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The ‘Tama-Houre-Laune.’

In our most recent exchange, the Washington Quarterly, are copies of letters of Capt. Eliah Grimes of the brig Owhyhee written to Sprague & Marshall, Boston, merchants in the Pacific coast trade of a century ago. After mentioning much sickness and the death of several men, the captain names one man he ‘had decided to send back to the islands,’ one who came out in the Tama-houre-laune, and also says,
they have cold pains in breast and head, which I think is owing in great measure to the brig being so fully salted; she is damp from one end to the other.

[p. 35]

We do not find any reference to the brig Owhyee (former spelling of Hawaii) in the list of Medford-built vessels, and cannot be certain which ‘brig’ was ‘so fully salted,’ but we find the names of two brigs built in 1820 in Medford by Thatcher Magoun for Josiah Marshall. One was the Tama-houre-laune, 162.63 tons, the other the Jones, 163.36 tons, the seventy-seventh and seventy-eighth in the notable list. A foot-note says:

These brigs were put together: then taken to pieces and sent to the Sandwich Islands on board the Thaddeus commanded by Captain A. Blanchard of Medford.

By the very slight difference in their tonnage, it is evident the ordinary-named Jones was a duplicate of the long-named Tama-houre-laune, and even if built ‘knockdown,’ must have been a full freight for the Thaddeus, scarcely leaving room for that traditional cargo of ‘Missionaries and Medford rum.’ As only these two are mentioned as thus constructed, there must be some foundation of fact in the foot-note, the details of which we wish could be explained; the probability is that only the ‘frames’ of these two brigs were here set up, properly fitted and duly marked before ‘taken to pieces.’ Arrived at the Sandwich islands, these Medford-built ‘frames,’ i.e., the timber skeletons, were reassembled, and the outer and inner skin or sheathing of planks of native wood, put on by the islanders, under the direction of ship-carpenters from Medford or Boston.

As ship building has been a ‘lost art’ in Medford nearly a half century, a few words relative to the ‘salting’ and ‘watering’ of ships is opportune. After a vessel's framework was sheathed without and within with heavy planks, the space between the timbers was filled with water, which tested the joints, already caulked with oakum. This, in the later days of the Medford business, was done by a fire engine. When the town procured new engines, one of the old ‘hand tubs,’ the J. Q. Adams, was kept for ‘watering ships,’ as stated in the town report. Below the ‘bilge’ (or curvature of the frames), a [p. 36] block of wood was closely fitted in each intervening space. This was called a ‘salt stop,’ and prevented the salt (which was poured into the spaces between) passing into the bottom of the vessel, where it was not needed for the preservation of the wood, as it was in the sides above the varying ‘water line’ Captain Grimes complained of the over-salting of his brig, which would indicate a lack of care taken.

We are told by an expert attendant at the old State House that the brig Owhyee was of 166.52 tons, built by John Wade at Boston in 1821. John Wade was previously master boat-builder at the Navy Yard. The Boston Directory of that year says his shipyard was at ‘Bullard & Hart's shipways, Lynn street,’ near Charles river bridge; and in 1822 he was, with his brother Francis, in the same location. The succeeding directories mention John Wade, who very likely was of Medford ancestry, as ‘boat-builder.’ Perhaps the Owhyee, a small brig, of similar size of the two built the previous year (knock-down as the modern term is) at Medford, was his first venture in a larger line of constructive work.

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