High Point Of Sailing Ships

What caused the 'high-point' of sailing ships?

A discernible peak of excellence appeared in the 1870's. Sailing ships began to be built entirely of iron, and had a more even spread of sails on masts which, for the first time, were similar in height. The vessels developed highly curvaceous bows and sterns - and nestled deeply in the water, heavily laden and "businesslike".

Many observers were genuinely taken a'back by the sight of a ship either on the horizon or at close quarters. There was something enormously exhilarating and awe-inspiring about the four, and later five-masted sailing ships which dominated international trade from 1875 through the 1890s and into the early 20th Century.

Sail 'power' was eventually overtaken by 'steam power' when steam-driven ships became more reliable. Larger steam cargo vessels also became economic by the late 1890s. Iron then gave way to steel - for various interesting reasons.

Description of this pivotal period in book 'GONE' (2009)

Subject matter of GONE (published by Brown Son & Ferguson, Glasgow) and available via Amazon, (ISBN 978-1-84927-013-7), is about the distinct ‘high point’ of sail-power, prompted by 4 mast ships in the last quarter of the 19th Century.

Packed with fascinating details of real lives, and the ships of R&J Craig, shipowners, of Glasgow, the book GONE tells the hitherto unsung story of this renowned shipping business. Founded by Captain Robert & John Craig of Glasgow in 1860 – the firm’s ships travelled round the globe, and were referred to as Craig’s “COUNTIES”.

Briefly introducing the first 13 ships, the book GONE then gives vivid descriptions of R&J Craig’s 12 large jute clippers, in separate chapters, from previously unpublished records. Some of the most faithful reproductions of original photographs, of the era, are incorporated throughout. Such images have survived in private records and maritime archives scattered around the world. In view of the importance of this period of Scottish maritime history, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal has most graciously added a foreword.

Ships described in GONE

R&J Craig started tentatively in business by purchasing a second-hand wooden-barque named Majestic (launched at Greenock in 1846). By fits and starts the firm grew by acquiring new bigger ships trading initially to Bombay, and onto Calcutta in India. The growth and prosperity of these Indian cities was matched by Cardiff and Dundee in the Great Britain, when Glasgow was the prosperous ‘Second City of the Empire’.

List of early R&J Craig ships: from 564 - 1,700 GRT (with registration numbers), built by Charles Connell, Scotstoun Yard, River Clyde, Glasgow:

  • Three-mast County of Ayr, launched 1863 (Ship No.45977)
  • Iron, 3-masted sailing ship County of Lanark, launched 1863 (Ship No.44815)
  • Iron, 3-masted sailing ship County of Renfrew, launched 1864 (Ship No.48949)
  • Iron 3-masted sailing ship County of Argyle, launched 1865 (Ship No. 53370)
  • Composite, 3-masted sailing ship County of Bute, launched 1866 (Ship No.53400)
  • Composite, 3-masted sailing ship County of Elgin, launched 1867 (Ship No.56184)
  • Composite, 3-masted sailing ship County of Stirling, launched 1868 (Ship No.60334)
  • Composite, 3-masted sailing ship County of Berwick, launched 1868 (Ship No.60386)
  • Composite, 3-masted sailing ship County of Forfar, launched 1869 (Ship No.60409)
  • Composite, 3-masted sailing ship County of Nairn, launched 1869 (Ship No.60425)
  • Composite, 3-masted sailing ship County of Lancaster, launched 1870 (Ship No.63740)
  • Iron screw-steamer County of Sutherland (untypically a steam ship!) launched 1873 (Ship No.68049)
  • Iron 3-amast ship County of Perth, launched 1874 (Ship No.68118)

Then R&J Craig make a major, high-risk, investment: they decided to launch a new format of ship: it was the revolutionary, and large, iron 4-mast County of Peebles launched in 1875.

sv "County of Peebles" - extract of original Barclay Curle drawings (1874)

County of Peebles (Ship No.71742) proved to be an overwhelming success, and was a major milestone in maritime history – being the first iron 4-masted merchant ship. It was followed by a series of further brilliant iron clippers launched from the Barclay Curle shipyard on the River Clyde.

List of later R&J Craig ships; all over 1,600 GRT, (with registration numbers), built by Barclay Curle & Co Shipbuilders, Whiteholm(e) Yard Partick, Glasgow:

  • Full-rig, iron, 4-mast ship County of Caithness, launched 1876 (Ship No.73862)
  • Full-rig, iron, 4-mast ship County of Inverness, launched 1877 (Ship (No.76733); these were followed by a further almost identical three,
  • Full-rig, iron, 4-mast ship County of Kinross, launched 1878 (Ship No.78570)
  • Full-rig, iron, 4-mast ship County of Cromarty, launched 1878 (Ship (No.78577)
  • Full-rig, iron, 4-mast ship County of Dumfries, launched 1878 (Ship No.78585); in view of the success of the above vessels, a clutch of three more were constructed with marginally larger capacity
  • Full-rig, iron, 4-mast ship County of Selkirk, launched 1878 (Ship No.80419)
  • Full-rig, iron, 4-mast ship County of Haddington, launched 1878 (Ship No.80432)
  • Full-rig, iron, 4-mast ship County of Aberdeen, launched 1879 (Ship No.80446); eventually another three were built with further state-of-the-art improvements,
  • Full-rig, iron, 4-mast ship County of Edinburgh, launched 1885 (Ship No.90060)
  • Full-rig, iron, 4-mast ship County of Roxburgh, launched 1886 (Ship No.93277)
  • Full-rig, iron, 4-mast ship County of Linlithgow, launched 1887 (Ship No.93380).

The fate of each of Craig's once glorious 4-masters has been re-discovered and graphically described in the book. Further details on this follow.

GONE - A Chronicle of the Seafarers & Fabulous Clipper Ships of R&J Craig of Glasgow: Craig's "COUNTIES"; a rich source of reference about the high point of merchant sail-power (see at www.skipper.co.uk).

(Continuing review in progress . . . September 2016)

User login

Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.