Thompson Steamboat Company

Part of the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet

The Lydia Thompson, built 1893

Friday Harbor, Washington

Route: Seattle-Bellingham, three times a week via San Juan Islands

(Richardson, Argyle, Lopez, Friday Harbor, West Sound, Orcas, East Sound, Newhall, Olga)

 

The Thompson Steamboat Co. was started ca. 1888 by the brothers John Rex Thompson and Fred Thompson. They built their successful steamboat company to a point where they had more U.S. mail contracts than any other steamboat company on Puget Sound. On January 8, 1902, the Thompson Steamboat Co. sold its entire fleet to Joshua Green's Puget Sound Navigation Co.

John Rex Thompson was quick to correct anyone who attempted to just call him "John", instead of "John Rex".

"John `don't forget the Rex' Thompson." -Effie Blenkinsop, (his niece), age 95, September 2, 1991.

"John REX Thompson never came to visit." [with emphasis on the "Rex"] -Effie Blenkinsop, August 25, 1991.

"Uncle Fred [Thompson] gave us three children, each a bicycle. We would go over to their [Fred and Martha Thompson's] house once a week for dinner." -Effie Blenkinsop, August 25, 1991.

 

L-R: John Rex and Fred Thompson, ca. 1908

 

John Rex and Fred Thompson were both from England. John Rex was born May 8, 1855 in Black Hills, England. On August 20, 1877 John Rex married Harriet Blewitt, the daughter of George and Lydia (Powis) Blewitt of Thornaby-on-Tees, Yorkshire, England.

John Rex and Harriet's daughter Lydia Ellen Thompson was named in honor of her maternal grandmother Lydia (Powis) Blewitt and the Thompson Steamboat Co.'s steamship the Lydia Thompson was named for John Rex and Harriet's daughter Lydia Ellen Thompson.

John Rex and Harriet Thompson emigrated to America in 1881 and settled in Missouri and then Nebraska. In 1887 the families of John Rex & Harriet Thompson and Fred & Martha Thompson moved to Port Angeles to become members of the Puget Sound Cooperative Colony, the first modern communitarian colony in Washington State. The Colony's purpose was to create a utopian community based on community effort, not on money.

To learn more about the Puget Sound Cooperative Colony the following link will take you to "Dreams of Utopia on Puget Sound 100 Years Ago", by Dona Cloud.

http://www.olypen.com/rfoss/censusindex.html#dreamsofutopia

Here is a quote from Dona Cloud's article on the Puget Sound Cooperative Colony which explains the origins of what would become the Thompson Steamboat Co.:

"A sawmill shipped from Seattle soon was cutting 20,000 board feet a day. In the beginning, most of the lumber was used to construct colony buildings. The sawmill, located on the beach just west of the colony hotel, consisted of machinery and framework, never completely enclosed. At first, lumber came from trees on the site; later a logging camp was established and a tram road was constructed to bring the logs down. Lumber was sold all the way to Seattle."

"In the beginning, the colonists had only one skiff, which soon proved insufficient. There was a market for lumber, but the colony had difficulty arranging delivery. Members subscribed $4,200 for construction of a 60 ton steam schooner to be built in the colony shipyard, Christened Angeles, it was launched April 23, 1889. The Angeles traveled Puget Sound until the 1920's."

 

Puget Sound Cooperative Colony

 

The utopian experiment established in 1887 collapsed by the end of 1888. The Thompson brothers were obviously involved with the colony's shipyard and after the colony's demise they took a completely opposite approach and embraced their capitalist instincts. Likely they started small, but with rapid success by 1893 they ordered their flagship Lydia Thompson to be built.

 

"Uncle John [Rex] was a peculiar individual." -Effie Blenkinsop, September 6, 1991.

 

Their next flagship to be built was the Alice Gertrude named for Fred and Martha Thompson's daughter, Alice Gertrude Thompson.

The Alice Gertrude, built 1898

John Rex Thompson is standing by the wheelhouse (hand on mast support)

 

The Garland built in 1890 was purchased by the Thompson Steamboat Co. in 1893. The following quote is from the "McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest", p. 123. (Tacoma Public Library)

"The Garland, 166 tons, 97.2 x 18.7 x 7. 1, with compound engines, 10, 20 x 18, 120 pounds working pressure, was built at Port Townsend in 1890 for the Hastings Steamboat Co. of that city, her dimensions at the time of her launching being 77.6 x 17.6 x 6. She was almost immediately rebuilt to the larger specifications, Capt. Hastings operating her on the Seattle-Port Townsend-Port Angeles-Victoria run until 1893, when she was sold to the Thompson Steamboat Company [where she remained] on the same route [...]."

Also, from "Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest", "Finest Steamers in the Northwest Appear on Puget Sound Waters", E. W. Wright, Antiquarian Press, Ltd., 1961, p. 375. (Tacoma Public Library)

"The steamer Garland, launched at Port Townsend for Hastings & Horn, was a well built propeller seventy-seven feet seven inches long, seventeen feet six inches beam, and six feet seven inches hold, and was originally intended for towing and freighting. She has recently been lengthened thirty feet, fitted up with handsome passenger accommodations, and has run on the Victoria route."

For a photograph of the Garland steamboat click the following link to the University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division:

http://content.lib.washington.edu/u?/imlsmaritime,559

 

The John Rex and Harriet Thompson Family

Circa 1895, Seattle, Washington

L-R (children in back): Gertrude, Lydia, George and Effie Thompson

L-R (front): John Rex, Fred (son), Harriet Thompson

 

Another steamboat built for the Thompson Steamboat Co. was the Majestic built in 1901 (renamed the Whatcom in 1904 and again renamed the City of Bremerton in 1921). Top speed was 12.5 knots. The following quote is from "W. H. McCurdy Marine History of the Pacific Northwest", "Maritime Events of 1901", Gordon Newell, p. 70. (Tacoma Public Library)

"Majestic, one of the larger Sound steamers of the period, was built at Everett by E. Heath for the Thompson Steamboat Co. A wooden vessel of 657 tons, dimensions 169 x 29.8 x 13.7, she was powered by a triple expansion engine 18, 30;/2, 51 x 24."

For a photograph of the Majestic steamboat click the following link to the University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division:

http://content.lib.washington.edu/u?/transportation,689

 

After the Thompson Steamboat Co. was sold in 1902 to Joshua Green's Puget Sound Navigation Co., John Rex Thompson still carried on in the business of steamships. A typical example of his cutthroat business tactics can be seen by clicking the following link to the University of Washington Libraries, Digital Collections, "Port Townsend Daily Ledger", May 21, 1904, page 1. This front page article, concerning a business venture based on the steamships Dode and Willapa (renamed Bellingham), is titled, "Report Filed by the Receiver, Airs Affairs of the Bellingham Transportation Company":

http://content.lib.washington.edu/u?/ptleader,1343

 

On September 4, 1926 John Rex Thompson passed away in Seattle at the age of 71. On September 11, 1926 they lowered two ash containers to the floor of Puget Sound. His obituary, in part, read:

"On the gentle waters of Elliot Bay [...] the ashes of Capt. John Rex Thompson will be strewn. Such was his wish. Many years ago he expressed it to Joshua Green, Seattle Capitalist, who bought out his fleet and formed the Puget Sound Navigation Company, and who furnished the steamer Washington, Captain Thompson's `cheer ship' for the committal service. [...] Saturday afternoon the ashes will be taken aboard the Washington at the Colman Dock by the pallbearers [...]."

On September 1, 1934 Harriet (Blewitt) Thompson passed away in Seattle at the age of 79. Her obituary, in part, read:

"[...] After cremation, her ashes will be scattered over Puget Sound [...]."

- - - - - -

"John Rex was afraid of being mugged in Seattle so he'd walk down the middle of the street. He always had his hands in his pockets." -Effie Blenkinsop, (his niece), age 96, April 5, 1992.

 

Left to Right

George Blenkinsop, Lydia (Powis) Blewitt, Effie Blenkinsop

November 4, 1904 (just before the Blenkinsop family left England for Seattle)

 

 

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