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James Smith

James Smith

"softwood ships" made of  pine, spruce and hackmatack

Carleton County Home Page

Marco Polo Dimensions: Gross tonnage 1625 tons.  Net tonnage 1401 tons.   Length 184 feet 1" (56.11m). Breadth 36' 3" (11.05 m), Depth 29' 4" (8.94m), Main mast 128', Sail area 23,00sq' (2,2300 sq m). She was a full rigged clipper ship that carried thousands of passengers from Liverpool, England to Australia in the gold rush days. She was built of oak and Canadian softwood in 1851 by James Smith at St. John, New Brunswick, Canada for export to Britain.  In total, Smith built 52 ships, he was a prosperous man in the area until his yard suffered a series of setbacks including a terrible fire in 1855 and ship losses. The first ship he built was the Prudence in 1832 and the last was the Palm Tree in 1865. Others include Australia, Caledonia, New Zealand and the Swan. Many of the vessels were 'brokered' through Liverpool, and many sailed the UK - Australia route. The Dyer & Hilliard family helped to build the Marco Polo. She was built in the yard at Marsh Creek at the head of Courteney Bay in Saint John harbour.  He was the first ship builder to construct vessels in the Bay area of Saint John.  When the ship was launched she slid too far and embedded itself in the mud on the far bank of the stream.  The yard hired teams of oxen to try and pull it out of the mud, to no avail.  When a very high tide took place with the help of the oxen she came free two weeks later.  She was a very fast vessel and orders for more of the same design came to the yard, but none were as fast.  The keel had warped as it was in the mud bank for an extended period.  The bow and the stern were six inches (0.12m) lower then the centre of the ship. There are many books about the Marco Polo in the Saint John library. She broke up on a reef near PEI, some of the artifacts are in the Saint John museum.  James Smith was born in Guernsey in 1802 and was the son of an Irish soldier.  After moving to Canada he worked in the forests of New Brunswick and later in the shipyards of Saint John.  Smith died on March 5th in 1876 in Woodstock, NB; nobody really noticed the passing of this remarkable builder of the " fastest ship in the world " (painting)

Reference: Ancestor (Quaterly Journal of the Genealogical Society of Victoria, Australia) Vol. 21 Number 8 Summer 1993/1994. The Most Fascinating Immigrant ship "Marco Polo" 15 April 1852 - 25 July 1883- a Brief History by Ken Shewan. There is a photo of a painting  of the 'Marco Polo' in Immigrant Ships to Australia by Dadre Smyth and another in Wooden Ships and Iron Men, by Frederick William Wallace.

Obituary 6 March 1876.  The Daily Telegraph.  St. John, N. B.
Tidings reached St. John yesterday of the death of, in the course of the same morning, at Woodstock of James SMITH, Esq., who was one of the most famous shipbuilders this city has produced.  Mr. Smith began life as most famous builders have done by handling the broad axe in a shipyard, but having a natural aptitude for business, and especially for designing noble ships, he soon went into ship building of his own account.  He was the first man who began to build at Courtenay Bay and his first vessel, the Courtenay, was launched there about 1835.  First and last we believe he built about sixty large vessels, among which we may name the Margaret, the Queen of the Seas, Alfred, Ben Nevis, Onward and Marco Polo.  The latter vessel, which was famous for her great speed and rapid passages, was built in 1851, and is still afloat hailing from South Shields. The Onward built in 1850 is also afloat still and so are the Margaret and Alfred, built in 1858 and 1853 respectively.  When Mr. Smith lived in Liverpool some years ago, he found 8 or 9 of his ships in that port.

Mr. Smith had at one time accumulated a large fortune, but was unfortunate to have one of his ships burnt on the stocks and to meet with some reverses in his large business. His energy and skill have made New Brunswick known all over the world as deservedly celebrated for building famous clipper ships, beautiful in appearance, fast sailors and large carriers. Mr. Smith was much and deservedly esteemed in all his relations in life. He had attained to a good old age but until a day or two (ago) he seemed hale and hearty. The immediate cause of his death was inflammation of the lungs, the first symptoms of which appeared on Wednesday."

The death was also carried in the Daily News (Saint John) and the Carleton Sentinel (Woodstock), but they add that he was 73 years of age.

Lloyds Register
Rigging:  Ship; sheathed in felt and zinc in 1855
Master:  Captain H. Ramsay
Tonnage:  652 tons using old measurements and 729 tons using new measurements
Construction:  1842 in New Brunswick; new deck in 1850; new keelson in 1851; some repairs in 1851, 1854 & 1855
Owners: Thompson
Port of registry:  Shields
Port of survey:  Shields
Voyage:  sailed for the Mediterannean Sea

1998  - 2000 Olwyn Whitehouse