The Marco Polo was launched at Saint John, New Brunswick, on April 17, 1851. In those days, the harbours of the Maritime were ringing with the hammers of men making wooden ships to sail the Seven Seas.
Marco Polo was the fastest ship in the world in her day, and her speed was said to be due to an accident that occurred when she was launched. She went down the launching ramp too quickly, shot across Marsh Creek where she was built and settled in the mud. Fortunately, the heavy spring tide was enough to get Marco Polo righted and there did not seem to be any great damage. Later, when the ship showed such speed, it was said that the accident had twisted her frame in such a way that she sailed faster than had ever been intended.
The Marco Polo was an ugly duckling that became a luxurious passenger liner. She was built as a “drogher” for carrying lumber to Britain. Even then, she showed such speed that she was bought by the Black Ball line which needed ships for the Australian trade. Marco Polo was transformed into the most luxurious passenger liner afloat, with a copper-sheathed hull, maple-panelled cabins, mirrored pillars ornamented with coins, deep pile carpets, and red velvet upholstery, all set off by mahogany with gilt and silver fittings.
Marco Polo‘s first captain was “Bully” Forbes, who predicted that his ship would astound the world. She spread her great white sails for the first voyage to Melbourne with 930 passengers, and was back in Liverpool in six months. It was a record, and Marco Polo had a sign strung between her masts that read “Fastest Ship in the World.” In 1867, the year of Confederation, Marco Polo made a trip from Australia to Britain in seventy-six days, beating the new-fangled steamer Great Britain by more than a week!
Unfortunately, steamers with iron hulls replaced the “wooden ships with iron men”, and the Marco Polo was transformed into her original ugly duckling form, as a lumber carrier. A wreck, she went home to die on Cape Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.
What a beauty! Want to read more about this great ship? Well, I suggest visiting Kensington, P.E.I.‘s tribute to her; then, Marco Polo Shipping list, part of the Ancestry.com community; for a timeline, a good place to go is Bruzelius.info , from 1996 by Lars Bruzelius.