All Aboard! Exploring the Newfoundland Railway

Railway / Coastal History

Railway/Coastal Boat Service

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S.S. Meigle

In 1913, the S.S. Meigle became the last ship to join the Alphabet Fleet. Originally the Solway, she had been the ferry between Scottish and Irish ports. She was built by Barclay Curle in Glasgow in 1881. The steamer had two decks and masts, was 220 feet long and 30 feet wide, with a depth of 15 feet. Her gross tonnage was 836 and her net tonnage was 663. The S.S. Meigle was one of the vessels that responded to the 1929 tsunami on the Burin Peninsula assisting in bringing supplies for victim relief. The vessel served as a passenger and cargo ferry until the early 1930s, when it became a floating prison. In 1936 it was sold to the Shaw Steamship Company. It was pressed into war service and was part of a convoy that was attacked by German u-boats. On July 19, 1947 it was wrecked at Marine's Cove, near St. Shott's, Newfoundland.

Other Coastal Boats

The Alphabet Fleet operated as a Reid monopoly for only a few years. In 1904 the Bond government responded to complaints about the Reid service, and a deteriorating relationship with the Company, by subsidizing two Bowring vessels (S.S. Portia and S.S. Prospero)and re-instituting the old north and south routes. (Although all the steamers have come to be known as "coastal boats" originally only the "outside" steamers were called coastal boats, the others being known as "bay boats.") In 1912 Crosbie's S.S. Sagona and S.S. Fogota were added as well. The Reids also added to the Alphabet Fleet in later years, acquiring Invermore for the Gulf run after the Bruce sank in 1911, the legendary S.S. Kyle for Labrador in 1913, as well as S.S. Lintrose and S.S. Meigle. The S.S. Lintrose was sold to the Russian government in 1915, followed by the S.S. Bruce II in 1916. S.S. Fogota was sold in Europe and both S.S. Ethie and S.S. Dundee were lost in 1919.

The Reids also supplied steamers for the spring seal hunt for a few years: the S.S. Virginia Lake went to the ice from 1902 until she was lost in 1909. In 1905 the Company also supplied the S.S. Grand Lake. While it may seem incongruous that passenger ships would be used at the ice, some of Bowring Brothers' Red Cross Line, such as S.S. Stephano, were among the most successful sealing ships. Other coastal boats to have participated in the seal hunt include Crosbie's S.S. Fogota and S.S. Sagona. In 1896, the Governor's "excursion party" was held in the tiny S.S. Lady Glover. In 1925 the Newfoundland Railway, having been taken over by the government, experimented with supplying the S.S. Prospero and S.S. Sagona for the hunt.

S.S. Virginia Lake

The S.S. Virginia Lake was built by A. MacMillan & Son of Dumbarton Scotland in 1888, for A. Harvey and Company. The ship was 180 feet in length and weighed in at 760 gross tons. Originally called the S.S. Conscript, the ship was chartered by the Newfoundland Government for service on the East Coast to provide passenger and mail service. Renamed the S.S. Virginia Lake in 1891, it was acquired by the Reid Newfoundland Company in 1900 and became part of the coastal fleet. The Reids made the ship available for charter to prosecute the seal hunt. In March 1909, while engaged in the hunt it was lost off the Funk Islands. The ship had sustained such heavy ice damage that it was set on fire and sunk.

Ship arriving at Brigus 1930s.
The arrival of the steamer at Brigus, 1930s. Gossip, mail, freight, and passengers were the essence of news for the outports in Newfoundland and Labrador. Dr. Nigel Rusted.
S.S. Portia at St. Anthony.
The S.S. Portia in St. Anthony. Dr. Wilfred Grenfell's Hospital at St. Anthony attended to the medical needs of residents of Labrador and Northern Newfoundland who mostly arrived by coastal boat. Clayton Cook.
Men in boats meeting the steamer at Smokey.
Most Labrador fishing stations attracted fishers from a particular Conception Bay outport. At Smokey, most stationers came 500 miles by steamer from Brigus each season. A. R. Penney Collection.
The S.S. Virgina Lake leaving Moreton's Harbour.
The S.S. Virginia Lake shown here leaving Morteton's Harbour. The vessel was acquired by Reid Newfoundland Company 1900 and was lost at seal hunt, March 1909. Provincial Archives, The Rooms.