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Royal William of 1833

There were two early steamers named Royal William. This article is about the first, built in 1831, the second, built in 1837, crossed the Atlantic in 1838. (Source: The History of North Atlantic Steam Navigation by Henry Fry, 1896, pp. 34-37)

Epochs in Atlantic Steam Navigation - First Epoch

(This follows discussion of the 1819 crossing of the Savannah)

The honour undoubtedly belongs to Quebec, and all the facts relating to the ship have recently been given by her builder, and the true dates ascertained from the diary of the Quebec Exchange (both unimpeachable authorities).

Mr. W.S. Lindsay, ex M.P., in his admirable History of Merchant Shipping, says, in a note, "The Royal William was between 400 and 500 tons, built at Three Rivers, and her engines, constructed in England, were fitted into her at St. Mary's Foundry, Montreal. She only made this one Atlantic passage, and was sold to the Portuguese Government."

Here [above] are three historical errors in a half-a-dozen lines, and they have been widely copied.

Mr. James Goudie, who brought out her plans from Greenock, and acted as foreman, has recently given the facts in a published letter to Mr. Archibald Campbell, of Quebec.

She was 830 tons. She was built at Cape Blanc, Quebec, near the toll-gate, by George Black and John Saxton Campbell for a Quebec company, to run between Quebec and Halifax, N.S. Her Engines were put in by Bennett & Henderson, of Montreal, and she was sold in London to the Spanish Government as a warship or transport. Her dimensions were 146 feet keel, 176 feet over all; beam, 27 feet 4 inches, and 43 feet 10 inches outside the paddle boxes; depth 17 feet 9 inches, very nearly the same dimensions as the United Kingdom.

The diary of the Quebec Exchange, as published in the Montreal Gazette, shows that she was launched on Friday, April 29th, 1831, in the presence of His Excellency Lord Aylmer, and named by Lady Aylmer after the reigning king, the band of the 32nd Regiment attending.

She arrived at Montreal, May 2nd, and sailed from Quebec, August 24th on her first trip to Miramichi [New Brunswick], P.E. Island [Prince Edward Island], and Halifax [Nova Scotia]. She finally left Quebec for London at 5 am. Of August 4th, 1833, under the command of Captain McDougall, steaming all the way, but calling at Pictou for coal, and at Cowes, arriving at Gravesend, September 11th. These are the facts. Mr. Miles gave the date as the 18th, and Mr. McCord as the 5th, both doubtless quoting from untrustworthy authorities. Thus are historical errors perpetuated.

The facts contained in the following article relating to these early ships may be accepted as indisputable: -





Quebec has the honour of building the first steamer that crossed the Atlantic--built by a Scotchman

A writer in Chambers' Journal says: "In many quarters the idea seems still to prevail that the first steamer to cross the Atlantic was the Savannah, which in 1819 made the voyage from the port of the same name in Georgia to Liverpool in twenty-five days. The Savannah, however was not a steamship, and was under sail more than two-thirds of the way across. She was a full-rigged packet ship, and had on her deck a small steam engine, by means of which motion was given to the craft in smooth water when the wind failed. The log is full of such entries as 'At 8 am. tacked to the westward;' ' Took in the mizzen and foretop-gallant sails;' 'Started wheels,' and so on. In 1838, the Sirius and the Great Western successfully made the journey from England to America; but five years before that date, Canadian enterprise accomplished the feat of bridging the Atlantic Ocean with a little vessel propelled wholly by steam. This was the Royal William, whose beautiful model was exhibited at the British Naval Exhibition in London, where she attracted the attention and curiosity of the first seamen in the empire. The Royal William---named in honour of the reigning sovereign---was built in the city of Quebec by a Scotchman, James Goudie, who had served his time and learned his art at Greenock. The keel was laid in the autumn of 1830, and her builder, then in his twenty-second year, writes: ' As I had the drawings and the form of the ship, at the time a novelty in construction, it devolved upon me to lay off and expand the draft to it's full dimensions on the floor of the loft, where I made several alterations in the lines as improvements. The steamship being commenced, the work progressed rapidly, and in May following was duly launched, and before a large concourse of people was christened the Royal William. She was then taken to Montreal to have her engines, where I continued to superintend the finishing of the cabins and deck-work. When completed she had her trial trip, which proved quite satisfactory. Being late in the season before being completed, she only made a few trips to Halifax.' The launching of this steamer was a great event in Quebec. The Governor-General, Lord Aylmer, and his wife were present, the latter giving the vessel her name. Military bands supplied the music, and the shipping in the harbour was gay with bunting. The city itself wore a holiday look. The Royal William, propelled by steam alone, traded between Quebec and Halifax. While at the last-named place she attracted the notice of Mr. Samuel Cunard, afterwards Sir Samuel, the founder of the great transcontinental line, which bears his name. It is said that the Royal William convinced him that steam was the coming force for ocean navigation. He asked many questions about her, took down answers in his note-book, and subsequently became a large stockholder in the craft. The cholera of 1832 paralysed business in Canada, and trade was at a standstill for a time. Like other enterprises at this date, the Royal William experienced reverses, and she was doomed to be sold at sheriff's sale. Some Quebec gentlemen bought her in, and resolved to send her to England to be sold. In 1833 the eventful voyage to Britain was made successfully, and without mishap of any kind.

The Royal William's proportions were as follows: - builder's measurement, 1370 tons; steamboat measurement, as per Act of Parliament, 830 tons; length of keel, 146 feet; length of deck from head to taffrail, 176 feet; breadth of beam inside the paddle boxes, 29 feet 4 inches; outside, 43 feet 10 inches; depth of hold, 17 feet 9 inches. On the 4th of August, 1833, commanded by Captain John McDougall, she left Quebec, via Pictou, Nova Scotia, for London, under steam, at five o'clock in the morning. She made the passage in twenty-five days. Her supply of coal was 254 chaldrons, or over 330 tons. Her Captain wrote: 'She is justly entitled to be the first steamer that crossed the Atlantic by steam, having steamed the whole way across.' About the end of September, 1833, the Royal William was disposed of for ten thousand pounds sterling, and chartered to the Portuguese Government to take out troops for Dom Pedro's service. Portugal was asked to purchase her for the navy, but the admiral of the fleet, not thinking well of the scheme, declined to entertain the proposition. Captain McDougall was master of the steamship all this time. He returned with her to London with invalid and disbanded Portuguese soldiers, and laid her up at Deptford Victualling Office. In July, orders came to fit out the Royal William to run between Oporto and Lisbon. One trip was made between these ports, and also a trip to Cadiz for specie for the Portuguese Government. On his return to Lisbon, Captain McDougall was ordered to sell the steamer to the Spanish Government, through Don Evanston Castor da Perez, then the Spanish ambassador to the court of Lisbon. The transaction was completed on the 10th of September, 1834, when the Royal William became the Ysabel Segunda, and the first war steamer the Spaniards ever possessed. She was ordered to the north coast of Spain, against Don Carlos. Captain McDougall accepted the rank and pay of a commander, and by special proviso, was guaranteed six hundred pounds sterling per annum, and the contract to supply the squadron with provisions from Lisbon. The Ysabel Segunda proceeded to the north coast; and about the latter part of 1834, she returned to Gravesend, to be delivered up to the British Government, to be converted into a war steamer at the Imperial Dockyard. The crew and officers were transferred to the Royal Tar, chartered and armed as a war steamer, with six long thirty-two pounders, and named the Reyna Governadoza, the name intended for the City of Edinburgh steamer, which was chartered to form part of the squadron. When completed, she relieved the Royal Tar, and took her name. In his interesting letter, from which these facts are drawn, to Robert Christie, the Canadian historian, Captain McDougall thus completes the story of the pioneer Atlantic steamer: The Ysabel Segunda, when completed at Sheerness Dockyard, took out General Alava, the Spanish Ambassador, and General Evans and most of his staff officers, to Saint Andero, and afterwards to St. Sebastian, having hoisted the Commodore's broad pennant again at Saint Andero; and was afterwards employed in cruising between that port and Fuente Arabia and acting in concert with the Legion against Don Carlos until the time of their service expired in 1837. She was then sent to Portsmouth a part of those discharged from the service, and from thence she was taken to London and detained in the City Canal by Commodore Henry until the claims of the officers and crew on the Spanish Government were settled, which was ultimately accomplished by bills, and the officers and crew discharged from the Spanish service about the latter end of 1837, and Ysabel Segunda, delivered up to the Spanish ambassador, and after having her engines repaired, returned to Spain, and was soon afterwards sent to Bordeaux, in France, to have the hull repaired. But on being surveyed, it was found that the timbers were so much decayed, that it was decided to build a new vessel to receive the engines, which was built there, and called by the same name, and now (1853) forms one of the royal steam navy of Spain, while her predecessor was converted into a hulk at Bordeaux. This, in brief, is the history of the steamer which played so important a role in the maritime annals of Canada, England and Spain. Her model is safely stored in the rooms of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, where it is an object of profound veneration. At the request of the Government, a copy of the model has been made, and will form part of the Canadian exhibit to the World's Fair at Chicago." *

* The article in Chambers' Journal was founded on a lecture delivered by Archibald Campbell, Esq., before the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, and on a work entitled Quebec Past and Present, written by J.M. Lemoine, Esq., F.R.S.C.


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