Euripides, Sophocles and Diogenes of Aberdeen Line

The Akaroa when under Shaw Savill’s ownership. On 12th May 1954 she arrived at Antwerp to be broken up by J. de Smedt & Co. (The late Allan Green collection)

George Thompson was born in Aberdeen on 23rd June 1804, and together with six other merchant families from that city formed the Aberdeen Line at the age of 21 years in 1825. The first sailing ships were very small, with Childe Harold of only 116grt and Amity, Mansfield and Sir William Wallace no bigger than 321 grt. Timber was imported from Canada until the 1840s, and the Aberdeen Line sailing ships then ventured into the Baltic and the Mediterranean, to the United States of America, down to South Africa and South America, and to the Far East and China via the Cape of Good Hope.

The sailing ship Anemone reached Melbourne in 1840 in the first association of a trade with Australia that became the Aberdeen Line main trade. Two years later, the sailing ship Prince of Wales was chartered to carry a group of one hundred migrants to Port Nicholson, to begin the migrant trade to Australia. In 1847, a regular trade by the company began with Australia, with Phoenician of 478grt and built in that year, taking an average of 90 days from London to Sydney. In 1850, the Aberdeen built sailing ship John Bunyan of 526grt made the first company passage from Shanghai to London in 102 days with tea, the start of a trade that became very profitable for Aberdeen Line for the next three decades. Crews of forty British seamen handled the clipper ships Jerusalem, Thyatira and the famous Thermopylae with expert seamanship homewards from China with the first tea of the season on fast passages, making the profits of the Aberdeen Line soar and prosper.

In the 15 year period between 1860 and 1875, Aberdeen Line built two dozen fast clippers, including the legendary Thermopylae, which raced Cutty Sark home with the first tea for nine years and beat her on occasion. The demand for fast transport of the new crop of tea led to competition from fast clipper ships of many countries and many British shipping lines. The Aberdeen Line fast clippers with beautiful clipper bowsprits earned an enviable reputation for their fast sailing qualities, carrying their famous red and blue house flag with a central six pointed white star, and gorgeous light green painted hulls.


Thermopylae was of 991 grt and was built in 1868 at the famous clipper ship building yard of W. Hood & Company of Aberdeen. She was of composite iron frames and wooden planking, and had two decks but no planking was laid on the ‘tween decks. During the racing duels of the nine passages homewards between 1870 and 1878 with Cutty Sark and other very fast clipper ships, Thermopylae recorded better times than her rivals. In support of Thermopylae were the other great sailing clipper ships of Aberdeen Line, including Miltiades, Samuel Plimsoll, the lovely Salamis, Aristides, Smyrna, Pericles and Sophocles, all great names in the annals of the fast clipper ships from China. The final voyage homewards with tea from Foochow of Thermopylae took place in 1881, before being employed exclusively in the wool trade homewards from Australia.

Aberdeen Line steamers proved the superior merits of the triple expansion steam engine in Aberdeen of 3,616 grt in 1881, Australasian of 3,650 grt in 1884, Damascus of 3,609 grt in 1888, Thermopylae (2) of 3,711 grt in 1891, Nineveh of 3,808 grt in 1894, Moravian of 4,573 grt in 1899, Salamis (2) of 4,508 grt in 1899, Sophocles of 4,673 grt purchased in 1900, the twin funnelled Miltiades (2) and Marathon of 6,793 grt in 1903/04, Pericles of 10,925 grt in 1908, and the handsome sisters Themistocles and Demosthenes of 11,231 grt in 1911 from the great shipbuilding yard of Harland & Wolff Ltd. at Belfast. Thermopylae (2) was not as successful as her famous clipper ship predecessor as she was wrecked after only eight years of service on 11th September 1899 off Green Point Light in Table Bay on a foggy night, but all of her crew were saved.

The Euripides in her heyday. (State Library of South Australia)


Euripides of 14,947 grt was launched on 29th January 1914 at the Belfast yard of Harland & Wolff Ltd., and made a shakedown cruise in June of 1914, a rare innovation at that time. She had dimensions of length overall of 569.7 feet, length between perpendiculars of 550.7 feet, moulded beam of 67.4 feet, moulded depth of 44.1 feet, and she was registered at London and later at Southampton when owned by Shaw, Savill & Albion Co. Ltd. as Akaroa.



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