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For the region in Southeast Asia, see Tonkin.
For the French steamship lost in 1885, see SS City of Paris (1865).
Tonquin in 1811.jpg
The Tonquin in 1811.
United States of America
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 owned by John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company and used in the Maritime Fur Trade of the early 19th century. The ship was used 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 in June 1811, after its captain and crew were killed following a dispute with chief Wickaninnish of the Nootka people.


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 to be used by the Pacific Fur Company, in which Astor owned a half-interest.[2] He gained the services of United States Navy lieutenant Jonathan Thorn and put him in command 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 in the coastal trade.[2] The crew consisted of 34 people including the captain, 30 of whom were British subjects.[3] Four partners of the company were on board: 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] 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, 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. They dropped anchor at Kealakekua Bay (then known as the "Sandwich Islands" and "Karakakooa").[5] They traded for sheep, hogs, goats, poultry, and vegetables.[2] The Tonquin also took on 12 Native Hawaiians, who were recruited for the fur venture before they set sail again for the Columbia River.[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] 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] The small boat and all its crew were lost in the rough surf.[2] The next day they tried again with William Mumford and four others to sound for the channel, but were unsuccessful and nearly lost the small craft.[2] With a third try, the crew located the channel, but the small boat carrying Aiken, Stephen Weekes, John Coles and two others sank before reaching the ship.[2] Finally on March 24, the Tonquin crossed the bar, passing into the Columbia’s estuary. They laid anchor in Baker’s Bay and began searching for the lost men.[2] Only Weekes and one other man were recovered alive.[2]

The party proceeded upriver fifteen miles, where they began building a fort, a shed, and a small boat on the south bank of the river. This was the future site of 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] After 65 days, Thorn departed with a crew of 23 plus a mixed-race native-British interpreter named Lamazu.[2] McKay was aboard the ship as supercargo and James Lewis as clerk when Thorn ordered the ship downriver.[2] On June 5, 1811, the Tonquin left Baker’s Bay and sailed north to trade for furs.[2]


Map of Vancouver Island,
with inset of Clayoquot Sound region
Main article: Battle of Woody Point

After leaving Fort Astoria, the ship and crew traveled north to Nootka Sound. Here, off Vancouver Island at a place named Woody Point in Clayoquot Sound, the Tonquin crew engaged in the fur trade in June 1811.[7] While trading with the local inhabitants, Captain Thorn tossed some otter pelts to Wickahissin, chief of the local people, who was on board.[8] He took this action to be an insult. The next day, he and his warriors returned to gain revenge. [8] Under the guise of seeking further trading, the warriors attacked the crew on board, killing Thorn and most of the men.[7] Only five of the crew survived but were eventually able to drive the attackers from the ship.[7] The next day four of the five remaining crew abandoned ship in a canoe to try to escape, but three men were later killed on shore.[7] James Lewis, the last crew member on board, [2] was injured, but he avoided the natives who were plundering the ship and lit the gunpowder magazine. He sacrificed his life to blow up the ship and prevent its being used by the natives; those on board were also killed.[7] The only known survivor of the crew was Lamazu (also known as George Ramsay), a Chinookan-British man who had served as a pilot on the ship and had been among the four who escaped after the massacre.[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]

In popular culture[edit]

A movie was in planning stages in 2008 to portray the events ending with the 1811 blowing up of the Tonquin.[10]

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. 
  10. ^ "The Suicide Bomber of Clayoquot Sound, Revived", The Tyee, 14 March 2008

External links[edit]