Official Number

Launched 19 August 1868

Description: 2 decks, 3 masts, ship rigged, round stern, carvel built, no galleries, and demi male figurehead.

Subscribing Owners: William Henderson, Cornelius Thompson and Stephen Thompson, shipowners, joint owners, 48 shares. James Buyers, shipowner, 4 shares, William Edward, shipmaster, 4 shares, all of Aberdeen. Isaac Merchant, shipmaster, London, 4 shares, Thomas Henry, Hounslow, shipmaster, 4 shares.

(Source: Aberdeen Register of Shipping (Aberdeen City Archives))

THERMOPYLAE was one of a series of vessels built by Walter Hood for the Aberdeen White Star Line; unusually, she was designed by Bernard Weymouth, senior surveyor at Lloyds Register contemporaneously with his preparing the Society’s Recommendations for Composite Ships.

The THERMOPYLAE was one of the fastest clipper ships; she was designed for the China tea trade, and set speed records on her maiden voyage to Melbourne - 63 days, still the fastest trip under sail. The CUTTY SARK was built the following year to compete with THERMOPYLAE in bringing back the new season's tea from China. In 1872 she raced the clipper CUTTY SARK from Shanghai back to London and won by seven days after CUTTY SARK lost her rudder. Her record day's run was 380 statute miles, a feat exceeded by no sailing ship before. From 1879, with steam displacing sail from the China tea trade, she to Sydney as her Australian terminal and entered the Australian wool trade homewards, with but one final tea run in 1881.

Aberdeen Herald, 22 August 1868:
'LAUNCH - There was launched, on Wednesday, from the shipbuilding-yard of Messrs. Walter Hood & Co. a composite ship of 1300 tons, owned by Messrs. George Thompson & Co., and commanded by Captain Edward, late of the Ethiopian. The ship, which was christened "The Thermopylae" by Mrs Hardy Robinson of Denmore, has been throughout constructed after the most approved principles, built of the most durable materials, and classed in the highest range of character at Lloyds. She is intended for the London and China trade.'

All of George Thompson's Aberdeen White Star Line vessels were noted for their handsome appearance; green hull, gilded scroll work and white masts, yards and bowsprit. The THERMOPYLAE had a white and gold figurehead of the Greek hero Leonidas, the King of Sparta.

During her early career THERMOPYLAE was presented with a statue of a golden cockerel, which was placed atop her main trunk, only to be stolen one night and discovered the next day at the top of her rival, the TAIPING's main mast and restored to its rightful owner.

Despite the newspaper articles of the launch stating her master as Captain Edward, who captained her from Aberdeen to London; in the event of her maiden voyage from London to Melbourne, George Thompson favoured Captain Robert Kemball. Kemball had made a name for himself on the Hall-built clipper YANGTZE in the 1867 tea race and proved to be a popular and highly successful captain.

On her maiden voyage, THERMOPYLAE sailed to Melbourne in just 60 days, pilot to pilot, via Shanghai and Foochow, breaking records on each leg of the journey - only steamers had previously matched such speeds.
The Aberdeen Journal commented; " 'Thermopylae', Kemball, arrived Melbourne 9th January from London 61days. Sailed thence 22nd, arrived Newcastle N.S.W., 30th January."

The Melbourne Argus reported the arrival of THERMOPYLAE thus:
13 January 1869, page 6,
'The splendid and almost unprecedentedly rapid passage made by the new clipper ship Thermopylae, from London to this port, has created more than ordinary interest in nautical and commercial circles...It seemed almost impossible, and certainly never entered into the calculations of the most sanguine, that a voyage to the antipodes could be accomplished by a sailing-ship in fifty-nine days, the period taken by the Thermopylae to within sight of the Australian coast...She is in every respect a fine specimen of naval architecture, a model of symmetry and beauty; her sweeping lines and exquisite proportions, her graceful outline and general compactness, conveying an idea of perfection.'

1868-74 Master Robert Kemball - route London to Australia / China / London
1874-81 Master Charles Matheson
1881-84 Master John Henderson
1884-88 Master Nathaniel Allan
1888-90 Master Jenkins

Basil Lubbock's book 'The China Clippers' (1914, James Brown & Sons, Glasgow) mentions an encounter with HMS CHARYBDIS as the two ships passed Port Phillip Heads:

'Both vessels crowded sail on the same course, but as soon as THERMOPYLAE had her canvas set she began to draw rapidly away from the warship, in spite of all the latter's efforts to stay with her. At last, when the THERMOPYLAE had conclusively proved her superiority, the captain of the CHARYBDIS could not restrain his admiration, and hoisted the following signal in the Mercantile Code as he rapidly dropped astern: "Good bye. You are too much for us. You are the finest model of a ship I ever saw. It does my heart good to look at you." '

Despite her fame as a tea clipper, THERMOPYLAE more often sailed to Australia in the wool trade.

In 1890, after more than two decades as a China tea clipper and then an Australian wool clipper, THERMOPYLAE was sold by her Aberdeen owners to a Canadian company Thomas Reford. She was put on the rice and timber carrying trade between South East Asia and Vancouver. Despite shortened masts and being cut down to a barque rig in July 1893 and her crew reduced from 35 to 20 men, she continued to make speedy passages. On one occasion she crossed the Pacific in 29 days, a world record at that time, and on another kept level for three days with the Canadian Pacific steam liner EMPRESS OF INDIA, which was capable of 16 knots.

In 1895 she was sold to the Portuguese Navy as a training ship and renamed PEDRO NUNES, after a 16th century Portuguese mathematician and geographer. The vessel was found to be in too decrepit a state for the intended conversion, and she was reduced to a coal hulk. 13th October 1907, her useful life expired, she was towed out to the mouth of the River Tagus as part of naval regatta presided over by the Queen of Portugal, and sunk by two Whitehead torpedoes fired by torpedo boats.

In June 2003 a group of professional Portuguese divers found the remains of THERMOPYLAE about 30 metres down on the seabed off Lisbon. The hull is mainly buried beneath the sand but enough is visible to identify her as THERMOPYLAE.

Sydney Evening News, 25/02/1871:
Cape Otway - ship THERMOPYLAE, from London, 58 days out, passing south.

Sydney Empire, 08/03/1872:
THERMOPYLAE departed 7 March for Shanghai, Master Kemball.

South Australian Register (Adelaide), 05/03/1873:
Sydney Shipping - 3 March, THERMOPYLAE from Melbourne.

Sydney Morning Herald, 12/04/1878:
THERMOPYLAE departed 6 April for Shanghai, Master Matheson, cargo 1186 tons coal.

Sydney Morning Herald, 01/09/1879:
Arrived 30 Aug., THERMOPYLAE, Capt. Matheson, from the Downs, 1 June.

Sydney Evening News, 27/12/1879:
The Tea Ship Race - the new Aberdeen Clipper THERMOPYLAE, which arrived London 4 Oct., reached the Lizard from Foo Chow in 88 days, but sailing distance from the Lizard to London Dock occupied upwards of 2 days. The SIR LANCELOT beat THERMOPYLAE by fully 24 hours.

South Australian Register, 10/01/1880:
London, 6 Feb. - arrived THERMOPYLAE from Sydney 19 Nov.

Sydney Morning Herald, 27/12/1884:
London, 24 Dec. - arrived from Sydney, THERMOPYLAE, sailed 8 Oct.

Sydney Morning Herald, 02/05/1913:
The famous old clipper ship THERMOPYLAE has at last been destroyed. Till recently she was used by the Portuguese as a training ship on the River Tagus, but being too old for further service it was decided to do away with her. As the old vessel had such a fine reputation in days gone by, it was decided not to sell her, but to give her a naval funeral. She was towed out to sea by 2 Portuguese Men O'War and sunk.

The following is from the book "Clippers for the Record" by Marny Matheson, 1984.

With Charles Matheson's promotion, Captain John Henderson took over THERMOPYLAE and sailed her for three voyages from March 1881 to January 1884. He captained her on her last visit to Foochow in 1881, returning in one hundred and seven days. The next two years saw him following Charles' previous route via Sydney, returning with wool round Cape Horn.

Under Allan THERMOPYLAE'S routines changed. In 1885 she sailed for Melbourne, arriving there on 8th April. Two weeks later she set out to visit Lyttleton, the port of Christchurch N.Z., with coal from the bustling Newcastle. She returned to Sydney by 16th August with a typical New Zealand cargo of produce.

THERMOPYLÆ – Chronology:

17:08:1868 Launched by Mrs Hardy Robinson AJ
21:09:1868 Sailed from Aberdeen on maiden voyage (Edwards) AJ
07:11:1868 Sailed Gravesend for Melbourne 63 days (Kemball) Age
10:02:1869 Sailed Newcastle NSW for Shanghai 28 days, coal (Kemball) MM
03:07:1869 Sailed Foochow for London 91 days, tea (Kemball) MM
10:11:1869 Sailed London for Port Phillip 76 days (Kemball) MM
05:03:1870 Master and crew rendered assistance to burning
ELZA, Hobson’s Bay (Kemball) Argus
Newcastle NSW for Foochow, coal (Kemball) LL
30:07:1870 Sailed Shanghai for London, tea 105 days (Kemball) McG
27:12:1870 Sailed London for Melbourne 65 days (Kemball)
30:03:1871 Sailed Newcastle for Shanghai, coal (Kemball) LL
22:06:1871 Sailed Shanghai for London, tea 106 days (Kemball) McG
11:11:1871 Sailed London for P. Phillip (Geelong) 73 days (Kemball) LL
09:03:1872 Sailed Sydney for Shanghai, coal (Kemball) MM
18:06:1872 Sailed Shanghai for London, tea (Kemball) McG
16:11:1872 Sailed London for Melbourne 71 days (Kemball) MM
21:03:1873 Sailed Sydney for Shanghai, coal, 43 days (Kemball) MM
10:07:1873 Sailed Foochow for London, tea, 101 days (Kemball) MM
02:12:1873 Sailed London for Melbourne, 76 days (Kemball) MM
11:04:1874 Sailed Sydney for Woosung, coal, 41 days (Kemball) MM
15:07:1874 Sailed Shanghai to London, tea, 104 days (Kemball) MM
29:11:1874 Sailed London for Melbourne, 67 days (Matheson) MM
26:03:1875 Sailed Sydney for Nagasaki, coal (Matheson) MM
08:07:1875 Sailed Foochow for London, tea, 115 days (Matheson) MM
29:11:1875 Sailed London for Melbourne, 72 days (Matheson) MM
28:03:1876 Sailed Sydney for Petropaulovski, 1,200t coal
HK 13:05:76, storm damage, lost most sails (Matheson) MM
29:07:1876 Sailed Foochow for London, tea, 118 days (Matheson) MM
16:12:1876 Sailed London for Melbourne, 80 days (Matheson) MM
28:04:1877 Sailed Sydney for Shanghai, 1,208t coal, 42 days (Matheson) MM
10:07:1877 Sailed Shanghai for London, tea, 102 days (Matheson) MM
28:11:1877 Sailed London for Melbourne, 79 days (Matheson) MM
05:04:1878 Sailed Sydney for Shanghai, 1,194t coal, 48 days (Matheson) MM
27:11:1878 Sailed Shanghai for London, tea, 110 days (Matheson) MM
01:06:1879 Sailed London for Sydney, 90 days (Matheson) MM

Changed Australia terminal Sydney from Melbourne; wool trade

19:11:1879 Sailed Sydney for London, 81 days (Matheson) MM
21:05:1880 Sailed London for Sydney, 82 days (Matheson) MM
14:10:1880 Sailed Sydney for London, 90 days (Matheson) MM
10:03:1881 Sailed London for Sydney, 90 days (Henderson) MM
07:07:1881 Sailed Sydney for Shanghai, 49 days. Stuck fast on
Woosung Bar, lightened 150 tons to get off. (Henderson) BL

30:10:1881 Sailed Foochow for London, tea, 107 days (Henderson) BL
Single last tea voyage

31:03:1882 Passed Lizard for Sydney, 73 days (Henderson) Bris. Cour.
14:10:1882 Sailed Sydney for London, 75 days (Henderson) BL
Sailed London for Sydney (Henderson) MM
31:10:1883 Sailed Sydney for London, 87 days (Henderson) MM
Sailed London for Sydney (Allan)
06:10:1884 Sailed Sydney for London, 79 days (Allan) BL
20:01:1885 Passed Start Pt. for Melbourne, 78 days (Allan) BL
18:10:1885 Sailed Sydney for London, 4,683 bales wool (Allan) BL
16:02:1886 Sailed London for Sydney, 93 days (Allan) BL
24:10:1886 Sailed Sydney for London, 87 days (Allan) BL
16:10:1887 Sailed Sydney for London, 79 days (Allan) BL
16:02:1888 Sailed London for Sydney, 80 days (Jenkins) BL
09:06:1888 Sailed Sydney for Rotterdam, oil shale, (Jenkins) SMH
30:10:1888 Sailed London for Sydney, 91 days (Jenkins) BL
26:03:1889 Sailed Sydney for London, 95 days (Jenkins) BL
10:08:1889 Sailed London for Sydney,
cargo value £33,600, 83 days (Jenkins) SMH
09:01:1890 Sailed Sydney for Rotterdam, 1,202 tons oil shale
Off Deal 08:04:1890. (Jenkins) SMH
30:05:1890 Vessel sold in Rotterdam to Wm. Ross for £5,000
30:05:1890 Registered de novo in Montreal (#11)
14:06:1890 Sailed Cardiff for Singapore, coal (Jenkins) LL
01:11:1890 Sailed Singapore for SFO via Hong Kong (Wilson) LL
24:12:1890 Arrived San Francisco (Wilson) LL
12:01:1891 Sailed San Francisco for Hong Kong, flour (Winchester) LL
04:04:1891 Sailed Hong Kong for Saigon (Winchester) LL
26:04:1891 Sailed Saigon for Victoria BC (Winchester)
27:06:1891 Arrived Victoria (Winchester) LL
27:07:1891 Vessel sold to Mount Royal Milling and Manufacturing Co. Ltd, Montreal.
Port of Registry changed to Victoria B.C. (#16)
14:08:1891 Sailed Nanaimo with coal ex-Winchester for HK (Winchester) LL
30:11:1891 Sailed Hong Kong for Canton (Winchester) LL
14:12:1891 Sailed Bangkok for Victoria; rice (Winchester) LL
23:03:1892 Arrived Victoria, rice (Winchester) LL
03:04:1892 Survey at Victoria, Vessel reduced to Barque rig; timber
port cut in stbd. Bow. LR
02:06:1892 Sailed Vancouver (Hastings) for Yokohama (Winchester) LL
02:08:1892 Sailed Yokohama for Nagasaki (Arr. 22:08:92) (Winchester) LL
13:09:1892 Arrived Hong Kong ex-Nagasaki (Winchester) LL
09:10:1892 Sailed Hong Kong for Victoria; rice (Arr. 24:11:92 (Winchester) LL
15:02:1893 Sailed Victoria to H.K, in ballast, ran aground (Winchester) LL
16:02:1893 Diver inspection, no damage, sailed (Arr 10:03:93) (Winchester) LL
17:05:1893 Sailed Hong Kong for Victoria (Arr. 04:07:93) (Winchester) LL
13:08:1893 Arr. Clatsop Mills, Astoria to load lumber $8 (Winchester) AR
16:09:1893 Sailed Astoria for H.K. 600,000 ft lumber,
consigned Saigon (Arr H.K.29:10:93) (Winchester) LL
12:02:1894 Arr. Victoria ex- H.K. with rice (Winchester) AR
29:03:1894 Arr. New Westminster to load timber for S’hai (Winchester) AR
17:07:1894 Arrived Shanghai ex- New Westminster (Winchester) AR
11:10:1894 Arr. H.K. ex-Shanghai. (Dep. 12:10:94) (Winchester) AR
06:12:1894 Arr. Victoria ex- H.K. (Winchester) AR
06:01:1895 Loading lumber at Port Blakely for Shanghai (Winchester) AR
29:01:1895 Sailed Port Blakely for Shanghai (Winchester) AR
30:03:1895 Arrived H.K. ex- P. Blakely (Winchester) AR
08:05:1895 Sailed Shanghai in ballast. Arr. Victoria 12:06:95 (Winchester) AR
18:06:1895 Arr. Port Blakely ex-Victoria (Winchester) AR
29:07:1895 Sailed Port Blakely for Leith; 630,000 ft lumber (Winchester) AR
01:08:1895 Stabbing incident while clearing P.Townsend (Winchester) AR
17:12:1895 Arrived Leith (171 days) (Winchester) AR
1895 Purchased for Portugal by Captain Amaro de Azevedo
Gomes for a school ship. R/N PEDRO NUNES

20:03:1896 Registry changed to Leith
20:05:1896 Passed Dover west-bound.
29:05:1896 Arrived Tagus under command of First Lieutenant Pedro de Amaro de Azevedo, flag captain.

20:08:1896 Vessel “Armed” [Commissioned?]. Was intended as school ship, but conversion never happened and vessel reduced to a coal hulk.

13:10:1907 Vessel towed out to mouth of Tagus at a Portugese Navy League regatta attended by Queen of Portugal, and sunk by Whitehead Torpedoes fired by Torpedo Boat No: 3 under command of First Lieutenant Jose da Cunha Rola Pereira.

(source: Peter King) Up-dated 23:12:18

Walter Hood and Co
Aberdeen White Star Line (George Thompson & Co)
length 212' x breadth 36' x depth 20' 9"
gross tonnage 947 ton

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