During the mid 1800s the major annual seafaring event was the 'race of the Tea Clippers' from China back to the UK, with the new season's crop. This was an extremely prestigious event worth a considerable amount to the winning owner and crew. To this end the Cutty Sark was built by Scott and Lindon, fitted out by William Denny Bros. and launched on 22nd November 1869, at Dumbarton.
The name Cutty Sark derives from the Robert Burns poem 'Tam O'Shanter', where a beautiful witch called 'Nannie', chases Tam while riding his grey mare home one night. She wore only a Cutty Sark, which was a short shirt made from Paisley linen. In the poem she reaches out and grabs the horse's tail, which is why her image on the ship's figurehead shows her left arm out-stretched.
The Cutty Sark made her maiden voyage in January 1870. Between 1870-1877 she carried mainly tea, but was never able to win the coveted race. Her most successful year should have been in 1872 when she was leading her great rival, the Thermopylae by 400 miles, but disaster struck and Cutty Sark lost her rudder in a storm. From 1878 Cutty Sark carried coal between Shanghai and Sydney, and wool between Melbourne and New York, but her finest hour came in the regular Australian wool trade to London. Cutty Sark's design and speed were well suited to the rough seas of the Southern Hemisphere and between 1885 - 1895 she was untouchable, even beating her old rival Thermopylae on no less than five occasions.
In 1895 Cutty Sark was sold to a Portuguese firm and re-named the 'Ferreira'. She served the next 27 years sailing between Portugal and its colonies. In 1920 Cutty Sark was sold again and re-named the 'Maria Do Amparo' and in 1922 she was re-fitted in London. On leaving London she was forced into Falmouth during a storm and it was here that she was seen again by an old seafaring admirer, Captain Dowman. He purchased her for £3750, raised the Red Ensign, and a new chapter in Cutty Sark's life had begun. She had come home.
In 1924 Cutty Sark was restored as a Tea Clipper and, on the death of Captain Dowman, was presented by his widow to the Thames Nautical Training College where she became a training ship. After the war Cutty Sark was no longer required and was moved to Greenwich as an exhibit for the 1951 'Festival of Britain'. Following the Exhibition a committee was set-up, headed by the Duke of Edinburgh, to raise money to fully restore Cutty Sark and build a permanent dry dock at Greenwich, and this is where she remains today. In 1957 the Queen declared Cutty Sark fully open to the public.
Closed to the public in November 2006 for the start of a £25m refurbishment, Cutty Sark suffered a devasting fire on 22 May 2007. Although extensive damage was caused to the ship's timbers, much of the superstructure had been removed and put into storage. Despite this being a major set back, the damage was less critical than was first feared and although delayed the restoration continued.
On 25th April 2012 the newly refurbished Cutty Sark was officially re-opened to the public by the Her Majesty the Queen & Prince Philip, thus starting a new chapter in the extraordinary life of one of the world's most iconic ships.