Great Republic

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Klipperbark Great Republic around 1856. Painting by James E. Buttersworth (1817–1894)

The Great Republic was an originally 4555 GRT American clipper . It was the masterpiece of clipper builder Donald McKay . The ship was the only four-masted clipper barque ever built , the largest clipper ever made and the largest wooden ship measured by space, although the hull was reinforced with iron and steel straps. Even after the ship was rebuilt after a fire with a significantly reduced tonnage, it kept this record.


The Great Republic , named after a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of the same name, was laid down at Donald McKay's shipyard in East Boston in late 1852 and completed in December 1853. Originally planned for the launch on September 4th - Donald McKay's birthday - lumber suddenly became scarce, the prices rose astronomically: McKay had to have wood brought in from far away, so that the launch was postponed by a month. Captain Alden Gifford christened the ship with a bottle of Cochituate water. An estimated 50,000 onlookers had come to marvel at this event of the century - among the spectators also the shipowner Ferdinand Laeisz from Hamburg , who made the long journey.

Its planks were made of swamp pine , covered with copper plates on the outside, and the internal structures were made of oak , reinforced with iron and steel strips . Like all clippers, it was designed as a smooth decker , had four decks with a deck height of 2.2 m, plus poop and back . She was 99 m (325 feet) long on deck, her length-to-width ratio indicated she was a medium clipper. The main mast was 69 m above deck, the main yard had the unusual length of 36.8 m. The huge barque had split topsails, simple slab sails, royal sails and sky sails on the fore and main mast - a total of six square sails on each of the first two masts, five square sails on the cross mast. The significantly smaller mizzen mast with a significantly shorter mast spacing led the mizzen and mizzen top sail, whose mizzen boom protruded 6 m above the stern. In addition, 16 leeward sails were used. Two luxury passenger cabins, a comfortably furnished salon and library were built into the poop deck. The jib boom measured approx. 30 m, which makes it the second longest wooden ship in the world after the Wyoming , a New England six-masted gaff schooner from 1909. Donald McKay's brother Lauchlan McKay oversaw the construction and led the ship as captain on its first haulage trip from East Boston to New York for loading for the maiden voyage. She was the world's largest merchant ship - the 5,420 GRT Baron of Renfrew with a load of 9,000 tons of wood from the Canadian shipowner Charles Wood from 1825 and her predecessor Columbus (3,690 GRT) from 1824 are not counted here, as they were not ships of duration , but as a "raft ship" or "log ship" on arrival like a timber flowed dismantled and, since only the cargo, not the timber used for the ship, was to be taxed as construction timber, together with its timber cargo was to be sold. Columbus brought a load of wood, was ordered back against the original plan and was lost on the second voyage off Ireland, Baron of Renfrew stranded after arriving in the English Channel under tow in a heavy storm. Other ships of this type did not follow, as England extended the tax to the ship's timber.

After the fire during loading caused by flying sparks from the nearby bakery Novelty Baking Co., which also destroyed the clippers White Squall and Joseph Walker in addition to the Great Republic , the ship was reduced by the top deck as part of the rebuilding, the masts and spars significantly shortened, the Great Republic no longer had sky sails, as can be clearly seen in contemporary images. Their shipping space sank from 4,555 GRT to 3,357 GRT. Nevertheless, even with these dimensions, she was larger than any other clipper and also larger than any four-master. She had excellent sailing characteristics and often reached 17 knots . While circumnavigating Cape Horn , she reached an Etmal of 412 nautical miles in the South Atlantic .

The fire in the giant ship, which Donald McKay built for speculation, had damaged him so psychologically, physically and financially that he could never fully recover from it. With the mediation of the famous captain Nathaniel Brown Palmer, he was able to sell the ship for $ 200,000 to a shipowner who had the ship rebuilt at another shipyard. In February 1855 it was able to start its first long journey to Liverpool, which it reached after 13 days. In 1862 it was reduced by the mizzen mast and thus a full ship of unprecedented dimensions. Some reports refer to her new full-ship rig as "three skysail-yarder" (Drei-Skysegelraher = three-Skysegel full ship) after the reduction to three masts - according to contemporary representations she was completely re-rigged and accordingly had again, and then also on the third mast, Sky sail, the mizzen sail attached to the cross mast.

to travel

Her 13-day maiden voyage, which unexpectedly took almost two years, took her to Liverpool, England, and after a short stay to London (17 days from New York), later to the Mediterranean and Black Seas . Since the shipowners saw problems reloading the huge ship for the return voyage because the port basin was too shallow, Captain Joseph Limeburger decided to transport 1,600 British soldiers to Marseille instead of freight for New York . There he signed a contract with the French government to charter the ship during the Crimean War (1853-1859) as a troop transport to the Crimea until autumn 1856. After returning to New York Harbor at the end of 1856, another four major voyages were made from New York to San Francisco via Cape Horn and back - one with 91 days - were in the logbooks. With a little luck, she would have beaten the previously unattended record of the Flying Cloud clipper (89 days).

In 1861 the ship was confiscated by the Northern government as part of the American Civil War , as some of the shareholders came from the southern states, which were then paid out by the main shareholder and shipowner AA Low & Brothers to reverse the confiscation. Until 1864 the ship was used as a troop transport for the state. Captain Joseph Limeburner retired into private life that same year, and the Great Republic was launched for 2 years.

In 1866 the ship was sold to the ship's captain JS Hatfield from Yarmouth , Nova Scotia , who sold it to the Merchant's Trading Co. in London in 1869. Now the red English trade flag was waving over the mizzen top. The company used the ship as Denmark in the East India trade. After 18 years of sea voyage, the ship leaked on a passage from Rio de Janeiro to St. John , NB ( Canada ) on March 5, 1872 in a severe storm off Bermuda and sank because the pumps could no longer pump out the water that had entered.

Representation in art

The unique ship was at that time and later the subject of many paintings, lithographs , woodcuts , drawings, relief carvings, models and half-models. The ship was shown both in its original condition, which apart from the mooring, never got under way, as well as in the reduced form with both four and three masts. Well known is the painting by James E. Buttersworth (1817-1894) from 1853, which shows the ship in its original state, as well as the painting by Percy A. Sanborn (1849-1929) from 1870 and the woodcut from 1872, The Clipper Ship "Great Republic" (New Brunswick Museum / Musée du Nouveau-Brunswick, St. John, NB, Canada) showing it as a full ship with sky sails.

Ship data

See also


  • Francis BC Bradlee: The Ship Great Republic and Donald McKay Her Builder . The Essex Institute, Salem (MA) 1927. Reprinted from Historical Collections of the Essex Institute, Volume LXIII.
  • Jochen Brennecke: Windjammer. The great report on the development, travels and fate of the "Queens of the Seven Seas" . Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft, Herford 1984, ISBN 3-7822-0009-8 ; Cape. XXII - The largest of the sailing ships in the world , pp. 301–302
  • Hans-Jörg Furrer: The four- and five-masted square sailors in the world . Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft, Herford 1984, p. 100; ISBN 3-7822-0341-0
  • Octavius ​​T. Howe, Frederick C. Matthews: American Clipper Ships 1833-1858 . 1926, pp. 33-35; Dover Publications, New York 1986, ISBN 0-486-25116-0 .
  • Basil Lubbock: The Down Easters . Brown, Son & Ferguson, Nautical Publishers, Glasgow 1929; Reprinted 1953, pp. 49-53, 253
  • Richard C. McKay: Some Famous Sailing Ships and Their Builder Donald McKay . GP Putnam's Sons, New York 1928, pp. 210-225
  • Duncan MacLean: Description of the largest ship in the world, the new clipper Great Republic, of Boston, designed, built and owned by Donald McKay and commanded by Capt. L. McKay. Illustrated with Designs of her Construction. Written by a sailor . Eastburn's Press, Boston 1853
  • The great republic . In: The Gazebo . Issue 52, 1853, pp. 575 ( full text [ Wikisource ]).

Web links

Commons : Great Republic  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files