This outstanding portrait of the celebrated clipper DREADNAUGHT shows the vessel at her very best- racing through the waves in full sail. This is one of three portraits of the ship known to have been painted by James E. Buttersworth, one of which was used to create a famous lithograph of the ship by Currier and Ives.
The ship is rendered in outstanding detail with crisp rigging lines and several vignettes of sailors in action on deck. The wind is high and spray rises off the bow wake. Amidships the Master gives orders to pull in the mainsail and secure the lines against strong winds. On the forecastle, sailors haul in one of the jibs, with one man standing dangerously high on deck, near the ship's capstan. At the stern, two men secure the ship's wheel, keeping the ship steady and on course. Overall is Buttersworth's striking rendering of the sky at dusk- the setting sun illuminating the clouds in vivid color with touches of bright light shimmering through and highlighting the cresting waves.
DREADNAUGHT is regarded as the high point of Atlantic sailing vessel design. One of the fastest known sailing ships she was known as the "Wild Boat of the Atlantic" – crossing between Liverpool and New York over 30 times in addition to plying other routes in her storied career. She also held the record for fastest passage in her day- 9 days, 17 hours from land to land, Sandy Hook to the pilot boat off Queenstown Harbour. The ship was famous for more than her speed and endured mutinies, shootings and wild feats of sailing bravery in all weather conditions- she was everything romantic about the age of sail.
Designed by Donald McKay and built by Currier & Townsend of Newburyport, Mass. for the American Red Cross Line in 1853, DREADNAUGHT was 212 feet long on deck with a beam of 41½ feet and a hold depth of 26½ feet.
By that time steamships had already been working the trade routes for 15 years, and she was designed specifically to compete with them. With the ability to carry more 200 passengers the ship mainly ran as an emigrant carrier, the most profitable trade remaining for sailing ships. She would return with cargo on the eastern voyage. McKay was known to design ships that were more comfortable to the passenger while still designing a very seaworthy and fast ship. Reputation was everything to a ship's ability to sell passages, particularly higher class fares, and ships plying the transatlantic route were often the subject of newspaper articles for the good or ill.
The Red Cross Line persuaded Captain Samuel Samuels, a young man who had already made a high reputation as a captain of emigrant packets, to join their venture as DREADNAUGHT's first Master, offering him a present of shares in the ship, commission on all that she earned and good pay; in return he had to take partial responsibility for her design and was to be wholly responsible for the supervision of her construction.
Samuels would turn out to be largely responsible for the ship's success. Having gone to sea at 11 years old Samuels honed his skills, earning a good reputation as an able seaman along with an ability to lead under challenging conditions. Once aboard DREADNAUGHT he was a model captain- respected, well-groomed and quietly spoken, but always perfectly self-confident and calm in an emergency. Her captain's manner and reputation soon proved a great advertisement, and the fact that he carried his wife and family on board was a guarantee of the respectability of the ship's conduct. This made a special appeal to higher fare saloon passengers, and the ship was fully booked a season in advance.
She could be driven through the worst weather when other ships were forced to heave-to. Her reputation was so great that she regularly received extra freight midway – something steamers couldn't do because of having to carry fuel for the engines. Her owners would frequently guarantee a time for delivery or waive the freight money. Samuels was known to press the ship at night as well as by day, and it was said he knew the breaking point of every spar and sail and how to best use them to the ship's advantage.
Off Dreadnaught's stern Buttersworth included a steamsail vessel with an unusual configuration of sails and stacks - the distinctive lines one of the National Steamship Lines, likely the ship EGYPT, one of the largest ships built in the period. EGYPT could carry over 1500 passengers and used the steam engines not just for speed but for heating public areas of the ship, making the passage more comfortable and safer than the use of open stoves.
Including such a famous steam-powered vessel was no accident. Though Dreadnaught was famed for her speed the time of the merchant clipper was coming to an end, giving way to larger ships powered by steam engines. DREADNAUGHT and the American Clipper off her bow sail off into the setting sun, while the steamer heads towards bluer skies and the new horizon.
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