Jeffrey Olafson | Assistant Archivist & Contributing Researcher
They say its bad luck to change the name of a ship, and perhaps that’s true for the SS Charmer, formerly the Premier. In 1892, its predecessor, while en route to Seattle and facing thick fog, was unable to determine its position, and suddenly struck on its port side and sliced in two. After the collision, both parties lost their licenses.
Although the Charmer was refitted – alongside a new captain – its luck did not seem to change. Facing another dense fog, this time at the entrance of Nanaimo Harbour in 1917, collided with the lighthouse tender Quadra. The Charmer’s Captain Campbell, no stranger to ship collisions himself, kept his ship rammed in the Quadra’s hull, so that the ship was beached and out of deep waters.
The Canadian Coast Guard, still relatively new at the time had commissioned the Quadra to have sole
responsibility for the Pacific, commuting the long and treacherous coastline, servicing light stations, mapping charts, erecting beacons, and search and rescue. George Nicholson (1975) wrote that, although there is an increased reliance on helicopters and automation to control and service light stations, “there’s still no end to other tasks which only a tender can take care of.” An archaic sentiment today when many of the lighthouses that dot our coast have been automated, abandoned, or appropriately converted into ecological reserves.
After its collision, only the Quadra’s mast was visible at high tide. While the Quadra’s coast guard career was over, the ship was re-floated and set a new course in the 1920’s, running rum to the American border, before being apprehended and sold for scrap. The same cannot be said for the Charmer and its captain Campbell.
Only three years later, the Charmer was involved in the Princess Royal collision. The wreck commissioner aptly noted that not only was Campbell in command during both these collisions, but also “had command of the Princess Mary when she collided with the Henriette in Vancouver Harbour.” While Campbell’s predecessor had lost his licence, Campbell was able to continue his command for several years, proving that it’s not necessarily the ship that’s unlucky, but the people who command it.