Vinalhaven, ME Burning of the ROYAL TAR, Oct 1836


The Royal Tar was launched at St. John, New Brunswick, in April 1836. In May she began sailing from St. John to Eastport and Portland in Maine. In Portland she connected with other steamers going to Boston. Passengers on the Royal Tar would be able to go from St. John, New Brunswick, to New York in two and a half days! The Royal Tar sailed this route until October 21, when she was destroyed by fire. On this trip there was a menagerie (a collection of animals) on board. Thirty-two people and all the animals died.

Because of stormy weather, the Royal Tar did not leave St. John until Friday, October 21. There were human passengers, the animals, wagons, and some of the horses that belonged to the circus. The circus had been traveling in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. At first the weather was good, but then the wind started blowing very hard and the steamer stopped at Eastport.

On Tuesday the steamer started out again and about 2 p.m. it was crossing Penobscot Bay near the Fox Islands (Vinalhaven). Again, they stopped and anchored because of the wind. About half an hour later, fire was discovered. The fire engine was started, but the men only stayed at the pump for five minutes because the smoke was so bad. Everyone rushed for the two lifeboats. Sixteen passengers and crew took the largest boat and went away. Captain Reed and two men took charge of the jolly boat and picked up three men. About half an hour later, the U.S. revenue cutter Veto came toward the Royal Tar. Captain Dyer ran the cutter
close to the steamer and picked up 40 passengers.

The boat left the wreck for the last time about dusk. The wind was still blowing very hard and the Royal Tar was drifting out to sea. The survivors got to Isle au Haut in Penobscot Bay.

Compiled from a story in the Vinalhaven Pilot, Dec 1937.