“It was good to see mention of my grandfather’s old vessel, the E. J. Spicer,” writes marine historian Stanley T. Spicer in a recent letter.
Mr. Spicer was referring to my June 11 column where I referred to “mystery entries” in an 1880s ledger. One entry was purchase by Canning shipbuilder Ebenezar Bigelow of water closet tanks for the ship he was working on. After consulting with a local marine buff, I speculated that the tanks likely weren’t for the ship, since sailing vessels weren’t known to have flush toilets.
Anyway, I speculated incorrectly as Stanley Spicer kindly points out in his letter. The author of several popular books on sailing ships, which are standard references today, Mr. Spicer is a recognised authority on sailing in Atlantic Canada. He writes that the E. J. Spicer did have a “bathroom of a kind,” as family records indicate. “My grandfather’s diaries comment on water closets (i.e. toilets) and copper bathtubs,” Mr. Spicer said.
Mr. Spicer explained why some sailing ships had water closets. “Like many master mariners of the time (my grandfather) frequently took his family to sea with him until the children reached school age and I’m afraid buckets just would not cut it with most wives of the time. As an example, my father had been to London and Shanghai before he ever set foot in school.”
On the vessel mentioned in the column, the E. J. Spicer, Mr. Spicer writes that it was built “in Spencers Island, not in Canning,” an inference I made in the column. “The Bigelows were 12/64 shareholders in the ship and I suspect Gideon Bigelow was the designer,” Mr. Spicer said.
Mr. Spicer wrote that much of the equipment for the E. J. Spicer came from Canning, Windsor and Saint John. This explains the entry for “two tanks for water closets” in the ledger of the Canning firm of Sheffield and Wickwire, which led me to assume the ship was being constructed in Canning by Ebenezar Bigelow.
Being an ignoramus when it comes to ships, I incorrectly called the E. J. Spicer a barque. Mr. Spicer writes that the E. J. Spicer “was a full-rigged ship, not a barque. A ship had four square sails on all masts while a barque carried fore and aft sails on her mizzen masts. A barque or a ship carried at least three masts.”
As I mentioned, Mr. Spicer is a noted expert on sailing ships and has written extensively on them as well as on Mi’kmaq legends and lore. For his contributions to local history and his documentation of our sailing heritage, Mr. Spicer was awarded a Doctor of Civil Laws by Acadia University. A Canning native, Mr. Spicer was educated at Kings County Academy, the University of New Brunswick, Springfield College and received a B.Ed. from Acadia University. Mr. Spicer also has a Kentville connection. His father was a dentist in Kentville from 1929 until 1956.