The paddle wheel steamship Portland was one of the largest and most palatial vessels afloat in New England during the 1890s. Built in 1889, the steamer ran between Portland, Maine and Boston until its loss with all hands in 1898.

Click here for a list of the passengers and crew lost with the steamship Portland.

The sanctuary, in partnership with the National Undersea Research Center at the University of Connecticut (NURC-UConn), visits Portland yearly with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to learn about the steamship's construction, why it sank, and the experiences of the passengers and crew
during the storm. Portland's loss is New England's greatest steamship disaster prior to the year 1900.

Historic Portland
Historic photograph of Portland in 1891.
Courtesy of LARC.

Four years of historical and archaeological studies by the sanctuary and NURC-UConn culminated in Portland's inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The steamship is significant to the history of New England and more specifically to the history of Maine and Massachusetts. The steamship's remains are also the best preserved New England "night boat" yet located.

Dishware in Portland's galley reminds us of the nearly two
hundred lives lost when it sank in 1898. Courtesy of
NOAA/SBNMS, NURC-UConn, and the Science Channel.

The wooden-hulled paddle wheel steamship Portland measured 291 feet in total length with a maximum breadth of 68 feet. Built in 1889 by the New England Shipbuilding Company of Bath, Maine, the steamer was one of New England's largest and most luxurious side paddle wheel steamships, accommodating up to 800 passengers. For nearly 10 years Portland connected Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine for the Portland Steam Packet Company (later renamed the Portland Steamship Company) without much notoriety. Portland carried thousands of passengers and tons of cargo along the New England coast and earned the reputation as a safe and dependable steamer.

1896 Advertisement
Advertisement for the Portland Steamship Company from the 1896 Pathfinder Railway Guide.
Courtesy of LARC.

In the 1989, the Historic Maritime Group of New England, led by maritime researchers John Fish and Arnold Carr, located the wreck, however they did not posses conclusive photographic evidence of their find. In 2002, the sanctuary and NURC-UConn confirmed Portland's location with side scan sonar and ROV investigations of the wreck site.

Portland Side Scan
Side scan sonar image of the Portland.
Courtesy of Klein Sonar Associates.

Side view illustration
Side view of illustration of Portland's remains in 2005.

Portland lies upright on a mud bottom with its wooden hull nearly intact from the keel up to the main deck level. The vessel's entire superstructure is missing with only the steam propulsion machinery protruding above deck level. In addition to the wooden hull and engine, smaller cultural artifacts lie scattered inside and outside the hull providing a glimpse of the steamer's passengers and crew.

Steam escape pipe
Portland's steam escape pipe released excess steam from
the boilers. Courtesy of NOAA/SBNMS, NURC-UConn,
and the Science Channel.

large mug
A large mug lying on Portland's freight deck among twisted
steam pipes. Courtesy of NOAA/SBNMS, NURC-UConn,
and the Science Channel.

walking beam
This walking beam transferred motion from the steam engine piston to Portland's paddle wheels. Courtesy of

Portland's steam powered anchor windlass has fallen into the chain locker. Courtesy of NOAA/SBNMS and NURC-UConn.


Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Web Group
Website Owner: Department of Commerce
Many links leave the National Marine Sanctuary Web Site (often indicated with External Website Image) - please view our Disclaimer for more information
National Marine Sanctuaries |National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | National Ocean Service | Privacy Policy | User Survey
Contact Us |
Photo Credits for Section Pages