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Gladys Under Way

April 17, 2015

A submarine vessel arrived at Brownsville in 1887,  crossing from New Westminster beneath the surface of the Fraser River.   It was the sunken sternwheel steamer Gladys, brought over under tow by the snagboat Samson.
The cook was making breakfast and the deckhands still rubbing their eyes when the Gladys had suddenly keeled over at Wise’s wharf at Lytton Square, November 27th.
As the steamer swayed and water rushed in, the crew had barely time to scramble onto the deck and jump for safety, before the boat dropped 30 feet to the bottom of the river.
Gladys - Fraser River steamer - ex-James McNaughtThe Gladys was the workhorse vessel of the Fraser Valley, calling at landings upriver from the city, transporting passengers and freight and bringing out farm produce to market.
Only the day before, the steamer had been on the Harrison River cutting her way through inch-thick ice.  As word spread along the waterfront that morning and people came to gawk, speculation was  that her hull must have been damaged
WB Townsend, owner of the vessel, immediately telegraphed the government agent to request assistance from Captain Angus Grant of the snagboat Samson.
The Samson arrived on the scene later in the morning and began operations to raise the wreck.
While the snagboat was a strong vessel equipped with a crane and drag-lines, it was not designed to heft a steamboat filled with water.
The Gladys was raised from the bottom of the Fraser river by means of a tide-lift.
At low tide lines were attached to the sunken vessel and drawn tight.
At flood tide the Fraser  River at New Westminster, 15 miles from its mouth, can rise about 6 feet.
As the water level rose with the incoming tide,  the Gladys was successfully floated off the bottom.  The submerged vessel was pulled away from the wharf and a second set of lines dropped from a barge.
Samson - snagboat on Fraser RiverIn this manner, with the barge providing buoyancy on one side and the Samson on the other, the Gladys embarked on  her underwater voyage to Brownsville.
Captain Grant brought the Gladys aground on a sand bar that slanted toward the shore and there she rested until low tide when the lines could be shortened once again.
The Samson having performed this unique service, left to resume its duties, replaced by a second barge.
With each change of tide,  the Gladys was floated higher and hauled further up the bar towards the beach. When the steamer was at last resting high and dry, she was pumped out and taken down to the wharf at  the  Royal City Planing Mills for repairs.
As it turned out the Gladys was not badly damaged, although her sinking was referred in government reports as a marine "disaster."
The explanation given out was that the crew had failed to slacken her tie-lines while she lay at Wise’s wharf and that, as she dropped with the falling tide, she was tipped by her own ropes.
After a few repairs, it was reported:
"The old craft is as staunch as ever and will yet do many a good day’s work on the river."
Out of service only a matter of days, Gladys is the only vessel known to have made the Fraser River crossing to Brownsville underwater.

Gladys built as James McNaught by Captain FA Dyer

Described as a "shovel-nosed sternwheeler," the Gladys was built at Seattle in 1882 for Captain Frederick A Dyer and launched as the James McNaught.  Out of her home port of La Conner, WA, she ran mainly on the lower Skagit River.
Employed as a  snagboat, the “Jim McNaught” did yeoman service in opening up the North Fork Jam to navigation.
1885 09 24 auction James McNaught - WB TownsendIt was a family-operated boat: Dyer’s wife Grace was first mate and steward; step-daughter Stella Easterbrook served as Purser. Sons Frank and Fred completed her crew. Meanwhile both Captain Dyer and Stellla took out homestead patents in the Skagit valley.
After a couple of years steamboating on the Skagit, Dyer was looking to get out of the business. The James McNaught was seen at Yesler’s wharf in Seattle decorated with a For Sale sign.

In 1885 the boat was sold north of the line to WB Townsend of  New Westminster.

Captain Dyer is reported to have worked on lower coast steamers, including a stint on the Teaser, running between Victoria and New Westminster in connection with the Gladys.
A Mrs Captain FA Dyer is listed in the 1887 directory as living on Douglas Street, New Westminster.

Stella Moulton Easterbrook married John Samuel "Jack" Magladry, a sawyer at John Hendry’s Royal City Planing Mills operation on False Creek in Vancouver.  A daughter, Grace Eilene, was born in Vancouver in 1889.  Pound-for-pound millworker Jack Magladry later became a prominent figure in the Oregon lumber trade and a State Senator. He died in 1940.

What became of Captain Fred Dyer is a bit murkier.  References to him being a Pilot in British Columbia have not been confirmed.  (Captains William Henry Dyer and Robert Sharp of the schooner Winnifred were appointed Pilots at Burrard Inlet in 1883.) An obituary published in the Seattle PI in 1894 is quite convincing, though apparently greatly exaggerated.  All indications are that Captain Dyer retired to the Skagit, settling on his ranch at Lyman WA, where he died in 1909. 

WB Townsend and the steamer Gladys – Fraser River Connections

WB Townsend -  New Westminster - ArchivesWB Townsend, who bought the steamboat James McNaught in 1885, was an Englishmen who had first come to British Columbia in 1858.  Ten years in business at New Westminster, he  owned the London Market grocery store and was engaged in sundry business ventures, including the Port Moody Stage line. 
Shortly  after purchasing the James McNaught, Townsend  advertised the boat for sale,  but failing to turn a quick profit,  ended up keeping it.

Townsend next applied to have the name of his new purchase changed to Gladys, presumably after his youngest daughter, and he put the boat to work on the Fraser River.

The trans-gendered steamer was the type of vessel best suited for the lower Fraser: a shallow-draft sternwheeler, she needed no wharf and could make landing by running her nose onto any beach along the river.
Her first service of note was filling in for the Reliance after that steamer struck a snag at Popcum in December 1885.

1886 04 02 Teaser from Victoria to New Westminster - Gladys to Hope

In 1886 the Gladys, Captain JE Insley,  operated in connection with the Teaser, Captain George Cavin, from Victoria, making for a through service from Vancouver Island to the upper Fraser River.

The Teaser was a storied boat. A propeller built by Captain William Moore in 1884, it ran to Fraser River ports from Victoria against stiff opposition from the CPNCo line. In 1885 the Teaser had suddenly departed from its regular schedule and headed off to Alaska in command of Captain Moore. As the fugitive vessel was heavily mortgaged to Turner, Beeton & Co, it was called an “act of piracy."  When all was sorted out Captain Cavin took over the helm of the Teaser and she was put on the run to New Westminster, connecting with the Gladys. The Gladys departed New Westminster twice a week, calling at Fraser River way ports as far up as  Yale.

1887 07 29 steamer Rainbow to New Westminster connects Gladys -Turner Beeton Co

steamer Rainbow - ex-Teaser - New Westminster Archives photoIn 1887 Turner, Beeton had the Teaser re-named the Rainbow





It was in November of 1887 that the Gladys sank at the wharf at New Westminster and made her underwater journey to Brownsville.

In 1888 the Gladys, running  in connection with the Turner, Beeton & Co’s boats from Victoria, was making three round trips a week and serving about 40 landing places between New Westminster and Chilliwack.  

With 8 staterooms Gladys could accommodate 70 passengers and was manned by a crew of 10.  Her average freight load each way was about 20 tons, though she could easily carry up to 100 tons.
Agent for the Gladys at New Westminster was the firm of Mathers & Milligan.

Mathers & Milligan

Henry Mathers

For a farmer from Ontario arriving in New Westminster District in the early 1870’s land prices must have seemed very reasonable.  Demand was not high and in September 1873 lots offered for sale on the hill above Brown’s Landing — now Surrey City Centre –  could not fetch a buyer at one dollar an acre.
In 1874 Irish-born Henry Mathers, a recent arrival from Huron County, Ontario, selected 6,500 acres of unclaimed and unsurveyed land east of Fort Langley and, after having had it surveyed at his own expense, bought the property for  $1 per acre.
(The price was fixed under the terms of the Land Act, 1874, Clause 62:
"Unsurveyed land when surveyed at expense of applicant may be purchased at one dollar per acre."
In 1878 Mathers was ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Provincial Legislature. In 1881, at the age of 64,  he was appointed a Justice of the Peace.

WJ Mathers

In 1887 Henry Mathers’ son William John Mathers left a sales position with James Wise, general merchant,  to enter into a partnership with DS Milligan as commission feed,  grain and produce merchants.
Now  27 years old, WJ Mathers had been in the workforce since the age of 14, working as a clerk.

DS Milligan

David Shibley Milligan, 48,  received a business education in his native province of Ontario. He had been in BC since 1858 as a miner and had spent some time in San Francisco. He was postmaster at Moodyville on Burrard Inlet from 1874 until he left 1885.  A widower, he married Alida Sexsmith in 1878. Milligan also owned a large tract on Lulu Island.  He had a reputation as a man “of sterling business qualities and knowledge.”

Webster's stone building - wharf - sternwheeler steamboat - Fraser River

Millard’s / Webster’s Stone Building First on the Mainland

Mathers & Milligan were situated on Front Street,  in the lower level of Webster’s building facing their wharf below Lytton Square.   

The Webster Building was the first stone building on the Mainland, erected in 1863 by Captain James T Millard, owner of the steamboat Hope

The first anchor tenants in the building, with Columbia Street frontage,  were the Bank of British Columbia and JA Webster’s store.

1888 11 05 Henry Mathers property Langley for sale

Mathers Estate for Sale

In 1888 Henry Mathers put up for sale 5,294 acres of his original holdings, purchased for one dollar per acre.

Mathers Road - Glen Valley - Dominion Map CoThe properties were located east of Fort Langley, extending back of Fraser River along the Beaver Creek.  Access was from a steamer landing  about 25 miles upriver from New Westminster. Directly across the river from the landing was  new CPR  station at Whonock. 

The district nowadays is known as Glen Valley and Bradner.  A section of 84 Avenue is known as Mathers Road.

Clicking map below opens Google Map of Mathers Estate. Google map link to Mathers estate


Henry Mathers was by now 73 years old. The land sale was perhaps in aid of financing the expansion of his son’s firm of Mathers & Milligan.  William was not yet married and still lived at the family home on Queens Avenue.

Although listed in the directory as belonging to Mathers & Milligan, there is no indication Henry Mathers played an active role in the firm.

Mathers & Milligan were local agents for the Victoria concern Turner, Beeton & Co,  and for the steamer Gladys, owned by WB Townsend.  The arrangements tied in nicely with their commercial dealings with Fraser Valley famers.

In December of 1888 the Gladys was once again put on the block by owner WB Townsend, with additional assets that included the


"Freight Shed, Landing-Steps and Hay-slide at Chilliwack, which is subject to a ground rent of $2 per month to the Indian chief at Chilliwack; also the Landing-steps at Sumas."


However at the Christmas Eve sale auctioneer TJ Trapp failed to obtain a bid higher than the reserve, and Townsend once again would not part with Gladys.

In 1889 Mathers & Milligan announced  a major expansion of their Front street premises, including construction of a new warehouse and extensive wharf.

The sternwheeler Gladys operated in all conditions, barring freeze-up.  In February 1889, while under the command of Captain James A Robinson, the Gladys was caught in snow storm, the gale "one of the wildest ever felt on the river," and was beached for safety.

It was later in the year 1889, following the death of Captain Angus Grant, heretofore the only master of the Samson, that Captain Robinson left the Gladys to take over command of that vessel.
Captain Hans Burr was appointed the  new master of the Gladys and would guide her through some of her more adventurous years.

Captain Hans Harford Burr

Hans Harford Burr was born in Dublin, Ireland and came  out to British Columbia in 1864 at the age of nine, in company of his father Joseph Burr.
The family settled at Yale where young Hans attended the school taught by his father.
As a young man he followed the trail of gold to the Cariboo but returned to Yale and found his first employment as a printer with the Cariboo Sentinel newspaper. Coming down to the coast he worked for the Mainland Guardian before being attracted to steamboating.

"Commencing as a wood passer he in turn mastered the different branches of the business, of fireman, assistant engineer, engineer, pilot, mate and captain."

Hans Burr worked on the upper Fraser, on boats running between Soda Creek and Quesnel. He went up to the Stickeen river as a pilot for Captain John Irving.
On the lower Fraser, among the boats Burr served on, in various capacities from deckhand to watchman to mate, were the steamers Hope, Lillooet, Onward, Royal City, Reliance, Glenora, Gem, Victoria and Adelaide. As master, Burr is best known for his time on the Gladys and the Ramona, serving Fraser Valley landings.
Captain HH Burr took command of the Gladys following the departure of Captain JA Robinson in 1889.

Mather & Milligan in 1890 New Westminster directoryIn 1890 Mathers & Milligan had completed new buildings and an enlarged wharf on Front Street, between 6th Street and Lytton Square, sometimes called the "Stanley Docks." 

Here the Victoria steamer Rainbow (ex Teaser), connected with local boats Fairy Queen, making the run downriver to Ladner and Gladys, reaching upriver waypoints to Chilliwack.

In 1892 the Gladys was on the ways for an enlargement and in April she was back on the run to Chilliwack under Captain Burr, her capacity nearly doubled.

It was in August 1892 that Captain Burr reported an unusual natural phenomenon on the Fraser River, observing "dense shoals of young salmon about one inch long."

"The captain never saw such a sight in his long experience on the river.  The Fraser’s surface was, he says, absolutely covered with them, the usually muddy water taking on a dark blue tint by reason of their numbers."

In this season of natural bounty in the river and on rural pastures, Mathers & Milligan was bought out by the Victoria firm of Brackman & Ker.

Brackman & Ker: Cash to farmers

The purchase of  Mathers & Milligan by Victoria millers Henry Brackman & David R Ker in August 1892  included  their offices and "the extensive warehouses and wharves on Front Street."
The new owners announced plans to accept from the farmers of the Fraser Valley "all the grain and hay of good quality they can dispose of," for cash.
Brackman & Ker dealt in hay, feed and grain and manufactured its own line of milled products, including flour.

Henry Brackman

Henry Brackman,  founder of the firm, was a native of Hamburg, Germany,  who came out to British Columbia and  made a small fortune in Cariboo gold.   In 1877 with partner James Milne he  established the Saanich Steam Mills on Vancouver Island.  Milne left the company two years later.

David R Ker

In 1881,  David Russell Ker,  a young man of 18, eager to learn the milling business, was taken on board  by Henry Brackman at the flour mill  at Saanich.

DR Ker’s father was Robert Ker, a Scot who had been hired by Treasurer WD Gosset, June 1, 1859 to audit the Customs House books.  Gosset, not known for praise, called him the only qualified accountant in the Colony. Governor Douglas had approved his salary, but only
"as a temporary arrangement; and for the object proposed — but not otherwise — the financial state of the Colonial finances rendering retrenchment in the management of the public offices indispensable."  It was Ker senior who proved indispensable. He served the government until his death in 1879.

In October 1883, the month DR Ker turned 21, he entered into a partnership with his former boss under the name of Brackman & Ker.

Following the merger of Mathers & Milligan with Brackman & Ker, WJ Mathers stayed on as Manager at New Westminster.

DS Milligan retired to his ranch on the North Arm,  a property on Lulu Island later known as Terra Nova.  (See 1880 Property Owners Map)

Pre-deceased by his wife Alida, he died in 1895 at the age of 58, leaving  three children.

Gladys Overland – The Fraser River Flood of 1894

The Gladys, Captain HH Burr, mate Charles Seymour and the rest of the crew are most famous for their rescue work during the Fraser River flood of 1894.
The depth of water over Chilliwack farms rose to a height within a foot or two of the Telegraph lines.  Capt Burr piloted the Gladys inland amongst the floating debris to reach stranded farmers and livestock.
The crisis brought out the best in the settlers, who worked tirelessly in aid of saving lives.
Equally commendable were the actions of the crew of the Gladys.

"The Captain proved himself fully equal to all the many difficulties of navigation and cheerfully labored both night and day so that as much good might be done, and as quickly, as possible."


When the waters receded, Colonel Baker of government relief effort commended the master and crew of the Gladys and  rewarded each of them with a sum of money.
In aid of the flooded farms, the Provincial government placed WB Townsend, owner of the Gladys,  in charge of the distribution of seed.
Later in the summer, the crew of the Gladys fought a fire at Miller’s landing, Sumas, that destroyed a barn, saving adjacent buildings.

A young man’s fall from Gladys – Otto Dusterhoeft’s Unplanned Excursion

On February 26, 1895 a young man named Otto Dusterhoeft boarded the steamer Gladys at Chilliwack landing to see off his friend Grant Jessup, and while engaged in  conversation he either missed the whistle or ignored it and was still on board as the Gladys got underway.
German-born, Otto C Dusterhoeft had come to BC via Illinois, with his mother and step-father Charles Creamer. He was industrious, running the family farm — Mr Creamer was disabled — and teaching night-school.  Popular, athletic, a band member and a fine shot, he had just completed two terms as Clerk of Municipal Council in the district of Chilliwack.
Captive of the Gladys and heading down the Fraser, Dusterhoeft at first resolved to get off at Sumas landing and return to Chilliwack with the steamer Transfer, expected later.  But he was entreated to carry on down to New Westminster with his friend and return the next day.
Jessup left for Vancouver around 5 o’clock and after parting with him Dusterhoeft spent the evening with other friends in the Royal City.
He dined at the Holbrook House,  a Front Street saloon, spent time with his "warm friend" SA Cawley and visited at the home of watchmaker Franz Stirsky.
About 10 at night the watchman of the Gladys saw Dusterhoeft board the steamer and lie down on a cushioned side-sofa in the ladies lounge. He intended to be on board for the first sailing in the morning.
Dusterhoeft showed signs of having had some drink, but was capable of taking care of himself.
Making his rounds, the watchman observed Dusterhoeft sleeping, using his coat as a blanket.
Shortly before midnight those on board heard a thump and splash, but thought little of it, as it was a rough night.
Looking in later,  the watchman noticed Dusterhoeft was no longer in the cabin.
In the morning only Dusterhoeft’s hat and coat lay on the sofa.
As the steamer was leaving for its morning run, word was put out that Dusterhoeft had mysteriously disappeared.
A search in the City did not turn up anything.

As police attention turned to dragging the river,  people back in Chilliwack were surprised to learn Dusterhoeft was even away.
Shortly after noon the body was snagged a short distance below the Gladys’ berth, in front of the Brackman-Ker Company wharf.
In his pocket was a gold watch, stopped at 12:05 a.m.
There being no indications of violence, it was surmised Dusterhoeft must have gone outside for air and fallen overboard.
The upper deck had a railing, but there was no guard on the lower deck.
A Vancouver paper ran the story under the headline:
"Chilliwack’s City Clerk Walks off a Steamer While Asleep."
Dusterhoeft had served as Clerk of Chilliwack Municipal Council in 1893 and 1894. His age is given in some reports as 25, but his death certificate says 21.

The Dusterhoeft fatality bears some similarity to the disappearance of JW Pickard from the steam ferry Surrey in 1891.

Dusterhoeft was the second Clerk of Chilliwack to drown in the Fraser at New Westminster.  William Gillanders, CMC at Chilliwack in 1882,  was drowned with Thomas Lewis and two un-named First Nations paddlers when their canoe was crushed by ice in 1882.

Wharves where the great New Westminster fire of 1898 broke out

Pictured below, in a scene photographed from opposite the city on Fraser River in 1896, are sternwheel steamboats at the docks of the Brackman & Ker company.

New Westminster waterfront below Lytton Square - before fire of 1898


Fire-steamers adrift  –  The Royal City in Flames

Late Saturday night, the 10th of September 1898, a fire started in hay stored on the Brackman & Ker company’s docks on the New Westminster waterfront.  Within minutes the warehouse was ablaze and the flames leapt across the wharf to the South Arm steamer Edgar, tied up there on the Fraser River.  

As the ropes of the Edgar burned through,  its crew scrambled on deck and escaped into a rowboat.

The doomed vessel broke loose and drifted with the current, setting ablaze  the steamer Gladys, moored just downstream.  These two boats continued to run along the docks, next touching off  the cannery steamer Bon Accord.

The crew of the Bon Accord, seeing this disaster in progress, scuttled their vessel to prevent its spreading the flames. 

Next to catch fire was a coal scow which burned brightly, sending up showers of sparks.

Lit by the drifting fire boats and fanned by a stiff onshore breeze, nearly all downtown New Westminster businesses and dozens of residences on the hillside above were burned to the ground before dawn.

Burr family losses and saves

Captain Hans Burr of the steamer Gladys lost not only his boat on Fraser River, but his house on Alexander Street.
Joseph Burr house survived fire of 1898 - New West library photoAs the fire raged up the hillside and took hold of the Reformed Episcopal Church at 7th Street and Cunningham Street, the family next door fought a desperate battle to save their house.  Through the efforts of Joseph and Mary Jane Burr, aided by water from a well,their home was spared from the general devastation of the blocks below Royal Avenue.
The year after the fire, the Burrs turned around their house from Cunningham Street to face Royal Avenue. 

Joseph Burr was a cousin of Hans Burr. Mrs Burr was the daughter of James Johnston, of Johnston Road, Surrey.  Mary Jane and Joseph  were the grandparents of actor Raymond Burr.


The South Westminster ferry Surrey, berthed just upstream and upwind from the Brackman-Ker wharf,  had been slow to get into action, but once steam was got up, its supply of water pumped from the river helped save the only two buildings in the business district to survive the fire. 

One of the buildings was the Burr  Block, built by WH Burr. 


Brackman & Ker losses

The properties of Brackman & Ker which were  lost in the fire, according to the casualty list:

"Brackman & Ker’s warehouses and milling establishment, value $30,000"
"Webster Building, occupied by Brackman & Ker, value $7,000."

Also destroyed was the former residence of DS Milligan on Agnes Street and a group of  houses known as the “Milligan Estate.”

The burned steamer Gladys was replaced on the upriver run by the steamer Royal City, commanded by Captain Charles Seymour, formerly  first mate to Captain Burr on the Gladys.

The Edgar was replaced on the Lower Fraser run to Ladners by the Ramona.

Popular Master Hans Burr Passes

Captain Hans Harford Burr died at Ashcroft in May 1904. Suffering from ill-health, he had been invited by his brother, Constable JW Burr, to spend the winter upcountry.

"He was deservedly popular with the people of the river, not only because he had a record of no accidents, but because his generous spirit made everyone like him."



Off the rails: William B Townsend dies in Kootenay train wreck

Gladys steamboat owner William B Townsend, a long-time resident of New Westminster who served two terms as Mayor of the city,  was attracted to the Kootenay region during the mining boom of the 1890s. In 1896 he moved to Rossland, then to Nelson where he worked for Great Northern Railroad as right-of-way-agent.

In June 1906 Townsend was down in the Fraser Valley securing the route of  the  Victoria, Vancouver & Eastern Railway (VV&ER)  from Cloverdale to Hope.

1894 02 02 Nelson &  Fort Sheppard railwayTownsend left for his home in Nelson by rail via Seattle. 

Shortly after crossing the border back into Canada on the Fort Sheppard & Nelson Railway, the  car in which he was travelling left the track on the approach to the Beaver Canyon Bridge and tumbled 200 feet into the river.

Townsend and three others died in the wreck.  The cause of the derailment was supposed to have been that the train was going too fast for the cars to handle the curve, causing one to jump the rails.

Making its Marque: B & K

Brackman-Ker Mills - B&K rolled oats bagBrackman-Ker grew exponentially in tune with the development and prosperity of local  farms. 

One of their famous brands was B & K Rolled Oats, produced from oats grown in the Fraser Valley, which took first prize at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

In 1910 as Brackman-Ker completed a new mill in the Royal City, old Henry Mathers passed away at Vancouver, in his 94th year.

Brackman-Ker plant New Westminster with emblematic  flour-sack

In 1913 Brackman-Ker amalgamated with Western Canada Flour Mills.

WJ Mathers, a founder of Mathers & Milligan and Manager of Brackman-Ker at New Westminster,  retired in 1916, intending to spend time at his "big Surrey ranch."  The location of this ranch is not known to us, but Mathers did build a large home, Altnadene, on Deer Lake in Burnaby. He died in 1929.

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