Before this coming Sunday’s feature is published we want to insert an addition to last week’s feature about the Galbraith and Bacon Wall Street Wharf and the Bark Montcalm that was tied to her south side most likely in early November, 1910 and not “circa 1912” as we speculated last Sunday. Here’s the feature photo, again.
We received three letters responding to our uncertainties about which Montcalm this was and, as noted, the date it visited Seattle. Reader Kyle Stubbs was first to respond, and noted that “I am only aware of one Montcalm that was a barque-rigged sailing vessel. That is the Montcalm of 1902, 2,415 tons built at Nantes, France, which was used in around Cape Horn service by La Societe des Voiliers Nantais. The vessel was broken up in the Netherlands in 1924.”
The next letter came from Douglas Stewart, a seasoned cardiologist with the University Medical School and hospital, whom I first met last winter after I fell to the kitchen floor, tripped by my oxygen gasping heart’s tricks with consciousness, or loss of it. The good doctor is also an enthusiast for most things maritime, and even rows to work from his home, which like the hospital sits beside Portage Bay. He found that the original nitrate negative for this photograph is in the keep of the University Libraries Special Collections. In their terse cataloging of it a librarian concludes that this was the “decommissioned sailing ship Montcalm at dock, probably in Seattle ca. 1912.” The date is almost certainly wrong, and the “decommissioned” attribute is unclear or uncertain. Decommissioned when? The library’s data also describes this Montcalm as an “armored sailing corvette . . . originally built for the French Navy in 1865.” While a Google search for everything that is a Montcalm and floats will surface a French corvette with that heroic name dating from the 1860s, it is, again, almost certainly not this Montcalm. The first French corvettes of the 17th century were much smaller than this bark or barque and were built to carry cannons. They got bigger, surely, but not this big. and continued to be built for cannons not concrete and wheat like our Montcalm.
The third and last contributor to this quest for a proper caption is our old friend Stephen Lundgren, who for this sort of investigation into maritime history prefers the sobriquet Capt. Stefan Eddie. I confess to having used the Captain at times as a capable “World Authority on Everything,” resembling the Professor played by Sid Caesar on his TV show in the 50’s – the best part of that decade. Capt. Eddie also did what I should have done, which is consult the Seattle Public Libraries assess to the key-word search opening into The Seattle Times on-line archive between 1900 and 1984. Stephen found, for instance, the clipping above, which was almost certainly photographed by the same camera or camera person as the featured photo on top. From reading the Times reporting during the Montcalm’s few days stay in Seattle, the Captain concludes, “Took about an hour trolling the Times database and verifying the ship history facts. That it is rigged as a bark, with a steel hull, narrows the search. It’s at the Galbraith Dock probably between discharging the cement cargo in West Seattle and before loading outbound wheat at Smith Cove. The Galbraith Co. dealt in Cement. Question is what buildings were constructed with this Belgium-shipped concrete?” Capt. Stefan Eddie’s last question really goes too far. How could anyone be expected to follow the concrete from ship to foundations?
Finally, Captain Stephan Eddit added to his missive something more of his charming familiarity with the Montcalm subject. He explains, “Lars Myrlie Sr. tells me (in Norwegian) ‘I gots off that damm frenchie ship as soon as it gots to Seattle, it was a hell ship and I damm near gots my head stove in off the coast when the load shifted and knocked the other cargo loose cement in bulk, which meant our sure deaths if we gots a leak. Sure it was a steel ship but them damm rivets popped when a hard one hit, like a bullet they was and then came the squirt. My brother gots me off the Galbreath dock and over to Port Blakely and no more damn frenchies for me, Tusende Tak Gotts!”
It took the Montcalm 195 days to carry its 3,000 tons of concrete from Antwerp to Seattle. The ship was registered at 1,744 tons, so the concrete gave it lots of steadying ballast for the storms. However, there were no storms except the expected ones around Cape Stiff, the sailors’ name for Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. Otherwise her crossing of the Atlantic was one of constant calms and so not of great speed.