In 1869, John Willis, a ship owner and ship’s captain from London commissioned the building of the clipper CUTTY SARK in order to beat the THERMOPYLAE (built one year before) in the “tea race”. The Name CUTTY SARK is of Scottish origin and means “short shirt”. The figurehead is a witch called Nannie.
Under 1877 the full-rig ship sailed almost exclusively as a tea clipper on the China route and she frequently achieved speeds of up to 17 knots. Then from 1877 onwards the Cutty Sark served mainly in the Australian wool trade.
In 1895 she was sold to a Lisbon based company called J.A. Ferreira and her name was also changed to FERREIRA. However, she was more often referred to as EL PEQUINA CAMISOLA, the Portuguese for “short shirt”.
In 1916, the ship lost her masts in a storm. She put into harbour at Cape Town for emergency repairs and was newly rigged as a barque tine.
In 1922, she was purchased by captain Wilfred Downmann from England and was given back her original name of CUTTY SARK. In June 1938 she departed from London under tow – her last voyage on open water. Then, in 1951 she underwent a thorough examination in Millwall dry dock and was found to be in perfect condition.
She ended her career in 1953 as a training ship and the “Cutty Sark Preservation Society” was founded. She was given the necessary overhaul in the East India Dock and on 10th July 1954 the CUTTY SARK was towed to her dry-berth in Greenwich.