The Blanche

On 26 May 1888, BLANCHE (2-mast wooden schooner, 95 foot, 92 gross tons, built in 1874, at Mill Point, Ontario) was carrying coal with a crew of five on Lake Ontario. She was lost in a squall somewhere between Oswego, New York and Brighton, Ontario.

Not 100 percent proven but local researchers have tentatively named the picton two mastered schooner at N 43’48.303 W 77’03.334 this.

BLANCHE, Schooner 14 years of age, 92 tons reg. Bound from Brighton to Oswego, disappeared Lake Ontario 1890. Home port, Napanee.

Dept. of Marine & Fisheries

Statement of Wreck & Casualty, 1890

The Blanche? by Tom Wilson

. . . . .

BLANCHE, Schooner owned by A. Campbell and belonging to the port of Port Colborne. Became a total loss May 26, 1888. Value of loss $3,500. Tonnage 210 (including cargo)

Casualty List for 1888

Marine Record

January 3, 1889

. . . . .

Fate of the Schooner Blanche

in Lake Ontario

 

[from “The Picton Times” November 10 1932]

It is going on forty-five years since the Blanche of Colborne, vanished with all hands.  Yet still Cat Hollow men stare hard towards the Scotch Bonnet of moonlight nights, to catch, if may be, the gleam of her bone-white hull under the proud arching of her silver-sable sails.

The Bonnet is a little block of an island outside of Nicholson’s off the Prince Edward County shore.  It flashes nightly across the water to the tall lighthouse at Presqu’Ile, where the bay runs up to Brighton and swings east to the Murray Canal, replacing the old Carrying Place, which once afforded access to the Bay of Quinte.  Colborne and Cat Hollow are to the west of the little peninsula which gives Presqu’Ile its name. A famous corner for wrecks, since the government schooner Speedy’s finding of the Devil’s Hitchingpost there in 1804.  The Belle Sheridan’s was another famous wreck near by, eighty years afterwards.  Among them all, the Blanche’s will be remembered long, both from the mystery of it and from the completeness of the tragedy it involved.

It was fitting out time, in the spring of 1888, and Captain John Henderson, of the schooner Blanche of Colborne, was outward bound from his winter home in Cat Hollow.  Colborne lies inland from Lake Ontario, a little town of importance, named after the lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, whose name was later tagged on to Gravelly Bay on Lake Erie;  making it Port Colborne, to some confusion with the Ontario place.  From Colborne a road winds down to Cat Hollow, the settlement by the shore, which has since become the village of Lakeport.  Officially vessels from this vicinity hailed from the Port of Cramahe, but Cramahe or Cramha was only the Highland name for the township.  Harbor there was none.  Once they had to scuttle the Katie Eccles where she lay loading at the pier there, to save her from pounding to pieces in a westerly.  Schooners did a brisk trade in grain and lumber from the two wharves and storehouses at Cat Hollow, but they wintered in Cobourg or Brighton, sheltered in the Bay of Presqu’Ile.

Captain Henderson’s bag and his seaboots and oilskins had gone on before, and he was striding uphill through the thawing slush to meet the Brighton stage.  This would carry him to where the Blanche lay, shimmering in her new white paint, at her winter quarters in Presqu’Ile Bay, eight miles away.

At the hill crest, Captain Henderson turned.  He untied a parcel he had held tightly in his young brown fist.  A pair of heavy woollen socks sprang from the released covering.  They were gay and hand-knitted;  sailors’ socks, the kind that keep sea boots from “drawing the feet.”  He whirled them high above his head.

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by Tom Wilson

“Good-bye, mother, good-bye!” he called, in a voice of spring gladness matching the cheery chirrup of the roadside robins.

At a door down in the Hollow a grey haired woman waved a freshly ironed apron of pink and white checks.  Tears brimmed her eyes.  Captain Henderson could not see them.  But he could see, or believed he saw, the glad smile behind them.  A sailor’s eyes are keen.  A lover’s eyes see farther.  Johnnie Henderson was a good sailor and a loving son.

Then he went over the hilltop and out of his mother’s sight, and out of the ken of the small boy who passed him, whistling.  It is from him comes this tale, forty-four years afterwards.  He is Harold Batty, and he helps get out the Port Hope Guide.  The facts are his.  Whose the telling does not matter.

Two months later, Captain Tom Matthews was swinging down the lake in the old black-and-green schooner then in her prime.  Older Toronto folk may remember her when she used to bring stone for the cribs of the Eastern Gap, in the 90’s, when Captain “Mack” Shaw had her.  Younger Toronto folk may remember her putting in here in distress one August day in 1906, when she was on her very last legs.  Her sheer was humped then, and her mastheads sprung and she had a permanent reef in her much patched mainsail.  She had been to Charlotte with a load of cedar posts, and ran for shelter here in the light half of a summer gale, with eighteen inches of water in her hold and her crew in despair.  She was owned then in South Bay, and after she limped away for home with moderating weather no one on the waterfront here knew what became of her.

In 1888, however, the Fleetwing was still a good vessel, and her master was proud of her.  Captain Matthews was Harold Batty’s uncle.  Mrs. Matthews, Harold Batty’s aunt, was the cook of the Fleetwing.  Captain Matthews had with him as mate, James Henderson of Cat Hollow, a brother of Captain John, of the Blanche.  Jim Henderson later became Captain of the steamer Macassa and carried thousands of Toronto and Hamilton passengers between those two ports.  Poor Jimmy is no more now, and his well-known command went to the bottom of Georgian Bay two or three years ago under the name of Manasoo.

At midnight on May 27th, Captain Matthews was called to relieve the mate, it being the custom in lake schooners for the captain to stand watch at night.  In salt water ships, the second mate does this work for the Old Man, and the latter only turns out when he feels like it – which is pretty often.

Captain Matthews glanced at the barometer and it seemed to him the glass had dropped materially since he had gone below.  He emerged to find a perfect moonlight night with a fine steady breeze blowing and the schooner gushing along quietly in smooth water.  The Scotch Bonnet was winking away in the moonlight bearing north-north-west, about five miles distant.

“I haven’t been drinking, Jimmy, but my eyes must be playing tricks on me,” said Captain Matthews to his mate, as the latter prepared to go below.  “I thought the glass was away down, but I come up to as fine a night as man ever set eyes on.  Wait a minute till I have another look at her.”

He popped into the cabin.  The glass was assuredly “down.”  The mercury had sunk even while he was talking.

He emerged in a moment.  All hands were now on deck, standing by for the order “Go below, the port watch.”

“Get the gaff topsails and jibtop sail off her,” shouted the master to the waiting mate.  “Haul the flying jib down too, and we’ll reef the mainsail!”

“What’s wrong, captain?” asked the mate, amazed.

“Plenty,”  said Captain Matthews.  “The glass is down all right, as if the bottom had dropped out of it, and I never knew her to fool me yet.”

With a rattle of complaining blocks, hoops and downhauls the light sails were clewed up and furled, and the main sheet was hauled aft for reefing the mainsail, when a vessel hove in sight.

“It’s Johnny, in the Blanche.  He’s got a load of screenings from Oswego for Brighton,” commented Mate Henderson.

“He may make it before anything hits him,” agreed Captain Matthews,  “Two hours will about put him inside Presqu’Ile Light.  Look at him come!”

The Blanche was booming along, her sails sharp black and white in the moonlight, wing-and-wing with the breeze, a white roll of foam sparkling like diamonds before her white bows.  She had a saucy sheer, and she swam towards them like a snowy swan in a hurry.

Captain Matthews hailed, “This is a fine night, Johnny!”

“Yes,” hailed back Captain Henderson, “It’s a dandy.  We’re making hay while the moon shines.  Is everybody all right?”

He could not understand the Fleetwing shortening down in such fine weather.  His question showed it.  Capt. Matthews called something about the glass having dropped suddenly.  Captain Henderson, now almost beyond earshot, hailed back.  “Goodnight Tom!  Goodnight Jimmy!”  and vanished from sight and hearing.

Half an hour later the squall struck without notice form the northwest.  It was a gagger.  The Fleetwing was not a stiff vessel.  She was a shoal American bottom, built at Wilson, N.Y., near Niagara. In 1863, for Captain Quick, and she capsized and drowned her crew while he had her.  After that she had her masts shortened, and passed into Canadian ownership.

She rolled down under this squall till they thought they’d lose her, although she was already shortened to the reefed mainsail, foresail, and staysail.  She came through safely.  The same squall must have caught the Blanche with every stitch set, her boom guyed out to the soft southerly “feeder” that was bringing on this tiger out of the north west. It must have driven her clean under for nothing was ever seen of her or her crew after she passed the Fleetwing.

Months afterwards the lake gave up one body.  It had been battered by so many weeks of tossing that it was quite unrecognizable.  Even the clothing had been torn from it.  All except the boots and socks on the swollen feet.

They brought the pitiful pieces of knitting to a grey-haired woman in Cat Hollow.  She dried her hands on a pink-and-white checked apron before putting on her glasses.  The pink-and-white checked apron had faded with many washings since fitting out time in the spring.  So too had the grey-haired woman’s eyes, since Captain John Henderson passed over the hill.

She looked at the socks and her fingers shook as she held them.

“Yes,” said she, “it must be Johnny,  I knit them.”

One tombstone in Lakeport, gives the names of all the village sailors lost in the Blanche.  They are:

by Tom Wilson

by Tom Wilson

Captain John H. Henderson, William Seed, mate,  Wm. E. Haynes, before the mast, Annie Smith, cook.

 

The other man before the mast was William Auckland.  He came from Trenton, on the Bay of Quinte

Kingston, June 9. — The schooner BLANCHE of Oswego has not been heard from and fears are entertained that she has foundered.

Port Huron Daily Times

Saturday, June 9, 1888

 

. . . . .

Toronto, June 30 — A portion of a wreck, supposed to be a part of the lost schooner BLANCHE, has been picked up on the beach between Wellington and West Lake Pt. Capt. Matthews of the PARTHENON secured the portion of the wreck. The captain knew the missing BLANCHE well, having sailed her for some time. His theory of the disaster is that, with all sails set in a squall, she plunged headlong into the deep. He is of the opinion that the piece of wreckage secured is a portion of the missing BLANCHE.

[The BLANCHE is owned by A. Campbell of Port Colborne, and loaded with coal at Oswego on Monday, May 26. She left the same evening for Brighton, Ont. and is believed to have been lost in a squall which came up that night. John Henderson of Port Colbrone was the master, with a crew composed of a mate, 2 sailors and a woman cook. – Ed. Free Press]

schooner 6 julDetroit Free Press

July 1, 1888

Schooner BLANCHE. Official Canada No. 71061. Of 92 tons register. Built Mill Point, Ont., 1874. Home port, Port Colborne, Ont. 82.5 x 21.0 x 7.4 Owned by A. Campbell of Port Colborne, Ont.

List of Vessels on the Registry Books of the

Dominion of Canada on December 31,1886

Schooner BLANCHE, ashore near Cobourg. November 1880. Got off.

Toronto Globe (1880 Casualty List)

November 30, 1880

. . . . .

Schooner BLANCHE, of 6 years old and 92 tons reg. Port of hail, Napanee. Bound from Cobourg to Oswego, became a partial casualty in Cobourg Harbour, November 7, 1880. Damage to hull $1,500. No loss to cargo.

Statement of Wreck & Casualty, 1880

Department of Marine & Fisheries

Sessional Papers (No. 11) A. 1881

Schooner BLANCHE. Official Canada No. 71061. Of 92 tons register. Built Mill Point, Ont., 1874. Home port, Port Colborne, Ont. 82.5 x 21.0 x 7.4 Owned by A. Campbell of Port Colborne, Ont.

List of Vessels on the Registry Books of the

Dominion of Canada on December 31,1886