OTD: SS Royal William launched

On today’s date in 1831, the SS Royal William was launched by Lady and Lord Aylmer at Cape Cove, Que.

When the Royal William visited Boston on June 17, 1832, it marked the first time a seagoing steamer would fly the British flag in a U.S. port. The Royal William – named after the ruling monarch, William IV – was also the first steamship built to develop trade between the ports of different colonies in British North America.

She was commissioned by brewer John Molson and a group of investors from different colonies across British North America before being built in Cap-Blanc, Quebec by John Saxton Campbell and George Black. The steam engines were installed in Montreal. Altogether, the steamship measured 49 metres long and 13 metres wide.

During its initial year, the steamship often travelled between Quebec and the Atlantic colonies; however, travel was restricted during and following a cholera epidemic in 1832.

The Royal William eventually crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1833.

An 1834 painting by Stephen Skillet depicts the SS Royal William.


A century later, Canada’s Post Office Department (now Canada Post) issued a five-cent dark-blue commemorative stamp (Scott #204) to mark the Royal William’s voyage across the Atlantic Ocean—the first time a Canadian vessel would cross the pond using only steam power.

Printed by the British American Bank Note Co., the stamp depicts the famed steamship as it passes another ship. The depiction was adapted from a drawing in the National Archives of Canada. Stephen Skillet painted the original in oils in 1834.

Eventually, Spanish interests purchased the ship before it came to what’s described in a press release issued by the Post Office Department as “an inglorious end at Bordeaux, France, in 1840, when her engines were removed.”

The SS Royal William is often credited with achieving the first steam-powered crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, using sails only during boiler maintenance; however, the British-built, Dutch-owned Curaçao crossed in 1827, and the sail-steam hybrid SS Savannah used some steam power when crossing in 1819.

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