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The Beaver

Tbe: Pioneer PACIFIC ;] Steamer \

s\^o ISTORY, in its many forms Wl Y/f i and phases, abounds with mlß!rk{ innumerable records of notlfjCpk table ships and their ■'f%Jy~> achievements in peace or '/Sp (I war, but of the thousand i/tLf) and one narratives that ■Mr^ have been handed down to ]}// us, we doubt if there is one vs which is more interesting, especially to the dwellers on the shores of the broad Pacific, than the story of the little old sidewheel steamer " Beaver/ of gallant memory, £o which belongs the proud honor of being the first steam-pro-pelled vessel to ply on the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Many long years have come and gone since thati little ship, after months of sailing to the south, put her helm over, doubled the Horn, and steamed northward into the Pacific ; and if we would visit the " Beaver " ere she had yetleft her cradle, we must return to those good old days in the early part of the past century, when William IV. was King of England, and steam, as a power, was yet in its infancy. Built by Messrs. Green, Wigrams and Green, of Blackwall on the Thames, to the order of that historical corporation the " Governor Vol. IX— N t o. 5 -S3

A Historic Relic of BRITISH COLUMBIA

y JAmes Skitt

and Company of gentlemen adven' turers trading into Hudson's Bay " (now known as the Hudson's Bay Co.), whose charter, it will be remembered, was granted them by King Charlie in 1670, and whose coat-of-arms heads this article, the " Beaver " was the embodiment of good material and honest workmanship. Her owners, then a very powerful factor in the land, whose trading posts had already extended to those shores in the " wild and woolly West " beyond the Bockies, were cognisant of the arduous duties that would be required of her, and had decided to have a vessel of the most modern .type and the best material, and no expense was to be spared to effect this object. The greatest care was taken that her construction should be of the best, and she was to be equipped with the new power, steam. Amply were they recompensed for their trouble and care, and she has ever remained a tribute to those days of " quality, but not quantity." Her keel was of greenheart, 12 bjy 12 square, her sister keelsons, lying parallel, were also of greenheart, and across these were laid the large timbers which formed the bed of her engines. British oak was the material of her stem and stern posts,

while her deck supports and outside planking, fastened with copper bolts and oak tree nails ,was of African teak. A sheet of copper covered the whole hull, and she was copperfastened throughout. She had two masts, one long tapering funnel, and her dimensions were as follows : Length over-all, 103 feet ; depth, 11 feet 6 inches ; breadth inside paddle boxes, 20 feet ; outside paddle boxes, 33 feet. This staunch little craft, destined for so notable a career, was ready for launching in the early summer of 1835, and her christening ceremony was a brilliant society event. King "William, the sailor king, was there with several members of the Royal family, and it was the delicate hand of, a duchess of the Blood Royal that dashed the bottle of effervescing wine over her bows as she glided down to the water. That old-fashioned crowd, congregated to witness her launching, have long since joined DeatbVpainful army, but little did they dream, as they -stood gazing on that new-born wonder, that ere that little boat's alloted span had run, and her oaken ribs lay bleaching on the shores of another hemisphere, that unnamed region of red Indians and wild bears for which she was bound, would be the home of thousands of England's hardy sons and daughters, who " Face the world and brag. That they were born in Canada, Beneath the British flag, Grcd save the King." After the launching was effected, the two engines were placed in position. They were of the old sidelever type, of thirty-five horsepower each, and were constructed at a cost of £4,500 by the celebrated firm of Messrs. Boulton and Watt, of which James Watt, the inventor of steam power, was a member. The cylinders had a thirty-six inch stroke, and diameter of forty-two inches, and stood vertical. Her paddle-wheels, with their eleven radial arms, five feet in width, were set very far forward, making her

appear a grotesque sight ; and it is little wonder that the Indians, when they first saw her, called her the " Black seal fire-devil. 3 '

Her crew consisted of twenty-six men, and she was well-armed with live ninerpounder guns.

On the 29th of August, 1835, under command of Capt. David Home, the " Beaver " in company with the " Columbia/ a sailing vessel of 340 tons burden, built by the Hudson's Bay Co., as an escort, bid farewell to merry England, and started on her long and memorable cruise.

Although designed and constructed for the use of steam, and in every requisite a fully-equipped steamship, it appears unlikely that i the " Beaver's " engines were used continually during the whole of the Atlantic passage. Still, she can undoubtedly lay claim to the distinction of being the first steamship to cross the Atlantic , from East to West. The first attempts to cross the Atlantic with steam as a mo-tive-power were made by ships sailing to the Eastward. The " Royal William, built in 1830-1, at Quebec, crossed in 1833, from Pictou to London, in the fair time of twentyfive days ; but it was not until 1838 that vessels succeeded in making, nearly if not quite, the entire westward voyage under steam.

The " Beaver's " destination was the old Hudson's Bay trading post, Fort Vancouver, on the Columbia River, opposite the site of the present city of Astoria, Oregon, U.S.A. The Atlantic Ocean was safely crossed without incident, Cape Horn passed, and Capt. Home turned his. midget steamer's prow northward into the Pacific. " She was the first that ever burst into that silent sea." How the hearts of that gallant skipper and his men must have thrilled within them, as, for the first time in the history of the world, they guided their little black-hulled steamer into that strange and untried ocean. Cumberland Harbour, Island of Juan Fernandez, rendered immortal by Defoe as the scene of the adventures

of Robinson Crusoe, was reached on December 17th, 1835, and Honolulu, Sandwich Islands, on February 4th, 1836, from whence, after a brief stay to procure wood and water, she proceeded upon the completion of her historic voyage.

Just two months later, the Hudson's Bay officials at Fort Vancou-

ver, espied her white sails on the horizon. Jubilate, indeed, was that little settlement of traders when, on April 4th, 1836, the " Beaver " and " Columbia " dropped their anchors opposite that old fort. Cannons boomed, the flowing bowl went free, and' Capt. Home and his crew were the lions of that set of pioneer society. Proudly did that famous master narrate the adventures of his vessel, and he was feted and toasted as the first steamboat captain of the Pacific. There is a touch of irony in the fate of this brave and capable sailor, who, after battling the storms and braving the dangers of two oceans in a vessel of but 109 tons burden, was drowned in calm water the following year in Baker's Bay, Columbia River, over the side of a small boat.

A _ perusal of the "Beaver's" original log-book, a valuable relic, now the jealously-guarded property of the Hudson's Bay Co., Victoria, 8.C., affords some peculiar and interesting reading, as witness the following extracts.

"^Wednesday, September 23rd, 1835.— At 3 p.m. in a heavy squall, lost sight of the "Columbia/ which was about two miles astern of us. Not seeing her when it cleared up, hove to, and fired a gun every ten minutes for an hour. The weather being heavy, heard no answer. At 8 p.m., at which time we always exchanged lights, fired three rockets at intervals. Receiving no answer, made sail.

Sunday, October 25th,, 1835.— 9 a.m. Hard squalls. In all topsails, topgallant sail, jj i b, and 2nd reef in the mainsail. Weather too unsettled to read prayers. Friday, May 6th.-RM. Squally, with heavy rains. At 4 p.m.,. Pr-

ivate William Phillips, and William Wilson, seaman, behaved in a most mutinous manner to the chief officer, refusing to obey his orders and using most violent language, and were reported to Capt. Home. Captain called Phillips aft, and the case being fully proved, considered requisite to punish him. On sending the crew aft, Phillips called on the crew to rescue him, on which they rushed aft, collared and hustled Capt. Home, and swore Phillips should not be punished. Capt. Home reasoned with them, but they only became more violent. Capt. Home called for his sword, told them again he was determined to punish the man, and bade the crew stand back. When he was again assailed and jostled, the Capt. struck James Dick on the head with his sword, and after a severe struggle succeeded in tying up Phillips, and, punished him with 24 lashes with a rope end over his clothes. William Wilson, at his own request, received 11 lashes.

Monday, August Bth, 1836.— A.M. Fresh winds from the northwest, and fine. P.M. Do. weather. Indians trading briskly. James Dick sick.

Thursday, August 24th, 1837.— At 2.45 p.m. Captain came aboard, mustered the crew, carried -out the steam anchor and large warp, and brought her broadside to bear on the Indian village, steadied her with the kedge, cleared away the guns, and got ready to fire on the Indians. The Indians returned the compliment with their musketry from the island; astern. We then brought our guns to bear on them, and dislodged them with cannister shot. At 3.15, -fche fort and Indians having discontinued firing, we ceased ours also. Calm and cloudy weather/

Almost immediately after her arrival at Fort Vancouver,, the " Beaver " set iorfch on her reconnaisance of the North Pacific. She explored the coast from Astoria to Alaska, discovering about the year 1837 the harbour which is now the naval

station of Esquimalt, the most westerly fortress of the British Empire, and thence, a few years later, after the Oregon arrangement which restricted the boundary of Canada to the forty-ninth parallel, she carried the builders of Fort Victoria, the embryo of the present picturesque city of Victoria, the capita] of British Columbia. In 183S reports of the presence of coal were brought by the Indians. The " Beaver " was sent to investigate, and it was in her furnaces that were tested the first specimens from the present enormous coal fields of Vancouver's Island. She carried large numbers of miners up the mighty river Eraser in the memorable rush to the Cariboo Goldfields ; and she protected the British interests in the dispute with the United States over the ownership of the San Juan Islands at the entrance to Puget Sound ; and lastly, after the Hudson's Bay Co. had surrendered its gubernatorial powers to the British Government, she carried hither and thither the imperial hydrographers who prepared the first charts of the British Columbian Coast.

But now, alas, her star was in the wane, and her destined hour drew near. Her feeble paddles were no longer able to keep pace with her younger screw-propelled sisters, and man, in his ingratitude, had relegated her honorable old bones to the wrecker's yard. Awhile she lay in idleness, but not for long, for this hoary little " watermark," the one-time pride of Britannia, was sold to a commercial company, to end her days as a common tvg — as a " hewer of wood, and a drawer of

water." And then, at last, after fifty-three long years of active and distinguished service, her meritorious career was brought rudely ito a close on one summer night (July 26th, 1888), while attempting to make Bixrrard Inlet, the port of Vancouver, 8.C., with a boom of logs in tow. The ebbing tide, swirling and rushing with terrific force through the " Narrows " from the great hasin within, and the heavy, dragging boom, made a task beyond her strength. She hesitated, quivered, and was forced back, still nobly striving, on to the rugged rocks which were to form her sepulchre. Day dawned to find that little Em-pire-builder lying 'neath the towering cliffs of Prospect Point, wrapped in a sheet of troubled waters, -. her head resting on a pillow of huge barnacle-clad boulders — a hopeless wreck. There in the gateway of her adopted land that she liad served so long and well, the stern-visaged minister of fate had ru]ed that ,she should fall. The graceful " Empresses " from China, the fleeting Antipodean mail-boats, and many a homely, unpretentious tug pass by, but never a one too poor to do her homage, and call her mother. A few years longer she clung to that ledge of rock, slowly sinking lower and lower into the silt, until her worn and tired old frame could hold together no longer. She burst 'in twain, lier rust encrusted boilers rolled out and sank, the icy waters closed in, and the dear old " Beaver/ launched by a king, christened by a duchess, the first to double the Horn, and the pioneer of the Pacific, had passed forever into history.

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/periodicals/NZI19040201.2.10

Bibliographic details

The Beaver, New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, 1 February 1904

Word Count
2,230

The Beaver New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, 1 February 1904

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