Toronto Naval Brigade Canada Medal Fenian Raid


The Canadian Gunboat Rescue

first Boat in the Canadian Navy

First Boat in the Canadian Navy

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Toronto Naval Brigade Canada Medal Fenian Raid 1866

Canada General Service Medal with Fenian Raid 1866 Clasp named to: Seaman W. H. Maclear  Toronto Naval Bde

Maclear was on the crew on the gunboat RESCUE which is considered the first Boat in the Canadian Navy, more of which, please see below. He was one of 40 on the medal roll, see link below.

William Henry Maclear would have been 19 years old when he served in the Toronto Naval Brigade and earned this Fenian Raids 1866 Canada General Service Medal. In addition to him listed on the below crew list for the gunboat Rescue, the medal roll records the following note of his service being “March to August 1866 Lakes Ontario and Erie, Detroit River and Drill Shed Toronto.”

William Henry Maclear was living in Evanston, Illinois in 1900. Records show that his medal was sent to him at 742 Michigan Avenue, Evanston. He was born 27th November 1847 and died 26th May 1930. His children were born in Illinois, USA. There is an image of his headstone on line under the Grave Index of Canada, Outremont, Montreal Region, Quebec, Canada.

He was born in Canada to an Irish father and mother Isabel (nee Arbuckle, of Coleraine). His occupation is given as Stationer in the 1910 Federal Census. His father Thomas Maclear was a bookseller and publisher from Strabane, Northern Ireland, who opened a bookstore in Toronto in 1848. It is understood that William Henry Maclear and his brother Thomas A Maclear bought their father out as the business was struggling.

He became a US citizen, naturalised in 1892. He is listed on the US Census of 1910 in the City of Evanston, Illinois, where his profession is given a Stationer. It is of interest that the Census 1910 entry for the Maclear family records daughter Isabelle, a 27 yr old teacher. There is a family headstone at Cimetière Mont-Royal, Outremont, Montreal Region, Quebec, Canada which is to the Nelson-Maclear family. This grave headstone names Isabelle Arbuckle Maclear (May 25th 1887 – Mar 15th 1961) and William Henry Maclear (Nov 27th 1847 – May 26th 1930).

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Below are 2 extracts of works on the subject of the birth of the Canadian Navy and the role of the RESCUE and her crew of the Toronto Naval Brigade.


BY CAPT. JOHN A. MACDONALD (A Veteran of 1866 and 1870)

TORONTO : Printed by W. S. Johnston & Co y, 106-108 Ateiaide Street West. 1910



Johnny Canuck Afloat— Splendid Service on Board the Gunboats — The Beginning of the Canadian Navy — Arrival of British Tars.

Concurrent with the mustering of troops to act on land, the need of naval forces to patrol out lakes and rivers was fully realized, so preparations were quickly made in that direction. The Toronto Naval Brigade, commanded by Capt. W. F. McMaster, was a very efficient and well-disciplined corps of brave and hardy men, who were among the first to respond to the call of duty. The Government chartered the powerful steam tug ”Rescue,” which being properly armed, was placed in commission as the first boat in the Canadian Navy. She was manned by the Toronto Naval Brigade, and sailed out of Toronto Harbour on June 4th under sealed orders. She arrived at Port Dalhousie the same evening and proceeded through the Welland Canal and Lake Erie to Windsor, where trouble was expected. Her officers and crew were a resolute and able lot of men, who were patriotic to the core, and were keen to get into action with the enemy. It had been rumoured that a Fenian fleet was being fitted out on the Upper Lakes to assist in Gen. Sweeny’s programme, therefore all on board the “Rescue” were vigilant and expectant that they would have an opportunity to meet a Fenian gunboat on Lake Erie and prove their mettle.

The roster of the Toronto Naval Brigade on this expedition was as follows: Captain, W. F. McMaster; Lieutenant Alex. McGregor; Sub-Lieutenant, E. B. Vankoughnet; Surgeon N. McMaster; Gunner, John Field; Boatswain, R. Montgomery; Chief Engineer, J. Nicholson ; Midshipmen, R. Wilson and A. Miller; Paymaster, Joseph Fletcher; Quartermaster, George Wyatt; Assistant Engineers, James Findlay and John Young; Gunner ‘s Mate, James Morrison ; Boatswain ‘s Mates, James Ford and Richard Ardagh; Carpenter, Joseph Smith; Carpenter’s Mate, John Clendinning; Armorer, Fred. Oakley; Seamen, Thos. G. Cable, George Mackay, Wm. A. Wilson, John Bolam, Harry Sewart Crewe, George Fox, Wm. W. Fox, George Poulter, Samuel Crangle, Ed. Metcalfe, Fred Walker, Samuel Mountain, Charles Corin, Wm. Miles, Ed. Scadding, Joseph Fetters, Thos. Hutchinson, James Humphrey, Wm. Dillon, Wm. Maclear, Chas. Callighan, R. Y. Ellis, Joseph Bywater, John Graham, James Ferguson, Fred Yates, Harry Y. Young, George Mutton, Edward Turner, Wm. Pedlow, Samuel Pettigrew, W. J. McClure, Ben. Cope, Thos. Spence, James Craig, Clarence Cooch, W. Cooch, T. Mulholland, Sam. Parker, E. J. Hobson, J. G. Hutchinson, Thos. Lunday, Geo. Williams, George Oakley; Powder Boys. F. H. Moulson and Gus Ellis.

Mr. E. B. Vankoughnet (a Toronto boy, who was then serving as a midshipman on board Her Majesty’s warship ”Aurora,” lying at Quebec, and who was home on a visit at the time) wdred his commanding officer for leave to join the “Rescue,” and being granted permission, reported for duty to Capt. McMaster and was attached to the Toronto Naval Brigade as Sub-Lieutenant on board the ”Rescue” before she sailed.

As an example of the alacrity which marked the men of the Toronto Naval Brigade, it may be mentioned that when they received orders to go on board the “Rescue” on Sunday morning, June 3rd, and fit her up for service, they responded so promptly that before evening they had put 67 tons of coal on board, besides transforming the boat from a peaceful tug to a veritable gunboat by making such alterations as were necessary for that purpose. All were workers, and “handy men” either ashore or afloat, and that night everything was so snug and secure that they took up their quarters on board, fully provisioned for a cruise. Early next morning the “Rescue” steamed up to the Queen’s Wharf and took on board her armament and ammunition. A large 32-pound gun was mounted on the main deck, in a position available for service in any direction required, while the projectiles were placed in pyramidal piles near-by, so as to be convenient for quick action.

On the afternoon of the 5th of June, while proceeding up Lake Erie, a suspicious-looking steamer was seen approaching from the west. Heavy clouds of black smoke belched forth from her funnels, and she appeared to be heading for the “Rescue” under full speed. As rumours of a Fenian flotilla on the Upper Lakes had prevailed, it was conjectured that this strange craft might be one of the enemy’s gunboats, and consequently its appearance caused some excitement on board the “Rescue.” The men were called to quarters^ the 32-pounder loaded and charged with chain-shot, and every preparation made to give battle in case the approaching steamer should happen to be a foe. As it came nearer it was seen that she was a side-wheeler, and was evidently crowding on all steam. Jack Fields (an experienced gunner) took charge of the 32-pounder, which he carefully trained on the stranger, and remarked: “We will take that walking-beam out of her.” All were now expectant, and ready for action, awaiting orders to fire. But as the steamer approached closer it was learned that she was the United States revenue cutter ‘ ‘ Fessenden, ‘ ‘ which was on patrol duty on Lake Erie, on the look-out for Fenians also, and her commander had intended to overhaul the “Rescue,” as he likewise thought her suspicious-looking. After a friendly “hail” and mutual explanations, both steamers proceeded on their way.

At about 12 o’clock that night, when about off Port Stanley, a heavy storm of wind and rain arose, and the crew of the “Rescue” experienced a very rough time. The boat pitched and rolled in the trough of the heavy seas, and she sprang a leak. The big gun threatened to break loose from its lashings, and had to be thoroughly secured by cables. The round shot, which had been built up in pyramids on the deck, got away from their base-frames and were rolling in every direction, while the high waves swept over the bulwarks, deluging the men with water. During the whole of the night and part of the next day the men were kept constantly at the pumps, and by dint of hard work succeeded in keeping the boat afloat until the gale subsided and they entered calmer waters. The crew were pretty well worn out with hunger and fatigue when they reached the mouth of the Detroit River on the evening of the 6th of June. They arrived at Windsor about 8 o’clock on the same night, weary, but none the worse of their experience in a Lake Erie storm, which is said by old sailors to be the worst that can rage on any sea.

As matters looked serious along the Detroit River and Upper Lakes, it was decided to strengthen the naval force at Windsor by equipping another boat for service. Therefore, the staunch ferry steamer “Michigan” was chartered and details of British tars from Her Majesty’s Ship “Aurora” were brought up from Quebec to form her crew, and also to relieve the Toronto Naval Brigade from duty on the “Rescue,” as Capt, McMaster had received orders to transfer his command to the “Magnet” and cruise the lakes. Both the “Michigan” and the “Rescue” were then efficiently armed and equipped for the naval service required, and went into commission under British officers and crews. Each boat had an armament of two Armstrong ship guns (9 and 12-pounders), with full supplies of ammunition, and were manned by one Lieutenant, one Second Lieutenant, and midshipmen, doctors, carpenters, etc., with about 90 seamen, 22 marines and seven other officers, all armed with rifles, cutlassess, revolvers and dirks. Lieut. Fairlie, R.N. and Lieut. Heron, R.N. (both of the British man-of-war “Aurora”), were placed in command of the “Rescue” and “Michigan,” respectively.

On being relieved from duty on the “Rescue” by the British seamen, Capt. McMaster and his men proceeded to Toronto to fit out the steamer “Magnet” for lake service. They had just completed this arduous work and were awaiting sailing instructions, when an order came that their services were not needed for the present. In relieving them from further service they were specially thanked by Gen. Napier for the creditable manner in which they had done their duty, in the following order.

Assistant Adjt.-General ‘s Office, Toronto, June 10, 1866.

Sir, — I am directed by Maj.-Gen. Napier, C.B., commanding Her Majesty’s forces and volunteers, Canada West, to express to you his thanks for the efficient services rendered by the Naval Brigade under your command, particularly recently, when required to take charge of and convert the steamer ”Rescue” into a gunboat, in discharging her cargo and getting the necessary armament on board in a very short time and in a highly creditable manner; and, when relieved from the charge of the ”Rescue,” in performing similar good services when placed in command of the steamer “Magnet.” And the Major-General will not fail to again avail himself of the services of the Naval Brigade afloat should an opportunity occur, and will have great pleasure in bringing before the notice of His Excellency the Governor-General the important and valuable services which they have rendered.

I have the honour to be. Sir, Your obedient servant, Capt. McMaster, WM. S. DUKIE, Commanding Naval Brigade. Toronto. Lt.-CoL, A.A.G.M.

The Dominion Gunboat Rescue : ‘The First Boat in the Canadian Navy’ By David Yates

The Gunboat Rescue, shown with a full crew aboard.

The Gunboat Rescue, shown with a full crew aboard.

On May 19, 1870, when the gunboat Rescue limped into Goderich harbour with her burned out smoke stack and her boiler ‘ready to burst,’ she was dismissed as a ‘perfectly unseaworthy tub’ by The Huron Signal. Yet, this nearly derelict gunboat manned by Huron County seamen is considered the ‘first Boat in the Canadian Navy.’

The Rescue was never designed as a warship. She was built in Buffalo in 1855 as a passenger and freight vessel. In 1866, during the first Fenian threat, the Provincial Marine chartered her as a gunboat for one season at the considerable sum of $6 000. She was armed with two Armstrong breach loading cannons.

The Prince Alfred’s place as part of the first generation of a distinctly Canadian Naval Service has been woefully neglected. Ironically, an American newspaper ‘The Buffalo Commercial Advertiser’ (March 12, 1875) best captured the significance of the Prince Alfred’s passing when it observed that her demise was “the abolishment of the Canadian Navy.”

In the Fenian raid near Fort Erie on June 1-2, 1866, the Rescue was manned by the men of the Toronto Naval Brigade. After taking on her crew and one 32 pd. gun at Toronto Harbour, the Rescue steamed towards the Niagara frontier. On June 3, she patrolled the Niagara River attempting to intercept boatloads of Fenian raiders attempting to cross into Canadian territory.

The closest she came to firing her cannons was when she mistook an American Revenue Cutter for a Fenian raiding vessel.

Major-General Charles Napier, commander of Her Majesty’s forces and volunteers in Canada commended the Rescue’s Captain McMaster “for the efficient services rendered by the naval brigade under your command, particularly recently, when required to take charge of and convert the steamer Rescue into a gunboat, -in discharging her cargo and getting the necessary armament on board in a very short time in a highly creditable manner.”

The Rescue was the first Canadian war vessel. Previously, gunboats on the Great Lakes had been manned by Royal Naval seamen. In 1866, the Rescue’s crew were Canadian seamen serving aboard a Canadian vessel in defence of Canadian soil. Captain John MacDonald, a veteran of 1866, wrote in ‘Troublous Times in Canada” (1910) that the Rescue’s crew were a resolute and able lot of men, who were patriotic to the core.” MacDonald further dubbed the Rescue “the first boat in the Canadian navy.”

In March, 1867, the Rescue reverted back to a Royal Naval vessel as Lieutenant Fairlie of the HMS Aurora and a crew consisting of two officers, two engineers and 48 ratings sailed the Rescue between Kingston and Prescott.

On November 1, 1867, the Rescue was one of two gunboats purchased by the newly formed Dominion government (the other was the Prince Alfred). Rescue was purchased for $21 000 to form part of a tiny Canadian Great Lakes gunboat flotilla. After her purchase in November, the Rescue docked at Dunnville for the winter and her Royal Naval crew left by rail to return to their ship.

It was a modest start for Canada’s navy but at least one Canadian historian has observed that ’the Canadian gunboat service’ with its rented tugs and barges “outclassed the motley Fenian navy.”

During the winter of 1867-68, a remarkable change in national policy occurred as the Royal Navy transferred responsibility for protection of the Great Lakes to the Canadian government. The Canadian gunboats were twinned with their British counterparts. The Prince wintered in Goderich with the HMS Cherub while the Rescue spent the winter with the HMS Britomart in Dunnville on Lake Erie. The New York Times feared that this arrangement would result in the formation of a ‘marine brigade.’

The Royal Navy spent their last summer on the Great Lakes drilling Canadian crews in running one of Her Majesty’s warships. Endless gunnery, cutlass and firearms practice became the norm for crews fitting out the Rescue and Prince Alfred.

The Rescue required a great deal of repair and maintenance. In May 1870, when she lumbered into Goderich harbour with the Prince Alfred for service in the Red River Rebellion, when she steamed into the harbour she ‘broke down’ and was ‘palpably inefficient.’ The Signal’s editor complained “that the Rescue was not put in proper order before she was required on active service.”

Indeed, “the only thing about her worthy of admiration,” according to the Signal, is the Union Jack that floats at her mast-head.”

Locally, the condition of the Rescue was an issue of great concern because another 20 volunteers of the Goderich Garrison Artillery Company under Captain J. C. Thomson were ‘called out’ to serve aboard her. It was understood that “she would proceed to Collingwood, and it is supposed she will be in commission all summer. The men answered to the call most cheerfully, and paraded on the square this afternoon.” This was in addition to the almost 70 men from Goderich and Clinton who were aboard the Prince Alfred.

Unlike the Prince, the Rescue’s campaign seemed to be a frustrating litany of delays and repairs. A Goderich correspondent aboard the Prince Alfred reported that the Rescue was to have arrived at the Sault ‘two or three days ago’ with another vessel in tow laden with an artillery battery but ‘broke down on their way somewhere.’

It was a pattern that dogged the Rescue throughout the rest of her gunboat service. After the Red River campaign, the Rescue was kept in service as a gunboat but she incurred tremendous repair costs. In January 1871, gunboat superintendent, G. H. Wyatt, requested $9 000 for repairs to the vessel. In May 1871, she was ordered from Goderich to Kingston. Her guns were removed and returned by rail to the Prince Alfred stationed in Goderich.

Although the Rescue remained a frequent visitor to Goderich, she returned to Lake Superior in the summer of 1871 to assist with the Canadian Pacific Railway survey for the proposed transcontinental railway. She was also the first Canadian mail ship on Lake Superior. Like the Prince Alfred, the Rescue spent her remaining days in government service performing the tasks expected of the modern Coast Guard. Rescue spent a lot of time in the dockyard for repairs, gunboat superintendent, G. H. Wyatt, reported in his 1871 report to parliament recorded that the Rescue had travelled 4 591 nautical miles compared with the Prince Alfred’s 4 280 nautical miles. By the 1870’s, the Fenian threat had subsided. The Canadian-U.S. border had truly become demilitarized. Canada no longer needed a Great Lakes gunboat service. The Rescue was sold in February1873andbrokenupforscrapthefollowingyear. Yet, the presence of the Dominion Gunboats Rescue and Prince Alfred stationed in the Goderich harbour manned by local crews allows Huron County may be justified in claiming to be the cradle of the Royal Canadian Navy.

Acknowledgement to A Special publication by the Branch 109 of the Royal Canadian Legion for DOORS OPEN, October 13, 2013, presenting the theme “Defending Our Nation”.

Prepared by Paul Carroll in cooperation with David Yates on behalf of the Core Planning Team for the Centennial Remembrance for the Great Lakes Storm, November 1913.]



Bio of father Thomas Maclear link:

Canadian National Archives Medal Roll link: