Matthew McDowell

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Matthew McDowell, at 94 years of age.

Matthew McDowell was a steamboat owner and builder associated with the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet.


McDowell was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and left home at age 15 to work as a coal passer for steamers of the Anchor Line. He had three sons and one daughter, all of whom were associated with his steamboat business. His three sons Albert(George Alexander), Robert, and John served as engineers and eventually all qualified as masters. His daughter Mary acted as purser. Mary later married Arthur Thompson, who became a well-known Puget Sound pilot.[1]

McDowell's fleet was originally based in Tacoma near the smelter. He often slept on one of his boats, especially if he was to be its captain the following morning. Once a vessel he was sleeping in was nearly run down by a large steamer, so in 1905 Captain McDowell bought 80 acres (320,000 m2) of land on Browns Point.

House and dock near Browns Point Lighthouse

McDowell built a house and dock near the lighthouse. He called his new home Caledonia, after the poetic name for Scotland. His boats served landings Dumas Bay, Lakota, Adelaide, Redondo, Des Moines, Zenith, Maury, Portage, Chautauqua, Vashon Island, Tacoma and Seattle. As the permanent population and the summer vacationers increased, his business thrived. He later built a dance hall next to his dock, and transported patrons to it on the D fleet steamers.[2]

Operation of Quickstep

In early 1890s, McDowell operated the propeller steamer Quickstep (built at Astoria in 1877) as a towboat on Puget Sound.[3]

First boat

In 1897, McDowell built his first boat. Defiance (I), at Caledonia, near Tacoma. She was 60.5 long and rated at 85 tons. Defiance (I) was the first of six steamboats launched by Captain McDowell, all beginning with the letter "D" and all built at the Crawford and Reid yard. In each case, Captain McDowell took personal charge of the construction.[3]

The D Fleet

Boats built or reconstructed by Captain McDowell for his "D Fleet" included

  • Defiance (I)
  • Dove ex-Typhoon, built 1889, and later reconstructed following acquisition by Capt. McDowell;
  • Dauntless, built 1899,
  • Defiance (II), built 1901
  • Daring, later Clinton, built 1909
  • Dart, built 1911
  • Daily later Island Princess and ferry Cy Peck, built 1912

The D Fleet also is reported to have operated Monticello (built 1906).[4]

Later years

Ready sources do not give much information on the later days of Captain McDowell. The webpage of a local historical society states that Captain McDowell anticipated a decline in passenger business as the demand grew for automobile ferries, and began selling his fleet in 1918 while steamers were still in demand, retiring completely from the steamer service in August 1919.[2] It is known that he lived to at least the age of 94 years. He died in Tacoma in December, 1944.


  1. ^ Newell, Gordon R., ed., H.W. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, at 20
  2. ^ a b Points Northeast Historical Society web page on Browns Point (near Tacoma, WA) (Accessed February 17, 2008)
  3. ^ a b McCurdy, at 20
  4. ^ Newell, Gordon R., and Williamson, Joe, Pacific Steamboats, at 120, Superior Publishing, Seattle, WA 1958 (showing photos of Dart, Dauntless, Dove (ex-Typhoon), Defiance (II) (later Clinton), and Monticello.)
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