Figureheads from myth and legend

Within the Long John Silver collection of figureheads - the largest collection of merchant navy figureheads in the world on display under the hull of clipper ship Cutty Sark - there is the figurehead of another tea clipper, Sir Lancelot.

This figurehead comes from the 886-ton composite ship built in 1865 in Greenock by R Steele for John MacCunn. The vessel served the China tea trade at the same time as Cutty Sark and similarly suffered from the competition presented by the steamers using the Suez Canal. The figurehead represents Sir Lancelot, the greatest and most trusted of King Arthur's Knights.

Sir Lancelot, part of the figurehead collection at Cutty Sark  

Another legendary character in the collection is Hiawatha, a large and impressive figurehead depicting the well-known Native American historical figure believed to have lived in the 16th century. He is associated with the unification of the five tribes to create the League of the Iroquois, and the carving can be seen holding a pipe of peace in this right hand. This figurehead once adorned a steel ship built in 1891 in Dumbarton for a Norwegian company. 

Hiawatha, part of the figurehead collection on board Cutty Sark  

Amphitrite, a sea-goddess from Greek mythology and the wife of the sea-god Poseidon is also represented in the collection. Unfortunately, nothing is known about the vessel the figurehead came from, although it is believed to have belonged to a 19th century barque.


Finally, we have a representation of a fictional ancient Greek warrior once decorated the bow of a 1861 vessel called Thermopylae. This was a steamship built by Hall Russell for G Thompson & Co. and not Cutty Sark's great rival in the tea trade whose figurehead depicted the young Spartan King Leonidas.

Thermopylae, part of the figurehead collection at Cutty Sark  

Next week, we continue to explore the figurehead collection at Cutty Sark, looking at the political characters on display.