SARNOR ex BRITTANIC

Located off the Nine Mile Graveyard  N44 06 966 W76 33 652  Here are some tidbits I have found over the years.

Propeller SARNOR.* Official Canadian Number 133824. Built at West Bay City, Mich., U.S.A. in 1888, rebuilt at Marine City, Mich., U.S.A in 1896. Of 1319 gross tons; 1152 tons reg. Home port, Montreal, Que. Owned by Frederick R. Johnson, of Port Colborne, Ont. 227.6 x 43.1 x 16.6 and 95 horse power.
* Foreign name, BRITANNIC, a recovered wreck.
List of Vessels on Registry Books of the Dominion
of Canada on the 31st. Day of December, 1920

Steam screw BRITANNIC. U. S. No. 3400. Of 1,121.90 tons gross; 904.34 tons net. Built West Bay City, Mich., 1888. Home port, Cleveland, Ohio. 219.2 x 36.2 x 17.0
Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1895
Most of the ships which we have featured in these pages over the past few years have been ships which were particularly famous for one reason or another. They may have been of an unusual design, or have participated in some history-making event, or perhaps even have done nothing more remarkable than to serve one particular route for such a long period of time that they became institutions to local observers. But this month’s feature ship did nothing such as that. In fact, she was a particularly nondescript wooden bulk carrier and probably only the most avid and exacting Great Lakes marine historians have ever heard of her. But SARNOR, even if not famous in her own right, was involved in one of the most interesting and unbelievable legal hassles ever to occur on the lakes. Read on and you’ll see what we mean.

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SARNOR began life back in 1888 when she was built at West Bay City, Michigan, by the well-known shipbuilder James Davidson. Christened BRITANNIC and given official number U.S. 3400, she measured 219.2 feet in length, 36.2 feet in the beam and 17.0 feet in depth. Her Gross Tonnage was recorded as 1,121. For the first few years of her career, BRITANNIC was operated by Captain Davidson in his own fleet, an operation which was, over the years, to include some of the largest and most famous wooden freight steamers ever built on the lakes.This part of BRITANNIC’s career was, however, to come to an end after only six years. According to the History of the Great Lakes published in 1899 by J. H. Beers and Company, Chicago, BRITANNIC was wrecked in 1894 on Lake Michigan. This was not the end of the steamer, however, for she was salvaged and in 1896 was rebuilt at Marine City, Michigan, the vessel having been acquired by Henry McMorran of Port Huron. The reconstruction finished, she emerged with a length of 227.6 feet, a beam of 36.0 feet and a depth of 21.3 feet. Her new tonnage was registered as 1,319 Gross and 1,152 Net.

McMorran operated BRITANNIC for a good few years, primarily in the lumber trade, but in 1912 she was acquired by H. M. Morris of Cleveland and Montreal. Officially owned by the Lake Erie and Quebec Transportation Company, Ltd., Montreal, she was transferred to Canadian registry (C.133828) and was renamed (b) SARNOR. Not much is known about the Lake Erie and Quebec operations but it seems reasonable to assume that SARNOR was used mainly in the lower lakes and St. Lawrence River coal trade. The service, however, does not seem to have been successful and by 1916 SARNOR was out of service and up for sale. Her story for the next decade is one of the strangest we have ever heard and we base our narrative on details as reported in a 1926 issue of Canadian Engineering and Marine World.

SARNOR was bought at auction by A. B. MacKay of Hamilton on April 1, 1916 for the princely sum of $6,700 and was placed in service under the command of Captain F. R. Johnson. While MacKay actually owned SARNOR, he had her registered in Capt. Johnson’s name, an agreement having been drawn up as to how the vessel’s earnings were to be divided. Percy Bonham, who was connected with Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., was also a party to this agreement.

Although Capt. Johnson was SARNOR’s first master under MacKay’s ownership, he was later replaced by Capt. J. P. McLeod who was in command of the ship when she went into drydock at Ogdensburg for repairs in August 1917. At that time Capt. Johnson and Percy Bonham claimed to be equitable owners of 60% of the value of the ship. Johnson and Bonham had certain negotiations with Capt. J. W. Norcross who was Vice-President and Managing Director of Canada Steamship Lines Ltd., and a short time thereafter Norcross managed to obtain a duplicate register for SARNOR. He proceeded to take possession of the vessel on October 23, 1917. A. B. MacKay then obtained an injunction to hold up this somewhat strange transaction and it was served at Cornwall on October 27, 1917.

Meanwhile Norcross, who, strangely enough, was also director of wartime ship construction for the Canadian government, managed to obtain the release of SARNOR on the grounds that there was a shortage of coal at Montreal and that SARNOR’s coal cargo was badly needed. The vessel sailed for Montreal and when she arrived there, Canada Steamship Lines arranged to have certain repairs done. The MacKay – Johnson – Bonham litigation continued but meanwhile C.S.L. succeeded in having the vessel requisitioned by the Canadian government under wartime legislation. C.S.L. then chartered the ship back for a period of ten years! The two hats of Capt. Norcross were indeed coming in very handy as far as Canada Steamship Lines was concerned and it seems that those who might have been in a position to do something about this most irregular situation were willing to turn a blind eye on what was obviously a case of conflict of interest.

It should also be borne in mind that during this period Capt. Frederick R. Johnson of Port Colborne was still shown as the registered owner of the ship and the actual owner, A. B. MacKay, could do nothing but sit back and watch all the hanky-panky taking place while his legal action had still not been heard in court.

SARNOR continued to run for Canada Steamship Lines until the early twenties. During 1923 and 1924, lake shipping was in a rather severe slump and many of the older wooden vessels were laid up, their places being taken anyway by new steel canallers being built in Canadian and British yards. SARNOR was one of the steamers which was no longer needed by C.S.L. and as such she was laid up at Kingston where she proceeded to settle to the bottom of the harbour.

The most amazing part of the whole story is that in 1924, when SARNOR was lying in a sunken condition at Kingston, Canada Steamship Lines had the colossal nerve to tender her back to MacKay. The latter gentleman, of course, was not impressed with this magnanimous action on the part of the shipping giant as he still considered himself to be the rightful owner of the vessel during the time that C.S.L. had usurped her services.

MacKay continued with his litigation and in February 1926 it was reported that Mr. Justice Latchford of the Ontario Supreme Court ruled to the effect that MacKay was the actual owner of the ship. The judgment given MacKay included an award of $15,000 in damages. This may have been a great moral victory for MacKay, but meanwhile the poor old SARNOR, in her lay-up below the LaSalle Causeway in Kingston, was in a sorry state. To make matters worse, she was badly damaged by fire on March 15th, 1926.

The damaged hull was towed around to Portsmouth Bay and was laid to rest in the boneyard along with several other worn-out wooden hulls. And there she was to lie for ten long and quiet years. In 1936, the Portsmouth boneyard, by then a notable Kingston eyesore, was cleaned up and the various hulls were cofferdammed and raised, the majority of them having lost their upperworks to a combination of rot and fire. SARNOR was dug up out of the mud and, once raised, the tired old hull was towed out into Lake Ontario where it was scuttled in deep water.

Perhaps SARNOR should have been restored as a monument to the effort expended by her rightful owner in his battle to protect his investment in the ship from those who converted her to their own purposes.
STEAMER BRITANNIC SUNK.

Run Down In The Detroit River Yesterday By The RUSSIA — One Man Drowned.

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Detroit, Aug. 10 – The lake steamer BRITANNIC collided with the steamer RUSSIA about 4 o’clock yesterday afternoon opposite Wyandotte in the Detroit River and sank in a few minutes in 30 feet of water. All the crew escaped with the exception of one foreman, who was known as Charley and who shipped from Cleveland. He was asleep in his bunk at the time the boats struck and had not time to escape.

Capt. Benham of the BRITANNIC stated last night that he had sighted the RUSSIA in good season and that the proper passing signals had been given and answered for each boat to go to port. Just as the two boats were about to pass, the wheel chains on the BRITANNIC fouled, and, taking a sudden sheer, she ran directly across the bows of the RUSSIA. A collision was unavoidable, and with a fearful crash the two boats met. The BRITANNIC was struck amidships on the starboard side.

The BRITANNIC was bound down, loaded with iron ore, while the RUSSIA was bound up light. The BRITANNIC was owned by W.J. White, the Cleveland Chewing gum manufacturer, and measured 1121 gross tons, was 219 feet long and 36 feet beam. She was built in 1888. The RUSSIA is owned by the Lackawanna Transportation Company. She had a bad hole punched in her bow, and is leaking some. She will be docked here for repairs. Vessels should take the American side of the channel while passing this spot to get the best water. The BRITANNIC is insured, but the amount is not known by Capt. Benham. She had a load of iron ore for Erie, Pa. The crew of the steamer will leave for Cleveland today.

Buffalo Evening News

Saturday, August 10, 1895

. . . . .

RAN ONTO THE BRITANNIC

Propeller MONTANA Strikes The Detroit River Wreck — Hold Full Of Water.

Amherstburg, Ont. Aug. 17. – The big propeller MONTANA, owned by the Western Transportation Company, and bound down with a cargo of flour for Buffalo, ran afoul of the sunken steamer BRITANNIC, lying in the Detroit River near Ballard’s Reef, early this morning.

The MONTANA was injured so badly she was run aground on the Island, where she lies with her hold full of water.

It is claimed that there were no lights on the BRITANNIC wreck.

Buffalo Sunday Morning News

Sunday, August 18, 1895

. . . . .

 

Wrecker McMorran of Port Huron has, after three months work, raised the wooden steamer BRITANNIC, which was sunk near Ballard’s reef, Detroit river, by the steamer RUSSIA The BRITANNIC is now in Detroit and will be rebuilt there during the winter. The value of the wreck has not as yet been determined.

Marine Review

December 5, 1895

 

. . . . .

Work on the steamer BRITANNIC sunk last season in the Detroit River, is being rapidly pushed at Marine City by M.P, Lester. She has been entirely rebuilt and has no semblance of the dilapidated old hulk that was towed up the river last spring.

Milwaukee Wisconsin

May 26, 1896

Steam screw BRITANNIC. U. S. No. 3400. Of 1,121.90 tons gross; 904.34 tons net. Built West Bay City, Mich., 1888. Home port, Cleveland, Ohio. 219.2 x 36.2 x 17.0

Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1895

Propeller SARNOR.* Official Canadian Number 133824. Built at West Bay City, Mich., U.S.A. in 1888, rebuilt at Marine City, Mich., U.S.A in 1896. Of 1319 gross tons; 1152 tons reg. Home port, Montreal, Que. Owned by Frederick R. Johnson, of Port Colborne, Ont. 227.6 x 43.1 x 16.6 and 95 horse power.

* Foreign name, BRITANNIC, a recovered wreck.

List of Vessels on Registry Books of the Dominion

of Canada on the 31st. Day of December, 1920

 

History

1888, Jun 9 Temporory enrollment Port Huron.

1888 Towed barge MARY WOOLSON in Ashland ore trade.

1889, Mar 21 Permanent enrollment Cleveland; towed barges GALATEA, HATTIE WELLS, & H.P. BALDWIN.

1895, Aug 9 Collided with steamer RUSSIA in Detroit River, sank with loss of one life.

1896 Rebuilt Marine City; 227 x 36 x 21′, 1319 gross / 1152 net tons. Towed barge ALEX ANDERSON.

1899 Owned Alvin Neal, et al Port Huron; towed barge RACINE.

1912, Oct 15 Owned Lake Erie & Quebec Trans. Co., Montreal. Renamed SARNOR, #C133824.

1916, Apr 1 Sold at auction to A.P. McKay.

1917, Oct 23 Owned Canada Steamship Lines.

1919 Apr 4 Sunk Sorel, QUE, raised.

1924 Abandoned Kingston Harbor.

1926, Mar 15 Burned.