Ship - Marco Polo Land, PEIOn Marsh Creek, Courtney Bay, Saint John, New Brunswick, at the building yard of John Smith, in 1850, the keel of a vessel was laid. Thus began the construction of a magnificent ship which would prove to be the fastest sailing ship in all the world.

She was named The Marco Polo after a famous 13th century Venetian traveller who went overland across the countries between Venice and China, including the Gobi Desert, to explore these lands and to visit the Kubla Khan of Cathay, China.

The length of this splendid ship from stem to stern was 185 feet, the midship breadth 38 feet and the hold was 30 feet in depth. She had three decks with a height of eight feet between each one. She was very strongly built with hard pine beams, hackmatack pine, and oak in her frame and planking. This was the largest ship of her kind ever build in the shipyards of New Brunswick.

Due to her great size, there was some trouble in launching her- Marsh Creek was not the best place to launch a large vessel. At low tide this marshy creek had very little water in it, and only when the great Fundy tides came in and flooded it, could launching take place. In the spring, at high tide, this happened, and many folk gathered to cheer this huge ship as it slid down the “slip”. She went down much too rapidly and ended nose down in the mud at the opposite end of the creek, and listed over on her side. A few weeks later, after a great deal of digging and excavating around the hull of the ship, she was hauled out, with no damage except for a slight twist or “hog” in her keel. It was this twist which some folks say accounted for her great speed, for she soon became the fastest sailing ship in the world.

Her first trip, from Saint John to Liverpool, England, with a load of timber took only fifteen days, and after a few more trips carrying cargo she was purchased by the Black Ball Line of England, in 1852, and fitted up for the passenger trade. At this time there was a gold rush in Australia so this huge “timber drogher” went into drydock and was transformed into a passenger liner. She was very luxuriously fitted up for this emigrant service. On her first voyage, under the command of Captain James “Bully” Forbes, she left Liverpool, England for Melbourne, Australia with one through passengers on board, and made the passage in an unheard of 68 days, and returned to Liverpool again with a record passage of 74 days. The whole shipping world was astounded.

She continued in the Australian trade for fifteen years, until 1869, circumnavigating the globe, and still making record runs, but getting older. N.W. Wallace, in his book Wooden Ships and Iron Men states: After this she trailed out from the company of the clipper ships – water soaked and strained – and went into tramping, but finally came under the Norwegian flag and staggered across the western ocean, timber laden, and with a windmill pump discharging the water which seeped in through her strained and sodden fabric, which had to be held together with frappings. In July 1883, timberladen, she was caught in a Gulf of St. Lawrence gale and piled up at Cawnpore (off Cavendish Beach), Prince Edward Island – resting her bones on the shores of “ain countree” after 32 years of making history and world wandering.

In Cavendish on that July day, Alexander Macneill was driving down the hill to his farmstead. The wind was in the “nor-nor-east” and a heavy gale was blowing. He looked out to sea and saw a way out on the horizon an enormous vessel which seemed to be headed straight for shore. He alerted the community and folks from far away and near hurried down to Cawnpore. One spectator was Alexander’s eight year old granddaughter, Lucy Maud Montgomery and in the Alpine Path she writes: That day we had a terrible windstorm in Cavendish. Suddenly the news was spread that a vessel was coming ashore. Everyone who could, rushed to the sandshore and saw a magnificent sight! A large vessel coming straight on before the northern gale with every stitch of canvas set. She grounded about 300 yards from the shore (on a sandbar) and as she struck the crew cut the rigging and the huge masts went over with a crash that was heard for a mile, above the roaring storm. The next day the crew of twenty men got ashore and found boarding placed about Cavendish. Being typical tars they painted our quiet settlement a glowing scarlet for the remainder of the summer. It was their special delight to crowd into a truck-wagon and go galloping along the roads yelling at the top of their voices. They were of many nationalities – Irishmen, Englishmen, Scotchmen, Spaniards, Norwegians, Swedes, Dutchmen, Germans, and – most curious of all – two Tahitians, whose woolly heads, thick lips, and gold earrings, were never failing joy to Well and Dave and me. (Well and Dave Nelson were two little boys who boarded at Alexander Macneill’s for three years, and the three children had many happy times together.) There was an immense amount of red tape in connection with the affair, and the Marco Polo men were in Cavendish for weeks. The Captain boarded with us. He was a Norwegian, a delightful gentlemanly old fellow who was idolized by his crew… The crew haunted our domain also. I remember the night they were all paid off: they sat out on the grass under the parlor windows feeding our old dog Gyp with biscuits. Well Dave and I saw, with eyes as big as owl’s, the parlor table literally covered with gold sovereigns, which the Captain paid out to his men. Never had we imagined there was so much wealth in the world.

The Captain and crew left Cavendish and the once magnificent ship was left, stranded, held fast on the sandbar. A wrecking crew from Saint John, New Brunswick, bought the ship and its cargo of deal lumber, and a crew of Islanders from the surrounding communities of Cavendish were hired to salvage the cargo. The deal planks had swollen with the moisture so the crew had to cut through the ship’s beams in order to remove them. Eighteen schooner loads of lumber had been taken out, which was only about half of the total cargo. One evening the wrecking crew decided to spend the night on board the ship – which was by then a mere shell. The evening was fine, but by dawn another angry storm came up and began venting its rage on the ship and its crew. They appeared to be doomed. Again the community gathered on the shore – this time the crew were relatives, neighbors, or friends. All day long the storm raged, but when evening came the winds died down, and with a seine boat which was dragged all the way, by horses, from New London Harbor and fitted out with empty barrels lashed around the gunwale, the rescue was attempted. This “home-made” was manned by brave volunteers, who, at great risk to their own lives, reached the wreck and brought the exhausted wrecking crew back to shore. One life was lost – a Mr. Buote from Rustico.

Many parts and fittings from the ship, as well as the remainder of the deal lumber, floated into shore and scattered over the sand and rock beaches. Almost every family in Cavendish found “souvenirs” of this rugged old ship, and many are still proudly displayed! The Last of The Marco Polo

On Wednesday last, the sale of this far famed clipper ship and cargo took place under the direction of the Hon. G.W. Handowlan, vice council of Norway and Sweden at the residence of Alexander Macneill, esq., Cavendish Capes, and the day being fine and the cargo a valuable one there was a large attendance indeed, in fact we may say that every town, village, and hamlet from Alberton to Georgetown was represented, and Saint John, Sackville, Moncton, Shediac, Quebec, and Kouchibouquac, N.B. as well. The bidding was most spirited and the competition keen, many being seemingly anxious to own something, which belonged to the great packet ship, whose fame, when the Black Ball line flourished, was world wide. The stores and outfits were sold in small lots to various parties, bringing good prices. The cargo consisted of something over 600 standards Quebec pine deals and ends as knocked down to Mr. Lantalun, of Saint John and Mr. George MacLeod of the same place at $5,500 and the hull etc. with masts and rigging alongside went to Mr. Lantalun at about $500. The total sale would gross about $8,000. The auctioneer was Arch’d Macneill, Esq. of this city, who discharged his duty to the satisfaction of everyone and it is not too much to say that the underwriters may congratulate themselves for the handsome amount of the proceeds which was due largely to his energy and perseverance, in making the most out of everything. Mr. Alexander Macneill deserves the thanks of the parties who attended the sale for the kindness of himself and family. -Patriot