The Ann Sisson Redux: The Mysteries

In my Jan 2017 Post Where is the Ann Sisson? (since significantly updated) I suggested that there were two mysteries surrounding this 19th Century steam ship. viz:

  1. Where in Britannia Bay had she been beached and burned?
  2. Who was she named after ie who was Ann Sisson?

Then in my Feb 18, 2018 post No, really, it’s the Ann Sisson (since significantly updated) I talked about how the wreck had been found in 1962, misidentified, then correctly identified but mis-dated, and then lost again. So both mysteries remained unsolved even though one had been solved, albeit briefly.

Dated 1873, clearly an error since the Sisson was beached and burned in 1871
Source: The Cowley Family in Canada

Hoping to solve the mystery myself I contacted the NCC to see if I could examine the 1962 report on the wreck by NCC historian Major C.C.J. Bond. The NCC had no idea what I was talking about, nor any record of any such wreck. Sigh.

I then combed aerial photographs of this section of the river to no avail.  At the same time local historian and journalist Andrew King had read my blog posts and also thought to examine aerial photographs of the river.  He found the wreck!

Andrew wisely had not made any of the three assumptions that I had, viz, that the wreck would :

  1. be closer to shore;
  2. be east of where it actually was;
  3. appear to be fairly large.

He went on to visit the wreck with some archeologists and photographers, and out of that produced:

  1. On the hunt for a shipwreck here in Ottawa The Ottawa Citizen, October 6, 2018
  2. In Search of the Royal Wreck, blog post “Ottawa Rewind

Andrew uses the 1860 Royal visit by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales as the lens for looking at the Ann Sisson and the Ottawa steam ships generally. While there is a certain amount of repetition between the two articles, there is a lot of fascinating information, photos, and video, so I highly recommend reading both.

I joined Andrew for a tour of the wreck and it really was quite exciting. I will note that there are a large number of spikes (huge nails) pointing straight up, and that even after almost 150 years they easily slice through a running shoe.

So one mystery solved, but Andrew’s focus on the Royal visit caused me to realize that there was another one. Andrew focused on the 1860 Royal Tour by the Prince of Wales, but in 1869 Prince Albert’s brother Arthur, the Duke of Connaught, also visited and was also carried up river to Quyon by the Ann Sisson.

In 1869 the Ann Sisson was considered sea worthy enough and sufficiently elegant to convey a Prince Royal; no small matter in those days. Even so, despite being the very best available, she would still have been given a thorough retooling and overhaul for the event.

Yet just two years later she would be abandoned and burned. What happened? had she had some sort of accident? run aground somewhere perhaps? It seems an awfully short time to go from Royal conveyance to scrap.

Further, the average lifetime of these steamships was about 20 yrs. The Ann Sisson would have been only 14 yrs old in 1871, so a little young to be scrapped.

Sessional Papers, Dominion of Canada, 1872 Volume 4, Issue 5

Maybe nothing happened. Age may have simply been weakening the structure of the ship. Not so noticeable in 1869, but perhaps apparent and irreparable by 1871.  Possible of course, but it still seems somewhat unlikely. 

Or maybe there was some fundamental flaw in the original design. She was the oldest of the three sister ships (The Ann Sisson, The Chaudiere, and The Albert). Yet there is no mention of anything like that anywhere, and both of the other sister ships were pretty much carbon copies of the Sisson, hence the original difficulty in identifying the wreck.

No doubt we will never know, just as we will probably never know who Ann Sisson was.

Thanks to Andrew King we now know where the Ann Sisson’s remains are, almost 150 yrs after she was abandoned, right here in Britannia.


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