Christmas on board Cutty Sark

Christmas was not especially marked on the ship when she was a working vessel. In the tea trade (1870-1877), Cutty Sark was often en route to China – usually somewhere between the equator and the southern tip of South Africa. 

While serving the wool trade (1883-1895), the ship was either loading cargo in port – Sydney or Newcastle NSW– or had just left Australia destined for London with cargo for the spring wool sales.  The log books make no mention of Christmas or any festivities but mark the weather and ship’s position as usual.

Cutty Sark in Australia

Far from home, the crew missed their usual comforts, as apprentice Clarence Ray writes to his mother in September 1894: “when we were putting the river pilot ashore this morning he told us that we would most likely lay here till Christmas as the shearers are on strike and that reminds me please save a piece of plum duff for me.”

In the southern climate, British members of the crew would experience very different weather to that at home - apprentice George Purssey Phillips writes of his voyage in 1892: “I well remember my first view of Sydney Harbour flashing in the sun, with its bays and houses and patches of trees – a marvellous sight. We spent Christmas in Sydney, in baking weather. Our deserters were all caught, and lodged in Newcastle Gaol ‘till we sailed, when they were brought aboard, silent, sullen and mutinous”.

The 25th December passed on board the ship as any other day, the crew working to maintain and manoeuvre the ship, or if in port maybe supervising the stowing of cargo, preparing the vessel for her next journey, or even rounding up the crew who had deserted in Australia in hope of profiting from the gold rush.