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Figuring Figureheads

Photo courtesy of Brad Holderman, June 2008
The ship Star of India formerly the Euterpe at San Diego, CA.
A ship without a figurehead was like a ship without a sail.

Figurehead is re-armed; she's shipshape again
Dayna Lynn Fried Staff Writer 29 July 1988
The San Diego Union-Tribune

The 250-pound figurehead of a Greek goddess was restored to the Star of India yesterday, returning to the historic ship its chief symbol and good luck charm. "Now, she's like brand-new again," said a proud Walt Jacobsen, the Star's woodcarver, who repaired the 6-foot-tall wooden figurehead. Named Euterpe by its original owner after the Greek goddess of music and lyric poetry, the figurehead was taken from her perch aboard the old clipper ship last September so she could be fitted with a new arm. A collision with another ship in 1884 had broken the limb off at the shoulder. The figurehead was removed after museum employees found dry rot in areas where the wood sculpture was secured to the ship. Some museum officials had argued against repairing it, saying its damage was acceptable and even honorable because it occurred during a historic event. At the official unveiling yesterday on San Diego Bay, the gray- haired Jacobsen, dressed in nautical clothing and cap for the ceremony, said he designed a model of the statue out of clay and then carved an arm out of wood. It took him about 40 hours to complete the job. "I had to keep checking the contours and folds to make sure it was exact," he said. "It was tedious work, but at least now she'll last another 125 years. "
    Wooden figureheads have graced sailing ships since antiquity. They were believed to bring good luck by soothing the waves. Finishing touches on Euterpe -- including a coat of gleaming white paint with gold trim in the tradition of early British ships - - were put on before she was secured to the bowsprit with a custom- made brace. Before the restoration, the fair-skinned goddess sported a sky-blue gown with royal-blue trim, a silver belt and headpiece and held a silver flute. Restoration comes just months before the square-rigger's 125th anniversary in November, which will be celebrated with a gala affair aboard the ship. Proceeds from the event will go toward continuing preservation of the vessel. In May 1986, with more than 17,000 square feet of new sails, it took to the sea for the third time in about 63 years.

"She'll look like a marble statue," Jacobsen said. He explained that historically, many figureheads were painted all-white. The owner of a ship may have had a likeness of himself, his daughter or wife, a goddess, a warrior, a statesman or an admiral for a figurehead," he said. But all the figureheads, he said, "were intended to bring good fortune to the vessel."

In the age of sail, ships strived to put their best faces forward and figureheads of beautiful maidens kept a sharp lookout from the prows. The majority of decorative figurehead's on a vessel's prow were mounted under the bowsprit personifying the name of the vessel. Sometimes, only an ornament was chosen. It was the design of wooden ship's bows that determined whether the decoration would be a full figure, half-length or only a bust. Phoenicians painted oculi, or eyes, on the bow to help guide their ships. Greeks and Romans figureheads often represented living creatures, religious emblems, tokens of nationality or symbols of the ship's names. The Chinese used huge eyes to guard their junks from evil spirits and its eyes could find the way and the positive properties, directly or indirectly, further the purpose of the journey. By the 6th century, the stem posts of Viking longboats had elaborately carved carried animal figures. The British and French ships carried figureheads from the 16th century.  In the 17th and 18th century both the British and the Dutch used their national lions as figureheads, and in the 18th century the Spanish used figureheads of the Holy Family and the saints. United States ships, both merchant and naval, carried brightly painted and gilded figureheads. In the 1850s and 1860 it was unusual for a vessel not to carry a figurehead. Many New England carvers preferred white figureheads in the second half of the nineteenth century. e.g. James Nicol Fleming

Ship carving was one of the trades that flourished in shipbuilding regions in the nineteenth century. Ship carvers practiced their skill on name boards, bows, binnacles, billet heads and transoms - the beam across stern-post of ship.  The carvers had to consider the size and the shape of the ship's bow and the rake of the bow sprit. A solid block of wood was "rough cut" on the floor then lifted to the saw horses and with chisels, mallets, gauges and sandpaper the carver set to work and depended on his eye to obtain the expression and proportions. Some finished in weeks others months, depended on the price. Some carvers made a center line on the block of wood and sketched on a profile and front view as he worked. The figure to look the size of life and were painted to life in polychrome or white with gold trim. When the lion fell from fashion on the British vessels human figures symbolizing the name of the ship became popular. Figureheads conveyed a sense of prosperity that reflected favourably on the vessel's owners and builders. When the ship owner ordered a ship, he decided whether he would pay for a figurehead.  If he did, figures might depict the ship owner himself, his wife or children, famous individuals, mythological characters, and patriotic themes were the popular subjects.  A figurehead can be carved from a single block of wood and weigh 4 tons but with the coming of steam and construction changes figureheads became largely obsolete.

Often a figurehead is the sole surviving object from a particular ship.

The Elissa
The barque Elissa at Galveston, TX.

Mariners believed that a naked women before the ship had the power to calm gales and high winds and for this reason many a ship's figurehead depicted a woman with one bare breast.

Otago Daily Times Tuesday, 29 July 2003
Sailing ship's Figurehead Returns Home
From the Star of Tasmanianby David Bruce  

A female figurehead, a semi draped figure with a garland in her hair, from a clipper that was wrecked off the Oamaru coast in 1868 has returned home to Aberdeen. The 1.92m-high pine figure from bow of the Star of Tasmania was found in the 1950s blocking a hole in a hedge on an Oamaru farm. Last month, it was sold at an auction by Sotheby's for �14,400 ($NZ42,000) to an undisclosed buyer. Now it has emerged that the figurehead was bought by the Aberdeen Maritime Museum, with a 50% grant from the National Fund for Acquisitions and the remainder from a bequest, and will go on display in the city where Star of Tasmania was built.

The keeper of science and maritime history at the museum, John Edwards, said the figurehead looked truly fantastic and represented a real bit of Aberdeen's famous clipper ship history. "It was found on a farm near Oamaru, so we are absolutely delighted to have been able to purchase the figurehead and finally allow the public in Aberdeen to see it," he said. The figurehead was now on display in the reception area and had greeted more than 2000 visitors since last Friday. "We have had some visitors from New Zealand who were very taken with the fact a joint piece of history was on show in Aberdeen," he said. Star of Tasmania was built in 1856 at the Alexander Hall shipyard. The fully-rigged wool clipper had made previous visits to New Zealand prior to her fateful end.

In February, 1868, the 632 tonne vessel was driven ashore at Oamaru in a violent storm and wrecked, with the loss of two of the 22 crew which included two children. The cream and blue painted pine figurehead was later salvaged by a Captain William Sewell. It remained on the farm near Oamaru until the 1950s when it was purchased by an antiques dealer and sold to a couple in Christchurch, who kept it in their garden. The figurehead was later sold at auction in Auckland, before being sold by Sothebys. Star of Tasmania was a very handsome ship. It was regarded as one of the fastest ships of its day completing a number of trips from London to New Zealand and Australia. 

News Item Aberdeen City Council 25 July 2003
Historic figurehead retrieved from New Zealand
The figurehead from the Aberdeen built clipper ship Star of Tasmania, which was wrecked off New Zealand in 1868, has arrived back in Aberdeen to be put on public display at the City's Maritime Museum. The piece was purchased from Sotheby's in June for �14,400, thanks to a 50% grant from the National Fund for Acquisitions, administered by the National Museums of Scotland, and the remainder from the Hilda Duthie Bequest. John Edwards, Keeper of Science and Maritime History at the museum, said: "The figurehead looks truly fantastic, a real bit of Aberdeen's famous clipper ship history. "It was found on a farm near Oamaru - where the ship was wrecked - in the 1950s, blocking up a hole in the hedge, so we are absolutely delighted to have been able to purchase the figurehead and finally allow the public in Aberdeen to see it. "The figurehead is now on display in the reception area and has greeted over 2,000 visitors since last Friday," he added. "We have had some visitors from New Zealand who were very taken with the fact a joint piece of history was on show in Aberdeen." The Star of Tasmania was built in 1856 at the Alexander Hall shipyard. The fully rigged wool clipper had made previous visits to New Zealand prior to her fateful end. In February, 1868, the 632 tonne Star of Tasmania was driven ashore at Oamaru in a violent storm and she was completely wrecked, with the loss of two of the 22 crew and two children. The cream and blue painted pine figurehead, which measures almost 2metres in height, was later salvaged by Captain William Sewell. It remained on the farm near Oamaru - which is situated on the east coast of New Zealand's South Island - until the 1950s when it was purchased by an antiques dealer, who sold it to a couple in Christchurch, who kept it in their back garden. The figurehead was subsequently sold at auction in Auckland, before being sold by Sothebys and acquired by Aberdeen Maritime Museum.

Wrecked in the Auckland IslandsThe figurehead from the 'Derry Castle'

The barque Derry Castle, wrecked in the Auckland Islands in 1877.  The Derry Castle sailors found a depot at Sandy Bay, Enderby Island. They built rough shelters for themselves around it and on the edge of a windswept cliff overlooking the sea, they laid to rest those of their fellow crew members who had been washed up on shore. Without a ship to guide, the ship's figurehead was used to mark the grave site of fifteen of her crew. The grave for the dead Derry Castle sailors was maintained by the government for many years. Then, it sank gradually into the ground. During the Second World War, the ship's figurehead was dug up by coast watchers stationed on the islands. Along with other relics of the wreck, it was brought to New Zealand and put in the Canterbury Museum. A tombstone was put in its place at the gravesite. The figurehead is a life size but of the Queen.

Wanganui, ship, 1100 tons, was a beautifully sparred, and like her sister ships, the Opawa and Piako. Built by Stephens and Co., Glasgow for the New Zealand Shipping Company. The ship had quite a number of visitors during the afternoon, on her arrival at Lyttelton 1st July 1877 including Messrs Selwyn Smyth, Coster, Revans, Gould and other connected with the company. The figurehead of the Wanganui was carved to represent Mrs Coster, wife of the chairman of the New Zealand Shipping Company. New Zealand Shipping Company, agents.  

The Bebington, from London to Auckland, with 236 passengers and general cargo, arrived at Spithead on the 14th of February 1876, having been in collision with an unknown barque about 20 miles off St. Catherine's Point, and lost bowsprit and all attached, figurehead, foresail, and foreroyal mast carried away, two plates on port bow damaged, port lifeboat stove, and vessel making little water in fore compartment. The strange vessel proceeded without communication or assisting. She since been towed into harbour for survey and repairs. A ship's own crew felt a superstitious attachment to its figurehead. Injury to or loss of the original figurehead was considered an especially ill omen. In fact, sailors often carried a fragment of wood sliced from the figure in their pockets, to bring them luck on a voyage.

The Red Jacket, 2,305 tons, was designed by Samuel Harte Pook, of Boston, launched in 1853. Length - 260 feet. Made her maiden voyage from New York to Liverpool in 13 days, 1 hour and 25 minutes under the command of Captain Elsa Eldridge. She was named after a famous Indian chief, and her finely-carved figurehead showed a life-size carving of the great Seneca Indian chief Red Jacket of the Wolf Clan presented in full war array, complete with feather headdress, a red jacket, beaded buckskins and painted in vivid colours. American artisans took great pride in carving the figureheads, taffrail scrolls, and carvings of their ships and such was the case with the Red Jacket. His Indian name was chief Sagoyewatha (He that keeps them awake). He had been a scout for British forces at the time of the Revolutionary War and had lived on a reservation near Buffalo, New York until he died in 1830. The lives of these graceful clippers were very short and in 1870 the Red Jacket was in the transatlantic trade sailing between the Mersey and the St. Lawrence, before going out to serve as a coal hulk at Cape Verde.

The Northumberland, ship, built in England in 1871 of 2095 tons. She sank on 11th May 1887 after running ashore on Bay View Beach, Napier in a severe storm.  No lives were lost. There were two vessels by this name. One built in 1861, 1000 tons, which arrived in Auckland in 1861 and the other a Shaw, Savill Co. ship, 2095 tons, built in 1884 which met its end at Napier in 1887, had left London 3 Jan 1887 and arrived recently in Lyttelton Apr. 11, 1887 under the command of Capt. Todd and from here to Napier. The figurehead, a life size crowned soldier with sword, off the Northumberland was acquired by a sheep farmer, Armstrong, from Akitio.  Reference: White Wings Vol. 1 by H. Brett.

The figurehead of the Surat, a head of a woman, is at the Otago Settlers Museum. The Wreck of the Surat, by Bruce E. Collins,  Otago Heritage Books, Dunedin 1991. Photo of the ships figurehead appears on the front of the book. Numerous illustrations including the Surat, relics from the Surat and photographs of two reunions of the Surat survivors. 

The Hydrabad, a square-rigged ship of 1350 tons register, was built of Lowmoor iron in 1865 in Port Glasgow, Scotland. At the time of her wrecking Stephens and Sons, London, owned her. She was 229.5 feet [69.9 metres] long, beam was 37.2 feet [11.2 metres] and depth was 23.2 feet [7 metres]. There were two holds. While bound for Adelaide, Australia from Lyttelton, New Zealand, the ship struck a severe storm on 24 June 1878, and was beached on Waitarere beach. Captain Holmwood deliberately drove the vessel onto the beach, hoping to give the crew and passengers a better chance of survival. This was successful, as there was no loss of life. There were two attempts, in November 1878 and 7 January 1879 to refloat the ship; these were unsuccessful. The vessel was abandoned following fire that was so fierce that the hull planks were buckled. She was insured for 15,000 and her cargo for 24,500. Her official number was 30642. She had a Hindu warrior as figurehead, with a colourful turban, sash and flowing white robe, and a black bushy beard. His left hand was gripping a sword. 

New Zealand Herald, 21 May 1935, Page 12 FATE OF A FIGUREHEAD
USED FOR FIREWOOD. Light was shed in Wellington upon the fate of the figurehead of the ship Hyderabad, the remains of which lie on Waiterere Bench, where she was wrecked: many years ago. Last week there appeared in the Dominion a photograph of the figurehead taken when it stood in a garden at Foxton. It was then stated that all trace of the figurehead had been lost. Captain Baggett, of the motor-vessel Foxton, now states that, after the death of the householder who owned the figurehead, his home was occupied by a family the. members of which were unaware of the history and value of the strange relic. Accordingly they chopped it up for firewood.

New Zealand Herald, 24 March 1936, Page 12
The discovery of the figurehead of the vessel Agnes Jessie, which went ashore on the Mahia Peninsula many years ago, has resulted from the inquiry made in Napier. The figurehead, which represents an early Victorian woman, stands in the garden of Mrs. R. Northe, of Havelock Road, Napier, and is about 5ft. high. Although the date of the wreck of the Agnes Jessie is not known by members of Mrs. Northe's family, the figurehead has been in their possession for more than 35 years.

The ship James Nicol Fleming had a figurehead depicting a bearded man. 

The Monarch barque of 375 tons, originally a paddle steamer plying between Calais and Dover. In 1849 was purchased by C.B. Robinson and H. Smith and converted into a barque. She was a long narrow boat painted black with the figurehead of Queen Victoria, in grey at the bows. She landed passengers at Akaroa on April 2nd 1850. She had left England on November 27th 1849 

The small barque Margaret of 236 tons was constructed under the direction of Neil McGregor was fitted with a female figurehead resembling the daughter of the Rev. Norman McLeod and the barque was named after her. The timber for this barque was cut of the McLeod property, a great deal of the labour was supplied free by the men of the community

Star 5 January 1872, Page 2
A figurehead of a ship evidently burnt has been found apparently it had not long been in the water. There were no barnacles, nor was it worm eaten. The figurehead was a seafaring man, with the motto " Keep good lookout " on a scroll. It was a ship of probably 1500 tons. The figurehead was found near Rottenest Island, Swan River, and had evidently been burnt away from the ship.

The Blue Jacket had departed Lyttelton for London on 13th February, 1869. She was destroyed by fire off the Falkland Islands. Her cargo consisted of wool, cotton, flax, tallow, skins and gold, her crew numbered 39 and she carried 26 passengers . Thirty six survivors were picked up after a week, and a second boat with three occupants was found three weeks later; 32 lives lost. About two years after the disaster the figurehead on the shore at Rottnen-nest Island, Western Australia,10 miles west of the port of Fremantle in December of 1871. The figurehead was carried westward by ocean currents as nearly as possible 180 deg., or half the circumference of the earth, and northward about 20 degrees of latitude. The figurehead was in good enough condition to have been reasonably identified. The figurehead was "a man from the waist up, in old sailor's costume, a blue jacket with yellow buttons, the jacket open in the front, no waistcoat, loose shirt, and a large knotted handkerchief round the neck; with a broad belt and large square buckle and cutlass hilt at the side. On either side of the figure-head was a scroll, saying: - 'Keep a sharp lookout!'". A 40ft spar that was washed up on beach about 18 miles north of this spot at the same time and was charred at one end and it was assumed that it had also come from Blue Jacket. Shipwreck Museum Fremantle, Western Australia, Curator in Maritime Archaeology, wrote in 2004 "Sadly the figure and the spar slipped out of the record and we have nothing further on this." The Blue Jacket was launched August 7 1854 at the shipyard of Robert E. Jackson, East Boston, MA, for Seccomb & Taylor, Boston. Captain Eldridge. North American carvers used white pine. The P&O ship Heythrop caught fire off south Africa in November 1971 and lost lifeboat number 4 in the process... it floated upside down into Albany Harbour in February 1973, a journey of 7000 N. Miles. Conclusion: Heavy timbers found on a beach may not necessarily indicate a wreck in the near vicinity.

The James Craig was a lovely little vessel. Her iron hull was painted black with a gilt line of beading. A scroll-work ornament decorated her sweet bow. Steel of Greenock built her, away back in 'seventy-four. She had a wonderful figurehead. It was a full-length figure of a Highland chieftain and wonderfully well carved. It was McLeod, in his full regalia, and the tartan. It was kept covered up at sea, with a special sort of canvas cloak for its protection, and to keep the McLeod man warm and in ports was only uncovered of a Sunday morning sharp at eight bells. The old man would lift his hat and say a greeting as a apprentice boy took off the covering. 'Guid moornin', McLeod,' he would say, taking his old hat off. 

The prow of the ship 'Wild Deer' which was berthed at Port Chalmers, Dunedin circa 1880, in the graving dock. Photographed by David Alexander de Maus. "De Maus Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library". The Wild Deer, a three masted full rigged ship, built in 1863 for W. Walker, London. The figurehead was of the goddess Diana. In Roman mythology, Diana was the goddess of the woodlands, of wild animals, and of hunting. She roamed with her hunting dogs.
1864 purchased by P. Henderson's Albion Line and served Glasgow-Port Chalmers and the China tea trade.
1882 transferred to Shaw, Savill & Albion on formation of the company.
1883 wrecked on North Rock, County Down on passage to Port Chalmers. 300 passengers all saved.

In his story, "A Smile of Fortune", Joseph Conrad makes it dramatically clear that the figurehead was looked upon in a very personal way by the captain, who associated it with the luck of his ship and his own fortunes. In Conrad's tale, the ship's figurehead was lost. A suggestion was made that a new one could be secured, for one happened to be available at a shipyard at that moment. In response, the disheartened captain of the headless ship flushed red as if something improper had been proposed. He said that he would sooner think of getting a new wife, and then asked wether he seemed "the sort that would pick up with another man's cast-off figurehead?" 

Off an unknown vessel.Wellington: The Museum of Wellington City & Sea has a couple of figureheads. This image of a  restored figurehead (to the left) is off an unknown 19th century sailing ship. Originally thought to have come from the Helen Denny, which was later found to be in a museum in Britain.

The Te Papa Museum in Wellington collections include relics of Captain James Cook, particularly the original figurehead from his ship Resolution, a head of a talbot, or hunting dog, famous for its tracking ability, mounted on a plaque.  There is a picture of it in the book, Captain Cook in Hawaii, by Terence Barrow, PhD, An Island Heritage Book, Honolulu 1976.  Probably was in the possession of Viscount Galway, a Governor-General of NZ, "a ship's figurehead described as that of the Resolution. A photograph of it does not agree with the figurehead depicted in Holman's watercolour." There are numerous paintings of the Resolution, close examination of pictures by Webber, Ellis and Clevely, all of who voyaged with the Resolution, show a horse like figure. It appears to be holding it's forelegs as if jumping a fence and its full hindquarters and legs can be seen. It seems to straddle the prow of the ship with one hind leg on each side. The figurehead of the Resolution can be seen to be a talbot, a large Irish hunting. Aitutaki - Cook Islands 1978. Bicentenary of the Discovery of Hawaii The 50c shows the figurehead of HMS Resolution.

The 'City of Dunedin' left Wellington on Saturday evening, May 20, 1865 bound for Nelson and Hokitika. No survivors were located and no bodies were ever recovered. All of the wreckage reported in the weeks immediately following the sinking was found east of Sinclair Head to Island Bay and Pencarrow, and in Palliser Bay. The ship�s figurehead was found on the beach in Palliser Bay which provided the final proof that the 'City of Dunedin' had met her fate.

 On the Hinemoa's clipper bow the figurehead was the bust of a Maori maiden holding a trumpet in her mouth.

Daily Southern Cross, 11 December 1862, Page 3
Melbourne, November 17. The 'Fanny,' arrived from Hobart Town, reports finding the figure-head, eight feet long (being a white woman), also the main and mizen masts of a large ship, a lady's scarf, and a case of corks, on Hummocks Island, Bass's Straits.

North Otago Times, 20 December 1867, Page 2
Bluff, Sunday, 15th Dec. The Geelong, with the Superintendent and party, arrived here at 5 p.m. on the return passage from the West Coast, for the purpose of coaling. Had very fine weather for the first seven days. Called at Preservation Inlet, both going and returning. On the day after the first visit, Messrs. D. Hutcheson, Coates, and Beverly, returned from exploring the West Coast as far as Daggo Sound. They were five days in a cave, storm-bound. They found that there is no coal at Coal River, so called on the chart, but a beach of Hornblende. They found the figure-head of a large ship in Chalky Inlet � the figure of a sailor, with the head knocked off. Mr. A. Beverly procured a valuable collection of new plants and shrubs. The Superintendent's party, in boats, explored Preservation Inlet.

Daily Southern Cross, 10 March 1869, Page 3
In my last letter, I informed you that the Fred' was on shore about ten miles south of Kaipara, and that it was feared that the vessel would become a total wreck. I regret to have to inform you that my fears hare turned out to be too well founded. She is now a total wreck, nothing refraining but her stem, her figure-head, and a few planks on port aide as far as the rigging. The crew are all safe, and we now at; the Pilot-station, whence they will proceed to-day towards Auckland.

Evening Post, 20 May 1869, Page 2
The figurehead of the schooner Nancy, of Newcastle, and a guilt figurehead, supposed to belong to the schooner Oriti, 67 tons, have been found on North Beach. Both vessels left Newcastle on Friday last, and are supposed to be wrecked.

North Otago Times, 23 October 1875, Page 2
A vessel burned at sea was seen in lat 22.33 S., 35.31 W. She was about 900 tons. A quantity of fish-plates and bricks were seen in the hold: Some of the iron-work was red hot. THE� MO � B, and underneath, Liverpool, was seen on her stern, with figure-head of a woman at full length, carrying a child. The vessel was seen on the 17th of August last.

North Otago Times, 21 January 1876, Page 2
The following announcement appeared in the "Shipping Gazette" : Buenos Ayres, 25th September. The Elise, Captain Wallis, arrived here from Liverpool, reports that on the 30th August, at 3 p.m., in lat 23 S, long 40 W, she passed the hull of a large iron ship abandoned. It appeared to bare been recently burnt. At the bow was a man figure head, painted white, and at the stern was an animal's head with horns ; the name was obliterated. On account of the heavy sea the wreck could not be boarded. The "Dundee Advertiser " says : At there was a general concurrence of opinion in Dundee to the effect that the above applied to the Strathmore, we took the opportunity of ascertaining what the builders, Messrs Brown and Simpson, thought. They inform us that they feel confident the Strathmore is the vessel referred to. She had a man as a figurehead, and it was painted white, but there was no animal's bead and horns at the stern. On the stern she had the arms of Dundee, and it was not unnatural for Captain Wallis, viewing the wreck from a distance, to think that what he has described was represented. Messrs Brown and Simpson think that the vessel must have blown up, and that in all probability both passengers and crew had perished. It appears that on several former occasions a derelict similar to that described had been seen ; but as it was reported that there was a woman as a figurehead, it was concluded it was not the Strathmore.

North Otago Times, 27 September 1876, Page 2
WELLINGTON. September 26.
September The following is an extract from a letter received from the Sub-Collector of Customs at Waitangi, Chatham Islands: "Some portions of a large vessel were picked up in June last, on the northern, coast of the island, near Mr Engest's homestead, between Lupangi and Mongonui, consisting of figure-head, some fittings, apparently having been used for sheep or cattle and some very fresh looking Maori something?, of various dimensions ; one piece was about 9 feet 14 inches, and probably 16ft in length. The figure-head consisted of a globe, on the underneath portion, the upper part being ornamented with a wreath of carved flowers, painted blue and yellow. The paint appeared pretty fresh, but the upper portion of the figure-head was much decayed. There were very few barnacles on the timber or wreck, and no I name was visible on either.

Evening Post, 17 August 1877, Page 2
NELSON. 17th August.
It is reported from Farewell Spit that a quantity of wreckage is lying there, apparently torn from the bow of some vessel. There are pieces of rail 20 feet by 12 inches by 4 inches, of bright hard wood, like mahogany or teak, with planking attached, on which are cut the letters ANTOFAGASTA; also, a female figurehead, five feet high, painted white, with a wreath of roses round the head.

Grey River Argus, 20 August 1877, Page 2
Nelson, August 17. It is reported from Farewell Spit that a quantity of wreckage was lying there, apparently torn from the bow of some vessel. There are pieces of rail 20ft by 12in by 4in of bright hard wood, like mahogony or teak, with planking attached, on which are cut the letters A. N. T. O. F. A. G. A. S. A. Also, a female figurehead, 5ft high, painted white with a wreath of roses round the head.

North Otago Times, 8 July 1879, Page 2
The Harbormaster to-day received the following telegram from Pilot Holmes : "Pilot Station, � The Harbormaster, Wellington, � A quantity of wreck has been found at Pencarrow. Deck planking, three inch some portion of bulwarks and rail painted green, and cabin fittings in birds eye maple panelled. Some of the wreckage is painted blue. The figure-head is a fiddle, with a shield in the centre painted vermillion. The scroll-work is in green and gold. There is also a seaman's chest without a lid, and with no marks, and part of a boat painted black. The wreckage is scattered from Pencarrow Head to Salt Water Lake." The pilot has been instructed to make a careful soared for anything likely to identify the vessel, and if necessary a steamer will be sent to search.

Evening Post, 8 July 1879, Page 2
Nothing very definite has transpired as yet which could determine the identity of the vessel of which the shattered remains were found yesterday strewn along the shore from Pencarrow Head eastward. Acting nadir instructions from Captain Holliday, Pilot Holmes and his crew started this morning in the pilotboat to make, a thorough search for any bodies which may have been washed ashore and for any indications as to the name of the ill-fated vessel - It is not likely that he can return before night, and nothing beyond mere .. conjecture probably will be available to-day. A great deal, of speculation: naturally has been indulged in as to what vessel it possibly can , be, and wide difference of opinion exists on the subject. The first idea was that it might . be the barque Malay, of this port, the description of the wreckage almost exactly tallying  with he "marks/ comparison of dates, however, shows that she cannot be more ' than five days out from Newcastle, so this . theory was speedily dismissed. Next, the chief officer of the City of Madras, now in port, stated that the description of the figure-head (a ' fiddle head bearing a red shield, the scrollwork' green and gold)' precisely agreed with that of the New Zealand Shipping Company's ship Pareora, now. due from London. Another nautical authority made a similar assertion in, respect to Messrs. Shaw. Savill, and Co.'s ship Pleione, also due from London. To both of these suppositions it was objected (1st) That the wreckage included cabin fittings, in bird's-eye maple, which neither of those ships possessed when last here and (2nd) that the wreckage did not include any of the light articles of cargo which inevitably would have been washed ashore from an outward bond English ship going ashore there. At the same time the size of the deck planking (3 inches) appears to answer to that of the vessels mentioned. Another theory is that the wreckage may be part of the American ship 'Southminster', which was wrecked near Cape Campbell some months back, but as she broke up some three or four months ago this hypothesis is not regarded as a feasible one. The last theory deemed at all tenable is that the wreckage may have been washed across the Strait from the three-masted schooner Swallow, recently wrecked at the entrance to Troy Channel.

Manawatu Herald, 25 May 1880, Page 2
We are informed that on Friday last, two boys picked up on the beach at Paikakariki a large figurehead, quite perfect, with the exception of the loss of the right arm. The figure is about 5ft 6in high and on the head is carved what appears to be a turban with several folds round the head, and terminating in a fall down the back. The figure holds in its left hand, above the hip, a perfect representation in wood of some sea animal � like a seal. The upper part of the figure is painted white, the lower part of a dark color, and on the left arm are painted in red two bands. Mr Pugsley, the well-known coach driver, who has kindly supplied the above information, states that the figurehead has only a few barnacles on it, and has the appearance of having been painted recently, the paint still adhering to the wood. These facts lead to the inference that the figurehead has not long been in the water. This idea is strengthened by the appearance of the wood where the arm is broken off, which looks quite new. The figurehead has evidently belonged to a vessel of large tonnage, probably an Eastern trader, judging from its appearance. As no other wreckage has been found, it is possible that the figurehead may have been improperly secured, and washed adrift during the recent heavy weather. Still, the discovery may throw light on the fate of some missing vessel, and we nave therefore published the fullest particulars obtainable.

Evening Post, 4 August 1882, Page 3
DISCOVERY OF WRECKAGE. Invercargill, This Day. What appears to be a portion of a recent wreck has teen picked up on the beach at the Bluff. The articles found comprise the lower topsail yard of a large ship, and the face of a figure-head. The face is that of a woman with flowing hair, above the forehead being a large star, gilded. "Where the face is broken the wood seemed fresh, as though not separated from the other part of the figure more than three or four months. It is asserted that the wreckage does not belong to any vessel that has been ashore at or near the Bluff, and is possibly a portion of one of the missing vessels- Min-y-don, Loch Maree, or others.

Grey River Argus, 10 January 1888, Page 2
The topsail schooner Owake, which was reported as lost in September, 1881, when in command of Captain Alexander Purdie, who perished with all hands in the vessel, was discovered (as the Otago Daily Times is informed, by Captain Laing, of the schooner Isabella Anderson) on the 14th December' last in Big Bay, on the West Coast, by two diggers. These men communicated the fact to Thomas Maher, who formerly served in the Owake with Captain Laing, and is at present one of the deck hands of the s s Waipara, trading from Hokitika to the southward.. Maher visited the wreck, and identified it from the green painted hull with yellow streak and by no mouldings being about the vessel, while her figurehead resembled somewhat the shape of a bird. Maher, who was convinced that the vessel was the Owake, endeavored to take away her figurehead, but as time did not allow him, he left with the determination of returning and securing every proof of her identity, and has promised Captain Laing, on his next trip to the West Coast, to bring up the figurehead.

Evening Post, 9 October 1889, Page 3
The Reported Loss of the County of Carnarvon.
Auckland, This Day. Mr. Marriner, who found a portion of the wreckage in Spirits Bay, reports that they consist of doors, panels of a large ship made of teak, also a figurehead of a woman pointed white, scarcely damaged, and a board about 4 feet long, painted whit, with gold letters out in, reading "County of Carnarvon." They had no time to make a search as they were driving cattle to meet the steamer Clansman, but will search further when they return. Captain M'Lean, of the steamer Staffa, reports that five weeks ago the Maoris picked up several casks of tallow, evidently part of a ship's cargo. They broke the casks up and carried the tallow to their settlement. They also found a ship's binnacle, made of teak, and some brass fittings.

Timaru Herald 8 October 1889, Page 3
Wellington Oct. 7. The Marine Department received a telegram from the officer in charged the Customs at Mongnaui, to the effect the who just arrived here reports finding a large quantity of wreckage in Spirits Bay. Among this is a large board painted white on which is painted "County of Carnarvon" in gold letters. In a cable dated, Valparaiso, 18th September it was stated that The County of Carnarron which left Newcastle for Valparaiso on June 1st was missing, and that a premium of 60 guineas was paid for reinsurance.

Hawera & Normanby Star, 8 March 1893, Page 3 WRECKAGE FOUND.
NEW PLYMOUTH, March 8. Information was received from Waitara late night that two life buoys painted white, with the name "Gowenbourne, Greenock;" also a figure-head shaped like a harp, some pieces of cabin fittings, and other wreckage had come ashore. It it supposed the wreckage must have come from the North Cape, but it is impossible to tell, as the recent heavy gales might have brought it from a much greater distance. The steamer Waitara has been sent to see if there is any sign of wreck along the coast.

Hawera & Normanby Star, 8 March 1893, Page 3
Mr. A. Olsen, who works at Awakino, repotted to Mr Cameron, the harbour master, that the wreckage appears to be that of a large vessel, and consists of spars, cabin fittings, life- buoys, etc. Mr C. Nioholl, who arrived from Awakino, at Waitara, after Mr Olson, states that be picked up a figure-head, and that he had scan one of the life-buoy, and a blue flag with the yellow cross of St. Andrew upon it. Mr T. Elliot, on receipt of the information, sent the s.s. Waitara along the coast, but up to the time of going to press, we have not heard of the result of the vessel's mission.

WELLINGTON, March 8. In connection with the New Plymouth telegram relating to the wreckage washed shore at Waitara, it is mentioned that a four-masted barque named "Gowanburn," of 1999 tons, Captain Gerhardt, left Newcastle for San Francisco on the 15th ult. with 2971 tons of coal. She was built in Greenock in 1880, and was owned by Shandland and Co., Greenock.

Evening Post, 8 March 1893, Page 2
The Gowanburn is a four-masted barque of 2000 tons, owned by James H. Shankland, of Greenock, and was built in 1880. She left Newcastle for San Francisco on the 15th of February.

Star 13 August 1895, Page 3
ADELAIDE, August 13. The steamer Port Chalmers, 2667 tons, from London to Sydney, has arrived here in a battered condition, the bowsprit, cutwater and figurehead gone, the bow plating smashed for twenty feet from the water line upwards, and the bows stoved in. On July 27, after rounding the Cape, she came into collision with an immense iceberg. Hundreds of tons of ice fell on the starboard tide, and the ship was almost capsized. Her bows were stove in, and smashed, and as she was making water fast, the situation became critical. The boats were swung out ready to abandon the vessel, but by keeping the pumps continuously going and patching up the holes the crew managed to keep her afloat.

Otago Witness, 11 November 1897, Page 43
Wellington, November 5. The Marine department has been advised by the lighthouse keeper at Puysegur Point, Preservation Inlet, that on the 5th October a portion of the figurehead of a large ship was found. It originally represented the figure of a woman. The carving is perfectly clear, but the paint is all washed or worn off. There are a few barnacles on it. The lighthouse people have not seen or heard of any wreckage about the beach.

North Otago Times, 17 December 1867, Page 4
Some excitement was recently occasioned in town by a report that a "naked corpse had been seen floating in the sea, about two miles north of the flagstaff. It subsequently proved to have been the figurehead of the Vistula.

Hawera & Normanby Star, 28 December 1903, Page 4
Westport, December 24. A resident of Ngakamea reports that while travelling from Karamea he noticed a lot of wreckage strewn along the beach over a distance of 20 miles. In his opinion the lost vessel must have been a small schooner. The wreckage consisted chiefly of pieces of cabin fittings, doors, hatches, one small bucket, tub painted green, and a dog's head carved from Baltic or American pine � probably a figurehead. Two weeks ago the Poherua saw a three-masted schooner off the land at Rocks Point. It was blowing hard at the time.

Poverty Bay Herald, 9 February 1905, Page 4
Once again (writes the Vancouver correspondent of the Auckland Star) it has been the misfortune of the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand to have one of its steamers meet with an accident in British Columbia waters. The Canadian -Australian liner Aorangi was crashed into by the big steam collier Edith during one of the wind storms. The accident look place while the Aorangi lay at the coal bunkers at Union, Vancouver Island. The Edith was carried forward, amid her nose ploughed right into the Aorangi's bows. The jib-boom and headgear of the liner were first carried away, and then the dainty figurehead, bearing the emblem of the house flag of the Union Steam Ship Company, was knocked into small pieces. The necessary repairs were made, here, costing about 250, and of course, the owners of the Edith footed the bill. The new figurehead of the Aorangi, hewn and carved from a solid piece of British Columbia cedar is a credit to the local yards which had to turn out the work in a hurry, and which have not had much experience in the figurehead line. It represents a lady of uncertain age, clasping a nice, gentle wooden dove to an ample breast. The damaged tubular steel bowsprit was only put into position an hour or so before the liner cast off from the dock.

The name and the figurehead of course, generally went together; and where this was impossible as in the case of a purely geographical name - the figurehead was usually a graceful female figure without any special symbolism.

Figurehead of H.M.S. Surprise at Maritime Museum San Diego aka Rose.


From The Illustrated London News, February 2nd, 1861
January 26th, Captain Rich, a rough, honest, weather-beaten mariner, and the master of the American ship John A. Parks, in Victoria Dock, appeared before Mr Yardley to answer a summons taken out by a ship-carver named Joseph Hodgson, who claimed a balance of 1 15s. for repairing the defendant's figurehead. The complainant said he agreed with the defendant to repair his figurehead for 3 and had completed the job, and only received 25s. of the money. 
Captain Richard: Yes, for spoiling my figurehead.
Mr Yardley: You appear to have a very good figurehead.
Captain Richard: Yes, my figurehead is all right, and taut, but as for my ship's figurehead, no-one can tell whether it's a bird or a turtle.
Mr Yardley: What is the matter with it?
Captain Richard: He has spoiled the wings.
Mr Yardley: Wings? What you mean? Wings?
Captain Richard: What do I mean? Why, w-i-n-g-s! 
Mr Yardley: Thank you; much obliged to you, sir. What exactly is your figurehead?
Captain Richard: An American eagle, and the bird lost one of its wings on my voyage here.
Mr Yardley: Indeed! I hope that is not ominous of what is going on, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean!
Captain Richard: I hope not! Well, I engaged this man to carve a new wing for my eagle, and it is four inches too short, and spoiled.
Mr Yardley: It won't fly at all?
Captain Richard: Fly! No, I should think not. If such an eagle as that attempted to fly, it must drop to the ground.
Mr Yardley: You mean to say it is lopsided?
Captain Richard: It is, and one wing is shorter than the other. I dare not go into an American port with such an eagle as that. I like my wings carved properly.

Another ship-carver, said it was too short, and that the new wing was thinner than the old one, and not artistically finished. One wing might be said to look free and independent, like the Northern States of America, but the other wasn't.
Mr Yardley: Come, we must have no politics here. Which wing was it, Captain Rich? The starboard or the port wing?
Captain Rich: It was the port wing.
Mr Yardley: The port wing, eh? We call that the genuine bee's wing!
Thus, the 'port' of Captain Rich was a "bee's wing" which could be returned to the ship-carver (the decanter) with no harm done and honour satisfied. A "bee's wing" is a crust of tartar which forms on the surface of 'port' wine after it has been kept a long time. It is called "bee's wing" because that is what it resembles. It isn't detrimental to the palate if it is allowed to go into the decanter.

Timaru Herald Tuesday 22 January 1889
The barque Loweswater is being given a coat of paint. The neat ornament she has over her name on the counter, a piece of hawser curved over it, with ends frayed and whipped. It is much more appropriate than the meaningless fretwork one usually sees.

Wanganui Herald, 24 December 1903, Page 5
WESTPORT, December 24. A resident of Ngakawau reports that, while travelling from Karamea, he noticed a lot of wreckage strewn along the beach over a distance of 20 miles. In his opinion the lost vessel must have been a -small, schooner. The wreckage consisted chiefly of pieces of cabin fittings, hatches, small bucket and tub, painted, green, and a dog's head carved from Baltic or American pine, probably the figurehead. Two weeks ago at Poherua he saw a three masted schooner off the land at Rocks Point. It was blowing hard at the time.

Evening Post, 23 June 1906, Page 11

All day long the salt tides march,
Ebb and flow in the quiet bay ;
Here the stranded shellfish parch,
There the- long sea-tresses sway.

Men come idly boating by
Nothing caring, nought amiss;
Underneath the kindly sky
Where is such a bay as this?

Here the old sea-sailers rest,
Mast and spar for ever gone;
Winds no more from east or west,
North or south, shall urge them on.

Yon is one that sailed the seas
Fifty years ago, they say;
Rubbed her sides on docks and quays,
Flaunted pennons proud and gay.

Stoutly built in fashion quaint.
(Long ago her builders died)
Gay with gold and green with paint,
She was once a tower of pride.

Like to one whom love doth light,
She was ever woman-led ;
For before her, day and night.
Went her golden figure-head.

O that love would lead as fair,
Hold as firm, and prove as bravo
As the carven woman there 
Musing on the dreaming wave.

Storms arose and tempests blew,
Yard-arms rolled with foam adrift
Still the figure-head was true,
Still it went before the ship.

Through the reefs of midnight coasts,
Where rocks towered and perils swarmed,
And ice-mountains moved like ghosts,
Still it led the ship unharmed.

Night-lights burning like far stars
Gleams of radiant welcome shed,
On the tall trim mast and spars
And the constant figure-head.

Island seas where low winds sigh,
And red coral reefs enlace,
And fish flash like meteors by
Showed the figure-head its face.

Softly sailing north or south,
East or west, in times of sleep,
Dipping down its painted mouth
It would kiss the star-sown deep.

When the good ship rode at rest
Far removed from, rock and reef 
In that curved and carven breast
Surely there was sweet relief?

Storms might rage and wind might roar,
Breakers foam and billows tower,
But at peace, its mission o'er,
It could rest a quiet hour.

Lit by moon and star and sun,
In this blue and placid "bay,
Borne at last, their journeys done,
Ship and figure-head decay.

Roderic Quinn, in the Sydney Mail.

Clover's Folly : the figurehead collection of His Majesty's New Zealand Naval Base Devonport, Auckland / by Peter Dennerly. Publisher: Auckland [N.Z.] : Royal New Zealand Navy Museum, 2003. Description: 32 p. : ill., map ; 22 cm.

Norton, Peter. Ships' figureheads / Peter Norton. Imprint : Newton Abbot [Eng.] : David & Charles, c1976. 144 p. : 107 ill. ; 24 cm.

Waimate Daily Advertiser, 20 March 1900
The nominal sovereign has no more to do with guiding the destinies of the Empire than the figurehead of a ship has to do with its navigation.

The South Australian Maritime Museum has 14 figureheads on display.

The Legend of the Eagle
Donald McKay (wayback)
Silent Pilots - Figureheads in Mystic Seaport Museum
Ship Figureheads from Literature (wayback)
References  (wayback)
The Cutty Sark, a tea clipper ship, at Greenwich Pier on the banks of the River Thames, London is a museum. The Lower Hold with its collection of figureheads probably about 30 on display.
The Times Thursday 30 Jul 1953 101 Figureheads for the Cutty Sark
"Captain Long John Silver" presented to the Cutty Sark Preservation Society yesterday, at Gravesend, the collection he has assembled of 101 figureheads from merchant service ships and some 650 other items of marine interest. The collection will be installed in the Cutty Sark when she has been set in her final dry berth at Greenwich. The oldest of the figureheads is that of the Golden Cherub (1663), which once adorned the bows of a privateer; the largest is that of the Beda (1864), which is 9ft. 6in. high."

Bude-Stratton Museum, The Lower Wharf, Bude Canal, Bude, Cornwall has a display of figureheads.
The Tasmania Maritime Museum, Hobart, has a collection figureheads.

Religious and other artistic embellishments were carved into some of the world's earliest boats, and the fusion of aesthetics and function has remain a part of maritime tradition. The skills applied to a ship's ornamentation were also used by sailors to decorate tools and personal belongings or to make gifts for family and friends.