Matthew Turner (shipbuilder)
Matthew Turner in later life
June 17, 1825|
|Died||February 10, 1909(aged 83)|
|Occupation||Shipbuilder, sea captain|
Matthew Turner (1825-1909) was an American sea captain, shipbuilder and designer. He constructed 228 vessels, of which 154 were built in the Matthew Turner shipyard in Benicia. He built more sailing vessels than any other single shipbuilder in America, and can be considered "the 'grandaddy' of big time wooden shipbuilding on the Pacific Coast."
Matthew Turner was born in Geneva, Ohio on June 17, 1825, the fourth child of George Turner and Emily Atkins. George Turner owned a sawmill on the shores of Lake Erie and later launched his first ship, the sloop Geneva, in 1839, to ship lumber and building stone. Matthew, after watching the construction of the Geneva and a later vessel the Philena Mills, designed his first ship, the schooner G.R. Roberts. His father was sufficiently impressed with the design to build the boat, which was launched in 1848. Matthew took on the command of the boat and later that year married Amanda Jackson. Amanda died in childbirth with their first child. On a trip down the Mississippi river in late 1849 he heard about gold mining in California and set off for the West Coast in 1850. He spent 3½ years mining gold in Calaveras County and was quite successful.
Career as ship captain
Turner later travelled to New York where he bought the schooner Toronto, sailing her back to California. There he went into business with Captain Richard Thomas Rundle and started shipping timber to San Francisco from the Mendocino coast. They were soon able to replace the Toronto with another larger schooner, the Louis Perry, and a few years later they purchased the brig Temandra. When Turner took this larger vessel to the Sea of Okhotsk he noticed the abundance of cod and so bought the Porpoise to capitalize on this, as cod were selling in San Francisco at a high price. Meanwhile Turner also set up a company to trade with Tahiti.
During his career as a ship's captain he twice received recognition of his heroism and the services that he rendered to foreign governments. He was given a gold-mounted spyglass by Queen Victoria in recognition of his part in saving the lives of British sailors. The Norwegian government presented him with a silver service for his rescue of a Norwegian vessel in danger of foundering at Honolulu.
Shipyard in Benicia
He designed his first ocean-going ship, the brig Nautilus, in 1868, which was built at Eureka, in an attempt to get a faster ship for the Tahiti run. The hull of Nautilus was exactly the reverse of what was customary in the area at that time, being "long and sharp forward, lean and full on the waterline aft." Despite the predictions of sceptics that the ship would dive and pitch into the water, resulting in a very wet ride, Nautilus proved a great success. Turner decided to move into shipbuilding, setting up a yard near Hunter's Point with his brother Horatio. In 1876 he married for a second time, to Captain Rundle's widow, Ashbeline. The success of his first shipyard led him to search for another location, to allow the business to expand. He went into business with his brother and John Eckley, forming the Matthew Turner Shipyard at Benicia in 1883. This yard constructed at least 154 wooden-hulled ships.
Turner was greatly admired by shipbuilder Henry Hall, of the Hall Brothers shipyard in Port Blakely. He described the "Turner Model" of sailing rig, using the Bermudan sail, a "fore and aft sail without gaff, being a large triangular sail." Eliminating the gaff made it much easier to bring the sail down during sudden Pacific squalls.
During his career as a shipbuilder, Turner designed and built 228 sea going vessels in a period of 37 years, from 1868 to 1905, more sailing vessels than any other American shipbuilder. According to Gibbs, "although many [vessels] were small in size, this record was probably never equalled by any other individual shipbuilder in the American era of sail. He further, in all probability, built more vessels for foreign account than any other American since the Revolution." Turner had business interests in the South Sea Islands, and many of his ships were built for owners in that region. He also specialized in vessels for pelagic sealing. "Turner also built some of the fastest racing yachts in the world, proven out during the famous races sponsored by the San Francisco Yacht Club, of which Turner was a charter member."
Turner was something of an invalid from 1904 onwards. Nonetheless, in 1906, at age 81, Turner, was still personally supervising work at his shipyard, and found himself suddenly swamped with work following the San Francisco Earthquake. He decided to retire. He died on February 10, 1909 at the age of 83 years after a short illness at his home in Oakland.
Gibbs reports that Turner's influence on the South Seas schooner was still evident as late as 1941, when a two-masted schooner, Benicia, built in Tahiti by a shipwright who had worked in Turner's yard, arrived in San Francisco under the French flag.
Notable ships built by Turner
- Anna, a schooner with a ten day run from Honolulu to San Francisco in 1886, and eight round trips, San Francisco to Kahului in 357 days 
- Amaranth - Four-masted barquentine that broke the record for the Astoria, Oregon to Shanghai run (23 days) 
- Ariel - Four-masted schooner built by Matthew Turner in 1900. She was wrecked at Inuboyesaki, Japan, in 1917.
- Benicia, a barquentine with a fast passage from Newcastle, New South Wales to Kihei, Hawaiʻi, of 35 days 
- Equator - Schooner that was chartered by Robert Louis Stevenson and helped inspire his book The Wrecker
- Emma Claudina, 126 ft., 266 ton brigantine, the first ship of the Matson Line, named for the daughter of John D. Spreckles
- Galilee - Brigantine that holds the record for the Tahiti-San Francisco run in a wooden-hulled sailing vessel (22 days), converted to magnetic observatory when under charter to the Carnegie Institution of Washington Department of Terrestrial Magnetism for three years
- Geneva, a brigantine with a passage of 2 days between Launceston, Tasmania and Newcastle, New South Wales 
- John D. Spreckels, a 266 ton brigantine with "at least three ten day voyages on the San Francisco-Hawaiian Island run" 
- HMCS Karluk - Brigantine whaler that was acquired by the Canadian government as flagship to the Canadian Arctic Expedition
- Lurline, a 135-foot brigantine made for Claus Spreckels in 1887, who sold immediately 75% to William Matson as an expansion of Matson Lines. They resold the vessel in 1896. The brig was lost in 1915.
- Nautilus, 104 t., 173 ton brig, fast passage from Tahiti to San Francisco of 20 days 
- Papeete, schooner with a 17 day passage from San Francisco to Tahiti 
- Solano, fast passage from Shanghai to Port Townsend, Washington of 24 days in April 1902. Wrecked on North Beach (the ocean side of Long Beach Peninsula, February 5, 1907.
- William G. Irwin, a sugar packet built in 1881 for J.D. Spreckels. Launched as a brigantine, later re-rigged as a three masted schooner. Fast passages from San Francisco to Kahului, Hawaiʻi, 8 days 17 hours, 1881, Honolulu to San Francisco, 9 days 
- W.H. Dimond, a brigantine with a 9 day, 10 hour passage from San Francisco to Honolulu 
- Bowen, Jerry (March 17, 2002). "Mathew Turner Benicia’s shipbuilder extraordinaire". Retrieved 27 February 2011.
- Gibbs, Jim (1968). West Coast Windjammers in Story and Pictures. Seattle: Superior Publishing Co. pp. 40–41. ISBN 978-0-517-17060-1.
- Feather C.E. "Success born of grief: Grief drove Geneva’s Matthew Turner to California, where he became prolific ship builder". Star Beacon (Ashtabula, Ohio). Retrieved 8 June 2014.
- "Noted shipbuilder called by death". The San Francisco Call. February 11, 1909. Retrieved 27 February 2011.
- Gibbs, Jim (1968). West Coast Windjammers in Story and Pictures. Seattle: Superior Publishing Co. pp. 42–43. ISBN 978-0-517-17060-1.
- Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (2004). "The Galilee". Ocean Magnetic Survey Expeditions. Carnegie Institution of Washington. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
- Hobbs and Lucero, The Long Beach Peninsula, at 70 (reprinting wreck site map)
- Map of Matthew Turner Shipyard Park
- Turner/Robertson Shipyard, 1883-1918, California State Historic Landmark 973. "The yard sways, and the Whaler Stamboul, used as a shipyard work platform, are visible at low tide."
- Photograph of plaque at site of Turner Shipyard
- Mission Bay location of first Turner Shipyard
- Who was Matthew Turner, and Why Was a School Named After Him?
- Matthew Turner Elementary School, Benicia, CA
- Herman, Matthew Turner Built Sealing Schooner
- John D. Spreckles, codfish schooner involved in a collision off Pt. Reyes
- The Matson Brigantine Lurline, first ship of the Matson Line, purchased from J.D. Spreckels
- Pitcairn, schooner built by Turner for the Seventh Day Adventists
- Ship Model, Steam Schooner Royal, 1891 fishing schooner
- Santa Cruz, Turner-built schooner shipwrecked at Santa Cruz Island, 1913
- Bussinger, Julia; Phelan, Beverly (2004), Benicia, Images of America, Charleston, SC: Arcadia, ISBN 978-0-7385-2933-2. Contains a chapter on Turner.
- Ryan, Terrence (Fall 2010). "The Development of Pacific Coast Lumber Ships". Nautical Research Journal (Cuba, New York: Nautical Research Guild Inc.) 55 (3): 141–160. ISSN 0738-7245. OCLC 664215837.