The Cutty Sark was built in 1869 in Scotland, for John Willis, a successful London tea merchant. At that time, she was one of the fastest clipper ships ever built. The ship was named after Cutty Sark, the nickname of the witch Nannie Dee in Robert Burns’ poem “Tam o’ Shanter”.
The Cutty Sark was active for only 7 years and made just 8 round-trip voyages to China. Why such a short career as a tea clipper? Unfortunately for John Willis, in 1869 the Suez Canal was opened and steam ships started widely using it. Steam ships could pass through the canal, whereas clipper ships like Cutty Sark could not. That meant that steam ships could cut thousands of miles off the route and reached China much faster. So most tea merchants preferred steam ships to sailing ships.
While the Cutty Sark's career in the tea trade wasn’t very successful, her next career in the Australian wool trade was outstanding. From 1883-95 the ship made the Australian run, bringing wool exports back to London. The Cutty Sark dominated the wool trade for more than 10 years, earning a reputation for high speed on the two-month voyage.
But again, the steam ships spoiled the Cutty Sark's career, making the Australian wool trade their own. The Cutty Sark was sold to a Portuguese company. She was renamed Ferreira and from 1895 to 1922 she carried cargo between Portugal and the distant corners of the Portuguese Empire.
In 1922 Ferreira was put into Falmouth to repair damage which she had received in a windstorm. A retired sea captain, Wilfred Dowman, saw the ship and decided to buy her. He restored the Cutty Sark to how she had been during her days as a tea clipper. Then the ship was used for naval training until 1951, when she was sent to London for the Festival of Britain. There, the National Maritime Museum put the ship into dry dock at Greenwich in 1954, beside the Old Royal Naval College. A new step in the Cutty Sark's career began — she was turned into a museum.
Unfortunately, the ship was badly damaged in a fire on 21st May 2007. The following long and expensive restoration lasted until 2012. Nowadays the Cutty Sark is the only remaining original clipper ship from the 1800s. She is a popular London attraction. Visitors are welcome to explore the decks and walk in the footsteps of seamen who sailed the ship between England and China in the 1800s. There are also numerous hands-on exhibits and interactive displays for both children and adults.