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The Story of the Dominion Line (1896) GG Archives

For many years after the introduction of iron screw steamships to the Atlantic trade it was not supposed that they could compete successfully with sailing ships in the carriage of such bulky goods as raw cotton. However, in 1870 a number of merchants engaged in the New Orleans trade with Liverpool resolved to make the attempt, and formed the Mississippi and Dominion Steamship Company, Limited, under the management of Messrs. Flinn, Main & Montgomery, of Liverpool. They were to run to New Orleans in winter (calling on the outward voyage at Bordeaux, Lisbon and Havana), and to Quebec and Montreal in summer.

Their first boats were the St. Louis, Vicksburg and Memphis, all under 2000 tons gross, built in 1870. In 1871 they built the Mississippi, 2129 tons (now the Sicilia), and in 1872 the Texas, 2822 tons.

After a time the directors abandoned the New Orleans trade and confined themselves to the Canadian trade, sailing to and from Portland, Maine, in winter, and thus the boats became known as the Dominion Line.

Gradually they sold the smaller boats and substituted larger ones, designed to carry large cargoes, with good accommodation for passengers, and fitted with compound engines of moderate power. Being of less speed at first than the Allan boats, they were not as popular with passengers, but latterly they have become powerful competitors, both for goods and passengers, and two of their boats are about a match for the popular Parisian in point of speed.

 In 1874 they built the Dominion, 3176 tons, 350 H.P. nominal (335 x 38^4 x 32'5), and the Ontario, a sister ship, at Dumbarton ; in 1879 the Montreal, 3300 tons, 375 H.P. (320 x 39 x 25); in 1880 the Toronto, 3316 tons, 375 H.P. (329’5 x 39 '3 X 25’2), at Whiteinch, and the Ottawa, a sister ship ; and they bought from the Inman Company the City of Dublin (re-named the Quebec), and the City of Brooklyn (re-named the Brooklyn), 2911 tons and 450 H.P. nominal.

In 1882 they built the Sarnia, 3694 tons, 500 H.P. (360 x 40 x 32), at Whiteinch, and in 1883 the Oregon, 3672 tons, a sister ship, two very fine boats of larger size and power, with midship saloons and staterooms.

But the line had its full share of misfortunes. The Vicksburg stranded below Green Island, in the St. Lawrence, in 1874, and after a heavy repair, struck field ice in the following spring (30 May) and sank with 40 to 50 of the passengers and crew, including her captain.
The Quebec ran into two sailing ships when leaving Quebec in 1876, and, after a long Admiralty lawsuit, had to pay some $30,000 damages, besides heavy costs.

The Ottawa struck the ground, about 50 miles above Quebec, on 21 November 1880, could not be rescued, and gradually broke up. The Sarnia went ashore on Rathlin Island, but came off and was repaired; and the Brooklyn was totally wrecked on Anticosti. Happily, there was no loss of life in any but the Vicksburg.

Nothing discouraged, however, in 1883 the company contracted with Messrs. Connal & Co., of Glasgow, for a magnificent ship, of over 5000 tons, with good speed, but before she was completed sold her to the Inman Company, to replace the City of Rome, and she was known as the City of Chicago. They at once had built by the same firm the Vancouver, launched in 1884.

She is a very fine and fast ship, 5149 tons gross and 2859 net (430 x 45 x 33). She had powerful compound engines of 1000 H.P. nominal, giving her an average speed of fully 14 knots at sea, and placing her nearly on a par with the Parisian, their best passages showing only a difference of three or four hours.

Having splendid accommodations amidships, she soon became a great favorite with passengers; and in August 1890, she carried 201 saloon passengers, and in April 1893, she landed no less than 1340 in Halifax, 78 cabin passengers and 1262 steerage. She has, however, met with several accidents.

In August, 1890, in a fog near Belle Isle, she struck an iceberg, but got clear with little damage ; and in November her popular commander, Captain Lindall, was swept overboard by a sea, together with a quartermaster, and both were drowned . In November, 1894, her screw slipped when entering Lough Foyle, and she grounded on Lyle's Bank, but sustained no damage, and was towed to Liverpool.

As she never realized a rate of speed proportionate to her great power, in 1893 Messrs. Harland & Wolff gave her new engines and boilers of the latest type (triple cylinders), which, although of less nominal power than the original ones, and consuming much less coal, gave her quite as much speed.  Marine engines become obsolete so rapidly.

Misfortunes, however, continued. In August 1889, the Montreal was totally wrecked in a fog on the island of Belle Isle, but passengers and crew were saved. In 1890, the Idaho, a chartered boat, was wrecked on Anticosti, with a very valuable cargo of grain, cheese and cattle, but no lives were lost.

In 1891, the company launched from the yard of Harland & Wolff, Belfast, a very fine new ship, the Labrador, 4737 tons gross, 2998 net (401 x 47 x 28’3), 650 H.P. nominal, 3800 indicated. Although of less power, she exceeds the Vancouver in speed, while carrying a very large cargo of 5700 tons.

She has some novel arrangements, such as pipes for conveying fresh water to cattle, automatic ventilators, open in all weathers, and others supplying fresh air to the 'tween decks by fans ; steam pipes to each compartment for extinguishing fire, and refrigerating machinery for fresh beef, fruit, eggs, etc.

In the steerage, the canvas beds in framework of wood can be folded up by day, and she is lighted throughout by electricity. So far, she has been very successful and has made some remarkable passages. In May 1894, she averaged 365 knots per day from Moville to Rimouski, or 15 knots per hour.

In August she ran from Moville to Rimouski in 6 days 8 hours, the quickest passage ever made; and in December she ran from Moville to Halifax in 6 days 12 hours, averaging 348 knots per day, great work for a boat of such small power.

In addition to the Liverpool line they now run one between Montreal and Avonmouth (Bristol); and in 1893 the Nevada, 3617 tons, was bought at a very low price (said to be only, £4500) for this line from the Guion Company and re-named the Hamilton.

All their boats, except the Vancouver, carry cattle, sheep and horses, and latterly, to prevent a useless competition, the Allan’s agreed to share the small mail subsidy with the company, the Vancouver and Labrador carrying the mails for two weeks out of every five.

The Sarnia has been particularly unfortunate. In March 1893, when bound from Liverpool to Halifax with 700 passengers, in long. 44° W., the bearings of the after crankshaft broke; they were temporarily repaired at sea in six days, and she reached Halifax without assistance.

In August of the same year, she broke her shaft and was towed 1000 miles to Queenstown by the Allan steamship Monte Videan, and in December 22, 1894, she lost her rudder in lat. 550 N., and long. 12° W. After drifting for several days, helpless, she was towed to Innstrahull by the Allan steamship Norwegian, and thence to Belfast by tugs.

In May 1894, the Texas ran ashore near Cape Race in a fog and became a total wreck, but Captain Hunter was absolved from all blame by a court of inquiry. As a set-off against all these losses the Oregon fell in with the Ethiopia, of the Anchor Line, disabled and towed her to Ireland, and the Texas towed the Allan steamship Sardinian to Liverpool; the latter ship having lost her rudder, and the company thus earned considerable salvage.

In the fall of 1894 Messrs. Flinn, Main & Montgomery, the managers, resigned. On 12 December, to the surprise of everyone outside the shareholders and directors, it was announced that all the boats had been sold to Messrs. Richards, Mills & Co., of Liverpool, at a great sacrifice.

The original, £20 shares (after wards reduced to, £15) realized only £1 16s. 6d. per share, the buyers assuming the company's liabilities. There are besides debentures to the extent of, £78,000. Thus, over, £400,000 sterling appears to have been lost by the extreme depression in ocean freights and other losses.

Fry, Henry, “Chapter XVI: The Dominion Line,” in The History of North Atlantic Steam Navigation with Some Account of Early Ships and Ship Owners, London: Sampson Low, Marston and Company, Ltd. (1896): P. 198-203.

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