Marco Polo (ship)

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Career Canada
Owner: James Smith
Builder: James Smith, Saint John, New Brunswick
Launched: 1851
Career (Great Britain)
Owner: James Baines, Liverpool, for the Black Ball Line of Australia Packets
Acquired: 1852
Status: Rebuilt to be used in the passenger trade.
Notes: Rebolted with yellow metal bolts and coppered.[1]
Career (Great Britain)
Owner: J. Wilson & Blain, South Shields Packets
Acquired: 1871
Status: Put in the coal and timber trade[1]
Career (Norway)
Owner: Capt. Bull, Christiania [Oslo], Norway
Acquired: 1882
Fate: 1883 July 22, Wrecked near Cavendish, Prince Edwards Island[1]
General characteristics
Class and type: Medium clipper
Length: 184 ft. 1 in.
Beam: 36 ft. 3 in.
Draught: 29 ft. 4 in. [1]
Depth of hold: 30 ft. [2]
Sail plan: Ship rigged, with Cunningham's patent roller reefing topsails. Reduced to barque rig, 1874. [1]
Notes: Built for passenger trade. 3 decks; height between decks, 8 ft. [2]

The Marco Polo was a 3-masted wooden clipper ship, launched in 1851 at Saint John, New Brunswick. She was named after Venetian explorer Marco Polo.

Construction and design

She measured 184 feet in length, with a beam of 36 feet and draught of 29 feet. She displaced 1625 tons and had 3 decks.

At her launch on April 17 at the shipyard of James Smith, located at the mouth of Marsh Creek on Courtney Bay, the Marco Polo's keel struck the mudflat and the vessel fell on its side, injuring several workers. She was floated free by April 22, apparently suffering little damage, however due to her large size, she subsequently grounded in Marsh Creek where she lay for 2 weeks before again being floated free. It is speculated that during one or both of these incidents, the vessel's keel was affected, which may have led to her subsequent speed records.

Lumber trade

In the summer of 1851 the Marco Polo sailed from Saint John to Liverpool, England with a cargo of timber, making the crossing in 15 days.

Emigrant ship

In 1852, the ship was purchased by the Black Ball Line and converted for passenger service between England and Australia. That year the Marco Polo sailed from Liverpool to Port Phillip, Australia in 76 days. After spending 3 weeks in port, she returned to Liverpool in another 76 days. Her total trip time was 5 months, 21 days, making this the first recorded round trip in less than 6 months.

It has been asserted that “One in every twenty Australians can trace his or her roots to the Marco Polo.”[3]

Collision and rescue

"1861 March 7, Collided with an iceberg South of Cape Horn and arrived in Valparaiso leaking badly on May 2. After repairs she continued to Liverpool on May 22 where she arrived 183 days out from Melbourne."[1]

"1858 August, Saved the passengers and crew of the emmigrant ship Eastern City which had burnt at sea near the Cape of Good Hope."[1]

Last voyages

In 1867, the Marco Polo was converted back to cargo use. On a trip from Quebec on July 22, 1883 she sprang a leak north of Prince Edward Island. Pumps were not holding back the water so her crew deliberately grounded on a beach at Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. Her masts were cut down to prevent the wind from blowing Marco Polo further onto the shore, however a gale the following month caused her to break up.

In popular culture

Reconstruction of Marco Polo

[1] The Marco Polo Project

Museum artifacts and wreck site

Today the wreck site is in the waters immediately offshore from Prince Edward Island National Park and is considered a National Historic Site.

A ship portrait and many artifacts from the ship are on display at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John, New Brunswick. Another ship portrait is displayed at the Yarmouth County Museum & Archives in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. The original half-model of Marco Polo now lies in the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Bruzelius, Lars= (1999-09-07). "Sailing Ships: Marco Polo (1851)". The Maritime History Virtual Archives. Retrieved March 31, 2010. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bruzelius, Lars= (1999-09-07). "Sailing Ships “Marco Polo”". The Illustrated London News, June 1852.. The Maritime History Virtual Archives. Retrieved March 31, 2010. 
  3. "National Film Board of Canada Video about the Marco Polo". The Marco Polo Project. 2001. Retrieved March 31, 2010. 
  • David MacGregor, Merchant Sailing Ships 1850-1875 -- contains hull lines plan for the Marco Polo

Further reading

  • Hollenberg, Martin J (2006). Marco Polo: Story of the Fastest Clipper. Halifax, NS: Nimbus Pub. ISBN 1861762976. 

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