Photo of William McKenzie and Wreck of the Marco Polo 1883

By June

This image is of a retouched original photo from the 1890s.

William McKenzie was a farmer-fisherman, as were most people with farms right along the coast. His farm was on the Cavendish Bluffs, P.E.I., very close to where the clipper ship Marco Polo was driven ashore in a fierce storm in July 1883.

Why is this important to me? My great-grandfather was Alexander McKenzie, boot and shoe maker in Wheatley River, and it is possible that this man was a relative of mine. Also, I have a country made lamp table which has always been referred to as the Marco Polo table, and it belonged to my great grandmother.

Most of the cargo of the Marco Polo was lumber. She was sailing from Quebec to England when she was caught in the summer storm. William McKenzie was, among others, given an award for bravery in rescuing the crew of the Marco Polo. The local residents also helped unload the cargo, which was lined up along the beach for miles. It is fun to imagine how some of the lumber was made into a table for, perhaps, a wedding gift for my great-grandparents.

The "Marco Polo table"

The “Marco Polo table”

Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, was a child of nine when this happened, and she had vivid memories of it all, and wrote an essay describing the whole event for a newspaper when she was sixteen. She was in school at the time when the huge iron mainmast crashed to the beach, and school was immediately dismissed so they could all see what had happened.

The Marco Polo

The Marco Polo

Other questions to ponder. In the 1890s, the camera took the image on a glass plate which had to have been the size of the original photograph which was roughly 16 x 20 inches. What was it about the image of a farmer bringing home his cattle for milking which attracted a person sufficiently to bring a huge camera and tripod to a dusty road along Cavendish beach? This is a universal image seen in many paintings, and which has happened since people first domesticated animals. Also, one notices the telephone lines beside the road. Lucy Maud mentions in her journal for 1895 receiving a phone call. In these days of urban living, where city folk are far removed from country living, it is well to ponder how life was for most people through the millennia.

[Editor’s note: June had the photo digitally retouched, printed at its original size of 16×20″ and drymounted.]