A ship often has an elaborate figure, usually carved from wood - normally a maiden - attached to the bows or prow of the vessel to bring good luck to the ship and its voyages, act as an inspiration to the crew and send a message to potential enemies of their resolve. The name comes from poem by Robert Burns and describes a short shirt / dress worn by a witch. The Cutty Sark’s figurehead represents this witch.
The Cutty Sark is the last
surviving British tea clipper and can still be seen in dry dock in Greenwich, more
that 130 years after her launch.
She was built for John 'Jock' Willis, a sailing shipmaster and fleet owner in London. He wanted his new vessel to be the fastest tea clipper in the annual race to transport tea from China, and directly to challenge the famous clipper, Thermopylae.
The 'Cutty Sark' was launched on Monday 22nd November 1869. She was built of teak on an iron frame by Scott and Linton of Dumbarton, on the Clyde. However, financial difficulties resulted in the project being transferred to William Denny & Brothers. 'Cutty Sark' was involved in the tea trade between 1870 and 1877, making eight passages between China and England. Unfortunately the new Suez Canal saw steamships quickly take over the tea trade from the slower clipper ships. In 1885, the Cutty Sark began the second stage of her career, in the wool trade from Australia. This is when the vessel entered her heyday, repeatedly making the fastest passages to Britain from Australia. She made twelve wool passages between 1883 and 1895. In 1895, the Cutty Sark was sold to Portuguese owners and renamed the Ferreira. She sailed the waters between Portugal, America and South America, until she was sold in 1922. Captain Wilfred Downman bought the rather sorry looking ship after seeing her at Falmouth, and restored her to her previous glory as a clipper ship.