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

The Cutty Sark was once the most famous of the great clippers, the name ‘clipper’ referring to the fast sailing ships of the nineteenth century that traversed the world’s major trading routes. By today’s speed records it’s not immediately impressive – 73 days to get from London to Sydney. But in the 1880s the Cutty Sark clipper ship was recording the fastest ever journey times from England to Australia. Costing a little over £16,000 to build, and with a crew of 27, the Cutty Sark carried beer, wool and tea around the world.


CUTTY SARK is the sole surviving example of an extreme clipper of the late nineteenth century tea trade. She was built in 1869 (November) 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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