Thetis, 1899

Sept. 8, 2020

Thetis, 1899

A photo of the Revenue Cutter Thetis

The cutter Thetis was named for a sea nymph of Greek mythology.  She was the daughter of the sea god Nereus and the mother of the Trojan War hero Achilles.

Builder: Alexander Stephen & Son, Dundee, Scotland

Launched: 1881

Commissioned: 3 March 1899

Decommissioned: 30 April 1916

Disposition: Sold

Displacement: 1,250 tons

Rig: Barquentine

Length: 188' 6"

Beam: 29'

Draft: 17' 10" 

Machinery: Compound-expansion steam

Propellers: 1

     Maximum speed: 
     Maximum sustained: 

Complement: ?

Armament: 3 x 3-pound rapid fire guns



The Revenue cutter Thetis was built by Alexander Stephen & Son of Dundee, Scotland in 1881 as a whaler.  She had a strengthened wooden hull capable of operating in light ice conditions.  She was acquired by the Navy for the Greeley relief expedition and was then offered to the Revenue Cutter Service.  On 16 March 1899 the Treasury Department notified Captain Calvin L. Hooper, USRCS, that the Commandant of the Mare Island Navy Yard had been directed to turn over to Hooper the Thetis, with a steam launch, quarter boats, sails, blocks, running gear, compasses and other belongings, and directed Captain Hooper to accept same, and to have repairs, etc., made to vessel amounting to $7,000.  The Thetis was transferred to the Revenue Cutter Service by an Act of Congress approved on 3 March 1899.  When repairs were completed she was ordered to Seattle, Washington.

In April 1899 she proceeded to Seattle and in the following months was ordered to St. Lawrence Bay, via Unalaska, Alaska, for the purpose of transporting reindeer from the Siberian coast to government stations in Alaska.  She was ordered to Alaska the following year in May, after undergoing $50,000 in repairs at San Francisco.  In 1901 she made the northern cruise again conveying Dr. Sheldon Jackson, the Superintendent of Education in Alaska and a missionary, and his assistant to points in Alaska, sailing in July and returning to Seattle in November.  The following April, 1902, found the Thetis at the cruising grounds in the Bering Sea, her officers keeping a watchful eye for seal poachers.  Returning to Seattle in May she again sailed, this time for Nome, arriving there on June 6th and sailing the next day in search of the SS Portland, reported to be in distress.  Again, April, 1903, found the cutter cruising in the Bering Sea for the protection of the seal fisheries.  Back in Seattle she was off again on May 26th for Dutch Harbor and thence to Nome, where she spent two-and-a-half days again searching for the SS Portland.  

Her Alaskan missions were varied in May 1904 by a trip to Honolulu from which point she proceeded, under orders, to Lisianski Island to pick up Japanese nationals who were there unlawfully, and bring them back to Honolulu.  The Japanese were killing Terns and Gooney birds for commercial use.  The Thetis arrived off Lisianski Island on 16 June 1904 after first stopping at Midway Island to deliver supplies to the station there.  Her landing party discovered 77 Japanese nationals who all agreed to leave the island aboard the cutter.  The following month she sailed for Dutch Harbor where she remained for three months.

From 13 July 1905 to 26 April 1906 she was out of commission but in April of 1906 she was ordered to be put in commission again and in June sailed for Unalaska, from which point she proceeded to Point Barrow, where she remained until September, when the ice began to close in.  Back in San Francisco in November she was ordered to make a thorough search at sea for the British vessel Ivernia.  After a seven-day search for this vessel out of Port Townsend she arrived in San Francisco on November 24, 1906.

In February 1907 she put to sea again in search of the schooner Rita Newman.  In May she was off for Alaska again where she was directed to report to Captain Frederick M. Munger for duty in connection with the Seal Island patrol after returning from an Arctic cruise.  August 27th found her back in Unalaska from the Arctic cruise with a damaged rudder.  She returned to her headquarters on Puget Sound in September and remained there, making cruises on the vicinity of the Straits of Fuca, assisting vessels in distress, with Neah Bay as her base of operations, until February 1908.  She sailed on 24 February 1908 for Yakutat Bay to rescue some Japanese who had been shipwrecked.  The following month found her ordered to Cape Pankof, Unimak Island, to rescue some shipwrecked people from the schooner Miller, but these orders were later revoked on March 16th as all of the persons on board the schooner had been accounted for.

On 11 May 1908 she sailed at noon for Alaska where she remained until November.  The following year in 1909 she again sailed for the Arctic via Dutch Harbor, reaching Point Barrow on 15 August 1909, and sailing for Unalaska and St. Lawrence Island on September 13th.  In December 1909 she was ordered to Honolulu again and in August, 1910, proceeded to Laysan Island to investigate Japanese poaching.  The following year in January she was ordered to convey a party from the Department of Agriculture to Laysan Island, returning them to Honolulu by July 15th.  These orders were revoked.  Meanwhile, she ad been ordered to make the Southeastern Alaska cruise with the U.S. District Court aboard, which consisted of a Assistant U.S. Marshall, a clerk and a stenographer, and to be at Valdez by July 10th.  She sailed for Valdez on June 10th and remained in Alaska until October 23rd.  Again in 1912 she arrived in Valdez on July 15th and left with the "floating court" the same day, arriving at Nome on August 13th and leaving on August 19th.

On 6 October 1912 she arrived at Honolulu and on December 15th did said for Laysan Island with the expedition of the Department of Agriculture to visit bird reservations, acting under the direction of the Governor of Hawaii who was aboard.  She was to leave the party there and return for them about 1 March 1913.  The Thetis returned to San Francisco 7 January 1913 and proceeded to Mare Island where she remained until March 6th, when she proceeded to Laysan Island and returned the Agriculture Department party to Honolulu on March 14th.

In April, 1913, she sailed for Honolulu from Valdez arriving on the 17th.  She was in drydock there from March until September, 1914, when she again sailed for Laysan Island.  On 16 March 1915 she left Honolulu for Midway Island and visited all the bird reservations except Necker and Pearland Hermes Reef, including Midway and Ocean Island.  She returned to Midway on April 8th.  On 24 January 1916 she departed Honolulu for Midway and various islands and reefs of the Pacific Bird Reservations, returning to Honolulu on February 13th.  

She was decommissioned on 30 April 1916 and was sold to Messrs. W. and S. Job and Company, Inc. of New York City for $24,800.


A photograph of officers of the revenue cutter Thetis circa 1900

"Officers of the old Revenue Cutter THETIS posed for this picture in 1904."; no photo number; photographer unknown.


Cutter files, USCG Historian's Office.

Canney, Donald L. U.S. Coast Guard and Revenue Cutters, 1790-1935. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995).

Noble, Dennis & Truman R. Strobridge.  "The Arctic Adventures of the Thetis."  Arctic: Journal of the Arctic Institute of North America Vol. 30, No. 1 (March, 1977), pp. 2-12.