed how steam escaped from the engines and decided that it should be recaptured and used again.
In order to gain some engineering training, he left his job with the watchmaker and went to the United States to work for engineering companies. While he was there, he read all the technical books he could and returned to Fredericton to build the world’s first compound steam engine, which he put into the Reindeer. There were many skeptics and Tibbetts had to prove his point. Reindeer was matched in a race to Woodstock against the fastest ship on the river, Forest Queen. It left Forest Queen far behind. Furthermore, Reindeer burned only four cords of wood to Forest Queen‘s nine! Tibbett’s compound steam engine revolutionized steam navigation everywhere.
Well, I hope you found that entertaining. However, there’s a lot I didn’t include. So to learn more details, I suggest you read Northern Mariner, and visit the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.
Somewhat, but not really, related articles
- Steam power engine maker to sponsor conference (reviews.cnet.com)