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The paddlewheel Empress of India (1876)


Port of Picton Registry no.2, O/N 71206, 1876 :

Name: EMPRESS OF INDIA Type: Paddlewheel
Official Number: 71206
Tonnage (Net): 335.85Tonnage (Gross): 579.05
Where Built: Mill Point (Deseronto), Ont. Port of Registry / Hail: Picton
Build Year: 1876 Value:
Builder’s Name & Date of Certification: William Jamieson, 1876
Master’s Name: Subscribing Owners: J. McCuaig
Length; 170 feet and 0/10ths. Breadth; 26 feet and 0/10ths
Depth of Hold; 8 feet and 5/10ths Masts: 1
Stern: round Bowsprit: Standing
How Built: Carvel How Rigged: Unrigged
Figure-head: NoneDecks: One

Port of Picton Registry, O/N 94926, 1899 (rebuild and rename):

Old name: EMPRESS OF INDIA Type: Paddlewheel
New name: ARGYLE Type: Paddlewheel
Official Number: 94926
Tonnage (Net): 373.87Tonnage (Gross): 700.26
Where rebuilt: Picton, Ont. Port of Registry / Hail: Picton
Build Year: 1899 Value:
Builder’s Name & Date of Certification: A.W. Hepburn, 1899
Master’s Name: Geo. O'Brien Subscribing Owners: Ontario and Quebec Navigation Co.
Length; 185 feet and 1/10ths. Breadth; 26 feet and 0/10ths
Depth of Hold; 9 feet and 7/10ths Masts: None
Stern: round Bowsprit: Standing
How Built: Carvel How Rigged: Unrigged
Figure-head: NoneDecks: One


Empress of India (Wm Traill circa 1898) Click for enlargement.

NOTATIONS: Renamed ARGYLE (new certificate) 1911; renamed FRONTIER 1912 (US flag); renamed GRIMSBY 1913; sank Detroit River 1916.

See also the entries for the Empress of India and the Argyle in our ships Database..

Newspaper and other transcriptions

  1. 1876: The Empress of India, a steamer built at Mill Point made her first appearance this season, being chiefly used for excursions from Toronto to various places on the lake.
  2. Empress of India sold to W.E. Smith for $12,000.British Whig (Kingston, ON), March 14, 1881
  3. NIAGARA FALLS LlNE - 1883 TO 1893
    . A popular vessel - opposition is the soul of trade - a truce effected

    The Niagara Falls Line, founded in 1883, Mr. A. W. Hepburn, of Picton, being the principal promoter, was projected for the purpose of securing a portion, at any rate, of both the freight and passenger traffic between Toronto, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, heuce the name given to the undertaking.

    Their first and only vessel for some years was the Empress of India. This steamer is a very great favourite with travellers upon Lake Ontario and also with excursionists. She has side wheels, is one hundred and eighty feet long over all; has a breadth of forty-eight feet and a depth of upwards of eleven feet. She is of 353 tons burthen, and was built in 1876 by Jamieson, of Mill Point. She had a new boiler in 1884, was rebuilt in 1886, and again had most extensive repairs made to her in 1891. Her present commander is Captain G. O'Brien, and her previous masters have been Captains Collier, Hodgins and Van Dusen. (VanDusen. ed.)

    Until 1888 the Empress, for so she is always called for brevity's sake, was entirely unopposed on her route, but in that year "a change came o'er the spirit of the scene," for when the season opened the proprietors of the steamer found they were to have a rival to compete with who wished also to share the risks and also the profits to be gained from the lake trade.

    The opposing vessel was the Lakeside, owned by the Lakeside Navigation Company, which had previously been running on Lake Erie, and was under command of Captain Wigle.

    The Lakeside is a propeller and has been used chiefly for excursious. She was built by Lane, of Windsor, in 1888, her capacity being 267 tons.

    The Empress and the Lakeside continued on the same route until 1892, when a new company was formed, who not only chartered the Lakeside, but built a new steamer of their own called the Garden City; so in 1892, between Toronto and Dalhousie, there were no less than three steamers running, namely, the Empress, the Lakeside and the Garden City. The name of the shipping company running the last two of these steamers was the "St. Catharines, Grimsby and Toronto Navigation Company."

    The Garden City was built at Toronto in 1892, by the Doty Company, in their yard at the foot of Bathurst street. She was intended by her owners, as has just been mentioned, to ply from Toronto to St. Catharines, and she did so for the remainder of that year.

    At the time of her launch she was spoken of being "likely to prove one of the handsomest aud most commodious steamboats plying on Lake Ontario."

    Her length over all was 180 feet, her beam being 25 and her width over guards 44 feet, while her depth was 11 feet and she drew six feet of water. No iron whatever was used in her construction. She was of steel from stem to stern. Her decks were of British Columbia Douglas pine, imported expressly by the builders, the Doty Company.

    The Garden City commenced running on the lake on June 20th, 1892.

    Mr. John Booth is the engineer for these vessels, having been previously in the employ of the Chatham Navigation Company, where he served his articles. Messrs. N. J. Wigle and A. W. Hepburn are the joint managers, and Mr. Smith, of Milloy's Wharf, is agent in Toronto.

    In 1893 the owners of the various steamers consulted together, and it was decided unanimousy that it would be better for the public, better for the steamers, and possibly even better for the pockets of the shareholders in the various vessels that this reckless opposition should cease, so a tentative proposal of amalgamation for at any rate the present season was made and entered into which possibly may be fully carried out, and the boats form the fleet of one company at a future date. Nous verrons.

  4. In 1886, A.W. Hepburn of Picton rebuilt and renamed her the EMPRESS. (Metcalfe, "Canvas and Steam", p.99.) This shortened name was used in advertising, but was probably not formally registered.
  5. The steamers Alexandria and Empress of India are being fitted out at Picton. British Whig (Kingston, ON), March 24, 1887
  6. In 1900 she (Empress of India) left the Hepburn fleet, being purchased by the Argyle Steamship Co. of Toronto and renamed the Argyle. (Metcalfe, "Canvas and Steam", p.99.) This is somewhat misleading, as there are (reliable) records that Hepburn transferred ownership to his own Lake Ontario Navigation Co. in 1899 0r 1900, which in turn sold the Argyle to F.T. Hutchinson's Argyle Steamship Co. of Toronto in 1907. The Argyle operated Toronto to Newcastle, Port Hope, Cobourg and Olcott Beach. But, see the next two notes.
  7. Justice Teetzel made a final winding-up order at Toronto, June 18, in the matter of the Lake Ontario Navigation Co., and for offering for sale by public auction of the S.S. Argyle, formerly known as the Empress of India, at a reserve price of $11,000. The matter has been kept before the courts for a considerable period, and in the meantime the Argyle, practically the only asset of the company, has deteriorated rapidly. She was built at Picton, Ont., in 1899, her dimensions being: Length, 185.1 ft.; breadth, 26 ft., depth, 9.7 ft.; tonnage, 700 gross, 374 net, with engines of 274 n.h.p. driving paddle wheels Railway and Marine World, July 1908.
  8. Note: The Railway and Marine World press report should probably be interpreted as the Lake Ontario Navigation Co. being the claimant against the Argyle Steamship Co., as the Argyle was back in service with Hepburn's Lake Ontario Navigation Co. later in 1908.
  9. Many references to the Empress of India appear in C.H.J Snider's work:
    Schooner Days CMLXXXVIII (988) Coffee cup travels, 3 Feb 1951. - finding a pottery shard
    Schooner Days CMXCIV (994) What Became of Ex-?Empress of India, 17 Mar 1951.

References and source notes

(1, 3) Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto, 1896, Vol. II, () p. 946, (2) p.930
(2) Maritime History of the Great Lakes, Newspaper Transcriptons
(4-8) NMA resources.
(9) C.H.J. Snider Schooner Days index, Naval Marine Archive.

Picton built ships

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Source notes are listed at the end of the data.


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