A new display commemorating the 200th anniversary of the voyage of the Peter and Sarah has been mounted in Room 7.
This little ship – only 50 feet from stem to stern – sailed from Appledore in the summer of 1818 with a small gang of North Devon shipwrights on board. They were sent by Bideford merchant Thomas Burnard to found a settlement on Prince Edward Island, in Canada’s Maritime Provinces, to cut timber for export to Devon and set up a shipbuilding yard. These enterprises flourished and as a result strong and lasting economic and family bonds were forged between the Island and North Devon.
Emigrant ships outfitting on Bideford Quay (drawing by C.F. Powell)
Over the years, as the timber cargoes streamed into the Torridge and a succession of newly-built ships made the passage to Appledore for finishing and fitting out, the Island settlements grew into the busy communities of New Bideford and Port Hill. An early settler, Kilkhampton-born James Yeo, gradually took control of the logging, merchandising and shipbuilding activities there and rose to great prominence in Prince Edward Island commerce and politics.
James Yeo (Confederation Centre Art Gallery)
The timber ships usually had nearly empty holds on their return to Canada so their agents advertised for emigrants from North Devon communities to be carried to North America at very economical rates – as little as £3 for basic accommodation between decks on the passage. Between 1840 and 1855, at a time of great rural poverty, more than 2500 people sailed from Bideford alone to build a new life across the North Atlantic. These families wrote home encouraging others to emigrate and strong bonds soon grew between the Old World and the New.
James Yeo’s eldest son William was based in Appledore to oversee the fitting out, management and sale of the family’s PEI-built ships. With James and his sons John and James Jr. in charge of the Island shipyards and William installed in Appledore, the Yeos built or bought some 350 ships in Canada, 250 of which were sold on to British owners. It was William who had Richmond Dry Dock built in Appledore to speed the fitting out process, and it opened to great ceremony with the entry of the barque Elizabeth Yeo on 17th July 1856. Richmond Dock was a huge asset to the area, bringing in a constant succession of ships to be fitted out, surveyed or repaired for well over a century.
Emigrant ships outfitting on Bideford Quay
(drawing by C.F. Powell)
Today, Richmond Dock and the modern covered shipyard at Appledore Shipbuilders and the Green Park Shipbuilding Museum in Port Hill, PEI, are linked through the story of the Peter and Sarah’s pioneering voyage two hundred years ago.
“The Opening of Richmond Dock” (Painting © Mark Myers)