This issue of your newsletter contains two very interesting Maritime topics of our past: shipbuilding and the dangers of seafaring in the 19th century. In the mid-1800s, Sackville had three active shipyards: the Purdy, Dixon and Boultenhouse shipyards. As you read about the Purdy shipyard, you may find it interesting how the Purdy and Boultenhouse families collaborated in their respective ventures. This story is about family members who played important roles in Maritime coastal businesses that allowed for transport and trade in our region and beyond. These were family businesses carried on by the respective sons into the close of the century. Ship travel also represented significant dangers. The loss of the Bella, described below, is but one example. Here is a very personal and dramatic account reported by Mate James Outhouse of Wood Point in July, 1870, who survived the sinking of this schooner. I hope that these two reports carry you into the years of sailing which once dominated our coastline. I also hope that they allow you, as they did me, to be close to a time that was so important to our region.
The Purdy Shipyard
By Al Smith
Recently, a fellow history enthusiast, Colin MacKinnon, gave me a copy of a photo of an old abandoned steam boiler, discarded many years ago over the dyke on the Westcock Marsh. That boiler was once an integral component at the Henry B. Purdy Shipyard, used to generate steam for bending lumber used in ship construction. Following the closure of the shipyard in the 1880s, the old boiler was repurposed and used as a land roller by Don Johnson and, when no longer functional, it was discarded over the dyke.1
Little remains today of Sackville’s rich shipbuilding history so the discovery of this relict from the past was a good segue into this article. Shipbuilding was Sackville’s first large industry and by the mid-1800s the three local shipyards: Boultenhouse, Dixon and Purdy were building and launching three to five vessels annually, and, at its peak, employed 300-400 men.
Sackville was the largest shipbuilding centre in Westmorland County constructing 176 vessels or just over 30% of the 580 vessels built in the county.2
The Christopher Boultenhouse shipyard was by far the largest, but the Purdy yard site lasted the longest. The origins of the Purdy Shipyard, located on Frosty Hollow Creek, date back to at least 1838 when Bedford Boultenhouse (son of John Boultenhouse and nephew of Christopher Boultenhose) purchased a 31-acre parcel of land from George Lawrence.3 Shortly thereafter, with his father John, Bedford established a small shipyard4 on the banks of Frosty Hollow Creek, originally known as Mill Creek (see map5). Bedford Boultenhouse (1816-1870) married Cynthia Barnes (1810-1905) on Feb. 25, 1840, and likely established their homestead on this property.
Bedford undoubtedly learned his shipbuilding skills from his father who built 9 vessels over the period 1835 to 1853. In 1846, at the age of 30, Bedford built his first ship, the 199-ton Brig Three Sisters. He constructed six more vessels at his Westcock yard with the last one being launched in early May, 1852. Soon thereafter Bedford, Cynthia and their two children left Westcock. By 1853, they had settled in Portland, Maine.6 Henry Boultenhouse Purdy (1814- 1888) was a first cousin of Bedford Boultenhouse as his mother, Mary Ann Boultenhouse, was his father’s sister. Henry Purdy married Dorcus Snowdon (1817-1897) on March 21,1837 and they raised a family of nine. On leaving Westcock in 1852, it appears that Bedford Boultenhouse left his cousin Henry Purdy to operate the shipyard. Henry’s first vessel was a little schooner called Merlin, a 79-ton vessel launched on July 3, 1852. It was built in association with Martin Cole who owned 40 of the 64 shares in the vessel. Henry Purdy was listed as a shipwright on the 1851 census so he was very likely employed by Bedford Boutenhouse and learned the trade under his tutelage.
Henry Purdy’s second vessel was a 138-ton Brigantine Hart launched in March, 1853. Then, strangely, no other vessels were built until 1858. Would that five-year hiatus have had something to do with the uncertainties of not actually owning the shipyard? However, on September 9,1859, Bedford Boultenhouse of Portland, Maine, sold the property to Henry Purdy for the sum of 700 pounds. The property description on the deed actually reads “now in the possession and occupation of the said
Henry Purdy”7 thus confirming that the Purdy family were resident on the property likely since the departure of Bedford Boultenhouse in 1852/53.
Now with full title to the property, shipbuilding resumed in earnest. An additional 17 ships were built by Henry Purdy between the years 1858 and 1878. Henry built mostly smaller vessels: seven schooners and five brigantines although he did build six barques and one full-rigged 1132-ton ship named the George H. Oulton, launched in 1872. Purdy built mainly for local businessmen and for the Saint John Oulton family. Seven of his ships were constructed under contract with Sackville merchant Mariner Wood. No photos or paintings of Henry Purdy’s ships exist except for the Barque M. Wood, built in 1866. Fortunately, that image is safely in the collections of the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, NB. A copy of the beautiful watercolour painting of the Barque M. Wood by British artist E.L. Graves is shown on page 2. At the age of 64 years Henry Purdy constructed his final vessel in 1878, the little 76-ton schooner O.P. Barnes for Captain Oliver. P. Barnes of Sackville.8
The Purdy Shipyard was not huge in comparison to Christopher Boultenhouse’s large yard on the main Tantramar River. Purdy did not have his own sawmill but relied on purchasing lumber stocks from nearby sawmills.10 However, the shipyard had an excellent launchway that accessed deep water at high tide in a sheltered locale. A large pattern and sail loft building was located conveniently close to his residence and a steel mini-railway track way connected the main construction buildings to the slipways thus expediting movement of heavy components.11 The 1953 black & white air-photo shown at right shows the shipyard buildings to the right of the residence. It also clearly shows the two “notches” in the riverbank where the launchways were located. The shipyard employed a large number of workers and Dick McLeod relates a story told to him by his grandmother of watching men from Second Westcock walking by on the road carrying their boots heading to the shipyard; apparently, they walked barefoot to save the wear on their boots!
By the late 1870s, the days of wooden sailing vessels was starting to wane but Henry Purdy’s three oldest sons carried on the family’s seafaring ways. Both John and Reuben Purdy were master mariners and son James was a shipwright. James built the 393-ton Barque Arda which was launched on May 17, 1878, as well as two small Steamer Schooners: the Sir John in 1886 and Dorcas in 1887. The Purdy Yard was possibly used by other builders of which there is at least one record.12 However, it is most likely that the little Steamer Schooner Dorcas, probably named after his mother, was the final vessel constructed at the Purdy Shipyard.
Listing of vessels constructed by Henry Boultenhouse Purdy
1858 Schooner HAVELOCK 100 tons
1859 Brigantine CYGNET 100 tons
1860 Schooner MINNEHAHA 51 tons
1860 Brigantine SEAMANS BRIDE 167 tons
1861 Brigantine GEORGE G. ROBERTS 162 tons
1862 Schooner EMPRESS 89 tons
1863 Brigantine MARTHA McCONNELL 207 tons
1863 Barque MARY E. PURDY 288 tons
1864 Barque CHARLIE WOOD 325 tons
1864 Schooner JANE 130 tons
1866 Barque M. WOOD 550 tons
1866 Schooner WILLIAM 140 tons
1867 Barque AMITY 535 tons
1871 Barque AMEDEO 565 tons
1871 Barque EMMA L. OULTON 668 tons
1872 Ship GEORGE H. OULTON 1132 tons
1878 Schooner O.P. BARNES 76 tons
Vessels built by Henry’s son James Purdy
1878 Barque ARDA 393 tons
1886 Steamer Schooner SIR JOHN 85 tons
1887 Steamer Schooner DORCAS 120 tons
Reference: Shipbuilding in Westmorland County, NB by Charles A. Armour and Allan D. Smith, 2008, published by Tantramar Heritage Trust, ISBN #979-0-9784100-5-6.
The little shipyard at the banks of Westcock Creek was in operation for nearly 50 years but little remains today of that once active construction site. The mid-1950s aerial photo shown above clearly shows one of the last remaining buildings of the shipyard. The long, narrow, red roofed building in the photo was the original pattern, construction and sail loft. The second photo taken in 2018 shows the rubble pile of that building as it exists today.
Fortunately for us, author Sir Charles G.D. Roberts captured the descriptive details of the village of Westcock in his timeless historical-fiction novel The Heart That Knows. Published in 1906 and reprinted in 2002, the novel captures events in the Westcock community in the 1860s and includes the full story of the naming of the Purdy-built Brigantine George G. Roberts. That ship was named after Roberts’ father, the local Anglican rector, who, returning home late one night from visiting a parishioner, noted a fire that had started in a pile of debris under the stern of the vessel. He quickly raised the alarm, fetched buckets of water and had the fire under control before help arrived. In appreciation for his quick actions Purdy named the vessel after the good rector.13
Henry Boultenhouse Purdy died in 1888 but the property still remains in ownership of direct descendants. Henry Purdy’s daughter Amy Jane Purdy (1848-1914) married John P. Johnson (1842-1914), a carpenter from Pictou, NS who came to Sackville c1859/60. He most likely worked at the Purdy shipyard initially but later was heavily involved in lumbering. John and Amy Jane lived in the Purdy house at Westcock until 1899 when they moved to Sackville. Their son Seward Henry Johnson (1871-1959) inherited the property and passed it down to his son Donald Purdy Johnson (1907-1977).14 Donald’s son Larry Johnson is the current owner of the property.
Henry Purdy’s three sons, mentioned earlier, all left Westcock and by the early 1890s all three were settled with their families in the Vancouver area of the West Coast. Their stories will be the subject of a later issue of The White Fence.
1. Conversation with Westcock resident Dick McLeod.
2. Shipbuilding in Westmorland County, NB by Charles A. Armour & Allan D. Smith ISBN 978-0-9784100-5-6.
3. Deed #8143 George Lawrence to Bedford Boultenhouse, Dec. 6, 1838 registered Feb. 26, 1839.
4. F.C. Jonah Early History of Sackville – The Tantramar, Vol.1, No, 5, April 1915
5. Map from Roberts Country: Sir Charles G.D. Roberts and the Tantramar by Charlie Scobie, 2008.
6. Boultenhouse Family genealogy – Ancestry.ca – Al Smith.
7. Deed #20545: Bedford Boultenhouse to Henry Purdy dated 9 Sept, 1859 registered 4 May, 1860.
8. Tall Ships and Master Mariners Sailing From The Port of Sackville by Colin MacKinnon, 1998.
9. Shipbuilding in Westmorland County, NB, page 33, by Charles A. Armour and Allan D. Smith, 2008.
10. Conversation with Dick McLeod, March 20, 2019.
12. The Chignecto Post issue of Dec. 21, 1871, page 2, reported: Messrs. Amos and William Ogden are building a vessel of 300 tons at the Purdy’s Yard, to be launched next July. (Author’s note: There must have been a delay in finishing this vessel as the Odgen brothers Brigantine Otacilius, 232 tons, was not launched until July 10, 1873.)
13. The Heart That Knows by Charles G.D. Roberts 1906, reprinted edition 2002, Formac Publishing Co.; also Roberts Country by Charles Scobie 2002, Tantramar Heritage Trust publication.
14. Purdy family genealogy, Ancestry.ca, Al Smith’s Purdy tree. Family information from Mary Jo (Johnson) Thompson, unpublished manuscript, August 2016.
Sunday, May 26, 2 pm Annual General Meeting
Campbell Carriage Factory
Guest speakers: Sandy Burnett and Peter Manchester.
The Pickard Quarry: Past, Present and Future?
All are welcome, light refreshments to be provided.
Sunday, June 16, 12-5 pm Official Opening of Campbell Carriage Factory Museum
Entertainment, games, blacksmithing demonstrations and the very popular Annual Plant Sale.
Monday, July 1, 2-4 pm Canada Day Strawberry Social
Boultenhouse Heritage Centre.
Join us for games, tours, music, and delicious homemade strawberry shortcake.
July and August Make It Workshops
Heritage-themed children’s workshops – details TBA.
July and August Under the Sky Events
Community events at our museums – details TBA.
Sunday, August 11, 12-5 pm Heritage Field Day
at the Campbell Carriage Factory Museum
Blacksmithing demonstrations, live music, dancing, snacks, artisan demonstrations, tours and much more.
To keep up with what’s happening at our museums, follow us on Facebook or Instagram (tantramarheritagetrust) or Twitter (@TrustTantramar) or contact the office at email@example.com and ask to be put on our email list.
Particulars of Loss of Schooner Bella
The Statement of the Mate
The following account is transcribed from an article that appeared in the July 14, 1870, issue of the Sackville, NB, newspaper Chignecto Post. The little 46-ton schooner Bella was built at the Christopher Boultenhouse shipyard in 1859 and launched April 30. The builders were two of Christopher’s sons, William and Amos Boultenhouse. The Bella was the third schooner that the Boultenhouses had built for the seafaring Anderson family. The earlier vessels, both built by Christopher, were Temperance, the 87-ton ship built in 1831 and the 50-ton Jane, built in 1853. The Schooner Temperance was the vessel that got the Andersons into a seafaring occupation and was the first vessel commanded by Captain Titus Anderson (see The White Fence issue #59, February, 2013 https://tantramarheritage.ca/2013/02/white-fence-59/). Capt. Anderson was the father of Capt. George Anderson who built the Anderson Octagonal House which stands beside the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre on Queens Road in Sackville. The transcription of the newspaper article follows the original typescript and spellings. Anything additional by way of explanations are enclosed in brackets and italicized. The two graphics included with the transcript are from a display in the Anderson Room at the Octagonal House in the Boultenhouse Heritage Centre.—Al Smith, April 2, 2019
We have to record this week a sad calamity which has cast a gloom over Sackville and vicinity – the loss of schr. “Bella”, Capt. Titus Anderson, on her passage from St. John to this place, and the drowning of the Captain and one of the crew, a lad named John Ogden.
Mr. James Outhouse of Wood Point, Mate of the Schr. “Bella” came to St. John from Cape Spencer on Saturday night last, and we obtained from him the following particulars:
“The “Bella” left St. John on Thursday last at 4 o’clock P.M. The wind was S.S.W., and quite thick
(foggy). We were towed out to the Island and beat out the harbour. The last we heard of Partridge Island whistle was at 12 o’clock, bearing N. by E. The wind continued blowing same direction (S.S.W.) and quite strong. I was at the wheel, running her S.S.E. The Captain took the wheel and told us to take in the mainsail and outer jib (foresail). He said he would keep her on course up the Bay. About half an hour after I was standing forward and saw the breakers on the lee bow. We brought her to (put the bow directly into the wind) and put the mainsail on her. About this time the wind died out. There was a heavy swell. We were then so close to the shore; we let go the anchor. She swung around and began to thump against the rocks. After a while the stern post came up through her. The wind commenced to blow up stronger. About 1 o’clock the Captain lowered the boat, and got in her. The painter (bowline to the boat) was entangled with the main sheet (rope that raises and lowers the mainsail) block and the boat swamped and upset. We hauled the Captain on board. The Captain told Merrill to give her more chain (let out the anchor chain), which he did. I then jumped ashore on a rock. They threw me lines, but I could not get them. Nathan Merrill then jumped, and the waves washed him ashore and I picked him up. John Ogden got out on the main boom to jump ashore; John Liveson was standing by the tatirail (a wooden spar behind the rudder) waiting for him to jump when the stern of the vessel came off and he (Liveson) went with it. I picked up Liveson. Liveson and Merrill, just before they left, saw the Captain lying abaft (towards the stern) of the house (deck house) on his back. Supposed he had been struck senseless by the main boom. John Odgen called out he would throw a line, and for us to look for it. I called for him to go to the mast head. He was then on the main boom. I did not hear him again. It was about an hour after flood (rising tide) that she struck. The heavy sea and tide coming in stopped us from getting near the vessel. We went up the shore at daylight. In the afternoon we went back. At low water (tide) her stern was ten feet under. She was then nearly broken up. We saw nothing of the bodies. The spot is rather to the East of Cape Spencer, 12 miles from the city.”
Captain Titus Anderson was one of our oldest (he was 65) citizens, and almost ever since boyhood has sailed vessels up and down this Bay. Rugged, persevering and resolute, he has fought during a long life many battles with winds and storms on a proverbially dangerous coast, only, as it proved, to succumb in the evening of his days. We beg to tender to his family our sympathy which we are sure is shared by the whole community.
John Ogden, who shared the same fate with Capt. Anderson was quite a lad, aged about eighteen, and leaves a mother in this place to morn for an only son. She may feel some comfort in the reflection that he was a young man of exemplary conduct.
The “Bella” was owned by Capt. Rufus Outhouse of Sackville and others (George and Ammi Anderson). He has been running her this season, but Captain Anderson took his place for this her last trip. The “Bella” had a large quantity of freight for this place among which were 32 tons of pig iron, tin, zinc etc. belonging to C. Fawcett & Co,; 1 ton nails, Dickson & Bowser; safe, flour etc. P.M. Dickson; flour, S. Clarke; furniture, lime etc, Andrew Ford; bricks, Capt. Milner; household furniture, Rev. Dr. Stewart. There was no insurance.