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The History of The Alphabet Fleet

Although not the Islandís first coastal boat service, the Alphabet Fleet, owned by the Reid Newfoundland Company, holds a distinct place in the history of shipping in Newfoundland. This family of boats had the imperative job of carrying provisions and passengers to the outport regions around Newfoundlandís rugged coastline.

The Alphabet Fleet consisted of twelve boats each given a Scottish name by the Reid family whose ancestry comes from Scotland. As the name suggest, all ship names began with consecutive letters of the alphabet.

Although second in alphabetical order, the SS Bruce was the first ship from the fleet involved in the ferry services beginning in 1897 from Placentia to North Sydney, Nova Scotia. The Bruce was one of the largest in the Fleet measuring at 237 feet long and 33 feet wide. She was a steel ship averaging 15.5 knots and built to withstand the powerful force of the Arctic ice. Like most of Reidís ships, the Bruce was built in Glasgow, Scotland by A. & J. Inglis. The Bruce could comfortably hold 70 first class passengers, 160 passengers in total.

The Bruce journeyed to North Sydney regularly three times a week until a tragic day in 1911. On March 24, the Bruce ran aground on the rocks Main-a-Dieu near Loiusberg. The ferry was encased with ice and snow which caused the captain to misjudge his location thus ending the life of the SS Bruce.

The passengers on board for Bruceís final crossing were as follows:

First Class:

W.A. Lingham

E.J. Slattery

O.L. Russen

S. R. Armstrong

T.P. McCarthy

James McLeod

George Uphill

Miss (Mary) Uphill


C.L. Crawford

A.J. Grubert

Thomas D.C. Brown

E.E. Depew

W.F. Carrol


Charles French

John Parmiter

Leander Davis

J.J. Breen

Mrs. J.J. Breen

Second Class:

William Walsh

Edward Fitzgerald

George Larner


Edward Power

J.J. Ivany

M. White

J. White

T. Furlong

James Doran

Harold Cuff

Charles Grampton

Thomas Mercer

Edward French

William Piercey

Leonard Dole

Thomas Steel

John Murphy

James Earle

J.E. OíDay

Edward Flemming

Frank Sawyer

Eli Woodland

Andrew Dunn

James Butler

James Hawco

William Hayse

Edward Davis

Jim Thompson



Robert Morris

William Ryan

Thomas Fletcher

H. Butler

George Cole

William Coady

Tom Fong

William Myers

Anders Campbell

George Noel

T. Yates

William Butcher

B. Young

W.J. Forward

W.N. Baker


William Noseworthy

J. Shepperd

Herb Steel

John Walsh

John Anthony

James Taylor

Edward Brace

E.J. French

Leamon Green

Mary Green

Robert French

William Carbin


Edward Kelly

E. Spencer

P. Donovan

James Doyle

James Hearn

Richard Barron

Luke Evans

William Bendell

Samuel Butler

Patrick Kelly

James Ryan

Fred Cuff

Mrs. B. Pike

Mrs. John Nichols

Artie Garnier

Miss Catherine McPherson

Mary McDonald

Thomas Whelan

Herber Martin

J.J. Whelan

Frank Power

Patrick Emberley

Joseph Molly

Joseph Lowman

George Sheaves

John Dorothy

William Pike

William Fardy

Stephen Jones

Lewis Turpin

Phillip Pike

Grave Morey


Richard Cleary

Isaac Pumphrey

John Mitchell

John Kafley

Preceding the Bruce in name was the SS Argyle. The Argyle was a smaller ship measuring at 155 feet long, 25 feet wide and with a depth of 13 feet. The Argyle was built in Glasgow and was the first of the sister ships of 1900. She operated out of Placentia, Placentia Bay. The Argyle made her final voyage in 1946 and was lost near Cuba.

The Clyde was a replica to the Argyle having the exact measurements as her sister ship. Like the Argyle, the Clyde was built for the Reids in Glasgow, Scotland in 1900. The Clyde operated out of Lewisporte making runs throughout Notre Dame Bay. The Clyde was lost near White Bay in 1951.

Following the Clyde was the SS Dundee. The Dundee called Port Blandford home and serviced Bonavista Bay. The Dundee was another duplicate of the Argyle having the same dimensions and being built in 1900. The Dundee only lasted for 19 years as she was lost near Grassy Island in 1919.

Another of the ships built in 1900 was the SS Ethie. The Ethie measured at 155 feet long, 15 feet wide and 13 feet deep. The Ethie serviced Bonne Bay making runs up and down the Great Northern Peninsula and sometimes stopping at Battle Harbour in Labrador. The Ethie also supplied Trinity Bay stopping in communities such as Irelandís Eye and Old Perlican. The Ethieís service was short lived having been lost at sea in 1919. Crew members from that last voyage are as follows:

Edward English , St. Johnís, Master

John Gullage, Catalina, first mate (first officer)

James Prosper, Bonne Bay, second mate (second officer)

Walter Young, Bonne Bay, purser

Patrick Burton, St. Johnís, first engineer

Thomas Moore, Bay of Islands, second engineer

P. McEvoy, Bay of Islands, third engineer

William Tobin, St. Johnís, third engineer

Walter Fowler, Hantís Harbour, fireman

G. Barney, Bonne Bay, fireman

John Lewpear, Black Duck Brook, fireman

C. Barney, Bonne Bay, trimmer

Leo Haley, Bonne Bay, trimmer

Charles McCarthy, Carbonear, sailor

George Prosper, Bay of Islands, sailor

Hayward Prosper, Bay of Islands, sailor

Thomas Prosper, Bonne Bay, sailor

Edwin Janes, Winterton, Trinity Bay, sailor

Measuring the same as her sisters the Argyle and the Clyde, the Fife had the shortest life of all the ships in the Alphabet fleet. Only months after arriving in Newfoundland, the Fife went on a run to the West Coast. There she ran into bad weather and had to stay in St. Barbe for the night. Leaving the harbour the next morning, the Fife struck a shoal at her top speed resulting in the obliteration of the shipís bottom. The Fife sank quickly into the deep water just past the sharp rocks of the shoal. Reid may have regretted not insuring this boat. Her Captain was later charged with carelessness.

Alphabetically following the shortest serving ship was the longest serving ship, the SS Glencoe. Built in 1899 at 208 feet long and 30 feet wide, the Glencoe served many of Newfoundlandís outport communities spending the majority of her time on the South Coast visiting communities such as Marystown, Fortune and Burgeo. The Glencoe was lost at sea in 1959.

Captains of the SS Glencoe

Henry Dawe, Richard Drake, Arch Blandford, George Spracklin, Cyrus F Taylor, Jacob Kean, W.E. Parsons, Ben Tavenor, Charles Cross, Martin Dalton, Thomas Connors, Max Blandford, Wes Kean, Fred Whelan, J. Gullage, Walter Kelly, James Snow, James Wheeler, Ronald Hickey, Walter Blackwood, Alfred Elliott.

The SS Home made runs from Trepassy on Newfoundlandís Southern Shore, up the West Coast of the Island and finally stopping at Hopedale in Labrador. The Home was another duplicate of the Argyle. She was lost at sea in 1950.

The Reidís bought the SS Dromedary in 1909 and renamed it the SS Invermore. The Invermore was 250 feet long and had a gross tonnage of 922. She spent two years on the Gulf run but most of her life was spent carrying passengers and goods to Labrador. The Invermore was lost at Brig Harbour, Labrador, in 1914.

The Reidís skipped ďJĒ because they could not find a place name for it so they moved onto the next letters in line.

The Kyle and the Lintrose were both built in 1913 and were the only ships in the fleet built in New Castle instead of Glasgow.

The Kyle was a sizeable ship measuring 220 feet in length with a gross tonnage of 1055. The Labrador run was her responsibility. The Kyle had an eye-catching music room and was equipped with a notable wireless. In 1962, the Kyle was lost in Harbour Grace.

Crew of the S.S.Kyle, 1927

(The crew that formed the wreckage of Old Glory)

Ben Tavenor, Trinity, master

Fred Whelan, Placentia, first mate (first officer)

Kenneth Harding, Greenspond, second mate (second officer)

George Serrikcs, Bay Roberts, purser

John Lush, Newtown, second steward

Charles Andrews, St. Johnís, pantry steward

Ernest Taylor, St. Johnís, stewardess

Frank Kelly, Greenspond, first cook

Alfred LeValliant, first engineer, Jersey, Channel Islands

J. Clarke, St. Johnís, first engineer

P. Redmond, St. Johnís, first engineer

Clarence Noseworthy, Sydney, Nova Scotia, trimmer

Alfred Parsons, Flat Island, Placentia Bay, trimmer

Martin Hardy, Winterton, oiler

______ Hoskins, Greenspond, oiler

Ford Downtown, Lewisporte, fireman

Clinton Guy, Port aux Basques, fireman

Joseph Lush, Greenspond, fireman

James McCormack, St. Johnís, fireman

Fred Norman, Placentia, fireman

Reuben Harding, Greenspond, able-bodied seaman

William Humphries, Greenspond, able-bodied seaman

Henry Hunt, Greenspond, able-bodied seaman

Joseph Lush, Greenspond, able-bodied seaman

James Miller, Greenspond, able-bodied seaman

Stephen Peckford, Greenspond, able-bodied seaman

Stanley Tavenor, St. Johnís

The Lintrose was the largest ship in the Alphabet Fleet measuring at 255 feet long, 37 feet wide, and 23 feet deep. Her gross tonnage was 1616. The Lintrose had a shaky beginning. On her voyage across the Atlantic she ran into bad weather causing the trip to take twice as long. She made it to Newfoundland where she served the Gulf run. The Lintrose was sold in 1915.

The SS Meigle was the final boat in Reidís fleet. She was built in Glasgow in 1881 but was bought by the Reids in 1913. The Meigle was another substantial ship measuring at 220 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 15 feet deep. Her gross tonnage was 836. She spent some of her time as a prison ship. The Meigle was lost near St. Shottís in 1947.

Crew of the S S Meigle, 1929

At the time of the tsunami relief operations

Captain Albert Burgess, Greenspond, age 56

Jessie Dyke, Greenspond, first officer

K.R. Kane, Badgerís Quay, second officer

W.J. Lahey, Dildo, purser

Augustus Harding, Greenspond, second officer/ bosun, age 70

C.J. Lewis, Lower Island Cove, able bodied seaman

Lougley McNeil, Carbonear, bosun/seaman

Augustus Parsons, Greenspond, able seaman

Arthur Lush, Greenspond, able seaman

William Barefoot, Pools Island, able seaman

David Winters, Pools Island, able seaman

Henry Kean, Brookfield, Bonavista Bay, able seaman

John McFarlane, Glasgow, Scotland, chief engineer, age 77

Ernest Pike, St. Johnís, third engineer

Hugh Walsh, St. Johnís, oiler

Joseph Roberts, Brigus, oiler

Edward Taylor, St. Johnís, fireman

James Youden, Brigus, fireman

John Spracklin, Brigus, fireman

Thomas Spracklin, Brigus, fireman

Ford Downtown, Lewisporte, fireman

Albert Gulliver, St. Johnís, fireman

William Bishop, St. Johnís, trimmer

S.H. Courage, Catalina, chief steward

W. OíBrien, St. Johnís, second steward

James Reddy, St. Johnís, saloon

Eric Taylor, St. Johnís, bedroom steward

Ronald OíBrien, Harbour Grace, pantry steward

William Bert Keefe, Tors Cove, second cook

William Whelan, Brigus, chief cook

John Hickey, Sr., steerage steward

For a very long time, the waters surrounding Newfoundland was a solitary means of transporting goods to the outport communities. But, by 1960 the usage of the coastal boats had rapidly declined. Although the need was still there for these boats, the number of ships were not. A number of factors contributed to the vast reduction of the coastal boats including; the introduction of home heating oil, the declination of the fishery and most importantly, the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway. Ground transportation gave people a faster service and proved to be much more convenient. But, for the residents of places like St. Brendanís and Nain, the coastal boat service is still very much a part of their lives today.