Cutty Sark Construction and Facts & Figures

Read the incredible facts and figures about Cutty Sark to understand why she was such a feat of Victorian engineering.


Cutty Sark was built for a firm of ship owners called Willis & Sons, headed by John ‘Jock’ Willis, whose ambition was that she be the fastest ship in the annual race to bring home the first of the new season’s tea from China.

She was designed by Hercules Linton, a partner in the Dumbarton firm of Scott & Linton. It is believed that he moulded the bowlines of Willis’s earlier vessel Tweed into the midship attributes of Firth of Forth fishing boats, creating a beautiful new hull shape that was stronger, could take more sail, and be driven harder than any other.

The company had never built a ship of this size before and ran into financial difficulties, eventually going bankrupt before she was completed. The final details of the fitting out had to be completed by William Denny & Brothers, Scott & Linton’s landlords and the guarantors for the completion of the work on the original contract. 

Cutty Sark was towed to Greenock for final work on her masts and rigging. She was then brought to London to load her first cargo for China in 1870.

Facts & figures

Name of ship: Cutty Sark

Date of launch: 22 November 1869

Built by: Scott & Linton Dumbarton, Scotland

Type of hull construction: Composite clipper ship

Built for: John Willis, Willis & Sons

Cost: £16,150

Gross tonnage: 963 tons

Net tonnage: 921 tons

Sail area: 2976 m2 (32,000 sq. ft2)

Number of sails: 32 sails

Rigging: 11 miles

Length: 64.8m (212.5ft)

Length overall: 85.4m (280ft)

Beam: 11m (36ft)

Registered depth: 6.4m (21ft)

Moulded depth: 6.9m (22.5ft)

Height of main mast: 47m (152ft)

Top speed: Over 17 knots

Ship’s flags

Cutty Sark flew signal flags representing the letters J K W S (depicting the name of the owner, JocK WilliS) and from her main mast flew the Willis House flag – blue background with white diamond and red cross in the centre.

Owners of Cutty Sark

1869-1895 John Willis, Willis & Sons

1895-1922 Ferreira & Company (vessel renamed Ferreira)

1922-1922 Companhia Nacional ce Navegacao (vessel renamed Maria do Amparo)

1922-1938 Captain Wilfred Dowman, Falmouth (vessel renamed Cutty Sark)

1938-1953 The Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College, Greenhithe

1953-1955 The Cutty Sark Preservation Society

1955-1989 The Cutty Sark Society

1973-1989 The Maritime Trust (managing agents for The Cutty Sark Society)

1989-1990 The Cutty Sark Maritime Trust

1990-2000 The Maritime Trust

2000-2015 The Cutty Sark Trust

Current owner: The National Maritime Museum 

Original specification

The ship's was drawn up by the original owner, John Willis, and presented to the designers, William Scott-Moncrieff and Hercules Linton. The information given is not necessarily correct as built, but defined John Willis’ requirements for his new ship prior to construction.

Read the original specifications of Cutty Sark.