In a November issue in 1871, the Halifax Citizen announced the launch of a “handsomely modeled bark (barque) named the Berwick.” The bark came from the shipyard of J. B. Woodworth, of Oak Point (Kingsport) and was built “under the able supervision of (the legendary) Mr. Ebenezer Cox.”
The newspaper announcement also noted that the bark was commissioned by “Messrs. Berteaux & Co.” Charles Berteaux was located in Wolfville for several years, and in shipbuilding annals (in the Minas Basin) his name comes up several times. Apparently, he represented a New York shipping firm that moved into Wolfville about the time the railway was up and running. The shipping firm’s presence in Wolfville was likely due to the town being the railway’s headquarters at the time.
The Halifax Citizen announcement also stated that the Berwick “is to be commanded by Capt. William Ross, who was born in Canning in 1850. Thanks to several stories found in the Halifax Citizen (and other papers) by Phil Vogler, I have some of the Capt. William Ross story, and it’s an interesting one.
For starters, Capt. Ross may have come to believe that the Berwick was jinxed. Shortly after she was launched into the Minas Basin, the Berwick ran into some tricky winds and capsized. As reported in the Halifax Citizen, “the Captain and crew, and several gentlemen, ladies and children were on board, when about two and a half miles out from Oak Point, a sudden squall struck and capsized her. The accident having been perceived from the shore, assistance was promptly rendered and all hands taken off.”
Ross’s career as captain of the Berwick was short-lived – the jinx again?
After surviving the embarrassment of tipping over (apparently only minutes after the launch) Ross was on the Berwick the following year when she struck a reef and was totally lost. This was on the treacherous Quito Sueno Bank, now belonging to Columbia but at the time of the shipwreck was claimed by the United States.
All hands on the Berwick survived the shipwreck. As for Capt. Ross, Phil Vogler found another reference to him in the spring, 1937, issue of a New Jersey-based newspaper, the Redbank Register. The occasion for the newspaper story was Ross’s 87th birthday.
According to the newspaper, Ross was out of Canning, where he spent his youth, Capt. Ross went to sea at age 15 and “became a full-fledged mate” (literally a deputy captain) at 17. Ross spent most of his life at sea and when he retired, he lived with his daughter in New Jersey. However, he couldn’t get the saltwater out of his veins.
In retirement, Ross went into business as a building contractor. As a sideline, Ross began designing, building and launching sea-worthy catamarans on the Navesink River, which is tidal and has a saltwater environment.
Ross is typical of many Nova Scotians from his time who ended up finishing their careers in far-flung places. It was also typical of the times that Ross was in at least one shipwreck. They were a common occurrence during the era of sail.