Marco Polo Project Saint John New Brunswick

The Marco Polo Project

Historical Facts on the Marco Polo

World Shipping Percentage chart

Canadian Facts

  • Canada has the longest coastline in the world and exports most of her products–we are a maritime country.
  • Canada had the 3rd or 4th largest tall ship fleet in the world–50% were built in New Brunswick with Saint John as its centre.
  • Launched at Marsh Creek, now spanned by a small bridge called the Marco Polo bridge, the most used bridge in Saint John.
  • James Smith, builder of the Marco Polo, revolutionized the way tall ships were designed and constructed; in modern terms it would be like crossing a 747 with a Concorde. He combined the broad-beamed timber drougher with the sleek lines of a clipper ship bottom.
  • The Marco Polo's unique design, superb construction and legendary prowess promoted Canadian shipbuilding around the world, after her records Canada – Saint John – became one of the world's foremost shipbuilders.
  • Captain William Thomas of Saint John was the first captain to sail the Marco Polo. He received his papers in 1850 at the young age of 26 from the Saint John Board of Trade. A copy of this document is on display at the Saint John Board of Trade office.
  • Captain James Clarke a native Saint Johner who became one of the few to command The Marco Polo (1855-1858.)

   A three-masted medium clipper ship built of wood by James Smith at Saint John, News Brunswick, 1851, for his own use. Her registered dimensions were: 184'1"×36'3"×29'4" and a tonnage of 1625 RT.

    Her half-model is preserved in the collections of the Mariners' Museum, Newport News, VA. Stammers also reproduces what appears to be a set of blueprint lines of the ship without giving a source for these.

News Brief

Weekly Chronicle · Saint John, New Brunswick · April 18, 1851

   "Yesterday a large ship built and owned by Mr. Smith at Courtenay Bay was launched from his building yard. On clearing the ways, her keel struck the sand and she fell over on her side. Several persons were severely injured by the chains, etc. which fetched way and run down to leeward on the deck."

The Morning News · Saint John, New Brunswick · April 21, 1851

   Accident - Yesterday a large ship built and owned by Mr. Smith at Courtenay Bay was launched from his building yard. On clearing the ways, her keel struck the sand and she fell over on her side. Several persons were severely injured by the chains, etc. which fetched way and run down to leeward on the deck. Chronicle.

April 23, 1851

   The new ship built by Mr. James Smith, Courtenay Bay which fell over on launching, we are glad to find is now in our harbour, apparently none the worse for her fall.

The New Brunswick Courier· April 19, 1851

   A large and elegant vessel called the MARCO POLO was launched on Thursday morning last from the building yard of Mr. James Smith at Courtenay Bay. He is also the owner. She has three complete decks, measures 1625 tons, and her length aloft is upwards of 184 feet. We presume that although not quite the largest that has been built in the Province this splendid ship is probably the longest that has been built in the Province. She is named after the celebrated Venetian traveller who discovered the coast of Malabar.

   We regret to learn that after this fine vessel had got clear of her ways in launching, she touched the bank of the creek and the wind blowing fresh at the time, went over on her beam ends, in consequence of which, some of the persons on board were hurt. One boy saved himself by jumping overboard and swimming ashore. The vessel, we understand, was not injured.

Ship's History

  • 1851 April – Launched at Marsh Creek near Saint John, New Brunswick. Due to her size she grounded at the opposite shore of the creek where she remained for two weeks.
  • 1851 – Sailed on her maiden voyage from New Brunswick [?] with a cargo of timber to Liverpool in 15 days.
  • 1852 – Sailed from Mobile, AL, to Liverpool in 35 days.
  • 1852 June – Bought by James Baines, Liverpool, for the Black Ball Line of Australia Packets. Rebuilt to be used in the passenger trade. Rebolted with yellow metal bolts and coppered.
  • 1852 – Under the command of Captain James Nicol Forbes she made the voyage from Liverpool to Port Phillips Head in 76 days on the18th of September.An epidemic of measles among the children aboard caused 52 deaths during the voyage. After three weeks she returned to London in another 76 days, arriving on Boxing Day. This was the first recorded round trip in less than six months, or to be exact 5 months 21 days.
  • 1853 March 13 – Left Liverpool for Melbourne where she arrived after 75 days at sea.
  • 1854 [?] – Under the command of Captain Charles McDonald she made her third roundtrip in 72 days out to Australia and 78 days back to England.
  • 1858 August – Saved the passengers and crew of the emigrant ship Eastern City which had burnt at sea near the Cape of Good Hope.
  • 1858 September 7 – Left Australia for Liverpool with 46.881 ounces of gold onboard [ILN 1858-11-06].
  • 1861 – Collided with an iceberg South of Cape Horn and arrived in Valparaiso leaking badly. After repairs she continued to Liverpool where she arrived 183 days out from Melbourne.
  • 1867 – After having completed the journey Melbourne to Liverpool in 76 days she failed to pass the passenger survey and was put on the general cargo trade.
  • 1871 – Sold to Wilson & Blain, South Shields, and put in the coal and timber trade.
  • 1874 – Reduced to barque rig.
  • 1881 – Sold to Bell & Lawes, South Shields.
  • 1882 – Sold to Capt. Bull, Christiania.
  • 1883 June 27 – A fire broke out on the barque Marco Polo lying at the ballast ground, Quebec, but was brought under control before much damage was done.
  • 1883 July 19 – Sailed after having loaded a cargo of deals.
  • 1883 July 22 – Sprang a leak in the St Lawrence and when the pumps could not hold back the water Captain Bull decided to run ashore. The Marco Polo was grounded near Cavendish, Prince Edward Island, three chains from the shore. The masts were cut away to save the ship from being worked asunder.
  • 1883 August – The wreck was sold at auction for £ 600 [Stammers has 500] and the cargo for £ 5500. The steering gear and stove were removed from the wreck and put on the new barque Charles E. Lefargey of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. A subsequent gale broke up the ship before the cargo was entirely salvaged.

Other Facts

  • National Film Board of Canada produced a 1 hour film on the Marco Polo called Marco Polo Queen of the Seas and is avaiable at all libraries.
  • The Marco Polo Suite is a complement of music composed about the Marco Polo, which makes it the only ship in the world to have a complete album of song about it.
  • A Federal Monument dedicated to it in Saint John, N.B.
  • The wreck site of the Marco Polo is a federally protected site, one of only 2 in the country.(Click here to view wreck site.)
  • An essay by famous writer Lucy Maude Montgomery " Anne of Green Gables" fame, was written about the Marco Polo's last days.
  • The Marco Polo has a popular high school musical written about it.
  • There is a CBC radio play about the Marco Polo.
  • The bridge over the Marsh Creek in Saint John, N.B. was renamed in honour of the ship.
  • Models and replicas too numerous to mention are done on the Marco Polo.
  • And last but not least, the Marco Polo is remembered every year by the people of Saint John by a float in the city's parade.


  • Log of a voyage from Liverpool to Melbourne 1853.
    National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, Maritime Records Centre, Liverpool, England.
  • Bowen, Frank C.: The Marco Polo.
    Shipping Wonders of the World, pp 1214-1218, ill.
  • Chapelle, H.I.: The Search for Speed under Sail. New York, 1967.
  • Greenhill, Basil: Salvage from the Wreck of the Marco Polo. The Mariner's Mirror Vol. 49, London, 1963. p 145.
  • MacGregor, D.R.: Fast Sailing Ships.Nautical Publishing, 1973.
  • Stammers, Michael K.: The Passage Makers. Teredo Books, Brighton, 1978.
  • Wallace, Frederick William: Wooden Ships and Iron Men. London, 1924.