Marco Polo Ship Drive Ashore in Storm July 25, 1883

The Marco Polo met her end when, in a storm and leaking badly, she ran ashore at Cape Cavendish, PEI, on July 25, 1883. About a month later, she disintegrated and sank in another violent storm. One of the most detailed accounts of the event comes to us from Lucy Maud Montgomery, who witnessed the sad end of the mighty ship as a child. She speaks of how on that day “the waves ran mountains high” and the vessel was a “sight never to be forgotten.” Run aground about 300 m from shore, “the foremast and the huge iron mainmast carrying the mizzen-topmast with it, went over with a crash that could be heard for miles above the roaring of the storm.”

Painting of Marco Polo Ship by Montague Dawson

L.M. Montgomery wrote, “Lively times for Cavendish followed.  The crew, consisting of 25 men, found boarding places amoung the settlement and contrived to keep the neighbourhood in perpetual uproar…The crew consisted of Norwegians, Swedes, Spaniards, Tahitians and a German.”

In the weeks that followed as much as possible was salvaged and sold at an auction held at Alexander MacNeills.   Many relics from this wreck can still be found in the homesteads of Cavendish.

On August 30, 1883 while a salvage crew was about the wreck of the Marco Polo off Cavendish Beach, a violent storm suddenly arose. Helpless crowds gathered on the shore. It was suggested that Capt. Alfred MacLeod originally of French River had a large boat which might help rescue the crew. Alexander Stewart of Cavendish mounted his best horse and sped on his way to Park Corner to see if Capt. MacLeod could help.  Capt. MacLeod agreed and went to Cavendish and with the help of 9 volunteers succeeded in rescuing the salvage crew. Mr. George Bell and son and a man by the surname of Doucette from North Rustico were working on board the wrecked vessel at Cavendish Cape when the storm came up. They decided to launch a boat and go ashore but the boat was upset. Mr. Bell and his son were able to cling to the side of the small boat but Doucette got washed off and drowned. He had a wife and 4 children.

Source: The Daily Examiner, August 31, 1883; Keys to History, Marco Polo Sinking, McCord Museum, McGill University, 1963.111 | Marco Polo | Anchor | William Vandervalk | McCord Museum (mcgill.ca) ; Guardian, June 15, 1949; Western Graphic, Oct. 18, 2017

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