The Ship Building Industry
Shipbuilding was one of the most important industries in Albert County during the nineteenth century. Following the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800's, England was cut off from its supply of timber. Britain looked to its colony in North America to secure a steady supply of wood. Albert County with its hills full of virgin timber surrounded by rivers which flow out into the Bay of Fundy was an ideal location to fill this demand. As the timber was being cut down and turned into lumber demand for vessels to transport the lumber increased. Once again the geography of Albert County proved to be an asset in helping to fill this demand. Albert County not only had a readily available supply of timber for building ships but also had many low lying areas close to the Bay where ships could be built. The early settlers had built dykes to keep the tide water off the low lying marsh lands. However, these same flat lands located next to the Bay were an excellent place to build and launch ships into the sea. Ships were built at seemingly every creek and low lying area along the Petitcodiac river and Bay of Fundy from Salisbury to Point Wolfe. There are at least 23 locations where ships were known to have been built. At one time the Gunningsville bridge between Riverview and Moncton had one section of the bridge which rotated to allow tall ships to sail through the bridge. Most of the ships built in Albert County were not the large ships we see in movies but smaller two masted vessels. Often the ships were built by the men who owned the lumber mills because they believed that having their own ships to haul their products to market would save them money. The expansion of the United States, the gold rush in California, and the opening of markets in Africa and the Far East also greatly increased the need for more ships. Many vessels built in Albert County were used to transport goods to and from markets around the world. Indeed many local men from Albert County went off in search of adventure sailing around the world.
The owners of these ships were mostly prominent local businessmen who hired Master Shipbuilders to manage their shipyards for them. When a new ship was ordered the Master shipbuilder would start by making a half-model.
The half-model was a scale representation of the hull of the ship. Today we would do this design on a computer or drafting paper. It must be remembered that the shape of the hull greatly effected the speed of the ship and how much cargo the ship could carry. Since there were no standards for designing and building a ship, few schools one could attend to learn the craft, and no standard design plans a shipbuilder could follow when building a ship, each shipbuilder had to rely on his previous shipbuilding experience. A Master Shipbuilder knew how to take what he had learned about how the size and shape of a ship's hull effects how much the vessel can carry, and how fast it can travel, and use this knowledge to help him design a ship that was faster and could carry more cargo than any other vessel at sea. After the master builder had finished designing a hull for the ship, that would best suit the needs of the client, the half-model would be taken apart and the pieces drawn on paper. Next the drawings would be done to full scale and drawn on the floor. Then the frames of the side of the hull were constructed from those drawings, hoisted into place and secured to the keel. The keel was a series of long timbers which ran along the bottom of the vessel from stem to stern. After the frames of the hull were in place scaffolding would be built around the ship and planks would be put on the hull.
Workmen started planking from both the top and bottom of the vessel and met in the middle. The space in between the planks was caulked with oakum to make the ship waterproof. Then the ship was painted with a special paint that prevented wood rot and helped prevent barnacles from sticking to the hull of the ship. Next the deck and deck houses would be added. Finally the masts of the ship would be raised, this was often done in other larger ports.
Over 330 wooden vessels were built in Albert County, the actual number is not known since most of the ships built were either not registered or the records have been lost. The first recorded ship built in the area was the "Good Brig" built in 1793 by John Polley of Hopewell Hill. The largest number of shipyards in the County were located in Hopewell Cape along a three kilometer stretch of marshland on the banks of the Petitcodiac River. By 1874 the Hopewell Cape area accounted for 52% of the ship tonnage produced in the county. Bennetts, Pyes, Calhouns, Newcombs; all of these are important names in the history of shipbuilding in Albert County. Together or separately members of these families built many ships at many locations along the shores of the Petitcodiac River in Hopewell Cape. Some of the members of these families would become Master Shipbuilders including Herbert Newcombe who built the world famous ship the "Roosevelt" which Admiral Peary used to voyage to the North Pole. The census records of Hopewell Cape show that many others from the area became Captains and Seaman. The last vessel built in Hopewell Cape was a small steamer built by Capt. Warren Dixon in 1903, it had just been painted and was ready for launch when it was destroyed by a forest fire.
Most of the ship builders in Albert County built small ships weighing around 1000 tons. The exception was Gaius Turnerof Harvey who built much larger vessels.
Twenty-two ships were built at the Turner shipyard in Harvey including one of the largest ship every built in New Brunswick, the Annie E. Wright, built in 1885. The Annie E. was 238 feet long, 43 feet wide and 24 feet deep, with a registered weight of 1863 tons. On Saturday June 15th a crowd of 2,000 people gathered to watch the launch of the Annie E. Wright. Two special trains of nine cars each arrived full of spectators eager to watch the launch of the ship. The steam ship "Ripple" made a special trip from Moncton carrying more spectators to watch the vessel being launched. Unfortunately a gale forced the launch of the vessel to be put off until Monday, much to the chagrin of the spectators.
The last of the tall ships built in Albert County were the Meredith A. White and the Vincent A. White, built in Alma in 1918 for C.T. White and Son Ltd.
The ships were named for C.T.'s twin children. After they were launched they were loaded at Apple River, Nova Scotia, and sailed to South Africa. Wooden ships stopped being constructed in Albert County for several reasons. One reason was because of a lack of demand for new ships, there were already enough ships on the oceans of the world to fill the demand for transporting cargo between the various markets. Companies also began to pay less to ship cargo, so only those who built large ships received new ship orders, because larger ships could carry more cargo and were more profitable. Unfortunately few ship builders in Albert County built such large vessels. The third reason was because investment in railways and other ventures had become more profitable than investing in building ships. At the same time Britain no longer gave special consideration to purchasing materials from its colonies, so there was no longer a guaranteed market for lumber and other products produced in the area. Above all else, the movement towards building more Iron Ships and less wooden ships in the early twentieth century brought to an end the "Golden Age of Sail". In Albert County no shipyards modernized to build iron ships because it was cheaper to build wooden vessels. It was also impossible to get iron and steel in the County since no business here produced it. Shipbuilders would have had to import the material from other areas, which would have been very costly and difficult to keep construction on schedule. Building wooden ships required less capital than was required to build iron ships. Iron ships required modern shipyards and expensive construction materials so only major shipbuilding centers like Britain with its access to more capital could afford to build this new type of ship.