Captain Edward Gillam

by John MacFarlane 2017 (updated in 2018)

Captain Edward Gillam

Captain Edward Gillam (Photo from the MMBC collection. )

Born in Newfoundland in 1863, Captain Edward Gillam was the Master of the Tees and then the Princess Maquinna for two decades until she was replaced by the Tees. He died on on active service while on the bridge of the Princess Norah in 1929. Captain Gillam spent almost his whole career on steamers of the Canadian Pacific Steamships on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

On November 23, 1915 while Captain Gillam was in command of the Princess Maquinna carrying a large number of passengers and valuable cargo he went to the assistance of the Chilean sailing ship Carelmapu which was wrecked on the western end of Long Beach in Wickaninnish Bay. In spite of mountainous seas and strong gale winds he stood by and attempted to give aid to the crew of 24 of whom only 5 survived.

Major George Nicholson states in his book (Vancouver Island’s West Coast) states that "Shortly after noon the Maquinna came out from Clayoquot Sound southbound and to quote Captain Gillam’s own words,
"Never in all my long experience in the West Coast service have I been called upon to nurse a ship through such terrible seas." "

Gillam ordered anchors to be dropped and he slowly moved his ship toward the stranded sailing ship keeping her bow to the sea. At one point she came within 150 yards of the stricken vessel. They floated a line to ship but the strain of the seas broke the winch which was torn from the deck. To avoid further damage he ordered the anchor chain cut with a hacksaw and lost the chain and two anchors. Reluctantly Gillam headed to Tofino where the Tofino Lifeboat was notified.

Princess Maquinna

The Princess Maquinna (Photo from the MMBC collection. )

The main shipping channel into Esperanza Inlet is named Gillam Channel as are the Gillam Islands in Quatsino Sound.


The Tees (Photo from the collection. )

Major George Nicholson states in his book (Vancouver Island’s West Coast) about the Princess Maquinna that "Captain E. Gillam, the original master who occupied her bridge for twenty years, died at his post on board the Princess Norah, a ship that had just come out from Scotland to take the [Princess] Maquinna's place. His acts of human kindness will always be remembered on the West Coast. Years ago, the only hospitals of the area were at Port Alberni and Port Alice, two hundred miles apart. If by reaching either place a few hours ahead of time might save a life of a seriously ill or injured person brought on board at some remote village, or to avoid converting a ship’s stateroom into a maternity ward for convenience of a woman who had left the "happy event" too late. Captain Gillam thought nothing of passing up several stops. They could be made afterwards."

The Carelmapu on the rocks prior to being driven ashore. (Photo from the Ken Gibson collection.)

The Carelmapu was sailing inbound from Honolulu to Puget Sound for a cargo of lumber under Captain Fernando Desolmes. She was wrecked On November 23, 1915 in Shelter Bay east of Portland Point. The vessel made landfall 16 miles south of Cape Beale early on the morning of November 23rd. At 6:30 am they signaled Pachena Light in hope of picking up a tug to tow her through the Straits. The day was spent tacking back and forth in light wind awaiting a tug. By 6:00 pm the wind was a hard southeast gale and her sails were carried away. About 1:00 am the wind shifted to the southwest when land was 4 miles away. She dropped her anchors. The steamer Princess Maquinna, under Captain Gillam, appeared and the crew began abandoning ship. Then the biggest squall broke and the ship was carried across the corner of one of the numerous reefs, bringing up on the rocks about 70 yards from cliff. The ship went over on her beam ends and the hull broke in two at the after hatch. Most of crew aboard were washed overboard. Five crew and the ship&rsuo;'s dog were saved. A piece of the bow and steel debris remain in the rocks and can be seen at low tide. Much of the ship was salvaged in 1919. Twenty of the crew and the passenger list of 24 were lost.

Tofino nautical historian Ken Gibson spoke with Mike Hamilton&rsuo;s brother Harry at Ft Langley about the incident. Hamilton told him that he was aboard the Princess Maquinna as she anchored ahead of the Carelmapu which was dragging her anchor toward Cox Bay. In the screaming Sou’wester Gillam was easing his ship back playing out the anchor chain to get a rescue line across on the more sheltered side. One life boat had capsized already. Suddenly a severe gust struck, ripping the anchor winch a few inches from the deck rendering the steam power and gears useless. Gillam’s attention swung to his ship and passengers. A crew man was selected and given a ‘hang saw’ He was lashed to the starboard and port bar link chain between swells. Harry was one of these men and said that he was buried in water most of the time. Mean while Gilliam ordered a full head of steam and had already started to move the ship forward when the chain parted. He gave the order "Full Ahead". Jack MacLeod who sailed around Cape Horn and was with the life boat service was on Cox Point on the shore. He told me the wind and waves were so violent that even fish had been washed into the woods.

Captain Gillam is buried in Ross Bay Cemetery, Victoria BC.

Captain Edward Gillam

Captain Edward Gillam (Photo from the MMBC collection. )

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2017) Captain Edward Gillam. 2017.

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