"Johnny Canuck" Afloat
Johnny Canuck Afloat--Splendid Service on Board the
Gunboats--The Beginning of the Canadian Navy--Arrival of British
Concurrent with the mustering of troops to act on
land, the need of naval forces to patrol our lakes and rivers was
fully realized, so preparations were quickly made in that direction.
The Toronto Naval Brigade, commanded by Capt. W. P. McMaster, was a
very efficient and well-disciplined corps of brave and hardy men,
who were among the first to respond to the call of duty. The
Government chartered the powerful steam tug "Rescue," which being
properly armed, was placed in commission as the first boat in the
Canadian Navy. She was manned by the Toronto Naval Brigade, and
sailed out of Toronto Harbor on June 4th under sealed orders. She
arrived at Port Dalhousie the same evening and proceeded through the
Welland Canal and Lake Erie to Windsor, where trouble was expected.
Her officers and crew were a resolute and able lot of men, who were
patriotic to the core, and were keen to get into action with the
enemy. It had been rumored that a Fenian fleet was being fitted out
on the Upper Lakes to assist in Gen. Sweeny's programme, therefore
all on board the "Rescue" were vigilant and expectant that they
would have an opportunity to meet a Fenian gunboat on Lake Erie and
prove their mettle.
The roster of the Toronto Naval Brigade on this expedition was as
follows: Captain. W. F. McMaster; Lieutenant, Alex. McGregor;
Sub-Lieutenant, E. B. Vankoughnet; Surgeon, N. McMaster; Gunner,
John Field; Boatswain. R. Montgomery; Chief Engineer, J. Nicholson;
Midshipmen, R. Wilson and A. Miller; Paymaster. Joseph Fletcher;
Quartermaster, George Wyatt; Assistant Engineers, James Findlay and
John Young; Gunner's Mate, James Morrison; Boatswain's Mates, James
Ford and Richard Ardagh; Carpenter, Joseph Smith; Carpenter's Mate,
John Clendinning; Armorer, Fred Oakley; Seamen, Thos. G. Cable,
George Mackay, Wm. A. Wilson, John Bolam, Harry Sewart Crewe, George
Fox, Wm. W. Fox, George Poulter, Samuel Crangle, Ed. Metcalfe, Fred
Walker, Samuel Mountain, Charles Corin, Wm. Miles, Ed. Scadding,
Joseph Fetters, Thos. Hutchinson, James Humphrey, Wm. Dillon, Wm.
Maclear, Chas. Callighan, R. Y. Ellis, Joseph Bywater, John Graham,
James Ferguson, Fred Yates, Harry Y. Young, George Mutton, Edward
Turner, Wm. Pedlow, Samuel Pettigrew, W. J. McClure, Ben. Cope,
Thos. Spence, James Craig, Clarence Cooch, W. Cooch, T. Mulholland,
Sam. Parker, E. J. Hobson, J. G. Hutchinson, Thos. Lunday, Geo.
Williams, George Oakley; Powder Boys, F. H. Moulson and Gus Ellis.
Mr. E. B. Vankoughnet (a Toronto boy, who was then serving as a
midshipman on board Her Majesty's warship "Aurora," lying at Quebec,
and who was home on a visit at the time) wired his commanding
officer for leave to join the "Rescue," and being granted
permission, reported for duty to Capt. McMaster and was attached to
the Toronto Naval Brigade as Sub-Lieutenant on board the "Rescue"
before she sailed.
As an example of the alacrity which marked the men of the Toronto
Naval Brigade, it may be mentioned that when they received orders to
go on board the "Rescue" on Sunday morning, June 3rd, and fit her up
for service, they responded so promptly that before evening they had
put 67 tons of coal on board, besides transforming the boat from a
peaceful tug to a veritable gunboat by making such alterations as
were necessary for that purpose. All were workers, and "handy men"
either ashore or afloat, and that night everything was so snug and
secure that they took up their quarters on board, fully provisioned
for a cruise. Early next morning the "Rescue" steamed up to the
Queen's Wharf and took on board her armament and ammunition. A large
32-pound gun was mounted on the main deck, in a position available
for service in any direction required, while the projectiles were
placed in pyramidal piles near-by, so as to be convenient for quick
On the afternoon of the 5th of June, while proceeding up Lake Erie,
a suspicious-looking steamer was seen approaching from the west.
Heavy clouds of black smoke belched forth from her funnels, and she
appeared to be heading for the "Rescue" under full speed. As rumors
of a Fenian flotilla on the Upper Lakes had prevailed, it was
conjectured that this strange craft might be one of the enemy's
gunboats, and consequently its appearance caused some excitement on
board the "Rescue." The men were called to quarters, the 32-pounder
loaded and charged with chain-shot, and every preparation made to
give battle in case the approaching steamer should happen to be a
foe. As it came nearer it was seen that she was a side-wheeler, and
was evidently crowding on all steam. Jack Fields (an experienced
gunner) took charge of the 32-pounder, which he carefully trained on
the stranger, and remarked: "We will take that walking-beam out of
her." All were now expectant, and ready for action, awaiting orders
to fire. But as the steamer approached closer it was learned that
she was the United States revenue cutter "Fessenden," which was on
patrol duty on Lake Erie, on the look-out for Fenians also, and her
commander had intended to overhaul the "Rescue," as he likewise
thought her suspicious-looking. After a friendly "hail" and mutual
explanations, both steamers proceeded on their way.
At about 12 o'clock that night, when about off Port Stanley, a heavy
storm of wind and rain arose, and the crew of the "Rescue"
experienced a very rough time. The boat pitched and rolled in the
trough of the heavy seas, and she sprang a leak. The big gun
threatened to break loose from its lashings, and had to be
thoroughly secured by cables. The round shot, which had been built
up in pyramids on the deck, got away from their base-frames and were
rolling in every direction, while the high waves swept over the
bulwarks, deluging the men with water. During the whole of the night
and part of the next day the men were kept constantly at the pumps,
and by dint of hard work succeeded in keeping the boat afloat until
the gale subsided and they entered calmer waters. The crew were
pretty well worn out with hunger and fatigue when they reached the
mouth of the Detroit River on the evening of the 6th of June. They
arrived at Windsor about 8 o'clock on the same night, weary, but
none the worse of their experience in a Lake Erie storm, which is
said by old sailors to be the worst that can rage on any sea.
As matters looked serious along the Detroit River and Upper Lakes,
it was decided to strengthen the naval force at Windsor by equipping
another boat for service. Therefore the staunch ferry steamer
"Michigan" was chartered and details of British tars from Her
Majesty's Ship "Aurora" were brought up from Quebec to form her
crew, and also to relieve the Toronto Naval Brigade from duty on the
"Rescue," as Capt. McMaster had received orders to transfer his
command to the "Magnet" and cruise the lakes. Both the "Michigan"
and the "Rescue" were then efficiently armed and equipped for the
naval service required, and went into commission under British
officers and crews. Each boat had an armament of two Armstrong ship
guns (9 and 12-pounders), with full supplies of ammunition, and were
manned by one Lieutenant, one Second Lieutenant, and midshipmen,
doctors, carpenters, etc., with about 90 seamen, 22 marines and
seven other officers, all armed with rifles, cutlasses, revolvers
and dirks. Lieut. Fairlie, R.N., and Lieut. Heron, R.N. (both of the
British man-of-war "Aurora"), were placed in command of the "Rescue"
and "Michigan," respectively.
On being relieved from duty on the "Rescue" by the British seamen,
Capt. McMaster and his men proceeded to Toronto to fit out the
steamer "Magnet" for lake service. They had just completed this
arduous work and were awaiting sailing instructions, when an order
came that their services were not needed for the present. In
relieving them from further service they were specially thanked by
Gen. Napier for the creditable manner in which they had done their
duty, in the following order:
Assistant Adjt.-General's Office. Toronto, June 10. 1866.
Sir,--I am directed by Maj.-Gen. Napier, C.B., commanding Her
Majesty's forces and volunteers, Canada West, to express to you his
thanks for the efficient services rendered by the Naval Brigade
under your command, particularly recently, when required to take
charge of and convert the steamer "Rescue" into a gunboat, in
discharging her cargo and getting the necessary armament on board in
a very short time and in a highly creditable manner; and, when
relieved from the charge of the "Rescue." in performing similar good
services when placed in command of the steamer "Magnet." And the
Major-General will not fail to again avail himself of the services
of the Naval Brigade afloat should an opportunity occur, and will
have great pleasure in bringing before the notice of His Excellency
the Governor-General the important and valuable services which they
I have the honor to be,
Your obedient servant,
Commanding Naval Brigade,
W.M. S. Durie,
On the St. Lawrence River the necessity for a patrol of gunboats was
also very manifest, and the Government fitted out the steamer
"Watertown" for such service. She was placed in command of Lieut.
French, and was employed in cruising the upper part of the St.
Lawrence and the lower portion of Lake Ontario, making her port of
rendezvous at Kingston.
The gunboat "St. Andrew," commanded by Lieut. Spencer Smith, R.N.,
and manned by a detachment of British man-of-warsmen, patrolled the
St. Lawrence between Brockville and Gananoque. She carried five
guns, and her crew were armed with the usual fighting equipment of
seamen in the British navy.
The steamer "Wabuno" was armed and placed in commission to cruise on
the Georgian Bay, in which waters her crew performed active and
vigilant service on patrol duty for several weeks.
On the Niagara River and Lake Erie the steamer "W. T. Robb" was
retained in commission and fitted up for service as a cruiser. In
addition to the Dunnville Naval Brigade, a detachment of the St.
Catharines Garrison Battery (under command of Lieut. James Wilson)
was placed on board with two guns, a 9-pounder and a 12-pound
howitzer, and the necessary complement of small arms. The
wheel-house and cabins were covered with boiler plates, and the
bulwarks strengthened by heavy planking for the protection of her
crew, so that she was soon converted into a formidable craft and
admirably fitted for the work she was detailed to do. This boat was
kept busy patrolling the Niagara River and the lower portion of Lake
Erie, and her crew did excellent night and day service during the
time she was so employed.
At Montreal the gunboat "Royal" was fitted out and despatched
through the St. Lawrence Canals and River. She was armed with an
Armstrong 12-pounder and a brass howitzer forward, and a 12-pound
Armstrong gun aft. Her batteries around bows and stern were cased
with iron for the protection of the men working the guns, and her
wheel-house protected with sand-bags, making her secure against
rifle fire. The gun-boats "Hercules" and "Canada" were also put in
commission at Montreal and thoroughly outfitted for service on the
lakes and river.
To aid in the protection of Montreal harbor H. M. ship "Rosario"
(Capt. Versturme) was despatched from Quebec to that point. She was
a steam screw sloop of 673 tons and 150 horsepower, with an armament
of eleven guns, and had a full complement of British sailors and
At Hamilton and Port Stanley the Naval Brigades stationed at these
points performed shore duty, and did it well. Danger hovered
everywhere, and the utmost vigilance was necessary to guard every
point. The country was overrun with Fenian spies and emissaries, and
arrests of suspicious characters were numerous. Even at home there
were traitors who needed watching, as there were some who were ready
to give countenance and support to the enemy. Thus the companies who
remained at their local headquarters, and the Home Guards who were
enrolled for home protection, did remarkably good service along
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Troublous Times in Canada, A History of the Fenian Raids of 1866 and 1870
Fenian Raids of 1866 - 1870