Cutty Sark was built for John Willis & Son in 1869 and the company continued to own the ship through to 1895. John Willis senior was a self-made man who worked his way up from seaman to captain to ship-owner. He was nicknamed ‘Old Stormy’ and it is thought he inspired the sea shanty ‘Old Stormalong’. He built his first ship in 1830, the Demerara Planter, which was later commanded by his eldest son, also John Willis. John Willis junior– known as ‘White Hat’ Willis for the distinctive headgear he wore around the city–commissioned the building of Cutty Sark in 1869 and managed the ship’s affairs although his brother, Robert Dunbar Willis, owned a number of shares in the vessel as well. John Willis & Son managed a total of 29 vessels over the course of the company’s history and ‘White Hat’ Willis took over the running of Willis & Son in 1862 on the death of his father.
Alexander and Hercules Linton
Cutty Sark was designed by Hercules Linton, of Scott & Linton, a shipbuilding company based in Dumbarton. Hercules had followed in his father’s footsteps, embarking on a career in the shipbuilding industry and was apprenticed to Alexander Hall & Sons, shipbuilders in Aberdeen from 1855. Alexander Linton, Hercules’s father, was appointed a surveyor to Lloyd’s Register of Shipping in 1853 for Belfast and Dublin, until 1869 when he transferred to Glasgow and later Aberdeen. Cutty Sark was built in 1869 under special survey and the First Entry Report was approved and signed in Glasgow, in February 1870, just before the ship’s maiden voyage, by W.T. Mumford and Alexander Linton – Hercules’s father.
George and Alexander Moodie
George Moodie was Cutty Sark’s first Master and commanded the ship for three voyages between 1870 and 1872. He had served on other Willis ships (The Tweed, Lammermuir and Lauderdale) before joining Cutty Sark. Moodie had supervised the building of Cutty Sark and his wife christened the vessel at the ship’s launch on 22 November 1869. His son, Alexander, engaged as an apprentice on the ship for the 1872 voyage during which Cutty Sark lost her rudder at sea. The crew fashioned a temporary (jury) rudder to see the ship home and set up a makeshift forge on the Main Deck to make the bolts. Unfortunately for Alexander Moodie, the forge overturned on a heavy roll of the ship and scarred his chest. Robert Willis (John White Hat Willis’s brother), who was on board for this voyage, wanted to bring the ship into port but Moodie refused and resigned from Cutty Sark when they returned to London and joined the steamers.
Captain Richard Woodget and Richard, Albert and Harold
Captain Richard Woodget was Cutty Sark’s longest serving master, commanding the ship for ten voyages between 1885-1895. Under Woodget, Cutty Sark’s name became synonymous with fast passages as he truly brought out the best in the ship and his crew. He said Cutty Sark “was a wonderful runner: she was never pooped and kept wonderfully dry aft. I never hove her to” and he was proud to report his best days’ sailing was 353 miles. During his time on board, three of his four sons served on the ship. Richard John Woodget was the eldest who served as an apprentice 1888-1892, Second Mate 1892-3, and First Mate 1894-5. He was described by Basil Lubbock as being a smart lad and Woodget left him to supervise the stevedores loading wool when his father was absent. Woodget’s sons Harold Woodget and Albert also joined the crew as apprentices while their father was in command of the ship.