With steamers taking over the tea trade, Cutty Sark's owners had to find a new future for the ship - but it was far from plain sailing.
Cutty Sark successfully collected her last Chinese tea cargo in 1877. In December of that year, the ship departed London bound for Sydney for a coal cargo, and then went onto Shanghai. Arriving at China in April 1878, the ship’s master, Captain Tiptaft, could not consign a tea cargo.
By this time, the Suez Canal had opened and steam ships had arrived on the market. The Canal gave steam ships a quick, direct route from the Mediterranean into the Red Sea. Reliance on the trade winds around the coast of Africa meant that the sailing ships were unable to access the Canal.
Unable to find a tea cargo, Captain Tiptaft died at Shanghai in October 1878. Promoted to the command of Cutty Sark was His First Mate, James Wallace.
With tea no longer available, the ship started to take different cargoes around the world. It transported coal from Japan to Shanghai and jute from Manila to New York. It also took jute, castor oil, tea and the Australian mail from Calcutta to Melbourne in March 1881.
The ship's First Mate, Sidney Smith, was a bully, who was strongly disliked by the crew. In 1880 Smith killed (with considerable provocation) seaman John Francis. Smith was confined but Captain Wallace helped him escape at Anjer in Indonesia.
This incensed the crew. They refused to work, leaving just six apprentices and four tradesmen to sail the ship. On 5 September the ship was becalmed in the Java Sea for three days. The guilt, lack of winds, steaming heat and realisation that his career was finished led Wallace to jump overboard. A rescue attempt found no sign of Wallace – only sharks circling where he had last been spotted.
On arrival at Anjer, William Bruce was transferred from the Hallowe’en and appointed Master of Cutty Sark. By all accounts, Bruce was an incompetent, drunken master. He connived with the Mate to remove the expensive Australian crew members, pocketing their wages. He was also negligent, failing to pick up enough provisions and half starving the crew.
On arrival at New York in April 1882, an inquiry was held into the conduct of the Master and the First Mate. This resulted in them being suspended from service, and the crew were given a discharge.
As a result, Captain F. Moore and his Mate were transferred from the Blackadder to Cutty Sark. Under Moore's command the ship embarked upon its most successful period of working life.