Another Sailing Oil Carrier – Marion Chilcott

When reading about Falls of Clyde’s days as an oil tanker, the name Marion Chilcott is also often mentioned. Marion Chilcott was, in fact, the first sailing ship to bring fuel oil in bulk to Honolulu. However, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here…

Marion Chilcott was launched as Kilbrannan on 11 November 1882. She was a three-masted, full-rigged, iron-hulled ship built by Russell and Co. (the same company that built Falls of Clyde) at Port Glasgow for Kerr, Newton and Co. of Glasgow. At a length of 248 ft., beam of 38 ft., and depth of hold of 22 ft. 9 in., she was slightly smaller than the Falls.

On the afternoon/evening of 4 February 1896, during a voyage from Callao (Peru) to Port Townsend, Washington, Kilbrannan encountered rough weather. While attempting to make the anchorage at Port Townsend, the ship ran aground at Point Wilson despite all the efforts of her crew. She was refloated 22 days later.

She was purchased, repaired, and refitted at considerable cost by the Seattle company Barneson and Chilcott. She was renamed Marion Chilcott and was allowed (by law), due to the amount of money spent on her, to be registered as an American vessel.

In 1900, Marion Chilcott was purchased by Captain William Matson and added to his fleet of vessels sailing between San Francisco and Hilo. Captain Matson had her converted to an oil carrier in 1902 (The Falls was converted in 1907).

“Fuel oil is here to stay, and within a few months there will be established by the Matson Navigation Company at Honolulu [a] thoroughly up-to-date oiling station. The American ship Marion Chilcott, which arrived yesterday with a cargo of sugar from Hilo, has been selected as the pioneer of a line of oil transports which will be employed in keeping full the oil tanks of the Honolulu depot.” — San Francisco Call, May 3, 1902, p. 10

The work was done by the Risdon Iron Works in San Francisco.

“The Risdon people have engaged to complete the transformation in ninety days after the ship is turned over to them.” — San Francisco Call, May 3, 1902, p. 10

“Her tanks were tested and passed [by Lloyd’s surveyors] after having been filled once. There was neither leak nor imperfection and the Risdon people were complimented by the inspectors on the completeness of the work. The Chilcott is provided with twelve tanks, with a total carrying capacity of nearly 18,000 barrels. She can fill or empty all her tanks in twelve hours. She has two separate sets of pumps, which can be worked simultaneously or independently. One set is worked by steam generated in the donkey boiler on deck; the other set is operated by a 21 horsepower gas engine. The ship is fitted throughout with electric lgihts [sic], and in the arrangement of her oil tanks every precaution has been taken to insure perfect ventilation and to provide ample room for any expansion.” — San Francisco Call, October 17, 1902, p. 10

Soon after this, she sailed for Honolulu.

“The fine ship Marion Chilcott, Captain Nelson, of the Matson line, arrived in port Sunday with the first cargo of fuel oil, in bulk, brought to Oahu. The vessel had a tempestuous passage of sixteen days from San Francisco. The ship is loaded very deep in the water, having 17,000 barrels of bulk oil stored in the twelve tank compartments of her hull. She was berthed at the Railway wharf and will discharge her oil into the huge tanks recently built at Iwilei.” — The Pacific Commercial Advertiser [Honolulu], November 24, 1902, p. 10

Captain Nelson was quite proud of his ship:

“‘We could have a half dozen holes in the bottom of this vessel and it would still float,’ said Captain Nelson yesterday, ‘as each compartment is a separate affair, and should one get a hole punched into it, the others would still keep the vessel seaworthy. You see we have electric lights, and no smoking is allowed on deck, although men are permitted to smoke in their quarters. There is a steel hatch over each compartment, and a small valve fitted into each from which oil gas may escape, although but little gas forms from this oil.

“‘We can pump the 17,000 barrels of oil out of this ship, by using both pumps, in sixteen hours, but by using only one pump it would take twenty-four hours. We require no stevedores, as all we have to do when we wish to discharge cargo is to get out a big hose and connect our own pipes with the pipe line on the wharf. The engineer starts his pumps and gets our cargo out in a lively manner. We are not quite a man of war, but we come pretty near to being one as everything done aboard has to be done just so, although conditions are such that we run but little danger.'” — The Pacific Commercial Advertiser [Honolulu], November 24, 1902, p. 10

Some details from the engineer regarding ballasting the ship:

“No, we don’t have to buy ballast. We do not pay any longshoremen to put the ballast into our hold, as we have no gang down below trimming ballast, for the ballast we carry trims itself. When we wish to take ballast preparatory to sailing back to the Coast we simply dump the big hose you see yonder over the side and this pump will take enough water out of your harbor to keep this vessel steady during her return trip to the Coast. We will fill four of our twelve tanks with salt water and that is sufficient ballast. This, of course, is a very inexpensive proceeding.” — The Pacific Commercial Advertiser [Honolulu], November 27, 1902, p. 10

Marion Chilcott was sold to the Associated Oil Company (along with the Falls and a few of Matson’s other vessels), and continued carrying oil from California to Hawai‘i.

“THE TWO OIL VESSELS, the Marion Chilcott and the Falls of Clyde, both left this morning from here on their way to Gaviota. As they are both headed for the same place, there will probably be somewhat of a race.” – Evening Bulletin [Honolulu], March 21, 1908, p. 2

“In the Pacific service there are two very well-known sailing ships, namely, the ‘Falls of Clyde’ and the ‘Marion Chilcott.’ About two years ago their owners—the Associated Oil Company of San Francisco—were seriously considering installing auxiliary oil-engine power. But, for some reason known only to themselves they did not do so, so the ships have remained in service without power.” — Motorship, September 1918, p. 9

Marion Chilcott and the Falls were eventually sold to G.W. McNear, Inc. in 1919. Details get a bit fuzzy after this. She apparently continued sailing as a tanker during the early 1920s until she was taken to Trinidad to be used as a barge. I haven’t been able to find any definitive references as to what finally became of her.

If anyone knows, please comment.

(I’ll continue to research.)

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4 comments on “Another Sailing Oil Carrier – Marion Chilcott

    • weeboopiper says:

      I saw the 1933 date, but another web source said in the 1940s. Not sure what to believe since they don’t cite their sources.

      • starbuck5250 says:

        Yeah, the same problem with genealogy. Family Bibles are a great resource, but what happens when two of them disagree? Often there’s no canonical arbitrator. History – even recent – always has an element of mystery.

  1. David Springer says:

    My father’s uncle, Charlie Anderson, was master of the Marion Chilcott for a time, and my aunt Marion was named after her. We have several photos, including one of my father on board, and I have a telescope and sextant that probably came from the ship. I have more information on what happened to her on a different computer.

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