Page 440
Previous/Next Page
Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 7

I The First 100 Years 1788-1888

II Railways

III Motorised Vehicles

IV Aviation

V Modern Shipping

VI Innovative Small Craft

VII Conclusion

VIII Acknowledgements

IX Contributors



Contact us
The First 100 Years 1788-1888 (continued)

Having looked briefly at the developments in coastal shipping and local shipbuilding let us now turn to the events which were taking place in Australia's international shipping. Two main technical innovations, both imported, dominated this era of water transport. The first was the adoption by British and Australian ship owners of the American clipper, and the second was the slow overthrow of these beautiful vessels by the technologically more advanced steamships.

Before the discovery of gold in the 1850s Australia's international shipping was domnated by British regulations, and a mainly British fleet. According to Bach 'Australia's overseas trade from 1825 to 1850 was predominately a British affair, with British shipping meeting the steadily increasing demand for British manufacturers, as well as transporting to Australia a steady stream of both assisted and independent migrants'.[36] This trade was carried out by sailing ships: two masted brigs, three masted schooners, three and four masted barques and square-rigged barquentines. The majority of these vessels were small, varying from 200 to 400 tons, and only increasing to 600 to 800 tons in the late 1840s. Duncan Dunbar, for example, entered the Australian trade in the 1830s with the 530 ton vessel China, which was soon joined by his other barques Duchess of Northumberland (541 tons), Earl Grey (571 tons), and Morayshire (361 tons).[37]

According to Bach, British shipping, which was geared to a commercially oriented tonnage formula, had become 'notoriously inefficient'.[38] The length and breadth of the ship was taken into account, but little else. Thus, the ships were slow and awkward, and the average passage from England was about 130-140 days, with the ships bobbing on the waves like corks.[39] However with the repeal of the British Navigation Acts in 1849, Britain, and in turn Australia, was able to take advantage of the advances in shipbuilding which had emerged from America in the form of the clipper, 'the ultimate refinement of the sailing vessel'.[40]

The American clipper evolved to meet a new demand for speed on the ocean trade routes. The first cargoes of the new season's tea to reach Europe from China, for example, earned higher prices than later shipments. Thus there were great rewards for the fastest sailing ships. When gold was found in California, travellers demanded a speedy trip to the diggings and were prepared to pay for it. In Australia a similar situation developed and the fastest possible passage was sought by thousands of people eager to reach the gold fields and stake a claim. Furthermore, the demand for luxury goods, food, and equipment on the goldfields was such that fortunes were waiting for the first ships that arrived in port. 'Never before', writes Blainey, 'had such rewards awaited ship owners with the fastest ships'.[41]

The first clippers were made in Baltimore, and earned their name from an American phrase 'to move at a fast clip'.[42] Made from softwood, these spacious schooners were low and fast, and designed primarily for speed. Their slender wooden hulls had fine lines and curves, and their tall masts carried a wide spread of sail.[43] They included various innovations in design. For example, in order to move cleanly and with as little resistance as possible, the bottoms of the wooden clippers was sheathed with copper.[44] The copper remained relatively clean and smooth and free from the barnacles which otherwise would have impeded speed. Donald McKay built the most famous clippers between 1845 and 1855 at his shipyard in Boston.[45] They were large vessels, ranging in size from 1,500 to 2,000 tons and manned by immense crews of up to 120 men. Vessels such as Lightning, Champion of the Seas, James Baines, and Donald McKay astonished the nautical world with their amazing speeds; achieving voyage of less than 70 days from Europe to Australia.

People in Bright Sparcs - Bach, John; Blainey, G.; Dunbar, Duncan; Inglis, Andrea; McKay, Donald

Previous Page Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering Next Page

© 1988 Print Edition pages 451 - 452, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher