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Tonquin in 1811.jpg
The Tonquin in 1811.
Career (United States of America) United States
Owner: John Jacob Astor
Builder: East River Ship Yard
Launched: 1807
Acquired: 1810
Fate: Blown up June 1811 at Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver Island
Sunk: 1811
General characteristics
Class & type: bark
Displacement: 269 or 290 tons
Length: 96 ft (29 m)
Propulsion: Sail, 3 masted
Armament: 10 guns

The Tonquin was an American merchant ship involved with the Maritime Fur Trade of the early 19th Century. The ship was used by John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company to establish fur trading outposts on the Northwest Coast of North America, including Fort Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River. The 290-ton bark was destroyed and sunk at Clayoquot Sound a few weeks after leaving the Columbia River after a dispute with one of the groups who now make up the Tla-o-qui-aht, the indigenous people of the sound.


Built in New York in 1807, the Tonquin was purchased by American John Jacob Astor on August 23, 1810.[1] This vessel was to be used in the fur trade of the Northwest coast of America.[2] Astor paid $37,860 to Fanning & Coles for the 290 ton bark that would be used by the Pacific Fur Company, in which Astor owned a half-interest.[2] He then placed United States Navy lieutenant Jonathan Thorn in charge of the 10 gun merchant vessel.[2]

On September 8, 1810 ship and crew departed New York harbor bound for the Columbia River in the Oregon Country as part of the Astor Expedition.[2] Cargo on board included fur trade goods, seeds, building material for a trading post, tools, and the frame of a schooner to be used on the coastal trade.[2] The crew consisted of 34 people including the captain, 30 of whom were British subjects.[3] There were four partners of the company: Duncan McDougall, David and Robert Stuart, and Alexander McKay.[2] Additionally there were 12 clerks and 13 Canadian voyageurs, plus four tradesmen: Augustus Roussel a blacksmith, Johann Koaster a carpenter, Job Aitkem a boat builder, and George Bell a cooper.[2] (Clerk Gabriel Franchère's account of his journey on the Tonquin later formed a large part of his Narrative of a Voyage to the Northwest Coast of America.[4])

On the voyage around South America the vessel put in at the Falkland Islands to make repairs and take on fresh water.[2] Upon leaving Captain Thorn set sail without eight of the crew and only stopped to pick them up after Robert Stuart threatened to shoot Thorn if he did not stop for them, as his uncle David was one of those not on board.[2] On December 25, they rounded Cape Horn and sailed north, reaching the Hawaiian Islands on February 12, 1811, where they dropped anchor at Kealakekua Bay (then known as the "Sandwich Islands" and "Karakakooa").[5] There they traded for sheep, hogs, goats, poultry, and vegetables.[2] The Tonquin also took on 12 Native Hawaiians that were recruited for the fur venture before setting sail for the Columbia.[2] One of the Hawaiians, Naukane, was appointed by King Kamehameha I to oversee the interests of Hawaiian laborers known as kanakas. Naukane was given the name John Coxe while on the Tonquin. He later joined the North West Company.[6]

On March 22, 1811, the Tonquin reached the Columbia River.[2] Here the dangerous Columbia Bar posed a problem of access to the river, so Thorn sent John Martin, Ebenezer Fox, and three others in a boat to attempt to locate the channel.[2] However, the small boat was lost.[2] The next day they tried again with William Mumford and four others to sound for the channel, but were unsuccessful and also nearly lost the small craft.[2] A third attempt resulted in locating the channel, but the small boat with Aiken, Stephen Weekes, John Coles and two others sank before returning to the ship.[2] Finally on the 24th the Tonquin was able to cross the bar and into the Columbia’s estuary where they laid anchor in Baker’s Bay and began searching for the lost men.[2] Only Weeks and one other person were found.[2]

The party then proceed upriver fifteen miles where they began building a fort, a shed, and a small boat where present day Astoria, Oregon is located.[2] This new outpost was named Fort Astoria.[2] Here some of the cargo was unloaded and the trading post was built.[2] The ship remained there for 65 days before sailing with a crew of 23 plus a half-native half-British interpreter named Lamazu while construction continued.[2] McKay remained with the ship as supercargo and James Lewis as clerk as Thorn ordered the ship downriver.[2] On June 5, 1811 the Tonquin left Baker’s Bay and sailed north to trade for furs.[2]


After leaving the newly created outpost on the Columbia, the ship and crew traveled north to Nootka Sound. Here, off Vancouver Island at a place named Woody Point in Clayoquot Sound, the Tonquin engaged in the fur trade in June 1811.[7] While trading with the local inhabitants, Captain Thorn tossed some otter pelts at a local chief that was on board the ship trading.[8] This insult led to the locals returning to the ship the next day to seek revenge.[8] Under the guise of seeking further trading opportunities, these natives attacked the crew on board.[7] Only five of the crew were able to survive this onslaught and eventually drive the attackers from the ship.[7] The next day four of the five remaining crew abandoned ship in a canoe in an attempt to flee, but three were later killed on shore.[7] The last crew member on board, James Lewis,[2] who was injured, was somehow able to light the gunpowder magazine on fire and blow up the Tonquin, himself, as well as numerous locals that had returned to pillage the ship.[7] The only known survivor was a half Chinook and half British individual named Lamazu (also known as George Ramsay) who served as a pilot on the ship.[8]

Tonquin (1845 ship)[edit]

The 1845 ship Tonquin, 496 tons, was built by Waterman & Ewell in Medford, Massachusetts, and owned by George R. Minot and Nathaniel Hooper of Boston. She sailed from New York to San Francisco. On November 19, 1849, she was wrecked at the entrance to San Francisco, on Whaleman's Reef.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gough, Barry. Tonquin. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved on February 20, 2008.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Eddins, O. Ned. "John Jacob Astor - Pacific Fur Company: Astorians - Tonquin - Fort Astoria". Mountain Man Plains Indian Canadian Fur Trade. Retrieved 2007-02-17. 
  3. ^ History of British Columbia from its earliest discovery to the present time p. 7, Alexander Begg, publ. William Briggs, Toronto, 1894
  4. ^ Franchère, Gabriel (1851). "Narrative of a voyage to the Northwest coast of America, in the years 1811, 1812, 1813, and 1814, or, The first American settlement on the Pacific". Early Canadiana Online. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  5. ^ Skinner, Constance Lindsay (1920). Adventurers of Oregon: A Chronicle of the Fur Trade. Yale University Press. 
  6. ^ Duncan, Janice K. (1973). "Kanaka World Travelers and Fur Company Employees, 1785-1860". Hawaiian Journal of History (Hawaii Historical Society) 7: 95. hdl:10524/133. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Massacre by Savages". A Place Called Oregon. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  8. ^ a b c "Traders Insult Indigenous Peoples". Graveyard of the Pacific. Retrieved 2008-02-20. 
  9. ^ Gleason, Hall (1937). Old Ships and Ship-Building Days of Medford. Medford, MA: J.C. Miller. p. 68. 

External links[edit]