Heavy Seas, World War, Neglect, Fire, and Old Age: HMS Cutty Sark, 1869 November

CUTTY SARK was originally built (1869 November) for speed, bringing back the freshest tea from China, which helped to make the beverage popular in the British consciousness.  CUTTY SARK is also associated with the Australian wool trade and, under her famous master Captain Richard Woodget (Master 1885-1895), she had her most successful years setting a record passage of 73 days from Sydney to London.


Since her first launch she has undergone heavy seas, war, neglect, fire and old age. Storms ripped her rudder off and caused a collision with another vessel, she lost her mast in the First World War and a terrible fire caused destruction throughout the ship in 2007.

CUTTY SARK is the sole surviving example of an extreme clipper of the late nineteenth century tea trade. She was built in 1869 on the Clyde in Dumbarton for ship owner Jock ‘white hat’ Willis and has connections to Scottish literary heritage, being named after a witch’s attire in Robert Burns poem ‘Tam O’Shanter’.  CUTTY SARK was designed by Hercules Linton and built by Scott & Linton – a relatively new firm, being only the sixth ship they had constructed.  

Returning to the UK in 1922, CUTTY SARK was restored to her appearance as a tea clipper, she was opened to the public in Falmouth and served as a sail training vessel. In 1938, she was transferred to the Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College at Greenhithe.  She participated in the festival of Britain in 1951, which year also marked the founding of the Cutty Sark Preservation Society by National Maritime Museum director Frank Carr, with HRH Duke of Edinburgh becoming patron (a role he remains active in). CUTTY SARK is now on permanent display, as a memorial to the men of the merchant navy who lost their lives in two world wars and is the only vessel in England to have been awarded Grade I listed status.

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