On July 13, 1854, the arrival in Port Phillip of the clipper Red Jacket from Liverpool in a time of 67 days and 10 hours was the cause of great excitement. Up to the late 1840s, a passage from Liverpool to Melbourne of 120 days was regarded as good, but a change in design and the choice of a very different route had led to a dramatic decrease in the average time for a passage.
Until that era, sailing ship design had continued with little change for centuries, and the route from the UK to Australia was similar to that taken by the First Fleet. The China tea trade and the gold rushes to California and Victoria, however, led to a need for faster ships and the shipbuilders of the US northeast quickly developed the famous clipper design. At around the same time, the study of the prevailing winds and currents of the oceans and better sailing routes resulted in much faster passages. Taking a composite great circle route to Melbourne reduced the distance by at least 2000km. This was the route taken by the Red Jacket and all later sailing ships bound for Melbourne.
The Red Jacket was launched at Rockland in Maine, US, late in December 1853. Sailed to Liverpool by her owners, she was chartered by the White Star Line for a voyage to Australia and bought on her return. She continued to bring migrants to Melbourne until she was sold in 1867.
Larger than the average clipper ship, she was 76.5m in length with a beam of 13.4m. The ship was named after Sagoyewatha, a Seneca chief who was called Red Jacket because he wore a British Army ‘Red-coat’ given to him after his tribe fought with the British in the American War of Independence.
Her first visit to Melbourne lasted only 12 working days, with 1000 tons of cargo being unloaded and 700 tons being loaded. On August 1 she was towed from Melbourne to a point six miles (9.6km) outside the Heads where she set sail for Liverpool. Included in her cargo was 59,408 ounces (troy) of gold, which is equal to more than 1.8 tonnes. At the present price – approximately $A2500 an ounce – that gold would be worth about $150 million.
BY MAURIE HUTCHINSON
President, Peninsula Ship Society
T: Maurie Hutchinson 9787 5780
The Peninsula Ship Society will not be meeting until further notice.