I confess to being a history geek. There is never too much detail in a book, as far as I am concerned — that’s what I find fascinating. Who did what? And how? So, Canadian Confederate Cruiser by John G. Langley is right up my alley. Clearly, Langley is a guy just as intrigued by history as I am, so I was happy to go along for the ride as he takes the reader on a journey onto the St. Lawrence in the middle of the 19th century.
Buried in all the minutiae is a great story about a steamboat — the Queen Victoria — and its role in a rapidly changing world at the time of Canadian confederation. The first part of the book tells of an entrepreneur who figures he’s going to make money towing sailing ships around in the waterway with steam. It’s a great concept, but the two boats he has built are commissioned from a shipyard in Glasgow. Not only are they expensive to build, they are expensive to run. It’s a classic case of poor assumptions and lack of market research. It costs so much to run the boats that he has to charge an arm and a leg for anyone that wants a tow, which few people do at that price. In short order, he talks the government into subsidizing the whole enterprise.
Part two tells of the steamship’s incarnation as a royal yacht ferrying the Prince of Wales about in St. Lawrence Bay and up and down the river. She is then used as a party boat (e.g. $10,000 of champagne in 1860s money!!!) by the Canadians who traveled up the river to the Maritime colonies in an effort to talk them into joining the confederation. She has been kitted out as floating hotel and is basically running as a charter boat.
The third part of the story follows the Queen Victoria back into the commercial world, where her owners decide to try her out as a cargo shipping vessel. It doesn’t go well. She’s sitting on the bottom off the coast of North Carolina after foundering on the first trading trip. Since then, a town in Maine and Canadian historical societies have been fighting about possession of her bell. Go read the story…
This was an interesting book, but I’ll warn you up front that it needed a stronger editing hand. The story of the vessel gets lost in all of the history, very little of which actually pertains to the central theme. The Epilogue should just be cut, and the writer is allowed at the end to wander into political opining. Throw in a few typos, and the overall quality of the book suffers.
Having said that, though, it was a good read if a bit of a slog. And it sent me to Google to follow up on all sorts of things, which is the mark of a good book! It’s on pre-order now, but do request it from your library (or buy it) when it becomes available, if nautical geekery is your bag too.