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.

A $200 gold Marco Polo coin was also issued by the Mint in 2016.


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.


In 2001, the Royal Canadian Mint featured the Marco Polo on a $20 silver hologram coin as part of its “Transportation on Land, Sea and Rail” series.

The Proof coin has a weight of 31.1 grams, a diameter of 38 millimetres and a mintage of 41,828 pieces.

More recently, in 2016, the Mint issued a one-ounce pure Proof gold Marco Polo coin with a face value of $200. This piece has a weight of 31.16 grams, a diameter of 30 millimetres and a mintage of 275 coins.

Designed by Canadian artist Neil Hamelin, the coins feature a three-quarter port-side view of the iconic Canadian sailing vessel.

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