The Clipper Ship Era/Chapter 22

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WE have already seen how, about the year 1855, the extreme clippers were succeeded in the United States by a class of vessels known as medium clippers. These vessels were not so sharp and did not carry as heavy spars or so much canvas as the old clippers, but they could carry more cargo and could be handled with fewer men. This made them more profitable when the demand for speed and the rates of freight had declined, and the extreme clippers were unable to command any higher rate than the medium clippers. After the Civil War ship-building for the oversea carrying trade steadily declined, though it was not until 1893 that the last American wooden sailing ship, the Aryan, was launched. During these thirty-eight years a good many ships were built, and by degrees a new type of vessel, designed to carry large cargoes at moderate speed, was developed, which enterprising agents advertised as clippers; but those who had known the real clippers were not deceived. Many of the old names survived; thus there were a second Memnon, another Rainbow, Sea Witch, Oriental, Eclipse, Comet, Northern Light, Ringleader, Invincible, Witch of the Wave, Blue Jacket, Charmer, Sovereign of the Seas, Lightning, and Andrew Jackson which should not be mistaken for the famous clippers after which they were named.

One may well ask what became of all the splendid clipper ships? The fate of some of them has already been told in these pages, others have disappeared from one cause or another, as time went on, until now scarcely one is left. During the Civil War many of them were sold and sailed under foreign flags, their names were changed and their identity all but lost.

Of the more famous early clippers, the Houqua foundered in a typhoon in the China seas in 1865 while under command of Captain McKenzie. The Sea Witch made her last voyage to San Francisco in 1852 and then returned to the China trade for which she had been built. On her voyage to China in 1855 Captain Fraser was murdered at sea by his chief mate, and the vessel put into Rio Janeiro, where Captain Lang took command. On the homeward voyage from Amoy to Havana with a cargo of coolies, the Sea Witch was wrecked and became a total loss on the eastern coast of Cuba, March 26, 1856. The Samuel Russell was wrecked in the Caspar Straits in 1870, under command of Captain Frederick Lucas.

The Stag-Hound was burnt off the coast of Brazil in 1863, her United States ensign, which the captain brought off and returned to the owners in Boston, being the sole relic. The Surprise, under command of Captain Charles Ranlett, struck a sunken rock while beating into Yokohama Bay and became a total wreck, February 4, 1876; the Game-Cock was condemned at the Cape of Good Hope in 1880.

The Staffordshire was lost off Cape Sable, while bound from Liverpool for Boston in December, 1854. She struck on a ledge during a thick fog and foundered in deep water. Two days before her wreck Captain Richardson had fallen on deck and fractured his spine, and while he lay helpless in his berth, Joseph Alden, his chief mate, reported that the ship was sinking. Captain Richardson gave directions to the mate for saving the women and children passengers, but declined assistance for himself. His last words were: "God's will be done," and as the vessel settled deeper and deeper in the water and the waves closed in upon her deck, the brave spirit of her captain returned to God who gave it, to join the innumerable host of heroes and martyrs of the sea.

The Flying Cloud was sold to James Baines in 1863 and was destroyed by fire at St. John, N. B., in 1874. The Flying Fish was wrecked in November, 1858, while coming out of Foo-chow, bound for New York with a cargo of tea, and was abandoned to the underwriters, who sold her to a Spanish merchant of Manila. She was subsequently floated and rebuilt at Wampoa, her name being changed to El Bueno Suceso. She sailed for some years between Manila and Cadiz, and finally foundered in the China Sea. The Typhoon was sold to the United States Government during the Civil War, and was finally broken up. The Northern Light was abandoned at sea, December 25, 1861, after being in collision while bound from Havre for New York. The Comet was sold under the British flag and renamed the Fiery Star. She sailed between England and Australia for several years and was finally burned at sea in 1865, while on a voyage from Moreton Bay, Queensland, for London. She had been on fire for twenty-one days when the crew were rescued by the ship Dauntless. The Trade Wind, while bound from Mobile for Liverpool, in 1854, was in collision with the ship Olympus, from Liverpool for New York. Both vessels foundered, forty-four of the sixty-four passengers and crew of the Trade-Wind and fifty-two of the fifty-eight on board the Olympus being rescued by the Belgian barque Stadt Antwerpen, Captain Wyteerhoven, and landed at New York.

The Nightingale was sold to a firm in Salem and sent to Rio Janeiro, where she was bought and sailed in the African slave trade under the Brazilian flag. About the year 1860 she was captured by a United States war-vessel and sent home as a prize. She was subsequently fitted out by the Government as an armed cruiser during the Civil War, and at the close of the war was sold and sailed in the California and China trade. Later she sailed for many years under the flag of Norway. The Shooting Star was sold to a merchant of Siam in 1862 and was wrecked on the coast of Formosa in 1867. Captain Low remained in command of the N. B. Palmer until she was sold abroad in 1872. The Tornado, Whirlwind, and Neptune's Car were sold in England and disappeared from the Shipping Lists many years ago.

The Golden Light under command of Captain C. F. Winsor, sailed from Boston on her first voyage bound for San Francisco, February 12, 1853, and ten days out was struck by lightning which set fire to cargo in the forehold. After every exertion had been made to save the vessel. Captain Winsor gave orders to abandon the ship, and at 6 p.m., February 23d, her people took to the boats. At that time the ship was in flames. Her foremast had burnt off and fallen; soon after her main- and mizzen-masts went over the side. She had eleven passengers, including three ladies who were in the long boat with the captain. There were five boats in all, four of which, after being adrift eight days, were picked up by the British ship Shand from Calcutta bound for Boston; the other boat, in charge of the mate, reached Barbadoes in safety, so that all hands were saved.

The Sovereign of the Seas was sold to a Hamburg firm and was wrecked on the Pyramid Shoal in the Straits of Malacca, August 6, 1859, becoming a total loss. The Contest and Winged Racer were destroyed by the Alabama off the coast of Java in 1863, and the Jacob Bell by the Florida during the same year. The Harvey Birch was destroyed by the Nashville in 1861. The Flying Dutchman went ashore on the Brigantine Shoal, off the coast of New Jersey, during a thick snowstorm in February, 1858, and became a total loss. The Highflyer, under command of Captain Gordon B. Waterman, sailed from San Francisco, October 24, 1856, bound for Hong-kong and was never heard from. The John Gilpin struck an iceberg off Cape Horn and foundered, January 29, 1858, while bound from Honolulu for New Bedford under command of Captain John F. Ropes, all hands, including fifteen passengers, being saved by the British ship Herefordshire.

The Phantom was lost on Prates Shoal, about two hundred miles east-southeast of Hong-kong, in 1862, while under command of Captain Henry Sargent. All hands were saved in the boats, which reached Hong-kong safely, and a large amount of treasure that she had on board was also saved. Captain Sargent received great credit for his brave and judicious action at the time of the wreck; for in those days the China Sea was filled with junks whose crews required only the sight of a vessel in distress to turn them into most barbarous pirates. Captain Sargent soon after took command of the clipper barque Emily C. Starr and sailed from Shanghai for Yokohama. She was never heard from, and it was supposed that she foundered in a typhoon. Captain Sargent belonged to an old Boston family whose home was on Beacon Street. He had sailed with Captain Nickels in the Flying Fish and had also commanded the ship Rockland. He was one of the youngest and most accomplished of all the American clipper ship captains.

The Bald Eagle and Romance of the Seas both sailed from Hong-kong in 1860 and were never heard from. The Reporter foundered off Cape Horn in, and in the same year the Undaunted was condemned at Rio Janeiro.

The Sweepstakes was condemned in Batavia in 1864. The Great Republic was sold to the Merchants' Trading Company, of Liverpool, in 1869 and her name was changed to the Denmark. She finally foundered in a hurricane off Bermuda in 1872. The Morning Star was sold to a Liverpool firm, who renamed her the Rockingham; she foundered while on a voyage from Samarang for Falmouth in 1879. The Ocean Telegraph was sold to an English firm and renamed the Light Brigade and was finally condemned at Gibraltar and converted into a coal hulk.

The Marco Polo, Red Jacket, and Donald McKay ended their days in the Quebec lumber trade, and the Lightning disappeared from the Shipping List in 1866. The Champion of the Seas foundered while homeward bound round Cape Horn in 1877. The James Baines was burnt at Liverpool in 1858, and her wreck was converted into the old landing stage for Atlantic steamship passengers, few of whom probably realized that they were walking over the remains of one of the grandest ships that ever sailed the sea.

Of the British-built clippers, the first Lord of the Isles built in 1854 was burnt in 1862. The second of the name, built in 1864 by Robert Steele, of Greenock, was sold in France and became known as the Paul Albert. The Spindrift and Serica were both wrecked in 1869. The Forward Ho was lost in 1881. The Sir Launcelot was sold to a merchant of Bombay and sailed for many years between that port and Mauritius, and was finally wrecked in 1895. The Cutty Sark was sold to a merchant in Lisbon in 1895. The Chinaman was sunk by a steamer on the coast of China in 1880. The Windhover was wrecked on the coast of Australia in 1884. The Falcon was sold in Australia, her name being changed to the Sophia Branilla. She was wrecked on the coast of Java in 1871. The Thermopylæ is now a schoolship at the mouth of the Tagus. The Yang-tze was lost in 1872. The first Guinevere, built by Robert Steele, in 1862, was lost in 1866, while the second Guinevere, built by Randolph Elder & Co., in 1868, was sold in Norway. The Ariel sailed for Melbourne and was never heard from. The Taitsing was wrecked on the coast of Zanzibar in 1883.

The Titania is the only one of all the old clipper ships that can now be traced as in active service. She is owned by Madame Maresca, of Castellamare, and sails under the flag of Italy, usually between European and South American ports. A few years ago she arrived at New York, and I was much interested in going on board of her, as I had known the ship and her captain many years before in China. She appeared so little changed that it was difficult to realize that nearly forty years had passed away since I last stood upon her deck one bright June morning at the Pagoda Anchorage, bidding Captain Burgoyne good-bye as he was getting under way bound for London with new teas. Her spars had been somewhat reduced and her rig changed to a barque, but the beautiful India teak used in the construction of her hull, decks, and bulwarks, with the polished brasswork of her rails, skylights, bells, and capstans, blinking cheerfully in the autumn sunshine, seemed to have paid little heed to the flight and ravages of time. And so I have endeavored to record the leading events of an era in maritime history long ago departed; and however much the remarkable development of steam navigation may have contributed to the welfare of mankind, I think that the memory of the clipper ships and the men who built and commanded them, will always find a welcome in the hearts of those who know and love the sea.