Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Sobraon

I read, with some appreciation, the excerpts from Miss Anderson’s daily log of her experiences aboard sailing clipper, Sobraon in the December 2016 issue of Sea Breezes.

Without doubt, one, if not the most, celebrated and luxurious vessels fitted out for the passengers fortunate enough to be able to afford her voyage south. The gold rush to Australia in the 1800s saw a rapid ship building programme in Great Britain. Many beautiful ships were built, designed by the best draughtsmen. Commanded by such extremists as the ebullient Captain James Nicol Forbes, better known as ‘Bully Forbes’ renowned for his fast voyages with migrants to Melbourne, Australia. ‘Gold Fever’ had reached the zenith of excitement in England and thousands of migrants sailed to Melbourne to seek their fortunes. Some did, but many were disappointed with the hard work involved.

I recently read an article in The Australian newspaper which clearly exposes the furore amongst ship owners; their captains and crews and countless migrants racing ‘Down Under’. The article traces a memorable voyage in Marco Polo of the Black Ball Line, a famous Blackwaller. One of the most memorable voyages of Captain Bully Forbes who was a fearless Scotsman, hell bent on breaking all records and made many fast passages in fearful weather and raging seas. With the added danger of ice floes.

Author, Rob Mundle has published / written a grand book on the subject of the majestic clipper ships called Under Full Sail. The author is a reputable yachtsman involved in the Sydney to Hobart races, the Americas Cup and Olympic Games, to name a few. He does, in fact, describe the vessel Sobraon preparing for a voyage to Melbourne in 1889.

She was built in Aberdeen’s Alexander Halls Yard and was the largest composite clipper ship ever built with a hull length of 317ft and built of Malabar Teak. Her Captain was Lieutenant J A Elmslie RNR. His crew totalled 69; a Captain, 4 officers, 8 apprentices, a carpenter / sail maker, bosun and engineer, 2 bosun mates, 26 able seamen and 2 boys. She also carried 16 stewards and 2 stewardesses. A unique feature of her voyages was that she never returned via Cape Horn, always around the Cape of Good Hope. Her Captain held his position for 24 years.

The victualling of the ship was comprehensive, catering for all tastes. Everything had to be fresh. She accommodated 90 first class and 40 in the second saloon. Guests did not want for anything, particularly when it came to food and beverages. She accommodated on each voyage; 3 bullocks, 90 sheep, 50 pigs, 3 cows for milking and more than 300 geese, chickens and ducks. There was also an ice chamber containing several tons of ice. Not surprisingly, this was the vessel of choice for the most discerning of travellers.

It would seem from Miss Anderson’s log of events, she and her papa wanted for nothing. Sobraon entered into the stormy Southern Ocean and experienced some chaotic and extreme weather. This resulted in some damage to the ship some 150 nautical miles ESE of the Cape of Good Hope. The Captain’s son, who often sailed with him, painted a picture with words of lost spars, sails and taking aboard huge quantities of water (a lot of which went below into the quarters). In the more vicious squalls, Sobraon, under shortened sails, reached 14 knots and over. In Australia, the beautiful British Clipper ships had, by 1901, contributed to the population of 3,773,801 by the speed of sail voyages such as Sobraon’s.

COLIN E ELLWOOD
4 / 11-15 Hollingworth Street
Port Macquarie, NSW 2444
Australia

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