Who was Captain Woodget?

Remembered as the most succesful captain of the Cutty Sark, Captain Woodget broke records and gained acclaim in the maritime world. 

How did Richard Woodget become a captain? 

Captain Woodget was born in 1845 in Burnham Norton, Norfolk. His maritime career began in 1861, just before his fifteenth birthday when he was apprenticed to Daniel King, a London-based ship owner. He spent the next four years aboard British Ensign. When he completed his time he moved on as an able seaman (AB), no doubt intent on gaining his Mate’s certificate. He worked out of various ports around the country as an AB and on one occasion was employed as a ship’s cook on a five-month voyage. He gained his Only Mate’s certificate in 1868 and with his new qualification he was able to be number two to the master. Three years later he applied for, and achieved, his Master’s certificate.

Did Woodget have a family? 

Woodget married Maria Smith in 1871 and over the coming years they would have four children. Three of them would also become master-mariners.

How did Woodget come to captain Cutty Sark

Having gained his Master’s certificate he had to wait until February 1881 before getting his first command. He had previously been the mate on Copenhagen for over seven years, so he was 35 years old before taking over as captain on John Willis' ships Coldstream. Woodget was to be the Master for four years. He impressed the owner with not just his sailing ability, but also his financial acumen. This was shown by producing good profits for the owner, from an ageing ship.

On the back of this success, Woodget was given command of Cutty Sark. He was to be her last Master under the British flag in the nineteenth century. Although previous masters, most of whom were competent seamen, had made good times between ports, it was Woodget who pushed the ship to her limits. He was fearless but never reckless, and he had more faith in the ship than any who had gone before him. He was captain for ten voyages, more than any of his predecessors.

On eight of Richard’s ten voyages he had one or more of his sons on board, sons who quite literally followed in their father’s footsteps. Richard John did his four year apprenticeship aboard Cutty Sark and latterly was Second and then First Mate. Harold made three voyages as an apprentice and Albert spent the first year of his apprenticeship with his father.

What happened to Cutty Sark?

Willis decided to sell Cutty Sark after a working life of 25 years, because of rising maintenance and repair costs. Woodget was offered the captaincy of Coldingham, which he accepted. However he retired after one voyage, no doubt finding life in the slow lane no longer to his taste. In 1896 he hung up his sou’wester and took retirement.

What was Woodget's life like after Cutty Sark?

He returned to the Burnham Norton area of Norfolk and he spent much of his retirement in the countryside.

In his later years he was in regular correspondence with Basil Lubbock when he was working on his book The Log of the Cutty Sark. He was one of only two of the Cutty Sark’s captains to do so.

Richard Woodget died on the 5 of March 1928, at the age of 82, having seen and visited Cutty Sark on her return to Britain in 1922.

Cutty Sark is open daily from 10am

Book tickets

This page was written by Roger Hodge, one of our volunteers.