THE CLIPPER BRIG “BELLE” Of CORNWALLIS (November 24/00)

“She was built at Cornwallis, N.S. by Mr. C. W. Conners, and is considered the handsomest craft ever turned out that port. Capt. Meagher, an old stager in the trade, commands her, and he is generally esteemed a whole souled sailor. Good luck to him and his beautiful clipper….”

This intriguing excerpt from an 1853 marine publication out of Boston was sent to me via e-mail earlier this year by Canning Internet buff, Ivan Smith. “While wandering around the Internet this morning, this popped up,” Ivan wrote. “Might be of interest to you.”

While I set Ivan’s note aside for a while, I was definitely interested. Ivan also included the Internet site where he found the reference to the Belle; but before checking it out I hoped to find out more about the Belle, Captain Meagher and C. W. Conners.

This region was once noted for the building of sailing ships; some superb vessels were turned out in the shipyards of Canning, Kingsport, Wolfville and along the Fundy and Minas Basin shore. To find out more about them and the Belle I contacted the person who is literally a walking encyclopedia of information on Annapolis Valley sailing ships, shipyards and ship builders, Leon Barron. Leon gave me a brief overview of shipbuilding in this area and explained why the Belle was called a “clipper brig.”

The excerpt from the 1853 publication referred to Cornwallis as if it was a placename but it probably meant Cornwallis Township. The Belle could have been built in any number of places in the Township, Leon said, and pinpointing its home shipyard may be difficult. In the 1850s Canning was one of the leading shipbuilding areas and it’s most likely the Belle was built there. However, it could have been a Kingsport shipyard that turned her out; or a yard near the Blomidon shore or the Kings County shoreline of the Bay of Fundy or Minas Basin.

Leon told me that Conners was an old Canning surname that has “disappeared from the village,” and that there was a George Conners who was once a shipbuilder there He also explained that naming C. W. Conners as the builder of the Belle may not mean that this gentleman actually laid the keel and did the hands-on work. “Conners could have been the person who commissioned the ship and not the actual builder as such,” Leon said.

Between 1850 and 1857 the marine reporter of the Boston Daily Atlas, Duncan McLean, wrote detailed descriptions of some 161 ships launched in Boston and elsewhere. The Belle merited inclusion in the Daily Atlas since it was one of a line of Halifax and Boston packets that carried mail and passengers between these ports.

Readers interested in reading about the 161 ships that plied the Atlantic in the 19th century and about the part Nova Scotia played can find them on the Internet at http://www.bruzelius.info/Nautica/News/BDA/BDA(1853-06-27).html. Or you can do as I did when I misplaced Ivan Smith’s original message: Go a search engine and enter Clipper Brig Belle.

The Belle was of “about 218 tons register” and was built to carry 69 passengers in addition to the crew. Since the Daily Atlas saluted the Belle on her inaugural run, we have no idea how long she ran between Halifax and Boston. However, Leon Barron’s interest in the Belle has been sparked and I hope to have footnote on her in a future column.

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