Little Bits of History

The Ship

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 22, 2012

The clipper, Cutty Sark

November 22, 1869: A Scottish clipper is launched. These ships of the 19th century were quite fast, probably how they got their name. At the time, the word “clip” meant to run or fly swiftly and the ships, with at least three masts and a square rigging, were able to fly across the water. These ships were made mostly in American and British shipyards although some European countries, notably France and the Netherlands, also produced clippers. They traveled all over the world but were used mostly for trade between America and the United Kingdom and her colonies. They were also used for the New York to San Francisco run around Cape Horn, especially during the California gold rush. The Dutch used them in their tea trade.

The Jock Willis shipping line ordered the building of the ship with John Willis owning 40 of the 64 shares of interest and Robert Dunbar Willis owning the other 24. Scott & Linden built the ship at a cost of £16,500 (about £1,160,000 today). She was one of the last tea clippers built and one of the fastest – having benefitted from  years of perfecting the design. Her name: Cutty Sark. The same year as her launch, the Suez Canal also opened and with the shorter distance now available, trade turned to steam ships to bring cargo from the East to the West. Cutty Sark therefore spent only a few years plying the tea trade before turning to wool from Australia. The fast ship held the record time for ten years, as the shortest travel time from the Land of Oz to Britain.

Even as clipper ships had evolved, so did steam and eventually steam ships took over the trade even for wool. In 1895, Cutty Sark was sold to the Portuguese and renamed Ferreira. She continued to work as a trade vessel until 1922 when she was sold to a retired sea captain, Wilfred Dowman. He used her as a training ship and operated out of Falmouth, Cornwall. He died in 1938 and the ship was transferred to the Thames Nautical Training College, Greenhithe. There, she became an training ship for cadets and worked alongside HMS Worcester. The venerable old lady of the sea became too outdated even for training purposes in 1954 and was moved to permanent dry dock at that time.

Today, Cutty Sark is a museum ship and is one of three ships in London on the core Collection of the National Historic Ships Register (which is like a Grade 1 Listed Building), the other two being HMS Belfast and SS Robin. There are two other ships also made with a composite construction which means they have a wooden hull built over an iron frame. Only one other 19th century clipper ship remains, the City of Adelaide. Cutty Sark was undergoing conservation and was badly damaged in a fire on May 21, 2007. She was restored and the ship reopened to the public on April 25, 2012.

A sailing ship is no democracy; you don’t caucus a crew as to where you’ll go anymore than you inquire when they’d like to shorten sail. – Sterling Hayden

Admire a small ship, but put your freight in a large one; for the larger the load, the greater will be the profit upon profit. – Hesiod

No one would have crossed the ocean if he could have gotten off the ship in the storm. – Charles Kettering

One ship drives east and other drives west by the same winds that blow. It’s the set of the sails and not the gales that determines the way they go. – Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Also on this day:

Blackbeard – In 1718, Blackbeard the Pirate (alias for Edward Teach) was tracked down and killed.
10 – In 1928, Ravel’s Bolero was first performed.
China Clipper – In 1935, airmail service began.