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Alphabet Fleet

With its completion of the railway in 1898 and following its agreement with the Newfoundland Government, the Reid Newfoundland Company under Robert G. Reid (1842 – 1908) set up coastal and ferry services for the island and Labrador, to be integrated with the railway. By 1900 they comprised a fleet of eight vessels known as the "Alphabet Fleet." These were:

Argyle (operated in Placentia Bay)
Bruce (Gulf run)
Clyde (Notre Dame Bay)
Dundee (Bonavista Bay)
Ethie (Conception and Trinity Bays)
Fife (Bay of Islands and Labrador Straits)
Glencoe (Placentia and Fortune Bays)
Home (St. John's to Labrador run)

Later they added:

Invermore (Gulf run following the sinking of the Bruce in 1911)
Kyle (Labrador run)
Lintrose
Meigle

Each vessel was built in Scotland and given the name of a Scottish location by the Reids whose family had come from there. The name "Alphabet" was given to the fleet because all names began with consecutive letters. Another unusual requirement was that all names had to end in the letter "e." Because no suitable Scottish placename began with "J" and ended in "e," a ship's name beginning with that letter was ignored. The company also added the Virginia Lake (a replacement for the Fife which was lost in 1900) and Grand Lake, whose names did not follow the usual naming convention.

In 1904, in response to complaints about the Reid service, the Newfoundland government subidized the use of two outside vessels for the coastal service, the Portia and Prospero, and in 1912, set up a similar arrangement for use of the Sagona and Fogota.

In 1923, under the Railway Settlement Act, the government took over the island’s railway. They purchased the Alphabet Fleet from the Reids and placed it under the railway's control. In 1924, the Portia, Prospero and Sagona were purchased outright and another vessel the Malakoff was brought into service. In 1925, the Caribou began its service on the Gulf run.

Map of Newfoundland showing Railways and Steamship Routes

Map of Newfoundland showing Railways and Steamship Routes in 1933

From Newfoundland Royal Commission 1933 Report (London: His Majesty's Stationary Office, 1934).
Larger Version (214 kb)

The fleet was not altered again until 1936 when the Commission of Government replaced the Prospero with the Northern Ranger. In 1940 the Burgeo and Baccalieu replaced the Portia and Sagona.

The Maritime History Archive has created a database containing the names of over 30,000 seamen taken from the crew lists of 270 Newfoundland registered vessels. These crew lists, numbering more than 1450 and held at the Maritime History Archive, cover the years 1915 to 1942. Included in this database are 272 crew lists of the Alphabet Fleet and other railway vessels from 1919 to 1939. You can access this database by visiting the NL Crews Search page elsewhere on the Maritime History Archive web site.
 

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