Majestic Sailing Ships from a Bygone era

Becoming a marine artist with some technical skills and knowledge, has been a little like sailing a large clipper ship, with lots of jibes and tacks to reach my destination. I set myself the challenge to visually capture these traditional sailing windjammers from another era, to appeal to today’s contemporary lifestyle. Stories of these large clipper ships are an essential part of New Zealand’s and Australia’s early history, with unlimited stories of courage, hardship and seamanship.

They are the stories of the officers and sailors that braved the elements, bringing to the Antipodes the pioneering men, women, and children to a new life in a new country. The ships that came to New Zealand and Australia had appropriate names like: Marlborough, Waimate, Waitangi, Invercargill, Waikato, and are an important part of the New Zealand story.

This series of Immigrant ship paintings, were inspired by a series of water colour illustrations by J. Spurling. Jack Spurling illustrated a number of books on Clipper Ships written by Basil Lubbock, ‘The Romance of the Clipper Ships’. These great illustrations really capture the many ships that plied the waters between the UK, New Zealand and Australia with wonderful stories that tell the history and final fates of these great ships. Nearly all of Spurling’s original illustrations were lost during the blitz of London in World War 2.

My idea was to use these small illustrations as a starting point, and to paint in oils, much larger versions of the original water colours. I have painted them in a much looser and atmospheric style, with my own interpretation of the sea and skies, to appeal to a more contemporary market.

These paintings of the ships are 1200mm x 1000mm, and this large format creates a visual impact. Painting majestic sailing ships of the past, with a full set of sails in a running sea with dark clouds gathering, is a challenge not for the faint hearted.

However, the thrill of bringing it all together on a canvas can be nearly as exciting as having been there.


Passenger and Immigrant Ship. Built in 1846.

1200mm x 1000mm – Oil on Canvas. Sold.

The ‘Marlborough’ and ‘Blenheim’ were considered two of the finest ships of the British Merchant Marine of their time.

The Marlborough was built of the finest English oak and Malabar teak, and had an increased height between decks, one of the important measurements in a passenger ship of this time. The Marlborough had a between decks height of seven feet and two inches, and was considerably different from what was the norm of five and a half feet. These two ships were certified by the British Admiralty as fit to carry armaments as frigates in the event of war.

In 1853, the Marlborough and the Blenheim sailed from London to Australia to take gold-seekers out to the Antipodes. The Marlborough managed to sail from the Lizard at the southern tip of England to Hobson Bay in Australia, with 325 passengers in 78 days.

The Marlborough had many near fatal experiences and was nearly lost in the Bass Strait in a strong north-west gale of hurricane strength, and only her top sail blowing out saved her when she broached.

In 1869, the Marlborough was withdrawn from service and converted to a coal hulk until broken up in 1888.


Passenger and Immigrant Ship. Built in 1874.

1200mm x 1000mm – Oil on Canvas. Sold.

The ‘Waimate’ was considered the premier clipper ship of the New Zealand Shipping Company, until the ‘City of Perth’ was launched. She made 25 voyages to New Zealand and was a sister ship to the Waitangi.

They were considered the most handsome and fastest ships of the New Zealand Shipping Company. The Waimate was a first class ship in every respect, well built and splendidly fitted out for passengers.

She was smartly rigged with the old-time long jib-boom and the aristocratic main skysail. She had a length of 219 feet 7 inches, breadth of 36 feet and a depth of 20 feet and 7 inches. On her maiden passage, the Waimate took 89 days to reach Lyttleton, her second voyage took 74 days.

On her homeward journey she was very nearly wrecked on the coast near the Horn. It was a dark and dirty night and the ship was carrying a press of sail, when the look-out saw big surf ahead and on both bows, and the crew knew that they were rushing headlong onto an unknown shore. Only by the quick action of dropping anchors and rounding up into the wind was the ship saved.

In 1896, the Waimate was sold to the Russians and renamed the Valkyrian, but she didn’t last long under the change of flag and was lost at sea, presumably by fire from her cargo of coal.


Passenger and Immigrant Ship. Built in 1874.

1200mm x 1000mm – Oil on Canvas. Sold.

The ‘Invercargill’, was one of six sister ships, along with the Dunedin, Canterbury, Auckland, Nelson and Wellington. These beautiful ships were only 1,250 tons, but their proportions were just right. The six sister ships were all given the same sail plan, consisting of double topsails, single top gallant sails and nothing above the royal yards. The head sails were large with a great length of bow sprit and jib boom.

In July 16 1874, the Invercargill left Glasgow with 300 passengers on board and made a run to Port Chalmers in 90 days. The Invercargill then made 18 voyages to New Zealand:- Port Chalmers (11) Wellington (5) and Auckland (1) and Lyttleton (1). She had many close calls due to extreme weather conditions, and finally got into serious trouble on December 28th 1904.

She was caught in an increasing storm, finally swept from hatch to poop by a huge sea, and much damage was done. However, owing to the captain’s seamanship, the Invercargill made it to Queenstown in the UK. From here she was towed to the Clyde for major repairs and sold to the Norwegians.

She was finally lost at sea in 1905.


Passenger and Immigrant Ship. Built in 1876.

1200mm x 1000mm – Oil on Canvas. Available for purchase.

In 1873, a number of prominent New Zealand merchants and run holders founded the New Zealand Shipping Company, giving Blummer of Sunderland an order for four first class iron sailing ships. The shipping company prospered and no less than eighteen sailing ships flew their house flag. Their last three ships were the Opawa, Piako and Wanganui.

The ‘Piako’ was launched in December 1876, and on February 5th 1877 left London for Lyttelton with a full list of passengers. Her first voyage to New Zealand took 90 days, a good average passage at that date.

Leaving Plymouth on November 20th 1877 under Captain W. B. Boyd, a noted seaman, she nearly broke the record set previously by Boyd in the Lock Awe of 76 days.

The Piako’s third voyage very nearly ended in tragedy, from the most terrible of all ship’s perils – fire at sea. A fire broke out in the hold which threatened to overwhelm the ship as the crew struggled to put it out. Luckily, another ship the Lock Doon, was sighted and once along side, the passengers were able to be transferred. Captain and crew managed to save the ship by scuttling and sinking the ship to a level that extinguished the flames. When the ship was raised, it was discovered that not a lot of damage had been done.

In 1900, when bound to the Cape from Melbourne with troops for the Boer War, the Piako was posted as missing.


Passenger and Immigrant Ship. Built in 1871.

1200mm x 1000mm – Oil on Canvas. Sold.

The ‘Miltiades’ was the second of the famous iron clipper ships which were built for the Aberdeen White Star Line. It was launched in April, 1871, and mainly used on the passage to Melbourne.

In 1874, the Miltiades made her only outward passage to New Zealand, and this nearly ended in disaster. The ship missed stays through a sudden shift of wind whilst beating up the Gulf for Auckland, between Tiri and Rangitoto, and slid onto a mud spit off Galle Point. She had 470 emigrants on board and had made very good passage out from Gravesend. The Captain fired his signal gun and rocket, and this brought the small coastal steamer, the Lady Bowen, which on a rising tide had little difficulty in helping the Miltiades off the mud. The Captain of the steamer made a claim against White Star Line for costs which was finally settled for 1,625 pounds, as opposed to his original claim of 10,000 pounds.

The Miltiades was finally sold to M. Maresca of Castlemare but did not last long under the Italian flag. After being partially dismasted in March 1905 she was condemned and broken up.