The Monument to the Full–rigged Ship Thermopylae

by John M. MacFarlane 2017


The plaque commemorating the Full–rigged Ship Thermopylae (Photo from the John MacFarlane collection. )

On the causeway seawall at the inner harbour of Victoria B.C. commemorating the Full–rigged Ship Thermopylae


The Full Rigged Ship Thermopylae on the ways at B.C. Marine Railway, Esquimalt BC. (Postcard photograph from the John MacFarlane collection.)

In 1868 she was owned by George Thompson & Co. In 1891 for a time she was owned by the Mount Royal Milling and Manufacturing Co. Ltd. with her home port listed as Victoria BC. Sold to the Portugese navy and was intended as a sail training ship.

She was famous as rival to the sailing ship Cutty Sark in the China tea trade. Her passage times set records. The image set in the minds of many is that of ‘perfection’ and "The pride of the British Merchant Service, justly considered by most seamen to have been the fastest sailing ship ever launched." (Lubbock, B. (1916) The China Clippers) In later life she worked the wool trade, general cargo trades in Canada and was lastly sold to the Royal Portugese navy. She was named by Mrs. Hardy Robinson of Denmore Scotland at a ceremony on August 19, 1868 and commanded by Captain Edward. Her port of registry was Aberdeen. (J. Crosse (1968)

She arrived at Victoria in 1891 when she anchored in Royal Roads prior to berthing. The vessel was plagued by problems brought on by the age of her gear and rig as well as by crew troubles. With a new crew she sailed from Victoria in general cargo trade. Eventually cut down to a barque rig, the hull painted white and her topmasts shortened by 6’ she carried lumber to the orient and rice to Canada. She later carried lumber from Oregon and Washington. In 1897 she was reduced to a coal hulk moored in Lisbon harbour. The Thermopylae contained only one deck. The floors (the base of the hold) were built of ‘malleable’ iron, the rudder of British oak and the windlass teak. The keel was built of British and American elm (supported by iron) and the stem and sternpost, the knightheads, hawse timbers and aprons and deadwood were all of Indian teak. (M. Matheson (1984))

The outside planking was of American elm extending one fifth of the depth of the hold above which East India teak clad the ship to the wales. All the topsides including the waterways were teak. The decks were of yellow pine. The hold was planked with American elm with a ceiling of teak. (M. Matheson (1984)) The masts (fore lower and main lower), yards (two lower) and bowsprit were of iron. The fittings were of ‘yellow muntz–metal’ and galvanized iron. The lower masts and yards were white, surmounted by varnished yards, spars and upper masts. (M. Matheson (1984)) Her hull was painted sea green of the Aberdeen White Star Line and showed above the copper plates on the lower hull. A golden shear strake bound the ship at deck level. Her name was picked out in gold and gold leaf decorated the carvings on the counter and the bow. The rail was of brass on teak bulwarks.

Her figurehead (carved from one block of wood) was of King Leonidas whose 300 Spartans were defeated and killed at the Battle of Thermopylae. The figure had a helmet and shield (upraised on the left arm) and a removable sword (pointing downward, in the right hand close to the side.) The sword was sheathed prior to setting to sea. The figurehead was pure white and the face looked forward rather than downward. (Matheson, M. (1984))

The original vessel was: Length: 210’, Breadth: 36’, Depth: 21’. Approximate measurements include: Foremast (deck to truck): 139’. Mainmast (deck to truck): 142’. Mizzen Mast (deck to truck): 118’. Main Yard: 80’. Classed as a ship her 1868 sailplan (three masts with 17,520 sq ft of square sails on all masts) included: No skysails or moonsails, Mainsail (drop depth of 40’), Main Royal (drop depth of 19’), Stunsails were set on the booms which slid along the underside of the yards., Two swinging booms 50' long, carried along the ship’s side extended the foresail stunsails (considered an unusual feature), The topsails were divided, Pinkney’s gear (a form of roller reefing) was installed on the main top gallant yard. The Crewlist 1868: (36 total, including) : Captain, Chief Mate, Third Mate, Able, Seamen (22), Boatswain, Carpenter, Cook, Sailmaker, Steward, Apprentice Boys (Approx. 6) The line drawings of the hull, in scale 1/48 are held at the Science Museum, London UK. (Drawing No. 1233).

Copies of the vessel plans are held in the collection of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia but are intended for a very small scale model and will require augmentation through research. Drawings for model makers have been created by a number of researchers and are available commercially. A builder's half-hull is preserved by the Glasgow Museum in Scotland as is another model (rigged for the wool trade) in the collection of the Aberdeen Maritime Museum. A scale model is currently on loan to the Maritime Museum of British Columbia and is on display in the main gallery. There is a model of the Thermopylae in the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich and another at the Institute of Applied Science in Melbourne Australia. Condemned in 1907 she was torpedoed by the Royal Portugese Navy in a public naval display in the Bay of Cascais, Portugal as a public spectacle.

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2017) The Monument to the Full-rigged Ship Thermopylae. 2017.

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