Cutty Sark
Timeline 1869   Key Facts

The cutty sarkCutty Sark was badly damaged by fire during the early hours of May 21, 2007.  It is still unclear exactly what her future will be, although around 60 per cent of her timbers were elsewhere for restoration and escaped the blaze. Enthusiasts have vowed that she will be rebuilt.

The Cutty Sark was built in 1869 as a tea clipper and she was intended by owner John Willis to be the fastest thing on the sea.  At the time tea was an expensive commodity and ship owners who could bring back the first harvests from the East in the fastest times stood to gain both fame and fortune.  In the early days of the 19th century the East India Company had a monopoly on tea trade and most of the leaf sold in the UK was up to two years old.  But China opened up some of its ports to wider trade in the early 1840s and the market was available to all.

The taste for tea was already established in polite society in England and demand soon grew for the fresh crop. The swift, smart tea clippers would race to be back in their home ports first and huge sums of money were gambled on who would be the winner. Although the Cutty Sark never won one of the tea races she was one of the smartest ships on the oceans and still made good times on her Oriental voyages.  Her typical time for the return leg from China was between 107 and 122 days. An average cargo was 1,325,000 lbs (601,010 Kg) of tea and her record, set in 1876, was 1,375,364 lbs. (623,855 Kg). She  also carried cargoes on the outward trip, including  wool, cotton and linen cloths, metal and railway  equipment.

the lead "sark"Owner John "Jock" Willis chose the name Cutty Sark for the ship. It comes from two Scots words meaning short shirt.  A symbolic shirt, made of lead, was nailed to the Sark's mast after she beat her great rival the Thermopylae in a race home from Sydney in 1885. 
The Thermopylae had a golden cockerel on her masthead and the lead shirt was a subtle insult to the loser.  Willis also commemorated his own ownership of the ship with a pun on the stern. Placed around a sunburst of golden rays on the smart black hull are the words "Where theres a Willis a way"        Top of page