Great Republic

Launched on October 4, 1853 the "Great Republic" is noteworthy as the largest wooden clipper ship ever constructed. The biggest "down easter" (originally a resident of Maine; later on the square riggers from the down east coast of the US - i.e. a certain coastal range in New England including Maine and Massachusetts) was planned to be launched on September 4, 1853 - Donald McKay's birthday, but the launch had to be postponed to October 4 due to problems with the timber supplies which ran out and became extremely expensive. Between 30,000 and 50,000 spectators came to watch that century event, among them Ferdinand Laeisz of the famous Flying P-Line of Hamburg. Originally designed by naval architect/shipbuilder Donald McKay as a four-deck four-masted medium clipper barque, the "Great Republic"—at 4,555 tons registry (most likely Gross Register Tonnage or GRT measurement)—was intended to be the most profitable wooden sailing ship ever to ply the Australian gold rush and southern oceans merchant trade. After being launched, christened by Capt. Alden Gifford with a bottle of pure Cochituate water, and outfitted, the "Great Republic" sailed from Boston to New York, where in December 1853 its first cargo was loaded.

On December 27, 1853 a fire broke out in the buildings of Novelty Baking Co. near the piers where the "Great Republic" and several other wooden merchant vessels were moored. The fire quickly spread to the merchant vessels "White Squall", "Joseph Walker" and "Great Republic". The former two ships have been destroyed, the latter was consumed to near the waterline. The ship was declared a total loss and Donald McKay who never get over that loss, was compensated by insurers. The remaining sunken hulk was then sold by the insurance underwriters to Captain Nathaniel Palmer who salvaged and rebuilt it as a three-deck vessel with reduced masts. Still the largest clipper ship in the world at 3,357 tons registry, the "Great Republic" in command of Captain Joseph Limeburner started back in merchant service on February 24, 1855 when her maiden voyage brought her to Liverpool in 13 days. In 1862 the fourth mast has been removed, the others re-rigged, and the clipper became a three-masted full-rigged ship, a so-called three-skysail-yarder. In 1864 Capt. Joseph Limeburner retired and the ship came to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. In 1869 she was sold to the "Merchants' Trading Co." of Liverpool and renamed "Denmark". She continued sailing until March 5, 1872 when a hurricane off Bermuda caused the ship to leak badly and be abandoned. During its 19-year merchant career, the "Great Republic" proved to be very fast under leading breeze conditions and often out-distanced the fastest merchant steamers on Mediterranean routes. Sailing around the horn of South America, the "Great Republic" averaged convert|17|kn|km/h to set a record by logging convert|413|nmi|km in a single day.

A wooden sailing vessel larger than the "Great Republic" was launched nearly three decades earlier in June 1825; however the 5,294 ton crudely built "Baron of Renfrew"—a so-called disposable ship—was never intended for the merchant trade but for just a single voyage from Quebec to London only to be dismantled and sold piecemeal to English shipbuilders at premium prices since large timbers were in short supply. The vessel itself was exempt from British taxes imposed on "oak and square pine timber cargoes" and thus gained an economic advantage. Unfortunately, the "Baron of Renfrew" was wrecked as it was being towed toward London in a storm. Although reports differ, most indicate the timbers were recovered, sold and the venture was ultimately successful. Nevertheless, when the British tax on timber cargoes was changed shortly afterwards, the economic advantage disappeared and "disposable ship" construction ceased.

Further reading

*Basil Lubbock: "The Down Easters". Brown, Son & Ferguson, Naval Publishers, Glasgow (1929); Reprint 1953; pp. 49-53; p. 253


* Clipper ship history by Lars Bruzelius, checked 2007-08-22
* Great Republic on

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