The Coastal Steamer, S.S. Dufferin

The steamship S.S. Dufferin made weekly trips with freight and supplies to coastal communities along the Eastern Shore, providing a vital service in the days before good roads.

Prior to the construction of good roads along the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia, passenger and freight services were provided by sea. Sometimes this coastal service was subsidized by the government, at first for sailing “packets” and later for steamships. The Murdoch family of Sherbrooke played a key role in this vital service for many years. In the spring of 1905, their steamship Wilfred C was replaced by the larger steamship S.S. Dufferin.

Built by the Shelburne shipyard of Joseph McGill, the Dufferin was completed on April 14, 1905. Her original owners were The New Burrell-Johnson Iron Co. Ltd, of Yarmouth, but the same day the boat was finished, she was sold to William A. Murdoch and William J. Murdoch, merchants of Sherbrooke. Her registered dimensions were nearly 33-metres in length, 7.6-metres in width, 2.6-metres depth; her gross weight was 227.31 tonnes and her engine room was 8.5-metres in length. She was powered by a compound surface condensing engine and had two masts with schooner rigging for auxiliary power. Built of wood, the Dufferin had an elliptical stern and was of a carvel build. In 1966, C.A. Murdoch, son of Captain Charlie Murdoch, recalled that the ship had forward and aft staterooms on the upper deck in addition to bunks and settees that would accommodate twenty-five passengers on the overnight trip between Halifax and Sherbrooke; she carried a crew of ten. Her maximum speed was ten knots per hour, and she consumed nine to thirteen tons of coal per week.

The Dufferin left the Plant Wharf in Halifax at 10 p.m. on Thursdays and her first stop was at Port Dufferin, arriving at about 5:30 on Friday morning. She continued along the Eastern Shore, making calls at Harrigan Cove, Moser River, Ecum Secum, Marie Joseph, Liscomb, and Sonora, before making the long and winding trip up the St. Mary’s River to Sherbrooke. She carried freight including hay, feed, kerosene, groceries to and from sawmills, lobster factories, and general merchants, and on the return trip, lumber and lobsters. Residents in her various ports of call remembered the excitement of “boat day” and often congregated on the wharf to witness the hustle and bustle of her arrival and the subsequent unloading of freight. On Saturday, the crew was usually busy scrubbing and painting the vessel, which C.A. Murdoch said was reputed to be “one of the cleanest and best painted coastal boats coming into Halifax.”

Sometimes the Dufferin assisted with emergencies during the course of her travels. Her log records that on March 22, 1907, while unloading freight in Liscomb, she received word that the S.S. Defiance was ashore at Ecum Secum West. She backtracked and lay to anchor aside the Defiance, ran a tow line and at 1:30 a.m. was able to pull the Defiance off at high tide.

On March 18, 1914, the Dufferin assisted with the salvage of freight when the City of Sydney stranded on Shag Rock near the Sambro Ledges in the approach to Halifax Harbour. Two men, Captain Dan Burns and Robert Snow, were drowned during this effort, but Captain William Murdoch of the Dufferin took to a dory and was able to rescue William Snow.

At 9:15 a.m. on May 23, 1914, the Dufferin was making her way into Liscomb Harbour amidst dense fog for her usual call. She passed through wreckage and picked up three bodies that did not appear to have been in the water very long. Amongst the wreckage were items bearing the name Halifax No. 19. This was a brand new 41.4-metre self-propelled steam vessel that was being delivered from Scotland to the mouth of Halifax Harbour. The vessel was a total loss and all crew members drowned.

The Dufferin also assisted with happy events in the Sherbooke and Halifax areas, including church picnics and other excursions. When winter ice made it impossible to do her weekly runs, sometimes she made trips south to warmer ports and brought back cargoes such as sugar cane.

Over the years, the Dufferin had many part-owners. The Murdochs probably operated her until the late 1920s. She was owned by Hochelaga Shipping & Towing Co. Ltd when her registry was closed on 31 December 1937. A notation indicates that she ran ashore and had broken up in the vicinity of Herring Cove, Halifax.



Where the S.S. Dufferin would have docked when stopping at Sherbrooke.