Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Adults - Nonfiction
The Cutty Sark entered the world when tea was a vital commodity in British trade; England imported 63,000,000 pounds that year. With her sharp bow, streamlined hull, and 32,000 square feet of sails, she was built for speed in the middle of the Victorian Era. She has outlived both other extreme clippers and many steamships that plied the seas when she did. When tea ceased to be profitable, she transported other cargo until she earned her place in history as the fastest ship in the Australian wool trade. Later, navy sailors and merchant seamen trained aboard her, and today she teaches visitors about wooden ships and their role in maritime history in spite of the destructive fire that swept through her in 2007. Although this book discusses her entire history, the authors focus on her first twenty-six years when steamships were gaining importance in maritime trade. And who better to share her story than her general manager and her curator?
They set the stage with their introduction to the tea trade and the emergence of clipper ships, as well as world events – the Opium Wars and Suez Canal, for example – that impacted maritime trade and shipping. Their goal in writing this pocket manual is to explain why Cutty Sark survives when her contemporaries have long since been relegated to history books or forgotten entirely.
Subsequent chapters discuss her construction, her voyages, how ships work, her captains and crew, life on board, her cargoes, and her history once she ceased to be a British merchant ship. Launched on 22 November 1869, Cutty Sark had a wooden hull affixed to an iron frame. She was built by Scott & Linton, who went bankrupt as a result of her construction, and owned by John Willis, Jr., who was wily, ruthless, and known as “White Hat Willis” because of his white top hat. She set sail on her maiden voyage to China in February the following year, and when she returned to London, she held the fourth fastest record for the year. But her travels were not without problems. Like all ships, she encountered Mother Nature and endured her wrath. On Cutty Sark’s maiden journey one of the crew died of dysentery. On the “Hell-Ship Voyage” (1880) a seaman was murdered, another became a fugitive, and the master committed suicide. Richard Woodget served as her seventh and last master as a British vessel. During his decade-long tenure, he provided a photographic record of life aboard the clipper. He resurrected her reputation and even overhauled a steamer to reach Sydney before Britannia did in 1889.
In addition to an index, the authors include black-and-white illustrations (including some of Woodget’s photographs), tables, maps, diagrams, and entries from logbooks to enrich the reading experience. In spite of its size, this small, thin book is brimming with the fascinating history about this famous ship. Most readers will know of Cutty Sark, but few know what she and her crews endured. The authors correct this oversight and enlighten us so even those who are unable to actually visit her come to understand why she has left such an indelible mark on our memories.
Review Copyrighted ©2019 Cindy Vallar
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