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Bark / Barkentine or Demi-Bark

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In the ninteenth century, the term "bark" was applied to a large sailing vessel having three masts, the first two (fore and main) being square-rigged; the third (mizzen), fore-and-aft rigged. The reduced square-rig made the vessel easier and more economical to handle, using a smaller crew. (1)

Barks had significant presence in mid-nineteenth-century America, as indicated by Lane’s depictions of them. Hardly any are to be found in his scenes of major ports, but some do appear in his Cape Ann scenes (see The Fort and Ten Pound Island, Gloucester (Harbor Scene), 1848 (inv. 58), View of Gloucester, 1859 (inv. 91), Gloucester Harbor, 1850s (inv. 391), and Bark "Eastern Star" of Boston, 1853 (inv. 571)), also in views of other small ports and of coastal shipping (see Clipper Ship "Southern Cross" in Boston Harbor, 1851 (inv. 253), Merchantmen Off Boston Harbor, 1853 (inv. 267), Approaching Storm, Owl's Head, 1860 (inv. 399), and Bark "Mary" (inv. 629)).

Brigs, and to a lesser extent ships, were the vessels of choice for Gloucester’s foreign trade in the first half of the nineteenth century. They brought cargos from the West Indies, South America, and Europe, anchoring in the deeper parts of the Inner Harbor while lighters off-loaded the goods and landed them at the wharves in Harbor Cove, by then too shallow for the newer, larger merchant vessels coming into use. (2) By mid-century, barks were gradually replacing brigs and ships, while the trade with Surinam was removed to Boston in 1860. (3)

Some bulk cargos still had to be landed in Gloucester, salt for curing fish being the most important. “Salt barks” brought Tortugas salt from the West Indies, and in the 1870s, Italian salt barks began bringing Trapani salt from Sicily. The importation of salt by sailing ships ended with the outbreak of World War I. (4)

The term barkentine, like the bark, pre-dates the nineteenth century, but in the mid- to late 1800s referred to a large vessel of three masts (or more), with only the fore mast square-rigged, the others being fore-and-aft-rigged. In Lane’s time, the term was little known in the United States, while many other names were coined for the rig. One of these early terms was demi-bark, probably from the French demi-barque, which was applied to a very different kind of vessel. (5) Lane’s depictions of these rigs include a lithograph of the steam demi-bark "Antelope" View of Newburyport, (From Salisbury), 1845 (inv. 499) and at least three depictions of Cunard steamships The "Britannia" Entering Boston Harbor, 1848 (inv. 49), Cunard Steamship Entering Boston Harbor (inv. 197), and Cunard Liner "Britannia", 1842 (inv. 259). (6) None of these subjects typify the barkentine rig as applied to sails-only rigs as they developed in the years after Lane’s death.

– Erik Ronnberg (May, 2015)


1. R[ichard] H[enry] Dana, Jr., The Seaman's Friend (Boston; Thomas Groom & Co., 1841. 13th ed., 1873), 97 and Plate IV with captions; and M.H. Parry, et al., Aak to Zumbra: A Dictionary of the World's Watercraft (Newport News, VA: The Mariners’ Museum, 2000), 43.

2. Alfred Mansfield Brooks, Gloucester Recollected (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1974), 56, note 10; 67, note 7.

3. James R. Pringle, History of the Town and City of Gloucester (1892. Reprint: Gloucester, MA, 1997), 106–08.

4. Raymond McFarland, A History of the New England Fisheries (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1911), 95–96; and Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History (New York: Walker & Co., 2002), 419–420.

5. Parry, 44, 167. Dana has neither definition nor illustration of this rig.

6. J[ohn] W. Griffiths, “The Japan and China Propeller Antelope," U.S. Nautical Magazine III (October 1855): 11–17. This article includes an impression of Lane’s lithograph on folded tissue.

Related tables: "Antelope" (Steam Demi-Bark) »  //  "Eastern Star" (Bark) »  //  "Mary" (Bark) »  //  Salt »

photo (historical)
Photo of Bark
Engraving in Merchant Vessels of the Unite States (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1885)

See fig. XX.

The Fort and Ten Pound Island, Gloucester (Harbor Scene)
Fitz Henry Lane
Oil on canvas
20 x 30 in.
Newark Museum, N.J., Gift of Mrs. Chant Owen, 1959 (59.87)

Detail of harbor scene.

photo (historical)
Cape Ann Scenery: No. 44 Gloucester Harbor
John S. E. Rogers, Publisher
Stereograph card
Cape Ann Museum Library & Archive

This view of Gloucester's Inner Harbor shows three square-rigged vessels in the salt trade at anchor. The one at left is a (full-rigged) ship; the other two are barks. By the nature of their cargos, they were known as "salt ships" and "salt barks" respectively. Due to their draft (too deep to unload at wharfside) they were partially unloaded at anchor by "lighters" before being brought to the wharves for final unloading.

– Erik Ronnberg

Engraving in R. H. Dana, The Seaman's Friend, 13th ed. (Thomas Groom & Co. Publisher, 1873)

A bark is square-rigged at her fore and main masts, and differs from a ship in having no top, and carrying only fore-and-aft sails at her mizzenmast. 

Silhouettes of vessel types
Charles G. Davis
Book illustrations from "Shipping and Craft in Silhouette" by Charles G. Davis, Salem, Mass. Marine Research Society, 1929. Selected images
Citation: "Vessel Types." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum.§ion=Bark+%2F+Barkentine+or+Demi-Bark&ref=catalog:58 (accessed July 23, 2024).
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