Launched from the shipyard of J. H. Holmes and Sons on April 16, 1878 for owners Gifford and Cummings of New Bedford, the bark Wanderer was a first class vessel in every aspect, and it was the last whaler, or any vessel for that matter, built in the town of Mattapoisett.
Standing in the stocks at the water’s edge, the Wanderer was a sight to behold. She measured 116 feet from stem to stern with a bean of 27 1/2 feet and draft of 15 feet 8 inches. When fully rigged, the extended bowsprit would add 50 feet to her length and her three masts would stand 125 feet above the deck. On land, waiting for launching, she dwarfed the surrounding buildings.
On April 16, 1878, away the last restraining blocks were removed and the Wanderer slid into the harbor. Following the fitting out in New Bedford, the Wanderer sailed June 4, 1878. Returning after a four year voyage, she sailed again on August 29, 1882. This voyage ended in San Francisco where her registry changed to that city and her whaling grounds became the North pacific and Arctic Oceans. In February 1903, the vessel left San Francisco on a whaling voyage which ended in New Bedford where the vessel remained.
During the next 20 years the Wanderer made eleven whaling voyages out of New Bedford, but after World War I the price of sperm oil dropped, and the vessels owners fitted her out for a last voyage in the summer of 1924.
On August 24th, the Wanderer anchored just west of Mishaum Ledge bell buoy to await a more favorable wind. No one was aware of a large tropical system making its way up the eastern seaboard that would pass just south of Cape Cod. By 10 am August 25th very heavy squalls and gale force winds were battering the Wanderer from the northeast. The anchor chain parted, and although a second anchor was dropped, the vessel was driven across the mouth of the Bay onto the rocks of Cuttyhunk. Wedged high on the rocks, the vessel was a total loss. Wreckers salvaged provisions, whaling gear, sails, boats, the figurehead and many other items before a second storm on September 30th completely broke up the hull.
The Wanderer’s mizzen mast stood as a flag pole in Shipyard Park until 1964 when lighting brought it down. Today it hangs in the Carriage House of the Mattapoisett Historical Society.
Currently the Mattapoisett Historical Society is publishing a booklet of the Wanderer’s voyages written by Frank Rezendes and edited by Seth Mendell. The booklet will also include an overview of the whaling industry, major shipyards on the Mattapoisett waterfront, and 35 photographs of the Wanderer given to the Historical Society by Brad and Priscilla Hathaway.