Capt. Arthur David LINKLATER


Notes and jottings.

With the increased size of sailing ships towards the end of the 19th century the trend was also for lower masts with broader sails. Very few ships built in the ‘eighties and ‘nineties had any sail above the royals.* They made up for it by having double to'gallant sails and being very square-rigged. That is, they had longer yards than their old-fashioned sisters, the difference of length being most pronounced in the royal-yards, so that the sails lacked the taper aloft of the older ships. [Worsley] *The nomenclature of sails is somewhat complicated. Royals were 4th or 5th highest - depending on whether the sail below was a single topgallant or whether there were both lower and upper topgallants. The uppermost sails on the sketch on the index page are a fore royal and a main royal. For more see the section on SAIL.

In Britain in the middle of the 19th century there were huge social and economic pressures that fuelled the development of fast, efficient but economical passenger services. Irish immigration, running at some 70,000 people in ‘normal’ years increased dramatically after the Famine. Gold rushes to California and Australia also saw vast numbers of people demanding fast and efficient ships. Indeed, so great was the flood of prospectors to Australia that the population trebled in three years. Only those requiring the assistance of midwifery did not arrive by boat! The majority of these passengers were poor people who today would be referred to as ‘economic migrants’ who were compelled by want to travel ‘steerage’ or cattle class. In the midst of this migratory frenzy Tod and Macgregor of Clydeside launched the City of Glasgow, an iron hulled, propeller driven ship that was neither particularly large, fast nor luxurious but represented what was to become the norm in ‘no frills’ passenger ships. The success of the ship was due to the enormous savings Tod and Macgregor were able to achieve in fuel consumption combined with the ability to carry a comparatively large number of passengers and an even greater amount of cargo compared with other generally much bigger but more luxurious ships. Emigration to Australia and N.Z. peaked in 1873.

One of the things that drove human inter-continental migration on a massive scale was gold. It might be argued that gold, while having the greatest influence on the development and number of ships built was far and away the smallest cargo carried. But the people who scrabbled to claw it out of the earth were all transported in ships, first to Australia then to California and the Klondike. Gold rushes mobilized immense numbers of people and had a correspondingly large effect on the locality and society that fuelled them. The very crews of the ships themselves deserted for the gold fields, one such being Dum who mentions in the Preface to his journals; The Board-of-Trade did not look with a kindly eye on Midshipmen who either went gold digging, cow punching, lumber jacking, or boundary riding in way-side parts of the globe, and punished these youthful wrong doers when they came up before them for examination, by prescribing sentences of “additional sea time” before an examination could be considered. In my own case I got six months...

As major gold rushes developed on different continents the demand for passenger places on ships was immense. First came California 1848-9; then everyone rushed off to Australia and the Victoria rush 1851; next was the Otago gold rush in New Zealand of the 1860s folowed by Witwatersrand Gold Rush in the 1886; the last great gold rush of the 19th century was the Klondike 1898-9 - for which millions embarked but only a few hundred thousand actually got as far as the Yukon Ports and a mere 35,000 finally making it as far as Dawson City, the ‘epicentre’. There have been many other gold rushes including the large but little known Porcupine Gold Rush that took place in northern Ontario, Canada starting in 1909 and developing fully by 1911 which produced more than five times the amount of gold that was ever extracted from the Klondike. And in case you think it's all over it isn't; there are some half million people today [2009] scrabbling away in Amazonian mud in the 'Apu Gold Rush'.

Comparing passage times of steamers with those of sailers should [but usually doesn't] take into account the overall distances covered. A Steamer's route from the U.K. to say Sydney, via Suez, would be about 11,500 miles. A sailing vessel was obliged to go either via the Cape of Good Hope and cover maybe 15,000 miles or go via Cape Horn, a shorter distance but gambling on not being held up by contrary wind i.e. head winds when trying to round the Horn. It was not unheard of for ships attempting Cape Horn to be held up for weeks on end before finally having to turn tail, usually through shortage of food and water, and sail eastwards right around the globe before landfall in Australia.

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© 2018 Duncan Linklater