On 22 November, Cutty Sark will be celebrating the 146th anniversary of her launch, after far outliving her original life expectancy of 30 years.
Commissioned by Scottish ship owner John Willis, Cutty Sark was built in Dumbarton in 1869 by Scott & Linton to be the fastest of the clippers serving the China tea trade. However after just eight voyages to China, Cutty Sark was forced to seek alternative cargoes with the arrival of steamers on the waters.
It was between 1883 and 1895 that Cutty Sark earned her worldwide reputation for speed as a wool clipper. The ship made many successful passages back from Australia, with her fastest passage being just 73 days from Sydney to London. Her best-recorded speed was 17.5 knots, often travelling over 300 miles in a single day.
In 1895 Cutty Sark was sold to Portuguese company, Ferreira & Co. and, re-named Ferreira, she sailed to ports across the continents until 1922, carrying cargoes such as whale oil, coal, pitch pine and cocoa beans. In 1922 in Falmouth, Captain Wilfred Dowman and his wife brought the vessel back to Britain, where she was restored as a tea clipper, named Cutty Sark once more and put to use as a training ship for young cadets.
Following Dowman’s death, Cutty Sark was presented to the Thames Nautical Training College in 1938, to continue her role as a training ship in Greenhithe, Kent.
In 1953, the Cutty Sark Preservation Society was established to bring the ship to her permanent berth in Greenwich, as an icon of the bygone era of sail and a memorial to the Merchant Navy. On 25 June 1957, after a major restoration project, Her Majesty The Queen officially opened Cutty Sark as a visitor attraction.
50 years and 15 million visitors later the Conservation Project began in 2006 to treat Cutty Sark’s fragile structure and, despite a terrible fire in 2007, the vast majority of her original structure survives. The project was completed in early 2012 and The Queen returned to officially re-open Cutty Sark to the public. The project regenerated Cutty Sark, ensuring her legacy for future generations to enjoy.
To celebrate the ship’s 146th anniversary, Cutty Sark is staging a performance of The Marriage of Figaro by OperaUpClose on Saturday 21 November 2015. Tickets for this special performance are available on site and on the Royal Museums Greenwich website.
Written by Jessica Lewis, Curator of Cutty Sark