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Master Shipbuilder Hans Ditlev Bendixsen


The vessel that portrayed the H.M.S. Pandora in the 1935 MGM film of Mutiny on the Bounty, and the Hispaniola in their film of Treasure Island, was originally one of the 123 three-mast schooners built on the American West Coast for the lumber trade

Danish-born Hans D. Bendixsen built the Ottilie Fjord (later re-named Nanuk) in his shipyard in Fairhaven in Northern California. Fairhaven is approximately 400 km north of San Francisco and is located on the north peninsula of Humboldt Bay across the narrows from the city of Eureka. The Fay brothers started and owned a shingle mill at this location and named the place Fairhaven for their original home in Fairhaven, Connecticut.

Bendixsen was one of the notable figures in Pacific Coast maritime history. Between 1875 and 1901 he launched 50 three and four-mast schooners and barkentines at his Fairhaven yard, and in his lifetime built some 115 vessels of all types including two-mast schooners for the Mendocino Coast, South Sea schooner and brigantines, steam schooners, and steamers. Bendixsen is best remembered for the three, four, and five-mast schooners he built for the coastal lumber trade.

The lumber that built San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego came largely from the forests of Oregon and Washington. Between 1870 and 1905 ever larger schooners, built of this same Douglas fir, transported the billions of board feet consumed in California’s successive construction booms. To accommodate this cargo, West Coast schooners were designed to carry more than half of their cargo on deck, and the crew worked the vessel from atop the towering load.

Master Shipbuilder Hans Ditlev Bendixsen was born in Thisted (Jutland) Denmark i 1842. He was the son of a tobacco manufacturer. Hans Ditlev broke family tradition and chose to train himself as a shipbuilder at a shipyard in Aalborg Denmark. When he had completed his apprenticeship he worked at various shipyards in the Danish capital city of Copenhagen.

In 1863 he travelled to San Francisco, by way of Brazil, and worked at various shipyards there. In 1869 he moved to Fairhaven and established a partnership with a local shipbuilder. They built mainly vessels for the lumber trade. A few years later Bendixsen established his own shipyard in Fairhaven. Spread out over fourteen acres were shops, sawmills, slips, timber yards, even cottages and gardens for 150 workers. Usually, Hans Bendixsen owned shares in Bendixsen-built ships--vessels plying the coast with lumber or trading out to the sugar islands. After many good years an economic crisis within the lumber industry in 1877 forced Bendixsen to sell his shipyard so that he could pay his employees and creditors. He rented the shipyard from it's new owners and continued to build ships. Seven years later he was able to buy back the shipyard. Hans Ditlev Bendixsen died 12 February 1902. His wife Emma took his coffin to Denmark. He was buried in South Graveyard in Thisted in one of the most grandiose tombs in Denmark. Emma Bendixsen returned to California, married again and settled in Alameda. She died in 1954, leaving her estate to charitable institutions in Hans Bendixsen's native Denmark. .

The office of Hans Bendixsen was a working archive of lumber carrier models. The Ottilie Fjord was very likely built from one of these models seen on the wall.

Ships built by Hans Bendixsen in Fairhaven the same year as the OTTILIE FJORD
Year Name Gross Tonnage Type
1892 CHARLES R. WILSON 345 Three-mast baldheader 
1892 Louise 346 Three-mast baldheader 
1892 Hilo 644 Barkentine 
1892 Ottilie Fjord 261 Three-mast baldheader 
1892 JANE L. STANFORD 970 Four-mast barkentine
1892 O.M. KELLOGG 393 Three-mast baldheader 

The Schooner Wawona in Seattle Washington is a surviving Hans Bendixsen vessel.

Another surviving Hans Bendixsen vessel is the C.A. Thayer at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Sources:

Hans Ditlev Bendixsen skibsbygmester (Danish Language website)

C.A. Thayer

C.A. Thayer More Info

LaVerne Larson's Humboldt County history notebook

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