The Alphabet Fleet was a fleet of vessels owned and operated by the Reid Newfoundland Company as part of the provisioning of the 1898 Railway contract between the Dominion of Newfoundland and the Reid Newfoundland Company. The vessels were named after places in Scotland, the native homeland of Sir Robert Gillespie Reid, founder of the Reid Newfoundland Railway Company.
The ships were employed as coastal vessels to service the remote communities of the Newfoundland and the coast of Labrador to operate a mail and passenger service to those communities. These vessels became the lifeline to these communities and were depicted in many paintings and folk songs of the country, even long after it became a province of Canada.
The first of the vessels acquired by the Reid Newfoundland Company was SS Argyle, built in Glasgow, Scotland in 1900; she was 155 feet (47 m) long and 439 tonnes. This vessel mainly visited communities in the Placentia Bay area. She was sold in 1941 and was eventually lost near Cuba on July 14, 1946. Argyle takes her name from the Scottish region of Argyll.
SS Bruce built in 1897 in Glasgow, Scotland was 237 feet (72 m) long and 1,154 tonnes. This vessel was lost on March 24, 1911, near Louisburg, Nova Scotia. SS Bruce II was used as a connector vessel between the Island and Nova Scotia. A second vessel commissioned under the name Bruce was built in 1912 in Glasgow, was 240 feet (73 m) long and 1,553 tonnes. She was sold to the Russian government in 1916.
SS Clyde was built in 1900 at Glasgow, Scotland and was 155 feet (47 m) long; 439 tonnes. She had plied the waters of Notre Dame Bay delivering passengers and mail to the various communities from that area. In 1948 she was sold to Crosbie and Company and lost at sea near Williamsport on December 17, 1951.
SS Dundee was built in 1900 also at Glasgow, Scotland; 155 feet (47 m) long and 439 tonnes. She operated in the Bonavista Bay area and was lost on Christmas Day, 1919 on Noggin Island, near Carmanville.
SS Ethie was built at Glasgow, Scotland in 1900 and was 155 feet (47 m) long and 439 tonnes. The ship was used for the Labrador, St. Barbe run. On December 11, 1919, she sunk at Martin's Point, about 20 miles (32 km) from Bonne Bay. The passengers and crew were rescued in a dramatic rescue by means of a boson’s chair and a rope.
SS Glencoe built at Glasgow, Scotland in 1900 was 208 feet (63 m) long and 769 tonnes. The ship was used on the South Coast run dropping off passengers and mail to places like Francois. Glencoe survived and was eventually sold for scrap in June 1959.
SS Invermore was built by Barclay Curle and Co. of Glasgow, Scotland in 1881, she was 250 long and 922 tonnes. She was originally named Dromedary and operated between Belfast and Glasgow before she was acquired by the Reid Newfoundland Company. Under the Alphabet Fleet she served on the Labrador service, carrying passengers and mail to remote communities. She was lost at Brig Harbour Point, Labrador on July 10, 1914.
The criteria for naming his ships was that the first letter of each ship's name had to depict a place from Reid's homeland Scotland, they were also to end in "e". For this reason the letter "J" was not used, as no suitable candidate could be found.
SS Kyle was built by Swan, Hunter and Co. at Newcastle-on-Tyne, England in 1913, she was 220 feet (67 m) long and 1,055 tonnes. She began service in Newfoundland in 1913 for the Labrador route. In 1915 Kyle had served on the Port aux Basques, North Sydney service until 1926 when she once again returned to the Labrador service.
Kyle is noteworthy for a number of rescues she had participated in; such as the search and recovery of the downed American plane Old Glory in 1927. She had also aided in the rescue of the sailors during the USS Pollux and USS Truxton disaster at Chambers Cove near St. Lawrence on February 18, 1942.
SS Lintrose was built by Swan, Hunter and Co. at Newcastle-on-Tyne, England in 1913 and was 255 feet (78 m) long and 1,616 tonnes. In 1915 the ship was sold to the Russian government and renamed Sadko, where she operated as an ice breaking vessel in the White Sea. She sank on June 20, 1918, and was refloated in 1933.
The last of the Alphabet Fleet was SS Meigle, built in Glasgow, Scotland in 1886 as Solway by the firm Barclay Curle and Co., she was 220 feet (67 m) long and 839 tonnes. The vessel served as a passenger and cargo ferry until the early 1930s when on October 29, 1932, she became a floating prison. In 1936 she was sold to the Shaw Steamship Co. Limited. She was pressed into war service and was part of a convoy that was attacked by German U-Boats. On July 19, 1947, she was wrecked at Marines Cove, near St. Shotts. The SS Meigle was one of the vessels that responded to the 1929 tsunami on the Burin Peninsula assisting in bringing supplies for victim relief.
The song Twenty-One years a popular Newfoundland folk ballad by Joseph Summers was written at the time the vessel served as a prison ship. Parts of the vessel are on display at the Meigle Lounge in Seal Cove, Conception Bay South.
- Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, Volume one, page 39
- Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, Volume one, page 279
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- Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, Volume three, page 65
- Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, Volume three, page 193
- Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, Volume three, page 307
- Encyclopedia of Newfoundland and Labrador, Volume three, page 501