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Clipper Great Republic

Although the memorable era of Clipper ship-building, which derived its wonderful impetus from the trade with California, may be said to have closed with the mercantile depressions of the past year, yet we think it will be expected that we should furnish a description of the king of clippers, when we regard the dimensions, known as the 4-masted ship Great Republic. This magnificent vessel, as she came from the hand of her builder, was not destined to try her bottom upon the ocean. In the winter of 1853-4, while on the eve of sailing from New-York, having her cargo on board, the Great Republic took fire from a quayside conflagration, which consumed several warehouses near the dock where she lay, and was burned below the 3rd deck.  But this unfortunate accident did not entirely frustrate the design of giving to the swift fleet of American clippers the largest merchant ship in the world. The Great Republic was sold by the Underwriters to Captain N.B. Palmer and others, of New-York, who immediately proceeded to place her under the charge of Messers. Sneeden & Whitlock, shipbuilders, at Green Point, L.I., for reconstruction.

Being originally built with 4 decks, the upper being a light spar-deck, it was not thought proper by her present owners to finish her in the former manner, so the 4th deck was not added. In consequence of this determination, the bed of the bowsprit was cut down a little, and the height of rail was fixed a little below the former spar-deck.

Thus she may be said to have been razed before having sailed a voyage.  Beside the usual houses on deck for forecastle, galley, etc., this ship has nothing now above her 3rd deck except a Forecastle forward, and a trunk cabin aft, which is entered from the deck forward, and from a steerage deck aft, at the height of the main rail that surrounds the cabin.


These comprises the chief alterations in the hull. The dimensions of the Great Republic are as follows:--

Length on spar-deck, which was removed

325 feet.

Length on load-line of construction

314 "

Extreme breadth of beam

53 "

Depth from base to plank-sheer, third deck

32½ "

Depth of hold, as rebuilt

29½ "

The keel, for 60 feet forward. is gradually raised above a straight line, blending into an arc of a circle in its connection with the stem, which curves forward with the knight-heads. She has about 20 inches dead-rise, a floor carried well fore-and-aft, with an easy bilge, and considerable tumble home to the sides above load-line. The bow is wedge-like, being slightly concave below water, and convex above, with much sameness in shape, and by no means artistic in model. The stern is elliptical, rising from a knuckle. The side-line is convex, but not sufficiently so to give symmetry to her gigantic proportions. We regard her as deficient in breadth to spread the rigging sufficiently, to say nothing of stability for the due security of the enormous propulsory power with which she was originally provided.  Her masts have been shortened in consequence, We do not regard her model as equal to those of the Flying Cloud or Sovereign of the Seas, by the same builder, Donald McKay, of Boston.

The keel of the Great Republic is of rock maple, in 2 tiers, which, combined, side 16 inches, and mould 32, the scarphs being 12 feet long. The shoe is 4½ inches thick. Her frame is of selected seasoned white oak. Floor-timbers are sided from 12 to 15 inches, and moulded 22; and the top-timbers vary from 11 to 13 inches sided, by 8 inches moulded. The space of frames from centre to centre is 26 inches. All the frames are doweled, in addition to the usual bolts. The dowels, or coags, are of white oak, round, 3¼ inches diameter, and 3½ inches long, joining both parts of the frame together; after which an inch bolt was driven through the frame and the heart of the coag. It is supposed that this manner of driving the frame-bolts through the coags will protect them from corrosion by salt water. The stem is sided the same as the keel, and is moulded 2 feet at the fore-foot and 20 inches at the head, being tapered to correspond with the lines of the bow.  The apron is 4¼ feet, moulded in several pieces. Every through bolt in the stem and apron is of 1¼ inch copper up to 26 feet draught, and within about 9 inches of each other. The stern-post is in 3 pieces, coaged and bolted together, sided same as the keel, and moulded from 5 to 6 feet. The stern-knee is sided 16 inches, moulded 3 feet at the throat, extending 8 feet up the post, and 20 feet along the keel. scarphed to the keelson, and bolted as the stem.  The frame is diagonally cross-braced with iron 4 inches wide, 1 inch thick, and 36 feet long, extending from the floor-heads to the top-timbers. There are 90 of these on each side, bolted through the timbers with inch iron, and riveted at the crossings.

Her keelsons, ceiling, and deck-frames, are of hard pine. She has 4 tiers of midship keelsons, each 15 square, and 3 tiers of sister keelsons - the 2 first 15 inches square, and the upper one 12 by 14 inches. These are all coaged, lock-scarphed and square-keyed, and bolted with 1-3/8 inch copper bolts through every floor-timber and the keel -- the 1st driven through the timber and the keel, and the 2nd through the 1st and 2nd tiers of keelsons also, and all riveted on the base of the keel. The heels of 1st futtocks, or naval timbers, are bolted through all the keelsons with iron, driven into the keel within a few inches of its base. These bolts were driven by a machine. The sister keelsons are bolted diagonally through the naval timbers into the keel, and horizontally through the midship keelsons. The whole depth of her back bone, from the top of the keelsons, including the moulding of the floors to the base of the shoe, is 9 feet 10 inches, and its width over the throat of floors is 3 feet 9 inches.

There are 9 strakes, of 10 by 12 inches, on the floor, all scarphed, square-fastened through the frames, and bolted edgeways every 5 feet. Over the floor-heads are 4 bilge keelsons, each 15 inches square, in 2 depths. These are also coaged, scarphed, keyed, square-fastened with 1¼ inch iron, and bolted edgeways. The ceiling above is in 2 thicknesses, the first 6 inches, and the second 15 -- the latter covering all the scarphs of that below, and is itself scarphed, and both are square-bolted. The whole bilge is double ceiled in this style up to a lap strake of 6 by 15 inches, upon which the lower ends of the lower deck hanging-knees rest. The lower deck clamps are also in 2 depths, of 6 and 10 inches thickness, worked in the same manner.

The water-ways of the lower and main decks are 16 inches square, the strake inside of them 10 by 12, and the thick work over them 12 by 18; and the water-ways and deck-strakes are coaged in every beam, and bolted through the coags, and also bolted vertically and horizontally. The ceiling above is 8 inches thick, scarphed, keyed, and square-bolted, and the clamp under the upper deck beams is 12 by 15 inches.  The upper deck water-ways are 12 by 13 inches, with one strake inside of them of 8 by 13 inches, worked in the same manner as above. Her rails are 8 thick by 20 wide.  Her garboards are 10 by 14 inches, bolted through the keel and the timbers. The next strake is 9 inches thick, and the 3rd 8, chamfered off to 6 inches, the thickness of the bottom plank. Bilge-planks are 8 inches thick; the wales 6 by 8 up to the moulding below the plank-sheer, and is 4½ inches thick.

The lower and main deck beams are 15 and 16 inches amidships; the upper deck beams are 12 by 15 inches; and 25 of them are double, bolted together, and sided 22 inches. There are 38 lower deck, 40 main deck, and 41 upper deck beams. The berth and hanging-knees of lower and main decks are oak; of the upper deck, hackmatack. The hanging-knees are sided from 10 to 12 inches, moulded from 22 to 24 inches in the throats; the bodies are from 5 to 6 feet, and the arms from 4 to 4½ feet long. The lower and main deck berth-kneed are sided 8 inches.  Upon the ceiling between the main and upper decks, diagonal braces of hard pine are worked from the throat of one hanging-knee to the foot of the other, and bolted through the ceiling and the timbers. The upper deck fore-and-aft framing is in 3 courses; the middle course is 8 by 14 inches, framed for-and-aft and kneed by 4 small knees between each pair of beams - in all 144 knees. The other courses are framed diagonally. The decks are 3½ and 3 inches, and the thick strakes amidships and over the wing stanchions are coaged, and bolted to the beams.  She has three tiers of stanchions, for-and-aft, supporting the lower and main deck beams. These stanchions are in 2 pieces, which, when united at the centre of the beam, are 10 by 23 inches. The wing stanchions are stepped into the bilge keelsons, and all are double-kneed to the same. The midship stanchions are stepped into the main keelson, and the knees are scarphed in every berth. All other stanchions are of oak turned, 10 inches in diameter, secured with iron rods through their centres, which are set up with screw-nuts.

Her hooks and pointers are of white-oak. In the hold, forward, are 3 sets of pointers, from 30 to 40 feet in length, and 9 to 11 inches square, which fay into the angles between the keelsons and the skin, and are filled in with hooks; they cross all the cants diagonally, and fay to the lower deck beams. About 5 feet above the keelsons is a horizontal hook, shored off with 2 beams, and secured by 8 knees. The stern is strengthened in the same manner. The iron water-tanks are cylindrical in form, and extend to the upper deck, one being placed 64 feet before the mainmast, and the other 24 feet abaft of it. She has 4 hold-pumps. All her hatchway combings, and mast-partners are kneed to the beams.

The Great Republic now, as originally, has 4 masts, and their positions have not been changed. The after one is named the spanker-mast, and is made of a single spar. The others are built of hard pine, doweled together, bolted and hooped with iron bands. The bowsprit is also built and hooped. She had Forbes's rig before she was burned, but is now fitted with Howe's rig on the fore, main, and mizzen masts.  The bowsprit is 44 inches in diameter, and was originally placed 30 feet outboard, but has been shortened to correspond with the masts.  Her fore and main rigging, and fore and main topmast back-stays, were 12½ inch patent rope, wormed, and served over the eyes, and over the ends to the leading trucks. Other rigging in proportion. The Great Republic has 4 anchors.  Her best bower is Porter's patent, weighing 8,500 lbs.; the working bower is 6,500 lbs.; the small bower, 2,500 lbs., and the kedge 1,500. Her bower chains are each of 2½ inch.

The Great Republic is furnished with a steam-engine of 15 hp, for handling cargo, ship, &c. She is now on her 1st voyage to London, having cleared for that port on the 21st day of February last.

Lest it should be forgotten that at least one ship of greater magnitude than the Great Republic has long since crossed the Atlantic, we give a brief notice of the timber ship Baron of Renfrew, built at Quebec, in 1825, by Charles Wood, of Port Glasgow. Dimensions: 304 feet long, 61 beam feet beam, and 34 feet hold. Registered tonnage, 5,294 tons. Cargo of pine timber, 8,500 tons. She, too, was rigged with 4 masts. She was built of solid pine timber, in order to evade the home duties upon the same, and was known as the "Raft Ship". After a long and tedious passage, she arrived safely in England, and was broken up. Built of mostly square timbers with the intention of being taken apart at the arrival at the destination and sold for her timbers.  Launched at the shipyard of Charles Wood, Anse du Fort, Isle of Orleans, Quebec, with 4000 tons of timber already onboard. A previous attempt had failed when the grease on the launching ways was consumed by fire caused by the enormous friction.  1825 October 27 -

Wrecked on the Goodwin Sands while with a pilot onboard and under tow by 2 tugs of which one was the James Watt.

As at first built, the upper deck plank-sheer was 7 inches thick, above which she was ceiled with 3½ inch plank up to the spar-deck clamp, which was 6 by 14 inches. The plank-sheer of the spar-deck was 7 by 20 inches, upon which a chock of 12 by 6 inches received the heels of turned stanchions 3½ feet high, protected by a spar-deck rail 5 by 12 inches.

The U.S. Nautical Magazine, Vol. II (1855), pp 1-9.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013