Gone and perhaps forgotten

By Barbara F. Dyer | Nov 28, 2019
Courtesy of: Barbara Dyer The George W. Wells, the first six-masted schooner in the world, was built at the H. M. Bean shipyard in Camden and launched in 1900.

Back in the 1800s and 1900s schooners were very popular, because “wind and water” was the cheapest mode of transportation. It all began with two-masted schooners. Because a common thought is that “bigger is better,” the popularity became the three-master’s, four-master’s and even five-master’s. The Holly M. Bean Yard in Camden built many of these for the coal trade, ordered by Capt. John G. Crowley, manager of the Coastwise Transportation Company. When the John B. Prescott was launched on Jan. 13, 1899, it was the first five-master ever built in the world. It cost about $80,000 and Camden was very thankful to Capt. Crowley because of the employment to build it and it put Camden on the map as a great shipbuilding center. All of these launchings were a big affair in town, and people loved to watch the large vessels slide down the ways and into the water, after being christened.

Then, launched on Aug. 14, 1900, the first six-masted schooner in the world was launched at the Bean Yard, named the George W. Wells, who was one of the biggest financial backers for the vessel that cost $120,000. It was designed by John Wardwell, a very successful designer and master builder, who had been employed in the H.M. Bean Yard for the past 13 years.

On Sept. 21, 1900, the following article appeared in The Camden Herald:

“Her Maiden Voyage,” “The Big Six-master Sails from Camden,” “ The World Watches Eagerly the First Trip of the First Six-master”

“At noon Saturday, the six-masted schooner George W. Wells set sail from Camden on her maiden voyage. She was taken in tow by two tugs but before she was out of the harbor, the work of setting sails commenced. By the time she was well out in the bay every sail was set. Photographer Potter hired a special tugboat and went along with the schooner until all sails were set and then took pictures of the schooner. The vessel presented a magnificent spectacle as she went down the bay with all sails and her colors flying. A chorus of whistles saluted as she went out of the harbor and hundreds of people were viewing her from along the shores.

“H. M. Bean the veteran builder may well feel proud of this schooner, the first six-master and largest schooner in the world. The splendid product of a Camden shipyard will excite the interest of the whole world and her career will be watched with the keenest interest. It is the sixty-fifth vessel built by by Mr. Bean and adds still greater fame to this shipyard that was already famous for its progressiveness. By industry, perseverance and progressiveness, Mr Bean has gained a world-wide reputation as a shipbuilder, and he built the biggest five-master afloat; it was fitting for him to produce the first six-master.

“This schooner was built for Capt. John G. Crowley who will be managing owner. Capt. Crowley's success has been something marvelous for he has made a record in managing large vessels that is unparalleled. His fleet of vessels now number five, one other is under construction and the seventh is being contracted. The fleet with coal carrying capacity of each as follows: Mt. Hope, 1850 tons; Sagamore, 2200; Cramp, 2850; Prescott, 4545 and Wells 5000; three four-masters, one five-master and one six-master. The two to be constructed will carry 3800 and 4000 tons, so that when the fleet is all at work it will have the enormous coal carrying capacity of 24,000 tons, which Capt. Crowley will control. Besides being a shrewd business manager with progressive ideas, he has been very fortunate never having lost a vessel and investors are always eager to take stock in his schooners. All of Capt. Crowley's vessels, except one, has been built in Camden, which speaks well for the work turned out in the Bean yard.

“This yard is the only one on the coast where the nine hour day is in force and it is safe to say that the same number of workmen will turn out more work in the nine hour day than is turned out in any other yard in ten hours. The Camden ship-carpenters are a high grade of men.

“The George W. Wells is intended for the coal carrying trade, her net tonnage is 2743 and gross tonnage 2970. She is expected to carry 5000 tons of coal. She was named for George W. Wells of Southbridge, Massachusetts, a wealthy manufacturer of that place.

“The Wells will go to Baltimore and load coal for Boston. It is finished and furnished in the best of style. It is interesting to note that of the amount of money that went into the schooner over $22,000.00 was paid out in labor for Bean's yard alone. Besides this, a big sum went to labor of getting out frames, making sails, anchors, machinery, etc. At this time it will interest our readers to give a detailed description of the schooner.

“On the keel, she is 302 feet, 11 inches long, 345 feet in length on top, 48 feet deep extending from the taffrail to the forward hatch, and a set of beams in the lower hold forward, braced with hanging and fore-and-aft knees. Her frame is white oak throughout and all her planking and ceiling is hard pine. The garboards are eight inches thick, other planking six inches. Her ceiling to the lower deck beams is twelve and fourteen inches thick and between decks ten by 14 and twelve by fourteen inches.

“One of the features of this immense vessel is the keelson and it has attracted much attention from those who have viewed her construction. It is thirteen feet high aft and seventeen feet high forward and extends to the lower deck beams to which it is bolted. This enormous keelson gives tremendous strength acting as a back bone to the whole schooner. The keelson is of hard pine timbers fourteen inches square and is fastened with fifty tons of 1 ¾ inch iron bolts. The ceiling is secured with 1 ¼ inch iron and the planking with 1 3/8 inch locust treenails plus iron and copper bolts.” [Guess that will hold her together for a while.]


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