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Clipper Sailing Ships

Much of the information on this page comes from
Clipper Sailing Ships
The Power of Gold
Emigrant Ships to Australia in the Forties.
Report on Steerage Conditions in 1844.
The Discovery of Gold in Australia
Melbourne and its Shipping 1851-2
Blue Jacket
Champion of the Seas 
Cutty Sark
Donald Mackay
Heather Bell 
James Baines
John Bunyan
Maid of Judah
Red Jacket
Walter Hood
White Star
Tall Ships 2007 Wall Calendar





While the Red Jacket & Lightning were astonishing the world, Donald Mackay was building the Champion of the Seas and James Baines for the Black Ball Line. He was given a free hand, and the new vessels were intended to be more perfect than anything he has previously attempted.

The Champion of the Seas was launched in April, 1854, and, owing to the monster four-master Great Republic being cut down a deck, claimed the honor of being the largest ship in the world until the James Baines eclipsed her.

Her measurements were as follows:


Builders’ measurement

2447 tons

Registered measurement

1947 tons

Length of Keel

238 feet

Length between Perpendiculars

252 feet

For Rake

14 feet

Extreme Beam

45.5 feet


29 feet

Dead Rise at Half-Floor

18 inches


41.5 inches

Concavity of Load Line Forward

2.5 inches


In strength of construction she was a considerable improvement on the Lightning. Her ends were as long but not quite so sharp or concave and were considered to be more harmoniously designed. She had an upright sternpost and her stern was semi-elliptical and ornamented with the Australian coat-of-arms. Her figure-head was a life-like representation of the old-time shellback and was an object of interest wherever she went. It is thus described by captain Clark: “One of the striking figure-heads was the tall square-built sailor, with dark curly hair and bronzed clean-shaven face, who stood at the bow of the Champion of the Seas. A black belt with a massive brass buckle supported his white trousers, which were as tight about the hips as the skin of an eel and had wide, belled-shaped bottoms that almost hid his black polished pumps. He wore a loose-fitting blue and white checked shirt with wide rolling collar and black handkerchief of ample size, tied in the most rakish of square knots with long flowing ends. But perhaps the most impressive of this mariner’s togs were his dark-blue jacket and the shiny tarpaulin had which he waved aloft in the grip of his brawny tattooed tattooed right hand.”

The Champion of the Seas had her greatest beam at the center of the load displacement line, and, like the Lightning, she was fuller aft than forward. Her deck houses and cabin arrangements were also on the same plan as those of the Lightning,viz., a topgallant foc’s’le for the crew; a house, 50 feet long, abaft the foremast, for petty officers, galleys and second class passengers, a small house, 16 feet square, contained the chief mate’s quarters and sheltered the first class companion, with a large wheel-house astern had a smoking-room on one side and the captain’s cabin on the other.

The following details of her construction, taken from an American paper, may be of interest to present day wood shipwrights:-”Her entire frame was of seasoned white oak and all her hooks, pointers and knees were of the same wood, her planking and ceiling being of hard pine, and she was square fastened through-out and butt and bilge bolted with copper. The keel was of rock maple in two depths, each 16 inches square. The floor timbers were moulded 21 inches on the keep and sided from 12 to 13 inches, and over them were four tiers of midship keelsons, each 16 inches square, and on each side of these were two depths of sister keelsons of the same size, the whole scarphed and keyed and fastened with 1 ¾ inch bolting. The whole frame, fore and aft, was diagonally cross-braced with iron, 5 inches wide, 7/8 of an inch thick and 38 feet long. These braces were bolted through every frame and through every intersection; were let into the timbers and ceiling and extended from the first futtocks to the top timbers. All the waterways as well as the keelsons and ceiling were scarphed and bolted in the most substantial style. The upper deck was of white pine 3 ½ inches thick and the other decks of hard pine of the same substance. Her ends were almost filled the massive hooks and pointers. The hooks in the between decks were beamed and kneed and fastened through all. Her garboards were 9 by 15 inches, the next strake 8 x 14, the third 7 x 14; the bottom planking 5 inches thick, the wales 6 by 7 and the waist 4 ½ inches thick, the whole finished smooth as joiner work and strongly fastened.”

The Champion of the Seas had about the same sail area and spar measurements as the Lightning. Her masts and bowsprit were built of hard pine and the masts were 74 and 63 feet apart. The foremast raked ½ inch to the foot, the main 5/8 and the mizen 1 inch. When she left the builders her working suit of sails consisted of 12,500 of American cotton, 18 inches in width.

She was of course painted the regulation Black Ball colors, black outside and white inside, with blue waterways. Her masts white, mastheads and yards black, and stunsail booms bright with black ends. Captain Alexander Newlands was sent out from Liverpool to superintend her outfit and take command, the lighting and ventilation below being carried out according to his designs. On her completion the Champion of the Seas was towed to New York by the famous Boston tug R. B. Forbes and from thence came across to Liverpool in the month of June in 16 days.

She left Liverpool on her first voyage to Australia on 11th October, 1854, and arrived out in 72 days, coming home again in 84 days, thus proving herself quite up to the standard of the famous Black Ball Line, and from that date she was always a favorite ship.

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