“A maritime mystery drives this powerful narrative; but the greatest strength of HMS Speedy may be its evocation of a time, a place, and a cultural clash spawned by misunderstanding. Buchanan has done his research and it shows. This one’s a keeper.”
Ken McGoogan is the author of fifteen books, including Flight of the Highlanders, Dead Reckoning, 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, How the Scots Invented Canada, Fatal Passage and more.
The sinking of HMS Speedy off Presqu’ile Point in 1804 was more than just a tragedy for the families of the ship’s twenty passengers; it had shocking and far-reaching consequences for Upper Canada’s young colony.
At the centre of it all is Ogetonicut, a Mississauga First Nations man accused of murdering white trader John Sharp. As Ogetonicut’s trial approached, authorities in York relocated it to Newcastle to avoid upsetting the indigenous community amid rising tensions between the British and Americans. With the shipping season coming to an end, the HMS Speedy set sail with the accused and the young colony’s legal elite on board. However, on October 8, the Speedy was lost in a violent storm; there were no survivors, and the ship was never found.
Despite the efforts of commercial diver Ed Burtt, who began a search for the Speedy in the early 1990s, the mystery surrounding the ill-fated ship has persisted for more than two centuries. Were the remains he discovered at the bottom of Lake Ontario from the wreckage of the lost ship? Were valuable copies of the Upper Canada Statutes on board? What evidence could be found in the untouched artifacts discovered by Burtt?
This is a meticulously researched look at a fascinating episode in Canadian history, based on unparalleled access to archival documents and all of Ed Burtt’s unpublished research and records – the story of the ship and those who sailed her; the modern-day search for the wreck; a First Nations protagonist and perspective; the legal personalities and colonial government of the time – and a unique social history of early Canada.
Written by Dan Buchanan