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Clipper Donald McKay 1855

Gross Weight - 2646 tonne.
Net Weight - 1640 tonne.
Length between perpendiculars - 81 metres.

Length of Keel - 78.6 metres
Breadth - 14.1 metres
Depth - 8.99 metres
Main yard - 30.4 metres
Sail area - 14,214 sq metres.







Passenger capacity - 591 plus crew.

From the Boston Daily Atlas
This ship registers 2588 tons, 266 feet long between perpendiculars, on deck has 46 feet extreme breadth of beam, and 29 feet depth of hold, with three decks, a full topgallant forecastle with a house abaft it : and a full poop with a house before it. Although not so long nor wide, at the measuring points, as the Great Republic, yet she has more spread of floor, is much fuller in the ends ; has more cubic capacity, and therefore is the largest sailing merchant ship in the world, and spreads 27 per cent. more canvas than the Great Republic. The latter, as rebuilt, has only 3 decks, and has had her masts and yards very much reduced from their original dimensions.  (Following A Fire post Launch)

The Donald M'Kay is but little leaner in the ends than the general run of European packets, and although her lines are slightly concave below, they are decidedly convex above, and hence give her great capacity, where extreme clippers have only space for broken stowage. Her bow preserves its angular form to the rail, and is ornamented with a full figure of a Highlander all plaided and plumed in the tartan array of the ancient McKay. She has an easy and graceful sheer, graduated her whole length, with rise enough at the ends to throw an air of lightness over her whole outline. Her stern is rounded and although she has a full poop deck, such is the justness of her proportions, that her after body is in perfect keeping with her general outline. Her run, too, is long and clean, but not cut up. It varies but little from the bow at the load displacement line; or, in other words, her ends are nearly alike. Her stern is tastefully ornamented with gilded carved work, her hull is painted black, the rise and railings of the poop white, and the paintwork on deck buff colour, except the waterways which are blue.  Her bulwarks are built solid, like her sides, and are surmounted by a monkey rail, whose height above the deck is about 7 feet.

The deck of the topgallant forecastle and the top of the house are on the same level, built together, and are connected by a gangway with the poop, so that the men can pass from end to end, without descending into the waist. The forward part of the topgallant forecastle is fitted for the accommodation of the crew, and abaft the windlass is a large space for working the chains; or at sea in bad weather. it will afford comfortable shelter for the watch on deck. This space contains along its sides, several useful apartments, neatly designed and well protected.

The house extends to the main hatchway, contains spacious Galleys, Staterooms, and Storerooms, and protects 2 staircases, which lead to the deck below. A moveable house covers the main hatchway at sea. The poop has a house before it which extends nearly to the mainmast, with ample space along its sides for working the gear of the main-mast. On the poop is a house which protects the wheel, covers 2 staircases which lead to the after-cabin, and contains several useful lockers, etc.  Another house protects a staircase which leads to the Dining Saloon, and to the deck below, where are the gentlemen passengers' sleeping apartments. Raised skylights, set in mahogany frames, extend along the centre of the poop over every cabin, the pantry, and the staircases. The outline of the poop and house is protected by an oak rail on turned stanchions, and there are 4 sets of stairs, 2 forward in the house and 2 aft in the poop, which lead from the deck below to the top of the house and the poop deck.

The after-cabin contains 12 large staterooms, and is splendidly wainscoted with mahogany, set off into Grecian arched panels, elaborately ornamented with pilasters, papier maché cornices, gilding and flower work. A beautiful sofa spans the stern; and over the windows is a bookcase, filled with well-bound books. The tables, carpets, mirrors, and other furniture, are of the most costly materials, arranged with taste.

The Dining Saloon is about 40 feet long by 20 wide, and is also finely wainscotted and ornamented. It has 2 tiers of tables placed longitudinally, with settees along their sides. Its forward entrance is the segment of a circle amidships with glass panelled doors, and is sheltered by a passage which extends across the house. The alternative panels along the sides of the saloons are windows, which, with the skylights, throw a flood of light and ventilation over the whole apartment. Below the after cabin and part of the saloon, there are 24 staterooms, with 2 berths in each, for sleeping apartments for the gentlemen passengers. These staterooms, like those above, are elegantly furnished, well lighted and ventilated.

Before the saloon is the pantry, before it, in a Mess room for the Officers On the starboard side of it is the Purser's Stateroom, and before it on the starboard side is the Chief Mate's apartment, and on the opposite side are accommodations for the 2nd and 3rd mates, and a stateroom for the surgeon. The forward part of the house also protects two staircases, one of which leads to the main deck, and the other to the lower deck.

Notwithstanding the vast space occupied be her forecastle, poop and houses, she has amble deck-room for working ship. She has a patent windlass, 6 capstans, Crane's self-acting chain stoppers, 2 copper-chambered pumps, 6 boats, Tewksbury's patent seats, and all the other furniture of a perfect ship.

Her 2 decks are designed for he accommodation of passengers. The height between the lower and main deck is 7½ feet, and between the latter and the upper deck, 7 feet, and both are painted white, and their thick work and waterways blue. Along the sides of the main deck there are square window, with circular plate glass lights in them, and amidships through the topgallant forecastle, the house amidships, and the cabins, there are spacious square ventilators, which communicate with the deck below, and render them light and airy. Along the sides of the houses, forward and aft, there are also skylight ventilators, which can be thrown open in moderate weather. All her accommodations for passengers are fitted in the best style which skill could suggest.

The ship herself is a combination of beauty and strength. Her frame, hook, and nearly all her knees, are of seasoned white oak, her ceiling, planking, keelsons and deck frames, and lower and main decks, of pitch pine, and she is square fastened throughout. Her keel is in 2 depths of rock maple, each depth 16 inches square, with 12-feet lock-scarphs, bolted with copper. The floor timbers on the keel are 20 by 14 inches, and over them 4 depths of midship keelsons, and 2 tiers of sister keelsons on each side, each tier 16 inches square, and all bolted with 1½ aid 1¼ inch yellow metal and refined iron, in the most substantial style. Her frame is diagonally cross braced with iron, each brace 7/8 ths of an inch thick, and 5 inches wide, and these braces extend from the first futtocks to the top timbers, are let into the frames and ceiling, and bolted through every frame and riveted together at every intersection, so that her inside before ceiling was bound together with a net-work of iron. The ceiling on the floor is 5 inches thick, and over the first futtocks are 2 bilge keelsons on each side, each 16 inches square, bolted both ways. The ceiling above, over the turn of the bilge, is all I? inches thick, and above there 10 inches, all square fastened through the timbers and bolted edgeways also.

Under the ends of the lower deck knees is a lap-strake or stringer which extends her whole length and is filled in with hooks in each end. She has 3 hooks and pointers forward in the hold, hooks between each of the decks and under the bowsprit, as well as a corresponding number aft. Her stern, cutwater, apron, stemson, and deadwood, as well as her stern-post, false-post, stern-knees, &c., are very stout, and are bolted with Brass up to the load displacement line ; above there they are bolted with refined iron.

She has 96 beams under her 3 decks, and those under the lower and main decks vary from 17 to 15 inches square, and under the upper deck they are 10 by 15 inches. The last have hackmatac hanging knees; but all the others have white oak knees, with 8 bolts in each. The lower and main decks waterways are 16 inches square, with thickwork of 10 by 16 inches over them, and of 10 by 12 inside of them, and ceiling of 6 inches thickness on the sides. All her ceiling is not only square fastened and bolted edgeways, but is scarphed and keyed in the same style as the keelsons and thickwork. The stanchions clasp the beam, extend to the main deck, are stepped on the starboard sister keelsons before the mainmast, on the other side abaft it, and are bolted through the midship keelsons, and clasped with iron. She has also 11 stanchions on each side, stepped and kneed to the bilge keelsons, and these extend to the beams under the main deck. The upper deck stanchions are of oak turned, secured with iron rods through their centres, which set up below with nuts and screws below.  She has double upper deck waterways, the first 14 inches square, and the second 10 by 12, rounded off toward the deck. Her deck planking is 3½ inches thick, remarkably clear of blemish.

Her garboards are 8 by 14 inches, let into the keel, and belted through it and each other, and upward through the timbers: the other 2 strakes outside diminish to 5 inches thickness, the substance of her bottom planking, and her wales are 6 by 7 inches, carried flush to the outline of her plank-sheer moulding. She is square fastened with treenails, butt and bilge bolted with Brass, and finished smooth as cabinet work.

Her lower masts and bowsprit are built of pitch pine and hooped with iron, and her topmasts, jib-boom. and lower yards are also of pitch pine. She has Howe's rig, which differs from the common rig, by having double topsail yards. The lower topsail yard is trussed to the topmast cap, and instead of slings, is supported from below by a crane upon the heel of the topmast; the lower topsail, therefore, is the size of the close-reefed sail of the old rig, and sets entirely by the sheets. The upper topsail sets upon the mast above the cap, and has its foot laced to a jackstay upon the top of the yard below, so that no wind can escape between the 2 topsails. This arrangement of the yards has many advantages. The ship can be reduced to close-reefed topsails at any time, by lowering the upper topsails, which will then lie becalmed before the lower topsails, and the later, if required to be reefed, can be so without the use of reef-tackles. In squally weather this rig is invaluable, for sail can be carried to the last minute, as it can be reduced and re-set without a man leaving the deck. Its economy in wear of canvas must also be very great, for the sails are of manageable size, and have neither buntlines, reef-tackles, nor clew-lines to chafe them. A ship with this rig is more seaworthy because she may always be considered as under close-reefed topsails, and may be worked with fewer men than a vessel of the same size having the old rig. It looks rather clumsy in port, and this, we believe, is the principal objection urged against it by those who do not comprehend its advantages at sea. Ships, however, are rigged for service at sea, and not for show in port: that, therefore, which is the most serviceable, is certainly the best.

This ship's masts are nearly upright, and consequently receive more support from the rigging than if they raked. In setting up the rigging of a raking mast, it either drags the mast aft, or brings too much strain upon the stays without giving the mast that side support so essential to make it stand well. Also, in light winds, sails on raking masts flap against the rigging and chafe, while on upright masts they hang clear and almost sleep, giving the ship the full benefit of the breeze. The following are the dimensions of this ship's masts and yards :

The bowsprit is 40 inches in diameter, and 22 feet outboard, jib-boom 22 inches to diameter, and is divided at 15, 14, and 10 feet for the three jibs, with 5 feet end; spanker boom, 58 feet long, gaff, 54 feet and other spars in proportion. She has bumpkins for the fore tacks, and swinging bumpkins for the clews of the mainsails, to spread the sail when going free in light winds.  Her lower studding-sails are triangular, consequently she has no swinging boom ; and as the yard arms of her lower topsail yards are short. her topmast studding-sails hoist to the upper topsail yards, and are the whole depth of both topsails. Her lower masts are bright and varnished, her yards and bowsprit black, and both are very strongly rigged. She has the best Russian hemp standing rigging, and all the chain and other iron work aloft and about the bowsprit and jib-boom, now in general use; the running rigging is of Manila hemp. Her sails are or cotton canvas, cross-banded and roped in the best style.

The following facts relating to her principal spars are interesting. Her lower-masts, topmasts, and bowsprit have respectively 30, 33, 18, 5, 5. 3, and 7 tons of pitch pine in them; her lower yards 12, 14½, and 6½ ; lower topsail yards 8, 8½, and 4 ; upper topsail yards 4½, 5, and 3 tons: total, 167 tons. She has 3600 feet of chain rigging. The hoops on her fore and main masts are 4 inches wide. by 3/4 of an inch thick, are 30, 31 and 26 in number, and their weights on each mast are 3120, 3210 and 2500 lbs. - total - total 8830 lbs.; hoops on the fore and main yards, 1805 and 2085 lbs. - total 3890 lbs.; trusses on the lower yards, 800, 850 and 600 lbs. - total, 2260 lbs. Number of yards of canvas in her square sails, 10,136; in the fore and aft sails, 4933; studding-sails, 2310 ; coverings, &c., 286 total 16,755 yards.

Her masts were made by Mr. George E. Young; M. Thomas J. Shelton, the prince of blockmakers, blocked and pumped her; Mr. Mendum, who is not inferior to Vulcan himself, was her blacksmith ; and Mr. E. F. Southward made her sails. He is a leading member of the ME Church, and one of the best sailmakers in Boston. In her outfits aloft as well as below everything which skill could suggest and money procure, has been most liberally supplied to her.

She was built at East Boston, by Mr. Donald M'Kay, and is designed for Messrs. James Baines and Co's Line of Liverpool and Australian packets.

Of all the ships Mr. McKay has built, and many of them are unsurpassed for beauty and speed, this, to our eye, excels them all. She has all the airy beauty of a clipper, combined with the stately outline of a ship of war; and though not sharp, yet her great length, buoyancy and stability, indicate that she will sail very fast, and be an excellent sea boat.

She is commanded by Captain Warner, formerly of the noted clipper Sovereign of the Seas. He is an able and experienced seaman, and every way qualified to make his noble ship do her best. Success to him and her

In 1866 she was sold to Thomas Harrison. Her last 3 voyages to Melbourne arrived on the 22nd of December 1866, the 21st of November 1867 and the 19th of November 1868. In 1874 after her 13th trip to Melbourne, she was sold for £8750 and did a few runs across the Pacific, mainly to America.  In 1879 she was sold to a German company, but by now was getting old and leaking water. In 1886 she was used as a coal hulk in Madeira and in 1888 her life as one of the great sailing ships ended, when she caught on fire. However her figure head of a Highlander in the McKay Tartan was saved and since 1930 it has been on display at Mystic Seaport, Connecticut where it is one of the finest figure heads on display.

The figurehead of the Donald McKay, which of course, was a rough likeness to that celebrated shipbuilder himself, was lost at sea. It was replaced by one made by the carpenter on board, and he made a pretty fair job of it. If this story is true, it is possible that the figurehead at Mystic Seaport is the one carved on board.

The figurehead stood unprotected on St.Vincent, Cape Verde Islands for many years until the Museum bought it and did extensive restoration for repair and rot damage.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013