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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



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The First 100 Years 1788-1888 (continued)

It was with the discovery of gold that the famed American clipper first made her graceful way into Australia's ports. British merchants such as James Baines, Duncan Dunbar, Richard Green and Money Wigram & Sons recognized the value of the clipper, particularly for the Australian trade. The long distance from England, and the lack of coaling places en route, gave a clear advantage to the clipper. Thus, either buying clippers straight from Boston James Baines Black Ball Line, or building their own along American lines, they pressed the crafts into service carrying passengers and cargo to the colonies.

The speeds achieved by the American clippers on the Australian run in the 1850s were probably never achieved by sailing ships again. Straining against the savage gusts of the Roaring Forties, they followed the new fast Great Circle Route, avoiding the Cape of Good Hope, and sailing closer to Antarctica than had ever been thought possible; sometimes within sight of icebergs. Few saw land, except for previously uncharted islands, from the time they left the Irish Sea until they reached the coastline near Melbourne. The clippers were swept along, striving to make the magical 400 miles in a day. They were voyages on which legends were made, and of which passengers boasted.[46]

In 1852 James Baine's clipper Marco Polo, captained by the notorious J. N. Forbes made the first fast passage for the Black Ball Line. She took her 930 passengers from Liverpool to Melbourne in 74 days, beating the steamer The Australia by a week, and cutting days off the usual 140 day passage.[47]

Colonial ship owners did not own vessels like those of the British shipping lines. A smaller fleet of clippers was, however, built in Australia to trade across the Tasman, to the Pacific Islands, between coastal ports and even to London. Tasmania and Queensland had their own fleet. In Queensland T. B. Walker had craft such as Arab Steed Berean and Corinth with which to trade. On the Derwent in Tasmania, Alex McGregor and Company owned a fleet which included the Lufra, the Loongana, The Helen and The Harriet McGregor. The Harriet McGregor was launched in 1870 and made 24 voyages from Hobart to London and back before she was sold in 1895. Built of blue gum or Tasmanian pine, and based on the American design, the Australian clippers were 'small fry by international standards' but they were nevertheless quite sleek and just as fast.[48]

As a means of transport the clipper was revolutionary, and despite the fact that it was imported technology, it has an important place in Australian history. It remained in use on the Australian trade run for years after its place had been taken by steamships in Europe. Indeed, steamships were slow to take the place of these graceful craft, for as Blainey has observed The route between Europe and Australia exposed all the weaknesses in the finest steamships of the age. The winds between the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn were ideal for sails, while the long gap between coaling ports in that zone limited the use of steam power'.[49] Even as the gold rushes declined and the wooden clippers became watersoaked and strained by hard driving, they were replaced, not so much by steamers, but by iron vessels of the clipper design.

The composite built ships, an English innovation on the American design, were a compromise between the Yankee-type wooden passenger clippers of the 1850s and the iron Scottish cargo clippers of the 1860s.[50] The composite clippers were usually small, ranging in size from 600-1100 tons. They had 'iron frame[s] and iron deck-beams and an outer sheath of teak. Their lower masts and yards were iron, their upper masts and yards were timber, and the main rigging was made from galvanised wire'.[51] On the Australian run the most famous were probably the tea clippers The Cutty Sark and her rival Thermopylae. Both vessels were extraordinarily fast, the Thermopylae making a record-breaking trip of 61 days from London to Melbourne on her maiden voyage in 1869.[52] Well into the 1890s the Cutty Sark and Thermopylae were still employed on the Australian run racing before the wind with the wool clip secured in their holds.

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Alex McGregor and Company

People in Bright Sparcs - Baines, James; Blainey, G.; Dunbar, Duncan; Forbes, J. N.; Green, Richard; Inglis, Andrea; Walker, T. B.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 452 - 454, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher