Ocean Telegraph / Light Brigade (clipper)

Ocean Telegraph / Light Brigade (clipper)
Ocean Telegraph
Name: Ocean Telegraph / Light Brigade
Owner: 1854: Reed, Wade & Co., Boston, Massachusetts, for New York to San Francisco run - named the
Ocean Telegraph
Builder: James O. Curtis, Medford, Massachusetts
Launched: March 29, 1854

1863: Black Ball Line of James Baines & Co, Liverpool, for London to Australia and New Zealand run - renamed the
Light Brigade
1871: Taylor, Bethell & Roberts, London, for London to Queensland run

1875: Cork Warehouse Co., Cork, Ireland
Out of service: 1883
Fate: Coal hulk at Gibraltar
General characteristics
Tonnage: 1495 Old Measurement
(1244 Moorsom Measurement)
Length: 227 ft (69 m)
Beam: 40 ft (12 m)
Draft: 23 ft 6 in (7.16 m)
Propulsion: Sails

The Ocean Telegraph was an American clipper ship. Built in 1854 for the run between New York and San Francisco, she was later sold and renamed the Light Brigade in 1863. For the next 12 years she was used predominantly to transport cargo and immigrants between London and Australia and New Zealand.


1854: Construction - Ocean Telegraph

The Ocean Telegraph was designed by Boston-based naval architect Samuel Hartt Pook who designed several very fast clipper ships. She was built by James O. Curtis in Medford, up the Mystic River from Boston, in 1854. She was built for Reed, Wade & Co. of Boston, Massachusetts for New York to San Francisco run.

The ship was 1,495 tons register Old Measurement, 1,244 tons Moorsom Measurement. She measured 227 feet (69 m) long, 40 feet (12 m) wide, and 23 feet (7.0 m) deep.[1][2]

She was described as "a very sharp clipper and said to be one of the most perfect ships ever built".[1] "No expense was spared to make her one of the most perfect and beautiful ships ever built. The bow raked boldly forward, flaring gracefully, and was ornamented with a beautiful carved female figure with forks of lightning playing around She was very sharp, with a long, clean run tapering like that of a pilot boat. Her light and graceful stern was ornamented with carved work surrounding a figure of Neptune. She had a fine sheer, and every line and molding harmonized her whole length."[1][3]

In common with other clipper ships of the day she was constructed from wood and with three masts. Also in common with other clipper ships of the day her hull was painted black, and the bottom of the hull lined with copper. Her black hull can be clearly seen, and the copper can just be seen above the waves in an 1858 painting by James E. Buttersworth.

1854 - 1862: New York to San Francisco run - Ocean Telegraph

From 1854 to her sale in 1863 she was involved in moving cargo and passengers between New York and San Francisco. In common with many other clippers at the time, she was sometimes unable to procure a return cargo and when this happened had to return to New York in ballast.[1]

Under the command of Captain Little she was involved in a race from New York to San Francisco in 1859/1860 against the Great Republic which at 109 days the Ocean Telegraph won by 1 day, and which also placed her for the second time on the list of clipper ships to make the journey in 110 days or less. On her voyages she also became one of the 36 ships to make the run from 50° S in the Pacific to the Equator in 20 days or less (19 days), and one of the 48 ships to make the run from the Equator to San Francisco in 20 days or less (20 days).[1][4]

The fastest outward passage to San Francisco from New York of the Ocean Telegraph was 105 days, 20 hours. In total she made eight passages with cargo to San Francisco from New York. The average of seven of these is under 117 days, and of the eight is 121 days. She made five passages with cargo from San Francisco to New York, of which four were under 100 days. The average of the five is 96.8 days. Portions of a number of these runs were very close to record. Fastest return passage 90 days. In 1855 she made the run from Callao to New York in 58 days, believed to be the fastest on record.[3]

The clipper ship trade card used to advertise the Ocean Telegraph had an illustration of two telegraphers facing each other over an expanse of water.[5]

In 1863, when it was no longer possible to make a profit on the trade from New York to San Francisco, she was sold.

1863–1873: London to Australia and New Zealand run - Light Brigade

Light Brigade at Gravesend, London

In 1863 sold for £7060 to the Black Ball Line of James Baines & Co., Liverpool principally for the London to Australia and New Zealand run, and renamed the Light Brigade. As part of the Black Ball Line, and under Captain Henry Evans, she carried immigrants from London to Brisbane, Australia in 1863; British troops and their families to Auckland, New Zealand in 1864 from both Calcutta and Rangoon in India, and from London, for the Maori Wars (2 separate voyages); immigrants from London to Sydney, Australia in 1867 and returned to London via Calcutta with cavalry horses for the troops in Calcutta; immigrants from London to Lyttelton, New Zealand in 1867; and immigrants from London to Brisbane, Australia in 1869 and 1870/71.[2] On this last trip Captain Evans died in Brisbane 10 days before the ship sailed again for London in April 1871 with a cargo of primary production goods being 2630 bales wool, 48 bales sheepskins, 500 casks tallow, 788 cases preserved mutton, 223 cases preserved meat, 11 calfskins, 1500 hides, 6031 horns, 89½ cwts bones and hoofs, 3 cases honey, 3 packages tobacco, 2 cases natural history specimens, 2 boxes silver plate, 69 sundry boxes and packages.[6]

In 1871 sold to Taylor, Bethell & Roberts, London principally for the London to Queensland, Australia run.[2] She made 2 trips from London to Keppel Bay (Rockhampton) in 1871/72 (Captain Holden) and 1872/73 (Captain L. Davies). The Light Brigade was described on the first trip as "a smart looking full-rigged ship, admirably adapted for the conveyance of passengers and immigrants, the various compartments for their accommodation being, both roomy and well ventilated. It may be added that the ship 'tween decks presents a clean and orderly appearance."[7] Also on the first trip it was decided that she not travel down to Brisbane but that she return with cargo from Keppel Bay to London. This cargo did not arrive in a satisfactory condition and settlers near Keppel Bay decided not to again ship goods as part of her cargo. As a result on the second trip she then travelled down in ballast to Sydney looking for a return cargo. The newspapers of the day do not then make it clear whether she returned to London via Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia), or San Francisco, or both.

Each time the Light Brigade had sailed to Australia and New Zealand during this period she carried around 400 passengers, mail and a cargo of general merchandise. The passengers for Auckland were soldiers and their families. The passengers for Lyttleton, Sydney, Brisbane, and Keppel Bay (Rockhampton) were predominantly assisted immigrants - labourers, domestic servants, and tradespeople for the settlements there. She returned with mail and a small number of passengers, but return cargo to fill the space of the assisted immigrants and soldiers was harder to procure.

A typical cargo of primary production goods for transport to London is described above. A typical cargo of general merchandise coming out from London consisted of apparel and ready made clothing £272, flannels and blanket, £380, cotton goods £606, general drapery £290, saddlery and leather goods £187, cordage and twine £144, sacks, 150 woolpacks 150, paints and varnish £150, stationery £130, brushware £11, hardware and ironmongery £356 , machinery £854 , railway material, £1200 , upholstery and furniture £51, toys and fancy goods £12, oilman's stores and provisions £303, salt fish £165, oils 2350 gallons, salt 60 tons, fruits and spices 4 cwt , drugs £91, cigars 1721 lbs, beer in glass 50 barrels, bar and rod iron 2 tons, lead: sheet, pipe, and pig 1 ton, steel 5 tons, tin plates 582 boxes, and wire 3 tons.[8]

1875 - 1883: Later years - Light Brigade

In 1875 sold to the Cork Warehouse Co., Cork, Ireland, and changed into a bark.[2][3]

In February 1883 arrived at Queenstown VA 19 days south of New York, leaking badly.[2]

In 1883 condemned and sold to Gibraltar where she was converted into a coal-hulk.[2] Last report 1891.[3]

See also


  • One reference states that the Ocean Telegraph was built by Hayden & Cudworth. This is not substantiated by any other references. This clipper ship was built by James O. Curtis.


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