N.Y. Sailing Ship Wavertree in Portland 1907-9

The Wavertree was built by Oswald Mordaunt & Company at Southampton, England in 1885 for R.W. Leyland & Company of Liverpool. At 325’ long, she is one of the last large sailing ships built of wrought iron. Today, she is the largest of her type afloat. She had been commissioned by R.W. Leyland & Company of Liverpool but Chadwick & Pritchard of Liverpool purchased her before she was launched on December 10, 1885. The new owners named her Southgate.

In 1888 she was repurchased by R.W. Leyland and Co. and renamed Wavertree for a district of Liverpool. Wavertree was first employed to carry jute, used in making rope and burlap bags, between eastern India (now Bangladesh) and Scotland. When less than two years old she entered the tramp trades, taking cargoes anywhere in the world she could find them. Wavertree circumnavigated nearly 30 times with cargoes of coal, kerosene, cotton, tea, coffee, molasses and timber. She made one known call to New York, arriving Jan. 14, 1895, with a load of nitrate from Chile and departing March 21 for Calcutta.

She limped into the Falkland Islands in December 1910, having been dismasted off Cape Horn. Rather then re-rigging her, her owners sold her for use as a floating warehouse at Punta Arenas, Chile. She was converted into a sand barge at Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1947. She was discovered there by Karl Kortum, director of the San Francisco Maritime Museum and founder of the National Maritime Historical Society, in 1966. The following year she was acquired by South Street Seaport Museum. Wavertree was moved to the Arsenal Naval Buenos Aires for restoration and in 1969 the ship was towed to New York. The vessel was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 13, 1978.and was acquired by South Street Seaport Museum in 1968 and has remained there ever since.

This ship is of minor interest to marine historians on the Columbia River because she called on Portland several times in the early 1900’s. We know about this because an able-bodied seaman named George Spiers had signed on in Chile and kept a diary. He described days spent waiting for a pilot to cross the Columbia Bar. Food was running low and Spiers was in charge of the rations.

“The pilot calmly surveyed the sea and the sky, then as if everything was all right walked up and down the poop, no mention of any reduction of sail; now and then as an extra pressure of wind struck her, the main t’gallant sheet would crack aloft as the chain in the sheave of the yard took a fresh nip. …finally we sailed over the bar and into the widening of the river opposite Astoria. … We were the only ship at Astoria for a few days, and it looked to be a comparatively small town, backed up by a range of hills, and as it was winter everything appeared gloomy and overcast.”

It was November and Wavertree dragged her anchor in the night during a squall as the skipper resisted several calls to come on deck from his bed; after paying out more chain and setting a second anchor, she blew onto one of the sand banks in the estuary. The crew was able to work the ship off the sand bank, and she joined the four-masted bark Duchalburn in tow up to Portland, one vessel on each side of a steam-powered sternwheel tug.

Wavertree was ordered to load grain for the United Kingdom. Wheat export was one of Portland’s most important economic sectors. “We heard that there were nearly forty sailing ships in port,” Spiers wrote. His ship was berthed by a bridge over the Willamette in downtown Portland. When she was loaded and ready to sail, Spiers observed the time-honored ceremony of departure and giving fare-well by those Limey ships, the departing ship would ring a long, loud “fandango” on the bell. “Then someone with a topsail yard voice,” would hail a ship, calling for three cheers. The outbound vessel’s crew would respond, often with a sea shanty, “sung by a stentorian voice,” with all crews joining in on the chorus. Each anchored ship would repeat the tribute. As the anchor was being raised, the Wavertree crew sang out with “ ‘Hooray Boys, We’re Homeward Bound.’”

“What a farewell reception we received from the crowds on the bridge,” Spiers said. “Men cheered and waved their hats, and women their handkerchiefs, and going down river the ships alongside the wharves each gave a fandango on their bells and a cheer.” Wavertree continued hauling cargo, appearing in Oregon shipping news column in 1908 and 1909, until 1910 and a storm off Cape Horn.




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