Excerpts from the “Tall ships of the Piscatagua” by Ray Brighton

Orient

Specifications: 1852 George Raynes. Billet head, Square Stern. Burthen, 1560 tons. Length 201 feet; beam, 41 feet; depth, 20.5 feet. Three decks. Original owners – Spofford and Tileston & Co., Capt. Francis M French, all of New York; and George Raynes.

In a news item on August 16, 1852, the chronicle said,

George Raynes has a ship ready for launching at his yard – intended for packet or freighter – of Herculean dimensions, – and of finish and fastening the most perfect and solid which timber and metal can form. Mr. Raynes has laid out upon this ship all the science and mechanism, for which, during years of experience, he has been distinguished, and the ship is a castle of strength and solidity which will challenge the admiration of every observer.

Pretty heady praise, but it was deserving. George Raynes was nearing the peak of his years as a shipbuilder. Not only did he excel in quality but also in quantity. During the year prior to the launching of the Orient, Raynes had constructed two clippers, the Wild Pigeon and the more famed Witch of the Wave. In addition, he had built and launched, to order, two almost identical schooners, the Minna, 299 tons, and the Brinda, 300 tons. The Minna is known to have had an alligator figurehead and a round stern. The two vessels were built for the people in Boston, who sent them to China to work in the highly lucrative opium trade. Great Britain had fought a war with China a decade earlier, and her victory opened up the Orient to Western trade, one of the by-products of which was opium. The launching of the ship Orient was reported:

Launch of a large ship. – On Wednesday noon a ship of 1800 tons was launched from the yard of George Raynes, Esq. in fine style. – Not having been sold, she is yet a candidate for a name as well as for a market. The high reputation of the builder will not leave her long on upon his hands. Her extreme length is 201 feet, 1 inch; extreme breadth 41 ft. 8 in.; breadth at plank sheer 38 ft. 3 ½ in.; whole depth 29 ft.6 in.; length of keel 191 ft. 3 in. (53):

Well that was praise from the Chronicle. On October 16 the Journal joined the chorus.

This ship which we announced a few weeks since as having been launched from the yard of George Raynes, Esq. and awaiting a market and a name, has been disposed of to Messrs. Spofford & Tileston & Co. and Capt. F.M. French of New York, – Mr. Raynes retaining an interest in her. She last week received the smooth name Orient. This term, expressive of the east as well as of the place for the rising sun, might a few years since have been regarded inappropriate for an American vessel, which is built on the sunset side of the Atlantic. But the westward course of empire has in fact made our States the Orient of the golden region.

The Orient is a noble ship of 1500 tons. Her extreme length is 201 feet, 1 inch; extreme breadth 41 ft. 8 in. breadth at plank sheer 38 ft. 3 ½ in. ; whole depth 29 ft. 6 in. length of keel 181 ft. 3 in. Her model is new, and her arrangements for passengers, very extensive and convenient. The arrangements for ventilation of the hold, are such as should be generally adopted in all large ships. Her deck cabin is finished in a style of elegance rarely surpassed – and as a whole she is an honor to the builder and to all those who have aided by the exercise of her respective arts. She will sail probably in the course of a week, either for New York or for the South, to be commanded by Capt. French.

The Orient went to sea on Friday, October 19, headed for New York and probable passage to Liverpool the next day, the Journal commented:

We would command her to the attention of connoisseurs in the ship building in New York, having some improvements which have not been before met with, which Captain French can readily point out. She has accommodation between decks for 870 passengers, allowing 14 superficial feet to each. Her government tonnage is 1,560 – carpenter’s 2,200.

Those not acquainted with shipbuilding are not aware of the amount of salt used to preserve the hull. In the Orient, over 400hhds. of salt were used for this purpose – and will probably have to be renewed at the end of the year. (54)

Ships usually left the Port of Portsmouth under carpenter’s measure, and that was the way burthens were entered in the Portsmouth District Customs Records, dating back to 1789. The news story again emphasized the importance of salt in the construction of vessels.

The Orient startled New York’s shipping industry when she cleared for Liverpool on Dec. 7. It was “the largest cargo which ever for that port. Her cargo consists of 31,751 bushels of wheat, 1970 bales of cotton, 2259 barrels of flour, 1826 barrels of rosin, 165 tierces of clover seed, 63 tierces of ashes, 13,000 hhds. Staves and other packages; besides which she had 70 second class passengers . (55)

Spofford and Tileston had operated the Dramatic Line, which was sold in 1852, and the partners established the Patriotic Line, with the new ship Orient and the rebuilt Henry Clay as a nucleus for a packet fleet. “The Orient was a three-decker, 201 feet in length and measuring 1560 tons by the existing rule. Under the rule adopted in 1865 she measured 1833 tons” (56). It was also noted that the tide of immigration had ebbed slightly, but there were hopes it would flood again. And in 1854, the Orient did come into New York with 400 steerage passengers from Liverpool.

Her various adventures were well told in an article in Harper’s (January 1884), reprinted by the Chronicle on Jan. 5 1884:

Spofford & Tileston Liverpool line was started about 1852 with the “Orient”, the “Henry Clay” (rebuilt from the burned Henry Clay of the Grinnell Line), the “Webster”, and the “Calhoun”, Captain Truman. The “Orient” and the “Webster” were built in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, by George Raynes, and the former is afloat* to-day carrying cotton from New Orleans to Liverpool. Her commander in the packet period Capt. George S. Hill, the well known secretary of the Marine Society who once commanded the “Henry Clay”. In 1856, the “Orient” was chartered by the French government to take freight from New York to Havre at the rate of twenty-five cents a bushel of wheat. She carried 80,000 bushels (or 2100 tons) in shipper’s bags. And 1000 barrels of flour, but on arriving at Havre was run aground by the stupidity of a French pilot, and swung directly across the entrance to the harbor, and while some steamboats were trying to tow her off, she brought up on the old wall of a fortification and broke herself in two. Her master had her towed to Liverpool for repairs. On one of his trips to that city and back, Capt Hill collected $50,000 in freight money; and Captain Joseph J Lawrence, of the “Webster”, of the same line once “grossed” $60,000.

*The Orient when launched was put down at 1561 tons register, in the treasury list of merchant vessels for the year ending June 30th, 1883, she is down as measuring 1833 tons, the difference being in the methods of measurement employed at the two periods. And her name, in this list, is marked with a “star”, which indicated that the vessel referred to has been reported to the treasury department “as lost, wrecked, burned, abandoned, sunk, stranded, foundered, condemned or missing,” and that she “will be dropped from the next annual list, unless reported within one year as being in service.” Something over a year ago the Orient was dismasted in the Gulf of Mexico, shortly after leaving New Orleans for Liverpool with a cargo of cotton and was towed back to New Orleans; we have never seen any account of her sailing again, and doubt is she ever makes another voyage.

In 1870, the Orient was working in the Guano trade. Her freight charge was in gold. In the last year of that decade, the Orient was sold for $24,000 – not a bad price for a vessel 27 years old. George Raynes’s estate still held an interest in her.

The beginning of the end of the Orient

The beginning of the end came three years later when the Orient was wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico. She was abandoned on Sept. 9. 1882, dismasted and waterlogged, floating with her second deck under water, her cargo of lumber keeping her from sinking. She was “towed from the Southwest Pass on the 18th by the pilot boat Underwriter, and taken up to the New Orleans on the 19th by tug boats. Her bow was badly stove, her upper decks nearly all gone, and her topsides carried away down to the second deck on the starboard side. Had she not been put together, as was customary with ships built on the Piscataqua 30 years ago, and ever since for that matter, the hammering she received from the sea would have made matchwood of her”. (57)

The damage apparently was severe enough to end the Orients career as a sailing vessel. She was stripped down and turned into a barge – often the fate of rugged Piscataqua ships. On September 21, 1885, the Chronicle reported:

Gone at last

A dispatch of Sept. 18th, from Galveston Texas, gives the following particulars of the loss of the coal barge Orient, with her crew of five men:

“With the tug Ranger, towing the barge Orient, from New Orleans with coal, was rounding a bar this morning, the hawser parted. The barge anchored, and the tug came in for a new cable. A heavy sea was on, and the anchor chain parting, the barge was driven aground five miles from the island. When the Ranger returned she was unable to reach the barge, or to rescue her crew of five men. A lifeboat was immediately manned by five experienced seamen, and started for the Orient. When they reached the barge the sea was fast wrecking her. The lifeboat drew close to the barge, when one of the imperiled seamen jumped into the boat and capsized it. All of the seamen who went out in the lifeboat came ashore near the Beach hotel, floating on their life preservers. The man who jumped into the lifeboat is undoubtedly lost, as are his four companions on the barge. Quantities of drift floating ashore indicate that the Orient has gone to pieces. The Ranger has returned. It is impossible for any boat to reach the scene of the wreck in the heavy sea now running”.

Such was the tragic end of the old ship Orient.

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