OTD: Marco Polo declared ‘fastest ship in the world’

On today’s date in 1852, the Canadian-built clipper ship Marco Polo completed her round-trip voyage between England and Australia in only five months and 21 days.

It was the first time the voyage was completed in fewer than six months, according to Historica Canada, and the Marco Polo became known as the fastest ship in the world.

Built in Saint John, N.B., the ship was named after Italian merchant Marco Polo, who was born in the Republic of Venice and known for his far-reaching travels.

Marco Polo, the man, died on Jan. 8, 1324, at the age of 69.


The Marco Polo was one of many ships to come out of the Maritimes throughout the 19th century.

In 1875, about 500 ships were built in Canada. Three years later, Canada had a merchant fleet of more than 7,000 vessels and ranked fourth in the world among ship-owning nations.

Because time was a valuable commodity for trans-Atlantic traders and ship speed was of crucial importance, the Marco Polo combined the body of a cargo ship above the waterline with a much-faster clipper ship below.

The ship’s creator James Smith was one of the first builders to combine the two designs.

Canada Post also issued a two-stamp souvenir sheet as part of its 1999 Marco Polo release.


On March 19, 1999, Canada Post commemorated the Marco Polo on a 46-cent stamp (Scott #1779).

Available in a 16-stamp pane and two-stamp souvenir sheet (SC #1779a) – the latter with both a 46- and 85-cent denomination – the stamp was printed by Ashton-Potter on Tullis Russell paper.

An official first-day cover (OFDC) was also serviced with a Saint John cancel, and a souvenir sheet OFDC was also issued.

The ship has since been the subject of several paintings. One, by marine artist J. Franklin Wright, was commissioned by Canada Post for the 1999 stamp, which shows the Marco Polo under sail and leaving Saint John.

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