1869 Key Facts
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.
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
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
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