Lantern from City of Owen Sound Ship that shipwrecked in 1901
Joan Hyslop - Registrar

A Steamship Purser’s Kerosene Lantern

Joan Hyslop - Registrar

Grey Roots acquired a very interesting lantern for the artefact collection earlier this year, and I wish that it could talk, and tell us some stories.  It is a brass kerosene lantern, very similar to a railway conductor’s lantern, but its glass chimney (globe) was custom-etched to have a ship’s name on it, rather than the word “Conductor”. Reading “Purser” and “City of Owen Sound”, the lantern has 1865 patent dates pertaining to improvements in kerosene lanterns that were patented by William Westlake of Chicago, Illinois. The underside of the lantern’s snap-out fuel pot is impress-stamped with “WM. WESTLAKE’S PAT. / AUG. 8 64 / SEPT 12 65 / DEC 12 65” [1865].

Mr. Westlake is best-known for inventing lanterns with removable glass globes in 1862, which made it much easier to clean the glass of soot, and to replace the globe if it became damaged.  Many of his kerosene lanterns were used by American railroad personnel in the 19th-century.  There was a handle at the top, so that the lantern could be easily grasped in one hand, and a wire cage (called a guard), helped to protect the glass chimney globe.  What really impresses me though, is the interesting snap-out burner and fuel pot part.  Just a quick squeeze of two convex knobs at the underside, and the burner is readily accessible for advancing and trimming the wick, a really nifty feature.

It makes sense that a Westlake lantern would make it to the port of Owen Sound.  There used to be Chicago grain vessels, and other American ships, that visited Owen Sound in the late 19th-century.  Owen Sound also became a busy railway terminus, so perhaps that is another possible reason why a ship would be outfitted with a railway-style lantern.  Like a conductor, a ship’s purser dealt with the travelling public, so it was nice to have a nicely-identified lantern, which would also serve to identify the purser.  He had an important job aboard the ship; he was in charge of the money, collecting fares, tickets, etc.

The lantern appears to be an artefact formerly used aboard the 172 foot propeller ship, City of Owen Sound, which was built by Capt. John Simpson at Owen Sound, Grey County, and was owned for a while by Smith & Keighly of Toronto.  This steamer was launched at Owen Sound on June 8, 1875, and had a few misadventures in her career (three groundings, and two sinkings from which she was raised!).  When she was new, the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser also mentioned that she had lost her mainmast and had her pilot house badly damaged in a collision with another vessel at Chicago, in October, 1875.  Twelve years later, in October, 1887,  she was wrecked a half-mile east of Clapperton Island Lighthouse during a gale. There were, thankfully, no passengers aboard, and the crew, which included a lady’s parlour maid, were able to get shelter at the lighthouse, without loss of life.  Eventually, they were picked up by the S. S. Campana and taken to Collingwood. The crew had to abandon ship with only the clothes on their backs, and Captain La France later credited Purser A. C. Maitland for saving the ship’s books, despite the danger involved.  Whether Mr. Maitland also had the purser’s lantern with him, or if it was something acquired or found after the City of Owen Sound was raised and re-built in 1892 is unknown.  It would be neat if Maitland was able to save the books and help the crew find shelter in 1887 because he had this lantern at hand!   Allen C. Maitland (an Owen Sounder) worked for several years in Chicago, and later returned to Grey County, where he was a book-keeper for the National Portland Cement Co. at Durham, and then later was a book-keeper with the Imperial Cement Co. at Owen Sound.

At first, the 1887 sinking of the City of Owen Sound was thought to be a total wreck, but new salvage expertise allowed her to be raised in 1892 by using seven 46 foot long iron pontoons (that were each ten feet in diameter).  This successful salvage effort gained a lot of attention in its day, and the grain freight that was aboard the City of Owen Sound was still deemed to be in good condition when she was raised.

The City of Owen Sound was badly damaged again in 1895, and after she was repaired, she was re-named as the barge Saturn.  I expect that the lantern was kept as a keepsake by someone around that time, and would no longer be with the ship, as I expect that a barge would not have needed a purser.   The vessel finally sank for the final time in a storm in Sept. 1901 in Lake Huron.

Luckily, the old lantern survived over the years, somehow, somewhere.  It turned up at an auction in 1978.

The City of Owen Sound, had two more pursers noted in her career (there may have been more).  The two men remembered for serving as Purser aboard her were Henry Rixon and James Maitland.  Owen Sound-born James Maitland was a brother of the previously-mentioned A. C. Maitland, and like him, served as a Purser for a number of years on the Smith & Keighly steamers. When he was married in 1877, his occupation was even noted  down  as “Purser on Steam Boat”.  By 1881, his occupation changed to that of “Forwarder”.  He and Henry Rixon had formed a partnership as forwarders and commission agents (Maitland & Rixon company of Owen Sound).  A harbour chart from 1883, shows “Maitland & Rixon’s Storehouse” located along Owen Sound’s harbour, and they also had a wharf.  Maitland, Rixon & Co. was a wholesale and retail lumber business and sawmilling operation circa 1904.  James Maitland passed away in 1907.  His partner, Henry Rixon, was English-born, and had emigrated to Canada in 1860.  After a while in Galt, he moved to Sydenham Twp., Grey County, and lived for a while at Leith, where his wife’s family, the Adam Ainslies lived, and he worked for a while as a distiller at the Leith Distillery. In the late 1880s, Mr. Rixon moved his family to Owen Sound, where  Henry also worked as a purser in the late 19th-century aboard various ships, such as the S.S. Silver Spray, S. S. Campana, and other ships that called at Owen Sound, before he and Maitland got into the lumber trade.  Henry Rixon died in 1920 and is buried at the Leith United Church cemetery.

A really good article about the history of the S. S. Owen Sound was published in the Owen Sound Sun-Times of Sat. April 30, 1994.  It was written by Ron Beaupre, and is entitled “The Ship that Sank 3 Times: Steamer’s Record a Catalogue of Marine Mishaps”. The Grey Roots archives also has a couple images of the vessel.  An image of her was also published in the Owen Sound Daily Sun Times of March 5, 1927, with mention that she was with the Collingwood and Lake Superior Transit Co., and that she was a sister ship to the City of Winnipeg, which burned at Duluth.

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