The perils and pitfalls of the steamer Ploughboy detailed in new book

Dr. John Carter presented a copy of his new book, ‘The Perils and Pitfalls of the Steamer Ploughboy’ to Buck Longhurst and the staff of the William Purvis Marine Museum in Gore Bay last week. In photo, back row, left, is museum employees Abbie Harper and Cheyenne Barnes, while Buck Longhurst sitting is presented with the book by Dr. Carter.

GORE BAY – A Sauble Beach author and historian, Dr. John Carter, has presented a copy of his new book ‘The Perils and Pitfalls of the Steamer Ploughboy: A Story of its Construction to Destruction,’ to Buck Longhurst and the staff of the William Purvis Marine Museum in Gore Bay.

The book details the exciting and intriguing history of one of the merchant ships belonging to John R. Park and his brothers through their 19th Century business Park and Company Shipping.

“I’m presenting this book to Buck as when I was doing research for it, he provided some help on the vessel. He has a chapter on The Ploughboy in the book he wrote, “’Steamers of the Turkey Trail’,” Dr. Carter told the Recorder. 

Dr. Carter served as the curator of the John R. Park Homestead Museum early in his professional career. “Park and Company owned the Ploughboy from 1830-1870. They owned 35 vessels or had shares in them. They were major shippers that no one seems to know,” he said.

Dr. Carter pointed out The Ploughboy in its day would run from Chatham to Detroit, Detroit up to Lake Huron as one of the first steamers service. “Then they had the rail route to Sault Ste. Marie around so the boat was around Manitoulin Island a lot.” 

Dr. Carter pointed out that in 1859 Sir John A. Macdonald, before he became Canada’s Prime Minister, and an entourage that included more than 30 members of the Parliament of Canada West along with other prominent passengers, narrowly escaped death when a mechanical problem left Ploughboy helplessly drifting in Georgian Bay off Lonely Island. The connecting rod in the steam engine broke and the steamer was left powerless. 

As Mr. Longhurst described in his writing, the weather was poor with gusty winds accompanied by thunder, lightning and at times heavy rain. As Ploughboy drifted helplessly toward the island Sheriff Smith, one of the guests on board, volunteered to take a small boat and three of the crew to try and reach help in Owen Sound, some 80 miles distant. While the four brave souls went for help, the crew of Ploughboy lowered both anchors to the full extent of their chains in the hope that they would take hold before the winds blew her onto the rocky shore. The anchors finally took hold when the steamer was very close to the shore and soon after the crew and passengers made their way onto the island and began to construct crude shelters and await rescue.

Sheriff Smith and his party reached Owen Sound after a harrowing trip and notified Captain Smith of the steamer Canadian who immediately called together a scratch crew and prepared to sail for Lonely Island.

“Then 1863 saw the murder of provincial official William Gibbard aboard the Ploughboy,” said Dr. Carter. “His body was found floating near Manitoulin Island where a few days before he had led the arrest of an Indigenous leader and a local Jesuit priest.”

“John Park the son of Herbert Park, the 20-year-old son of the ship’s owners, Park and Co., Amherstburg, drowned off the docks near Meldrum Bay, as well,” said Dr. Carter.  

“The Ploughboy regularly came into Little Current when it was part of the Turkey Trail and would travel to Bruce Mines,” said Dr. Carter. “It was an important vessel to this area (Manitoulin) even though it was not built here. It had all sorts of connections to the Island.

Ploughboy was a wooden steamship propelled by two side paddle wheels that plied the Great Lakes from 1851 to 1870. Southern ports included Chatham, Amherstburg, Detroit, Buffalo and Port Stanley. Later Ploughboy worked Lakes Huron and Superior, calling at Collingwood, Bruce Mines, Sault Ste. Marie and Fort Willaim.

Extensively quoting from contemporary accounts, the author provides a chronology of speed records, groundings, collisions, illegal liquor transport, rescues and fire.

Dr. Carter pointed out the artwork used in the cover image the book is a watercolour painting, ‘The Ploughboy Off of Lonely Island, Georgian Bay’ and is the work of William Armstrong. The image is courtesy of the Toronto Public Library, Baldwin Collection.

Ploughboy had a 170-foot long hull with a 28-foot beam, a nine foot six inch moulded depth and measured 450 gross, 365 net registered tons. 

The boat was totally destroyed by fire some 500 feet from Sibley’s Dock in The Detroit River on June 3, 1871.

“This will definitely be a welcome addition to the Maritime museum,” Mr. Longhurst said.

The Essex Region Conservation Authority has published Dr. Carter’s new book. Published in 2018, the softbound book includes black and white illustrations, appendices, end notes and an extensive bibliography with suggested reading. Sale proceeds are being donated to the John R. Park Homestead living museum, operated by the Essex Region Conservation Authority.

‘Ploughboy’ will be available at the Purvis Marine Museum Gore Bay Museum in  August and is on sale for $15.