The Official Site Of The Red Duster, Merchant Navy Research Site
MN Veterans Badge

Browse Pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

The "Cutty Sark" (continued)

John Willis now faced the fact that the tea trade was finished and the Cutty Sark had to be deployed in other trades. This also brought about the beginning of a very unhappy and luckless period for the Cutty Sark. For a voyage to the East in the summer of 1880 Wallace had the misfortune to engage a 'bucko' or rogue mate called Smith, a belligerent coloured seaman named Francis and an old doom merchant with the apt name of Vanderdecken. During an argument Smith, who was being provoked as he was being threatened with a capstan bar, struck Francis so hard that he killed him. The captain managed to control the near mutinous crew and put Smith under close arrest and then made for Anjer. But Wallace was kind-hearted and let Smith escape to avoid possible indictment for willful murder. This incensed the crew and the incident preyed on Wallace's mind so much so that, four days after leaving Anjer, he threw himself overboard. Lifebelts were thrown into the sea and a boat was lowered but, as these were shark infested seas, no trace was found of Captain Wallace. The ship was left temporarily in the command of the incompetent second mate who nearly wrecked her on Thwart-the-Way Island before limping back to Anjer. The ship was then taken to Singapore and the mate of the Hallowe'en, which was lying in Hong Kong, was dispatched by Willis to take command.

The new captain, Bruce, was incompetent, obese, hypocritical, a bully and physical coward; a supposedly religious man who found more comfort in a bottle. His time in commend was un eventful except for the fact that he carried the first cargo of Indian tea from Calcutta to Melbourne. Finally, in New York after carrying a cargo of Jute from Cebu, Bruce and his mate had their certificates suspended. Bruce had refused to discharge the second mate who, in turn, made a complaint to the local Consul. An investigation ensued during which the misdemeanors and malpractices of Bruce and his mate came to light. The entire crew were paid off leaving John Willis with a problem; what to do with Cutty Sark.

Accommodation for 12 crew

The Cutty Sark at Greenwich

Willis solved the problem by transferring the captain, FW Moore, and most of the crew from the Blackadder. Moore found the ship in a deplorable condition bordering on criminal neglect but, by the time Cutty Sark returned to London in 1883 she was 'ship shape and Bristol fashion' once again. Captain Moore made two round the world voyages to Australia, in 1883 and 1884, during that time showed what the ship could really do under all weathers. Her spars had been cut down and the crew reduced from 28 to 22,21 or even 19 and she thrived. Taking 79 days from the English Channel to Newcastle, NSW and 82 days on the return in 1883 she beat all rivals, making the fastest passage of the year.

The wool trade was completely different from the tea trade. Whereas, with tea the first ship home brought the freshest tea, with wool the aim was to be home in time to catch the January and February wool sales. Consequently, the slower ships departed first with the fastest clippers remaining in Australia to pick up the later shearings. The Cutty Sark came into her own as a wool clipper and consistently outstripped all rivals including the Thermopylae.

After his two hugely successful voyages Captain Moore was promote to the command of the Tweed, flagship of the fleet. He was replaced by Captain Richard Woodget who had, since 1881, commanded the Coldstream and had achieved some remarkable passage times. Woodget'e salary was £186 per annum; Moore had earned £200.

Captain Richard Woodget

Captain Woodget had learned his seamanship skills the hard way, he had gone to sea as a hand in the East Coast billyboys and coasters. The son of Norfolk farmer he had learned how to get the best out of a ship and his appointment could not have been more fortuitous for the Cutty Sark. Apart from being a superb seaman he was also a brilliant leader of men. He would never let a crewman do anything that he could not do himself and this attitude brought the best out of his crew. His apprentices worshipped him. He spent his spare time, what there was of it, breeding prizewinning collies and was an avid photographer. Man and ship were perfectly matched.

The wool trade route round Cape Horn and through the Roaring Forties suited the Cutty Sark far better that the tea run and Captain Woodget was eager to put her through her paces. Leaving the East India Dock on 1st April, 1885 she crossed the Equator 20 days later, passed the Cape 26 days later arriving in Port Jackson, Sydney 77 days from passing Start Point in Devon. On one occasion, on 4th June, she made 330 miles in 24 hours with the wind still ahead of her beam. She was the winner of the race out beating the Samuel Plimsoll by one day. The voyage home was even faster. From Sydney to the Channel took only 67 days but calm conditions meant that she took 5 days to complete the remaining 305 miles to the Downs. With a total time of 73 days she was the easy winner beating her rival Thermopylae by 7 days.

"Old White Hat" was thrilled by this performance and decided to have another go for a tea cargo. In 1866 the Cutty Sark took scrap iron to Shanghai but, on arrival, found that the steamships had the monopoly of tea cargoes. After waiting 3.5 months Woodget sailed in ballast to Sydney arriving too late to load wool for the wool sales. He waited until March, loaded wool and raced back to London in 72 days, the Thermopylae taking 87 days. In 1888 Woodget did it again with a record passage of 71 days .from Newcastle, NSW to Dungeness; Thermopylae took 79 days from Sydney to London and Loch Vennachar 80days fro Melbourne. In 1889, although completing a fast passage in 82 days she was beaten by the Nebo who took 82, the Thermopylae taking 95 days. The two rivals had had their last race for, in 1990, Thermopylae was sold to Canada and spent the next 5 years carrying rice across the Pacific fro the East.

A photograph of the Cutty Sark taken by Captain Woodget
The photograph was taken in the open sea with a camera supported on a plank of wood fixed between two of the ship's boats.

The Cutty Sark won the wool race in 1891 with a passage of 93 days and on 5th November, sailed from Sydney to make the fastest passage of 85 days to the Lizard with Cimba a close second in 87 days. In January 1893, Woodget was unable to obtain a cargo for London and had to load for Antwerp leaving Sydney on the 7th. During this passage home the Cutty Sark encountered a large ice-field and also lost two men when they were washed off the flying-jib boom. The boats could not be lowered as the sea was too rough but Woodget searched for two hours to no avail. Woodget noted in his journal that, at no time during his seven years in command, the Cutty Sark had never put the jib boom under water.

Her next cargo was for Hull and she left Australia on 24th December 1894 with 5,010 bales of wool worth about £100,000. 87 days later, on 21st March 1885 she sighted the Scilly Isles but took a further six days to reach Hull where she became the object of great interest by the locals. That was her last voyage from Sydney. After being partially dismasted on the next outward passage she put into Brisbane to load an incredible 5,304 bales of wool which put her two inches below her Plimsoll marks. On 9th December, 1894 she left Brisbane on what was to be her final voyage under the 'Red Duster'. When she arrived back in London, some 84 days later, on 26th March, 1895, Woodget was infuriated when he found out that "Old White Hat" was selling the Cutty Sark to the Portuguese. Willis gave him the Coldinghame but a unhappy Woodget only made one voyage on her before he retired from the sea. Returning to his native Norfolk he bought a farm at Burnham Overy and farmed there until he died on 6th March, 1928, aged 82 years.

The Portuguese Ferreira brothers changed her name to the Ferreira of Lisbon and she continued to trade round the world for the next 26 years. Although times were hard for sailing ships the Ferreira brothers did their best to maintain the ship and keep her in good condition. Some credit must be given to them for enabling her to become, by 1922, the only clipper ship left in the world. However, the Ferreira's found it difficult to make her pay and sold her to another Portuguese company who renamed her Maria do Amparo but only for a few months.

Captain Wilfred Dowman

In January 1922, the Ferreira, having left London for Lisbon, had to seek refuge from a storm in Falmouth. There she was spotted by Captain Wilfred Dowman who had always admired her since passing in 1894 her while on the Hawksdale during his apprenticeship. Captain Dowman, negotiated her purchase from the Portuguese and had her towed back to Falmouth. Together with his wife, who also shared his enthusiasm for the Cutty Sark, Captain Dowman began the task of restoring the old ship to her former glory and thus began the chapter in the history of the ship which still continues today at Greenwich.

In 1924 Captain Woodget made a nostalgic coastal voyage to Fowey 29 years after leaving the ship as master.

The Cutty Sark alongside HMS Worcester

Captain Dowman died in 1936 and in 1938 his widow generously presented the Cutty Sark to the Thames Nautical Training College so that she could be used to train both and Royal and Merchant Navy officers. She was towed to the Thames by the William Watkin's tug Muria to be moored alongside HMS Worcester. From that day on her teak covered hull would only respond to the ebbing and flowing of the River Thames.

In 1951 she was moved to Green & Silley Weir's Blackwall yard for a modest refurbishment prior to the Festival of Britain, during which time she was moored above Greenwich to be appreciated by visitors to the Festival. She returned to the Blackwall yard to be fully overhauled and reconditioned in 1954 and while she was there Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons built the drydock at Greenwich for her final resting place. Now safe from the ravages of the sea which she did her best to conquer the Cutty Sark rests at Greenwich as a permanent memorial to the sailing merchantmen who were the backbone of British supremacy at sea for so many hundreds of years

The Cutty Sark at Greenwich (The English Tourist Board)

When John "Old White Hat" Willis asked Hercules Linton to build him a ship could he ever have imagined that his dream, the CUTTY SARK would, 131 years later, be proudly resplendent in her former glory alongside the Millennium Dome still with an indefinite future ahead of her.

The story of the Cutty Sark has been extracted from a booklet published many years ago called 'The Cutty Sark and the Days of Sail" by Frank G.G. Carr, M.A. F.S.A for the Cutty Sark Preservation Society. Our thanks are given to the original contributors.

For further information about sailing ships and the Cutty Sark consider-
Clipper Ships and the Cutty Sark
by David Johnson
The Log of the Cutty Sark
by Basil Lubbock

The Cutty Sark Preservation Society is engaged in continual restoration work that fine vessel. If you would like some information on what they are up to at the moment and how you can help visit; or E-mail them at They will be pleased to hear from you.

Two Victorian Sailing Ships Captains
Thomas Mitchell and Thomas Taylor

Thomas Mitchell was born in 1832 in Newburgh, Aberdeenshire to Thomas Mitchell senior, who was a grocer, and Margaret Thomson.  He had three sisters, the youngest of whom was my great-grandmother, Jane.  They were a very devout Non-conformist family.

He gained his Mate's certificate in Newcastle in April 1851 and his first ship as mate was the Falcon, 226 tons, registered in Newcastle in 1840 and re-registered in North Shields in 1856.  It had a crew of eight: Master, Mate, Carpenter, Cook, 3 Able Seamen, 1 Boy.  In this ship he made two voyages from Sunderland to Stettin, Polonia, in June and August 1851.

Thomas then joined the Aberdeen Clipper Line, owned by Messrs G Thompson, Sons & Co of Aberdeen, later Messrs G Thompson, Junr & Co of  London.  The family firm included George Thompson, his son-in-law Sir William Henderson and his sons, Stephen, George and Cornelius.  It was also known as the Aberdeen White Star Line, not to be confused with the White Star Line of Titanic fame.

All Thompson's ships were built by Walter Hood of Aberdeen, except the Thermopylae, and they were all registered in Aberdeen.  According to Basil Lubbock in 'The Colonial Clippers',  no ships that ever sailed the seas presented a finer appearance than the Aberdeen White Star Line fleet.

They were always beautifully kept and were easily noticeable amongst the other ships for their smartness: indeed, when lying in Sydney Harbour or Hobson's Bay with their yards squared to a nicety, their green sides with gilt streak and scroll work at bow and stern glistening in the sun, their figure-heads, masts, spars and blocks all painted white and every rope's end flemish-coiled on snow-white decks, they were the admiration of all who saw them.”

The following are Thomas Mitchell's voyages, all to Sydney. 

Dates of trips Rank

Ship's details

Ship's No.

Date of reg

pages in Clipper book


John Bunyan   466 tons, about 16 crew: Master, Mate, boatswain, carpenter, steward, cook, sail-maker, 9 seamen/apprentices



131, 132

First Mate

Omar Pacha   1124 tons, about 65 crew and 30 passengers





Phoenician   478 tons, about 17 crew



131, 132


Transatlantic   614 tons, 25 crew, 5 passengers



126, 131, 138







Queen of Nations   846 tons, 27 crew, 11 passengers



127, 131, 132, 139


Centurion   1097 tons, 29 crew



131, 137-140

These ships were mostly used to transport wool from Australia to London but they carried other cargo and sometimes passengers.  This was particularly true of the  Omar Pacha, but it can be seen how much larger a crew was needed for passengers aboard the Omar Pacha compared to the Centurion.

There are Sydney harbour reports for all his voyages south on these ships, except John Bunyan.  (

There is a gap on his record between 1860 and 1865 which includes short trips in Australian waters. 


Georgina Smith of Melbourne   44 tons, 4 crew

sailing from Port Albert to Sydney


William Hill   of Geelong 109 tons, 7 crew

sailing from Port Warnambool to Sydney and Melbourne to Sydney

In 1868  his sister, Jane, wrote in her diary that he had just managed to return from Sydney in time for her wedding to James Scroggie on 23 July that year.  But for the remainder of the year and the beginning of 1869 he was overseeing the construction of the Centurion before her maiden voyage in June which he commanded.

He is mentioned in 'The Colonial Clippers'.

The ship 'Queen of Nations', Captain Thomas Mitchell, belonging to Messrs G Thompson & Co, left Sydney on 21st September 1865 loaded with: 484 bales of wool, 44 bales of cotton, 1037 casks of coconut oil, 219 casks of tallow, 2602 ingots and plates of copper, 9452 hides. For ballast she had 30 tons of kentledge; dunnage, treenails and bones, 12 inches in the bottom, 18 in the bilges and 6 in the sides.  The hides were laid from two beams abaft the foremast to the mizen  mast; oil on the hides, with a tier of tallow between; the wool, cotton, gum, etc in the 'tween decks.  Her best trim was 9 inches by the stern.  So laden she drew 18ft forward and 18.5 ft aft.  Pilotage in £14 2s; out £14 2s.”

The second 'Centurion' was launched in the spring of 1869 and measured: length 208ft, beam 35ft, depth 21ft.  Captain Mitchell overlooked her building and was her first commander.  She was a very fast ship and he always hoped to beat the 'Thermopylae' with her, but never succeeded.  On her first voyage she went out to Sydney in 69 days.  It was a light weather passage and she never started the sheets of her main topgallant sail the whole way.   She also made some creditable tea passages but was mostly kept in the Sydney trade.  In 1871 she went out in 77 days and in 1872 in 78 days.” (Under Captain Taylor)

Thomas was married to Mary Elizabeth Alexander (1844, Swansea), daughter of George Alexander, also a master mariner, and Elizabeth Bennett on 15th April 1862 at 3 Springbank Terrace, Aberdeen by the Weslyan minister.

Thomas, Mary and one child, probably Thomas jnr

Thomas, Mary and one child, probably Thomas jnr

Thomas and Mary had four children: Thomas Alexander (1864-1930); George Bennett (1865-1941; Joseph F (1868-1873); Mary Elizabeth (1870).  They were all born in Aberdeen except George.

Mary and Thomas junior went on the voyage to Sydney when Thomas was Master of Queen of Nations in 1865.  George Bennett was born on board ship in the North Atlantic near Cape Verde on the return voyage.  She and two of the children went on the same voyage when he was Master of Centurion in 1870.  He died of a stroke on board ship in the North Atlantic near the Azores on the return trip, age 38.  His First Officer, Hugh Wright, took command and reported the death of his captain at sea.

Thomas Taylor

After the death of Thomas Mitchell, Thomas Taylor, born 1835, took command of the Centurion.  He was probably a friend of the family because Mary Mitchell, still only 29 years old, married him in May 1873.

They had three children: Edward  who was born on board the Centurion in the South China Sea off Vietnam in 1877; Thomasina (1880 Aberdeen); Cornelia (1882 Aberdeen). 

Thomas Taylor made five voyages to Sydney in command of the Centurion, up to 1885.  In 1887 he commanded the sailing ship Smyrna to Australia and back but on his second trip out the Smyrna collided with steamship Moto in the English Channel just off the Isle of Wight in fog and he was drowned.  The wreck is still there after more than 110 years, in quite good condition, and is much visited by divers.

In 1901 Mary Alexander/Mitchell/Taylor was still living in Aberdeen, in Springbank Road close to her grandparents old home from which she was first married, with her unmarried daughter, Mary.  Thomasina, age 21, was a schoolmistress in London and her sister Cornelia, age 19, was a student at the same place.

Photo of Thomas Alexander Mitchell, from a public family tree

Photo of Thomas Alexander Mitchell, from a public family tree

According to the above public family tree, Thomas Alexander Mitchell married Maud Thorndick from Chelmsford but I can't find any documentation on him after 1871.  I can't find Edward Taylor after 1881, however, George Bennett Mitchell is well documented since he was a very successful architect in Aberdeen.

He married Margaret Ann Angus in Aberdeen in 1892.  Her parents were James Angus (commission agent) and Elspet Helmrich (teacher) of 7 Bank Street, Aberdeen. 
Georgeand Maggie had two children: Meta in 1894 and George Angus in 1896.  George Angus became an architect like his father and they set up as George Bennett Mitchell & Son, a company which is still extant in West Craibstone Street, Aberdeen.

Days of Sail - Red- Duster
Omar Pacha in 1869 when it caught fire at sea, returning from Brisbane with a cargo of wool
Red-Duster Web

Phoenician 1847 Aberdeen, wood, 521 gross weight, barque - square rigged on two masts of three
Merchant Navy Association

Queen of Nations

Great Days of Sail

Sailing Ships of Old

by Wendy Furey
great-great niece of Thomas Mitchell

Browse Pages 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6


Navigation Bar
Navigation for the Official Merchant Navy Research Site
To Contact The Webmaster with comments about this site please e-mail:

Merchant Navy Association is a registered charity in England & Wales - Registered No. 1135661
Website Created by Clarke Design & Media Ltd

the home of the Red Duster visit the Bridge a host of information awaits you visit the radio room pass us your groups details to add to our notice board use the chartrooms extensive link listings the merchant navy association official website the merchant navy association guestbook did you know about the merchant navy ships and shipping early days of the merchant navy sailing ships Click Here for more information about the new Veterans Badge