19C Ships
19thC ships

Amerigo Vespucci

Fig 1. The Amerigo Vespucci, arriving in Bermuda at the conclusion of the Tallships Race 2000 - Race 3: Cadiz to Bermuda. (Tallships Race 2000)

In the 19th century the need for larger ships with a greater cargo capacity necessary both for the Chilean nitrate trade and for the Australia run, where emigrants were taken to Australia and wool brought back to Europe produced larger vessels carrying from four to seven masts.  Similarly, the demand for faster ships in the United States for carrying prospectors from the east coast to the goldfields of California and Australia, in Britain for the China tea trade, led to the design of the slender, square-rigged craft known as clipper ships, which carried both passengers and cargo.  The best of the clippers reached speeds of 18-20 knots (32-37 km/h; 20-23 mph) and bore such appropriate names as Lightning and Flying Cloud. A day's run of 702 km (436 mi), set by the Lightning, was so good that many 20th-century steamers cannot match it.

Dreadnaught was one of the most consistently fast clippers, often beating Cunard steamers on the Atlantic.  Her record run was 13 1/2 days, from New York to Liverpool. Donald McKay's clipper, Great Republic, was (at 4,555 tons) the largest wooden ship ever built.  She was 102 m (334 ft) long, and her four masts carried more than 0.6 hectares (1.5 acres) of canvas.  Soon after her launching she caught fire and was rebuilt with a smaller rig.

Fig 2.  Cutty Sark, a three-masted square-rigged clipper ship. (Preserved at Greenwich, London, UK.)

The great ships and their captains were the heroes of their day, and a Currier and Ives lithograph of a famous clipper ship was a popular item in the mid-19th century.

Clipper ships and packet boats speedy, slim-lined sailing ships that ran regular routes between Europe, the Americas, and China, carrying mail, official government cargoes, and such special passengers as ambassadors were the fastest ships of their time, but their carrying capacity was necessarily restricted by their fine, sharp lines and their V-bottom hulls.  Nevertheless, the British tea trade placed such a high premium on speed that the clipper-ship era lasted long after dependable, but slower, steamships were available.  The famous race between the two British clippers Thermopylae and Cutty Sark occurred as late as 1872.  The race, however, was an anomaly in the progress of the British maritime industry, which had adopted iron-hulled steamships while U.S. shippers were still using wooden clippers.

* Maritime Museum, South Australia

* Significant Ships in South Australia's Maritime History
Ships that Passed

* Shipping Routes
The Atlantic Shipping Route

* The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic
Tall Ships Information File

* Tall Ships 2000 Official Glabal Race Site

* Tallship-Fan (German & English)

* Amerigo Vespucci Website (Italian)

* The Maritime History Virtual Archives

* Ships Arriving in South Australia 1841