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Captain Walter Douglas






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 He was a well-known character on the St. Lawrence from 1825 till 1845. He belonged to an old-seafaring family, several members of which commanded sailing ships on the St. Lawrence. Captain Douglas acquired his intimate knowledge of the Lower St. Lawrence as sailing master to Captain Bayfield on His Majesty's Surveying Ship "Gulnare." He also commanded a river steamer between Quebec and Montreal.

On account of his acquaintance with the Gulf and River he was selected by Mr. Samuel Cunard to command the "Unicorn," which preceded the "Britannia," the first regular trans-atlantic liner of the Cunard fleet. The "Unicorn" was assigned to the service of a branch line between Quebec and Pictou, from which port the transportation of mails and passengers was made by land to Halifax, there to be transferred to the regular Cunard steamships, which sailed fortnightly between England and Boston. Boston was the United States terminus, and the boats all called at Halifax. It was not till the Cunarders established a direct line from New York to Liverpool that their Boston line ceased to call at the Canadian port. Also when railroad and steamboat communication was established between Montreal and the United States seaboard, the necessity expired for transporting the English mail from Pictou to Halifax. Then the "Unicorn" ceased to ply between Quebec and Pictou.

Though this branch line of the British and North American Royal Mail Steamship Company, appears never to have been profitable, from 1840 till 1844 the "Unicorn" was one of the best known and most important crafts on the River.

"I distinctly recollect", writes Dr James Douglas, Walter's son-in-law, "when a child being impressed by her dining saloon, decorated, as all the trans-atlantic ships of that line were, by painted panels between the windows. Among Captain Douglas' papers I find a copy of the log of the "Unicorn" on this memorable voyage.

"She hauled out of the Clarence Dock into the stream on May 15th, with 453 tons of coal. The passengers came aboard on the 16th, and at noon she rounded the Rock Light House. On the 17th they consumed 18 tons of coal, the engines making 9 strokes per minute. But more details of her sailing than of her steaming are given. On May 18th at 8 o'clock A.M., they were off Kelwith Head. They consumed 17 tons of coal that day. Generally the consumption was about 18 tons and the number of revolutions 10 ½. She arrived at Halifax on the 1st of June, and at Boston on the 3rd."

The "Unicorn," therefore, instead of the "Britannia," may claim the honor of being the first Cunarder to cross the Atlantic, and as such she was recognized by the people of Boston, though, in fact, she did not belong to the transatlantic fleet.



One of the daughters of Capt. Walter Douglas, Naomi, married in 1860 Dr James Douglas



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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024