Our plaques describe ROTHESAY’s years on the St. Lawrence River and her demise on September 12, 1889 – just west of downtown Prescott – but her full story includes service on the Saint John River, as well as a number of seasons on the Toronto-Niagara run.
Back in 1980, ROTHESAY was featured by the Toronto Marine Historical Society as Ship of the Month no. 94. The Scanner described her as “the largest steamer ever built for service on the Saint John River. Her beam engine, which drove non-feathering sidewheels, was built by Fleming and Humbert of Saint John, NB…she was originally fitted to burn wood and was later adapted for coal fuel…she had three principal decks, the main, saloon and hurricane.”
ROTHESAY‘s light construction was ideally suited for river service, and she could easily manage 20 knots without being pushed. She was registered at Prescott on July 20, 1877, and her Saint John owners – the Lunts – hoped to place her in service in the Thousand Islands area. This proved unacceptable to the Richelieu & Ontario Navigation Company, which already had various vessels running on the upper St. Lawrence River. For $10,000, the Lunts agreed to withdraw the ROTHESAY and the PRINCE ARTHUR from all routes – for 10 years – serviced by the R & O.
Reuben Lunt’s brother-in-law, Donald MacDonald of Toronto, arranged for her removal to Toronto for service there in 1878. During her first season on Lake Ontario, she served the route from Toronto to the Niagara River. Her manager was Donald Milloy, who operated under the banner of the Toronto, Niagara and Buffalo Steamboat Company, and her companion on the route was the CITY OF TORONTO.
“She proved to be quite an impressive looking boat, about 180 feet in length, good beam, very roomy decks and central cabin; a more commodious boat than the CITY”, wrote Barlow Cumberland, in 1913. “She was particularly well-arranged as a ‘day’ boat and was reputed to have a high rate of speed, as she soon proved she had.”
In a chapter dedicated to Niagara Steamers (1874-78), Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto mentioned her service in the Toronto area: “CITY was in this season joined by the ROTHESAY, a sidewheel steamer of 528 tons burthen, built by Olive of Saint John, New Brunswick, at the same place, These two steamers ran in opposition to the CHICORA and continued to do so until the close of the season of 1880. In the year 1882 the CITY was destroyed by fire at Port Dalhousie. The ROTHESAY went upon another route and the CHICORA had the traffic, or rather the daily traffic, all to herself.”
With her light construction, ROTHESAY had no problem in calm weather, but she was ill-equipped to handle some of Lake Ontario’s rougher waters. According to a report in the Toronto Globe of April 20, 1881, she received extensive re-construction with a view to renewing her lake service. ROTHESAY was refused a lake licence, however, and the Lunts sent her back to the Thousand Islands. Even though a new company was set up, the R & O claimed that the terms of the 1877 agreement had been violated and a court battle ensued.
Sometime during the 1881 navigation year, ROTHESAY was sold, and she seems to have had several owners over a period of four years. In June 1883, while downbound from Clayton, NY to Dickinson’s Landing, she sustained damage near Thousand Islands Park. She received significant repairs in Ogdensburg in 1886 and from that time onwards, was operated by the St. Lawrence Steamboat Company.
ROTHESAY met her fate on September 12, 1889 by colliding with the American tug MYRA. Here are the highlights from a September 14th report in the Daily Journal (Ogdensburg):
- There is a big hole in ROTHESAY‘s bow, so that one can see clear through her from side to side
- Mother Barnes, the well-known wizard of Plum Hollow, prophesied that the ROTHESAY would go down this summer. The old lady prophesied correctly for once
- Will Finucan, son of the manager of the ROTHESAY, was on board and deserves credit for his coolness and bravery in assisting passengers from the wrecked boat. He stood at his post like a hero and supplied everyone who came along with life preservers
- When the accident occurred the tug TRAVELLER was just landing a tow at Prescott. She immediately steamed to the scene and threw a line to those on the tug, but before it could be made fast the tug sunk. By this time the ROTHESAY had been beached, so the tug picked up the crew of the MYRA and the barge MARY and returned to Prescott
- Samuel Jardine, engineer, drowned from the tug MYRA in the collision above Prescott, leaves a wife and three children living in Waddington. William Sullivan (Ogdensburg), the fireman drowned, was a young man, 19 years old…a diver will attempt to find the bodies of the unfortunate men
- John Martin, captain of the tug MYRA, remained cool and deserves credit for sticking to his post and doing what he could for his crew
- There was one woman on whom a life preserver had to be placed half a dozen times before she would allow it to remain. In another case, an enormous bustle seriously interfered with the putting of the life preserver in position
In 2003, one of the four divers who first discovered ROTHESAY in the early 1960s, contacted Save Ontario Shipwrecks. He had two items he wanted to return, including a brass coat check tag numbered #130 with the St.L.S.B.Co logo. While SOS could not accept the gifts directly, they contacted Prescott’s Forwarders’ Museum and acted as a go-between.
Sources & Photos: http://www.maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca/documents/scanner/12/09/default.asp?ID=s004; https://www.gutenberg.org/files/38542/38542-h/38542-h.htm; http://www.maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca/documents/Robert2/default.asp?ID=c012; http://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/; http://saveontarioshipwrecks.ca/sites/default/files/NLDec03.pdf; http://quod.lib.umich.edu/t/tbnms1ic?page=index; http://udive.ca/Dive-Locations/Ontario/Prescott/Prescott-Dive-Sites/Rothesay/rothesay.html