The "Cutty Sark"
The Story of a Legend
From a painting by J Spurling (The Blue Peter) On
23rd November, 1869, at the Dumbarton yard of Scott and Linton,
the 963 ton "Cutty Sark" slid into the Clyde for the
first time to become a legend. She was a small ship, only 212
feet long, with a 36 feet beam and a depth of 21 feet, but with
a large spread of sail, she was, with the "Thermopylae",the
fastest ship that moved through water powered by sail alone.The
sail plan, designed by John Rennie, gave her 32,000 square feet
of sail capable of attaining a speed of over 17 knots, equivalent
to an engine of 3,000 hp.
The ship was built for Scotsman Captain John
Willis Jrn and the name was taken from the short chemise of
Robbie Burns's witch Nannie who formed the subject of the figurehead
carved by master craftsman, Robert Hellyer of Blackwall. The
Cutty Sark was registered in London due to the fact that John
Willis's father, also a sea captain, had settled there.
The Officers' Dining Room
< The Mate
'Old White Hat' Willis's ambition was to be
first home in the annual tea race from China; his rival, the
Thermopylae had been launched in 1868. Willis went to a young
designer, Hercules Linton, who a recently gone into partnership
on the Clyde with a man named Scott. The Cutty Sark was their
first and last ship. Only the best labour and materials were
to be used and the contract price was limited to £16,150.
At £17 per ton Linton & Scott went bankrupt and the
ship had to be finished by neighbours, Denny Bros. She was launched
by Mrs George Moodie, wife of the first captain, and towed to
Greenock for fitting out. On 16th February, 1870 she departed
from London on her maiden voyage to Shanghai.
Unfortunately, a week before she was launched
the Suez Canal was opened and this spelled doom for the tea
clippers. Although considerably slower, the steamships of the
day could get from China to London through the canal and Mediterranean
quicker than a clipper working the trade winds and going via
the Cape of Good Hope.
The Cutty Sark never won the Tea Race and
this disappointed 'Old White Hat'. Tea races were won by hard
masters who drove their ships relentlessly in all weathers,
taking calculated risks to gain an hour here and a minute there.
Captain Kemball of the "Thermopylae" was such a master,
but Captain Moodie, in "Cutty Sark", was not such
a man. He was a competent and conscientious seaman but lacked
the drive needed for a Tea Race winner. His times were good
but not good enough to take first prize.
Captain George Moodie
The Cutty Sark and the Thermopylae only met
on equal terms once, in 1872. Both ships loaded at Shanghai
and left Woosung on the same day. At the entrance to the Indian
Ocean at Anjer the Thermopylae was ahead by 1.5 miles but 26
days later, on 16th August, 1872, when Cutty Sark was some 400
miles ahead, she lost her rudder in a heavy gale. Willis's brother
was onboard at the time for the benefit of his health and tried
to order Moodie to put in at Cape Town for repairs. After a
blazing row, during which Moodie threatened to put Willis in
irons for mutiny, a jury rudder was devised by the ship's carpenter,
Henry Henderson, who became the hero of the occasion.
Hendersen came from Kincardine in Firth and
was a master shipwright on the construction of the Cutty Sark.
It was he who selected the timbers that went into her construction.
He then sailed in the ship as ship's carpenter and served under
the first three captains. He was a firm favourite of old John
Willis. The jury rudder was made up of spare spars and iron
stanchions in conditions which were severe. The gale was still
blowing and heavy seas were still sweeping the decks but at
the end of six days the job was completed but not without drama.
On one occasion, while working the bellows on the brazier needed
for forging the ironwork, the captain's son was covered in embers
when the brazier was overturned in the force of the gale. On
another occasion the sailmaker narrowly missed having his face
burned by a red hot bar when the blacksmith was swept off his
feet. The rudder was worked by chains linked to the ship's wheel
and the whole operation was an amazing feat of seamanship. For
his achievement Henry Henderson was awarded a testimonial and
a cheque for £50 by the owner who recognised his genius.
However, the owners had ample reason to reward Henderson's achievement.
It later transpired that both the ship and the freight were
uninsured. When the ship arrived home Captain Moodie, who was
still furious with the owner's brother, resigned his command
and transferred to steam.
"Cutty Sark" in dry dock showing her sleek lines.
Captain Moodie was replaced by Captain FW
Moore who had been working ashore for Willis. Of mature years
he was not a driver and in the tea race of that year the Cutty
Sark took 117 days, 14 days longer than Thermopylae. Four months
later the iron ship Hallowe'en took only 90 days. Moore came
ashore once again to be replaced by Captain WE Tiptaft. Tiptaft,
again, was not a driver but a quiet, competent master and excellent
seaman who, in excellent conditions, achieved some fast times.
On his first voyage in December 1873, with a general cargo,
she sailed on her first voyage to Sydney. With a cargo of coal.
She then went to Shanghai where her agents sent her to Hankow,
which involved a 600 mile tow up the River Yangtze, to look
for a tea cargo as the steamships were taking the prime cargoes.
The return trip to London took 118 days, but in the next year
Cutty Sark had the satisfaction of making the passage to Sydney
in a record 73 days. However, after taking 1,100 tons of coal
to Shanghai and loading tea in Hankow the return passage of
122 days was not noteworthy.
By 1875, steamships were providing stiff competition
for the clippers. In that year Tiptaft brought Cutty Sark home
from Woosung in 108 days but the SS Glenartney, one of Glen
Line's steamers entering the tea trade, took only 42 days through
the canal. The clippers could no longer compete on these terms
and in 1877 Cutty Sark brought her last cargo of tea from Woosung
in 127 days.
The Cutty Sark nearly met her end on the Goodwin
Sands at the latter end of 1877. Between the 10th - 12th November
a great winter gale raged and over sixty ships where sheltering
in the Downs off Deal. The Cutty Sark's anchors parted and she
drove through the anchorage causing damage to two ships before
becoming stuck hard on the mud bank. Tiptaft set of flares to
seek assistance and on the following Monday morning the tug
Macgregor just succeeded in pulling Cutty Sark clear before
she stranded. With the help of the tug Benachie she was towed
into the River Thames where she was repaired and refitted. Claims
by the other ships for damages could not be proved with thanks,
in part, to Henry Henderson who had the foresight to throw a
broken nameboard from one of the other ships overboard.
Accommodation for 8 Apprentices
< The Upper Deck
After the near disaster on the Goodwin Sands Tiptaft took the
Cutty Sark back to China and Hankow but had difficulty in securing
a full cargo. This was his last duty as, back in Shanghai, Tiptaff
died. He was replaced by his mate, Captain JS Wallace, a likeable
man, a competent seaman and above all, a driver. Had he been
in command earlier the Cutty Sark would, no doubt, have performed
much better in the tea races.
Wallace was also unable to find a cargo in
Shanghai so he took the ship to Sydney and, in doing so, had
a remarkable run; 16 days to Anjer, 42 days to South Cape and
46 days to a position 40 miles southeast of Sydney. Returning
to China from Sydney in 1879 Wallace again failed to secure
a tea cargo and returned to Melbourne, Australia where he loaded
Cutty Sark's first wool cargo for New York. After leaving New
York for London on 14th February,1880 he drove the ship so hard
that she beat all rivals and entered the Thames on 5th March
after 19 days at sea.
photograph of the crew taken by Captain Woodget.
The chap on the right in the round hat is Tony Robson the Cutty
Sark's famous Chinese cook who had been picked up as a baby
alone on a raft in mid ocean. Nobody knew who he was, potential
prince or pauper, but he grew up on English ships and became
an excellent seaman and cook.