Once gilded, this vane would have been fitted to the top of Cutty Sark’s main mast whenever the ship was in port. It depicts a ‘cutty sark’—the namesake for Clipper Ship Cutty Sark, after the undergarment worn by the witch Nannie in Robert Burns’ poem Tam O’Shanter.
This vane was presented to the ship by Cutty Sark’s owner John Willis in 1886. Cutty Sark was on the Australian wool run at the time and this was the first voyage with Captain Richard Woodget – the ship’s greatest master – at the helm. John Willis awarded Cutty Sark the vane to celebrate not only a record passage of just 73 days from Sydney, but also a faster passage from Australia to London than her main rival, Thermopylae.
In London’s East India Docks, Willis gave the vane to senior apprentice Robert Andrewes who sprang onto the ratlines and quickly made his way up the main mast amidst a burst of cheers from deck.
The vane was reportedly lost when the ship was severely damaged in a storm in 1916, but incredibly it turned up in a London saleroom in 1960 with a letter of authentication from the Portuguese captain.
Today, a gilded replica can be seen on the ship’s main truck, while the original mast head vane is displayed on board, on the ’tween deck.