Toronto Telegram, 14 April 1934
Schooner Days CXXXIV (134)
By C.H.J. Snider
Here "Schooner Days" Comes From Twenty-Two Ships, Five Centuries
Enshrined in Toronto Desk Which Cannot Be Bought and Cannot Be Duplicated
FRAUGHT with five centuries of ship lore, there stands, in a High Park home, a desk and series of bookshelves which form a "last harbor" for remnants of two and twenty vessels of renown.
It is from this haven that "Schooner Days" put forth, week by week, for the hundred and fifty thousand readers of Canadian and American papers which copy them so extensively.
The desk is the product of a forty years' study and gathering of material, in journeyings covering thousands of miles; and of two years painstaking and sympathetic craftsmanship on the part of Mr. Louis W. Mackenzie, 147 Sherwood avenue, Toronto, who built it for the owner from the latter's design.
"Schooner Days" ought to transmit some of the romance of adventure of sail, coming from such a shipyard!
The rapping of the typewriter raises ghostly echoes of far-off cannonading, of thundering canvas and creaking timbers, of surf-pounding through the ribs of wrecks for centuries. Here plank and wale-strakes and treenails and keelsons and foot hooks, and metal fastenings of more than a score of vessels of widely differing time and type, have been skillfully wrought into one memorial of the ships and their stories. It is the hope of "Schooner Days" to build up another such memorial on paper.
In date the collection commences with two fragments of the sixteenth century pinnace of the Delight, of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's expedition to Newfoundland, in 1583. How this wood was recovered at Bonavista, in Newfoundland, four years ago, and how it was identified, is in itself one of the twenty-two romances of the desk. Between the pieces of the rib is shown a small plaque, reproducing, in an enlargement of six diameters, a tiny copper token taken in the ancient wreck. This has the initial letter "G," the Gilbert cognizance, a double-headed eagle; the crescent, and star, heraldically proclaiming the younger son, which Sir Humphrey was; and a small escutcheon with a sitting squirrel, with was the crest of Sir Walter Raleigh, Gilbert's kinsman, and which gave the name to the little vessel in which Sir Humphrey perished.
Poor Gilbert, after losing the Delight, was lost himself in the Squirrel, but not before he called across the raging billows to his shipmates in the Golden Hind, and down the ages to all men
"Be of good cheer, my masters,
For we are as nigh heaven by sea
as by land."
The seventeenth century is represented by timber and ironwork from the supposed wreck of LaSalle's Griffin, built in 1679, the first vessel to ply the Great Lakes west of Ontario. The hand-wrought iron ring which decorates a panel proves on analysis to be identical with the seventeenth century Swedish iron wrought in France; and the oak is exactly the same as the oak from H.M.S. Tecumseth, built within a few miles of where the Griffin was built on the Niagara River.
From the eighteenth century the collection has several reminders. A small lectern on the desk is oak from the Royal George, in which Admiral Kempenfelt went down, "with twice four hundred men," in 1782. It was given to the present owner by Lady Windle, as a keepsake from his friend, the late Sir Bertram Windle, F.R.S., her husband, who used it for many years.
There is oak, too, from Nelson's Victory, built in 1765, and more from "Old Ironsides," the U.S.S. Constitution, built in 1794; and a large amount from the wreck of the French man-of-war Iroquoise, the last built on Lake Ontario by the French, which was sunk in 1760, after a long battle against the British. Her remains were examined by Capt. Van Cleve in 1820, and discovered by the compiler of "Schooner Days" in 1916 by following Capt. Van Cleve's directions.
Another possible 18th century bit is oak from the supposed wreck of the Toronto Yacht, the Government vessel for the conveyance of early governors and their suites, built at the mouth of the Humber in 1799, and wrecked on Toronto Point in 1817 [Note: 1811 ed.]
The War of 1812 has furnished many pieces. Belonging to this period is the famous Nancy, although from the date of her launching, 1789, she is eighteenth century. The desk has some wood from her, and a very fine half model of her, mirror mounted, so as to show the whole trip. It was a gift from Mr. J.P. Weagant, Owen Sound, who has since completed a beautiful full model of this heroine of 1812.
Other eighteen-twelves enshrined are Commodore Perry's two flagships in the Battle of Lake Erie, the Lawrence, out of which he was beaten, and the Niagara, with which he retrieved his fortunes; two more of his fleet, the Porcupine, which escaped the British cutting-out expedition at Fort Erie, and the Tigress, captured by the Nancy's crew after she had taken part in destroying the Nancy.
One shelf is faced with fir from the U.S.S. Chesapeake, and an accompanying picture, showing five states in her battle with Capt. Broke's "gallant ship, the Shannon, is divided by splinters from the captured American.
An alligator with gaping jaws reproduces the figurehead of the famous American privateer Young Teazer. It is carved from oak from the keelson of that terror of the Nova Scotian coast. The Young Teazer was blown up at Chester, N.S., in 1813, by her lieutenant, frantic from fear of capture. This wood was recovered there in 1926.
One timber used shows the oarlock in the rail of H.M.S. Newash, a sister ship of the Tecumseth. Like the Young Teazer on salt water this British man-of-war on Lake Huron was propelled by sweeps in clams, for it was in pre-propeller days that she was launched. The top of the desk is made from the planking of the first steam man-of-war on Lake Ontario, H.M.S. Cherokee of 1843. She was a sidewheeler, built at Kingston. Later, as a sailing vessel, she crossed the Atlantic.
Four large panels of the desk are formed from maple and white oak taken from the super-dreadnought of her time, H.M.S. St. Lawrence, of 112 guns, the mightiest warship freshwater ever floated. She "won the war without firing a shot," for on her launching, the American fleet of sixteen men-of-war ran into Sackets Harbor and pulled the harbor in after them. They remained there, blocked, until the War of 1812 ended. The remains of the U.S. brig-of-war Jefferson, one of the fleet which the advent of the St. Lawrence anesthetized, furnish frames for the glazed doors of the upper third of the book case. The owner obtained the cross-grained oak from her hull on a voyage to Sackets Harbor twenty years ago.
The ribs of the St. Lawrence of 1814 were oak timbers running to sixteen inches in diameter and weighing tons each. In contrast with them ribs of the British airship R-100, of 1930, have supplied hinge-straps for the bookcase doors. The little criss-cross braces with built up the webbed girders of duralumin in the R-100's frame weigh an ounce apiece; but the R-100 was almost four times as long as the St. Lawrence, and in fifty-seven hours crossed the Atlantic from Montreal to Cardington, a voyage for which the St. Lawrence would have required at least a month.
One other twentieth century piece of furniture on this desk is an ink-well from brass taken from the hulk of the German battle cruiser Von Moltke, part of the great fleet ingloriously surrendered and scuttled at Scapa Flow in 1918. Like all the wood and metal used in this piece of furniture, this brasswork from the Moltke was "personally recovered." The owner was at the raising of the battleship ten years after the scuttling, when she was brought to the surface bottom upwards and towed in that condition six hundred miles around the coasts of Britain, until she reached the breaker's yards in the Firth of Forth.
It is curious that the timber of so many ships, all identified as "white oak," should vary so greatly in hue and appearance. The "white oak" of the Delight's pinnace is black as bog-oak, and fine and curly in the grain; so is that of the Nancy, but straight grained. Other samples of "white oak" are bright buff in color, or a deep brown, or greenish brown.
None of the woods in the desk has been filled or finished with anything but plain linseed oil. But of all the samples, only the Griffin's and the Tecumseth's are alike; and the Jefferson's and the Belle Sheridan's.
The Jefferson and the Belle Sheridan were built forty years apart in time, but within forty miles of one another in place - on at Sackets Harbor and the other at Oswego; both used the native oak of that part of New York State. The Belle Sheridan was lost at Weller's Bay in 1880, with Capt. McSherry, of Toronto, and three of his sons, and all of his crew but one - Capt. McSherry's fourth son, James. Only last year the owner of the desk brought home to Toronto the remains of this ship, which started out with a fair wind from Charlotte for this port fifty-three years ago. The wood was retrieved through the kindness of Mr. John Townson, nature specialist, of the Globe staff.
Teak from the H.M.S. Ganges, last sailing frigate in the British navy, form book-ends. A massive chair from timbers of Nelson's flagship, the Foudroyant, stamped with memories of Lady Hamilton and of the great running fight in which the Guillaume Tell was captured, is part of the collection.
Mr. L.W. MACKENZIE, the happy builder of the desk for the happy owner.
Desk Which Forms a "Last Port" for 22 Famous Ships."
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