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On celebrating boats ...

The Society of Friends, a community of pacifist British Quakers living near London, were made aware by Tolstoyan emigres also living nearby, of the dire circumstances of the persecuted Doukhobors in the Russian Caucasus in the late 1890s. The Friends felt it their moral and humanitarian responsibility to do what they could to help alleviate their suffering, concluding it could be done by finding them refuge overseas. The Friends funded an initial Doukhobor migration to Cyprus and then contributed to the transatlantic migration to Canada.

Convinced of the worthiness of their cause, certain members of the group likened the Doukhobor emigration to the flight of the Pilgrim Fathers from England and the Netherlands to North America in 1620. And there were indeed arguable similarities, in circumstance and practicality. Both groups were separatists in their own way, and each made use of two ocean-going vessels for their journey, the Doukhobors on the steamships Lake Huron and Lake Superior, and the Pilgrim Fathers on two sailing ships, the Mayflower and the Speedwell. The sailing ships were, of course, wooden, and the sister ship, didn't "speedwell" at all. Springing a leak part way into the voyage on two separate occasions, it was forced to return to seaport for repairs and was ultimately abandoned, and the seafaring pilgrims huddled together on the Mayflower to complete their voyage. The iron Beaver Line steamships fared much better, and there was no need to glorify or celebrate them like the heroic Mayflower, beyond recognizing their historic role in the transatlantic Doukhobor migration. Nonetheless, the two steamships have over time, seemingly acquired a life of their own, achieving a degree of symbolic importance in the historiography of the Doukhobor experience and their exodus to Canada.

 

The existing photographs ...

There are fortunately many surviving photographs to preserve the visual record of the Doukhobor sea voyages, picturing the emigrants on board these vessels. But unfortunately ... many appear to have lost their connections with their sources, the photographers and even the vessels in question not always clearly identified. One set of photographs that were well documented, were created by William Bellows, a representative of the British Society, who travelled with the Doukhobors from Cyprus to Quebec on the SS Lake Superior in 1899, creating possibly the best selection of images to illustrate such a voyage. Many of his photographs later appeared in a book by an American Quaker fellow sympathiser, Joseph Elkinton, and these and other similar historical photographs will be examined more closely on these web pages elsewhere.

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But aside from deck scenes such as these, there are very few photographs that offer us a good visual representation of the two iconic Beaver Line steamships themselves, in full-profile view. Across all available collections, the two following images come closest in that respect. They depict the Doukhobor departure from the Caucasus at the port city of Batum, on the eastern seacoast of the Black Sea. The photographer of both is unknown. The emigrants are seen here boarding the SS Lake Huron, in readiness for the first of four transatlantic Doukhobor voyages in the winter of 1899. The logistics of this voyage, including the procurement of the ships themselves from Liverpool, was orchestrated by Leopold Sulerzhitsky, who accompanied them overseas on this boat. (Link).

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The Victor Stevenson photographs ...

After many fruitless online efforts by this writer to locate additional quality images of the steamships over the years, two excellent marine photographs were finally found "offline" in consultation with an unexpected source, who as it turned out, had the necessary credentials and the enthusiasm to accomplish the task.

Victor Stevenson was a retired teacher and vice-principal with the Vancouver School District, but he also had a unique military background, serving in various capacities and ranks with the 15th Field Artillery Regiment in Vancouver, B.C. for more than three decades. Keenly interested in history at large, including that of the Doukhobors, he was inspired to initiate a military Regimental Museum close to home in 1988, and was recognized for this work by his appointment as Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of the Regiment.

A number of years later, the museum became involved in the restoration of the Point Grey WWII coastal artillery battery at the University of British Columbia (UBC), on the current site of the Museum of Anthropology (MOA). (Link) On one occasion, this writer spoke to Victor on this matter, learning that the museum had embarked on a quest for documents and an artifact, and more specifically, a 6 inch artillery piece that had gone missing from the battery after the Second World War, and its whereabouts were unknown. There however appeared to be a replacement candidate found in England and negotiations were underway regarding an acquisition, possibly entailing a personal visit. This same writer offhandedly raised the possibility that this might also be a good opportunity to investigate a potential source for Beaver Line photographs, which were known to have a Liverpool connection.

The casual and undoubtedly presumptuous comment was not expected to be taken seriously, until it was proven otherwise, when an oversized brown envelope arrived in the mail a month or so later, with two 8x10 inch, high quality paper prints of the SS Lake Huron and SS Lake Superior. These were gifted, and other than a brief comment that the photographs were acquired from a Maritime Museum in the United Kingdom, their specific source was not revealed at that time, and sadly Victor Stevenson died unexpectedly in 2010. It is unclear whether these photographs were purchased directly from a museum, or otherwise purchased by mail, but their donation was a kind gesture on his part and was a unique and much appreciated contribution to the Canadian Doukhobor community and the story of the Canadian migration. Many other remaining photographs of Doukhobor interest from the Stevenson family collection, were likewise posthumously donated, and will be archived or put to use.

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Victor Stevenson's SS Lake Huron and SS Lake Superior photos were later colourized and adapted to simulate marine postcards in 1998, to mark the 100th Anniversary of the Doukhobor Immigration to Canada, the prints to be distributed locally as complementary gifts and community fund raisers. Brief statistical details of the steamships and their registered owners, gleaned from the Bonsor volumes, known to be a respected source for these sorts of matters, were included with the prints. (Link)

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Closer view 5x7 inch Simulated Postcard Print, 1998

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Following up with recent additional research for this web page, it was found that the above print of the SS Lake Superior had seemingly returned after all these years, back to the ship's birthplace in Scotland. It resides there online on a website dedicated to the task of preserving statistical information and the history of steamships built on the River Clyde. (Link) Under development by volunteers, it looks to be a promising resource, but for now we will only focus on two or three of its photographs, aside from the postcard.

The first of these is an 1868 photograph of the Beaver Line three-masted, iron-hulked, Lake Superior barque, docked at Greenock near the mouth of the River Clyde, a predecessor of the SS Lake Superior.

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The second is of more immediate interest and relevance to this web page ... another previously unknown photograph of the SS Lake Huron, with a clear full-profile view of its port side, dated 1881. The landing dock is not identified, but the lifting booms of at least two cranes can be seen behind the steamship, and two service vessels or steam tugs at its side. If it were felt necessary, it may be possible to identify the location of the harbour pier and the background warehouse structures from other contemporaneous photographs.

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But there is also another strikingly familiar photograph, which appears to be a duplicate of the Stevenson SS Lake Huron. Identical in appearance in every other respect, it is understandably of lower resolution than a print copy, to enable quicker page loads. But it nonetheless, confirms the existence of an actual historic photograph elsewhere, perhaps in local Clyde or Merseyside, Liverpool repositories. And between these two images, we may need to search no further, for sufficiently adequate pictorial full-profile views of the Beaver Line SS Lake Huron.  They are anchored here together on this web page, to be viewed from both starboard and port sides.

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The W.H. Yorke painting of the SS Lake Superior ...
This web page will conclude with a final look at an unusual image of the SS. Lake Superior, which is both a photograph and a painting, with its own short history.

Both of the Yorkes, the father, William Gay, and the son, William Howard, were ship portraitists, from St. John, New Brunswick, the father also being an actual shipwright there at one time. The younger, William Howard Yorke, moved to Liverpool where he maintained a career as a marine artist, his paintings becoming recognized worldwide for their detail and authenticity. The artist is seen below next to a black and white photograph of his painting of the S.S. Lake Superior, 1885, taken in 1938 by the prestigious Wm. Notman & Son Montreal studio. The studio itself had a good reputation, and as we have seen on a previous web page, was employed by the Granby company to travel as far west as Phoenix, British Columbia, thirty years prior, to photograph Phoenix Granby mining operations. (Link)

 

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Prints of the Notman photograph are available from the Montreal McCord Museum and a digitized copy was used to create a colourized simulation of the W.H. Yorke painting, while attempting to preserve the styling of his other marine paintings seen online. The colourized image is used in this web page header, and an enlarged copy of the image itself appears below. An interesting comparison can be made on this web page between the depiction of the SS Lake Superior in the photo-painting, and the source of the Stevenson postcard image above, suggesting that the latter, may indeed have been used by W.H. Yorke himself, as a reference in the creation of his own painting.

The image below is now seen elsewhere online, and this web page will hopefully clarify its origin. This is not a digitized copy of a colourful painting, but it is rather a colourized digital copy of a black and white photograph.

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