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Clipper Ship Schomberg

Perhaps the best known vessel that A Hall & Co have built was the Schomberg, completed in 1855, for Messrs James Baines & Co., of Liverpool.  

Launch. A new clipper ship, the Schomberg, of 2600 tons, the largest vessel ever built in the United Kingdom, will be launched at Aberdeen to-day, from the yard of those celebrated builders the Messrs. A Hall & Co.  The Schomberg, which bas been built under the personal superintendence of Captain J. N. Forbes, late of the Marco Polo and Lightning, will be christened by Mr. A H Layard, MP who is to-day installed Lord Rector of Aberdeen University. She will be ready for sea in about 6 weeks, when she will come to this port, and form a magnificent addition to Messrs James Baines and Co's line of Australian clipper packets.- Liverpool Times, 5th April. 1855.  A Banquet for 500 guests was arranged in the Yard's Mould Loft

A description of this vessel, illustrated by diagrams, appears under "Shipbuilding," in the "Encyclopedia Britannica."  

Constructed specially for the Australian passenger trade, the Schomberg was built and fitted up with the best materials, and when she was ready for sea was one of the finest as well as largest vessels afloat.  Her length was 262 feet; breadth, 45. feet; depth, 30 feet; and tonnage, 2600.  The frames of the vessel were of British Oak, and the planking consisted of four layers of Scotch Larch, each 2 inches thick. The first 2 layers were fixed in a diagonal position, passing down one side of the vessel and up the other, beneath the inside keel.  The 3rd layer was put on in a perpendicular position, and also passed under the vessel; and over this the outer layer was fixed horizontally.  By arranging the planking in the way described, great strength was obtained.  The vessel, which cost £42,000, sailed for Australia in 1855, and was unfortunately wrecked on Cape Otway, on the 184th day after leaving Liverpool.  One or two vessels of nearly similar size and build have since been turned out, but these began their career and have been pursuing it without attracting special attention.

The days at sea were well short of the 60 boasted initially as possible passage period.

The unfortunate Schomberg the only wooden ship ever built in a British Yard that could in any way compare with the big Boston and Nova Scotian built ships in size. In 1854, James Baines was so impressed by the success of the little Aberdeen Tea Clippers, that he gave Alexander Hall's an order for a monster Emigrant Clipper of 2600 tons. Unfortunately, Hall's had had no experience in the building of Emigrant Ships and the Schomherg was more of a copy of Donald Mckay's Clippers than Hall's own beautiful little ships. The Schomberg cost when ready for sea £43,103 or £18 17s. 6d. per ton.

She had 3 skins, 2 of diagonal planking, and one fore and aft, the whole fastened together with screw - threaded hard-wood trunnels - a novelty in shipbuilding. She was specially heavily rigged, her mainmast weighing 15 tons, being a pitch-pine spar 110 feet in length and 42 inches in diameter. Her main-yard was 110 feet long. She crossed 3 skysail yards, but no moonsail .  Captain Forbes, as Commodore of the Black Ball, was shifted into her from the Lightning  and great hopes were entertained that she would lower the record to Australia.

The Schomberg. The Morning Chronicle, in noticing the launch of this vessel, makes the following remarks:-
The advantages of fast sailing ships have never been more clearly manifested since the introduction of steam power to maritime purposes than within the last few months, nor has the absolute necessity of an extension of their number been so apparent as since the whole of the available mercantile steam fleet of Britain has been required and taken up by the Government for war purposes.

In some instances these Clippers have performed a given passage in less time than the steamers; and since the withdrawal of both the paddle and screw boats from the postal service to and from Australia, the value of clipper sailing ships has become better appreciated. The large shipbuilders of London, Liverpool, and the Clyde, etc., appear now to be more than ever desirous of building more of this class of vessels, and a spirit of beneficial and friendly rivalry appears to prevail between them to turn out the handsomest, largest, and fastest sea-going craft.

Size appears to be one of the distinguishing features of the time. Each new ship that is launched is reported to he larger than any of its predecessors, but at present nothing yet approaches the gigantic proportions of the leviathan vessel now in course of construction for the Eastern Steam Navigation Company. Of the Aberdeen Clippers, the one last launched off the stocks is the Schomberg, belonging to Messrs. James Baines and Co., of Liverpool, the well-known enterprising shlpowners of that port. This vessel is considered the perfection of Aberdeen clippers. Her dimensions are as follow:-

Length between perpendiculars 262
Length Overall, 288 feet;
Extreme Breadth, 45 feet;
Depth of Hold, 29 feet.
Her tonnage is 2400 new measurement, and 2600 old, per register ; say 3500 to 4000 tons burden.

Her entrance lines on the water are long and exceedingly fine; she has a beautifully moulded run and clearance, a flat floor, and full form above. She has been built on the diagonal principle, and will be a full rigged 3-masted ship. The lower masts and topmasts are of pitch pine; the mainmast is 110 feet long, 42 inches diameter at the deck, and is 15 tons weight. The main-yard is also 110 feet long, which will give some idea of the length of all the others. The Schomberg will be fitted up for carrying passengers, having 3 decks, with Poop and Forecastle. Altogether, it is calculated that there will be accommodation for 1000 souls. The vessel has been named after Captain Schomberg, R.N., the Chief Government Emigration Agent at Liverpool, according to whose plans all the arrangements bearing upon the comfort of the passengers have been carried out. She is to be commanded by Captain James Nicol Forbes, late of the Marco Polo and Lightning. - SG & SGTL Vol 12 ; Page 177 ; 30 Jul 1855

The Clipper Ship Schomberg. This magnificent clipper, at present only known to the colonies from description, has now completed her contract time of 65 days. There appears to be no doubt that the date of her leaving Liverpool has been the 7th October, instead of, as is usually the case with the Black Ball line, the 5th of the month. It was found that, owing to her great depth, the state of the tide would render it hazardous to take her out of dock before the 7th, and an application had been made to the authorities to permit the detention, to which a favourable answer was hourly expected, but had not arrived, at the time of the departure of the Red Jacket.- Argus, December 12.

The following descriptive account of the celebrated Schomberg a report of whose wreck has reached us. will, doubtless, be read with much interest, as showing the great loss sustained by both owners and underwriters, although in the absence of information as to the real position of the vessel and her probable fate, we may hope that she will yet be got off, and then she will, if wise, come on to Sydney to be docked. The value of the ship and cargo are estimated at £250,000. Very serious rumours were propagated is Sydney yesterday respecting the conduct of Captain Forbes. We need scarcely caution our readers against believing reports. until the evidence as to the loss of the ship is fully published. Vulgar prejudices against a Captain when he is so unfortunate so to lose his vessel, does not require ingenious and malicious insinuations; and to condemn Captain Forbes unheard, is discreditable and un-English.  (From the Liverpool Journal September 22, 1855.)


England may well boast of her commercial greatness, and Liverpool may honestly stand forward as the champion of our progress in commerce. Liverpool boasts that her merchants are Princes; the term is not inappropriate - they are men of lofty intellects - shrewd in matters of business, ignoring selfishness in their transactions and profiting by their ordinary business affairs to raise the fame of our envied land. There is no one who has visited the Coburg Dock lately but must have been struck by the mighty specimen of marine architecture which lay at its north side for some weeks - we allude to the clipper ship Schomberg.

Her proportions are immense: but there is that symmetry without which the eye is displeased, and with which the mind is occupied in reflection upon the great results which attend civilization. The house of Messrs. James Baines and Co. has ever been an enterprising one; they have always met the requirements of the Emigrating public at an enormous expense, and their last attempt is one which has cast all others into the shade.  The Schomberg, before she will be ready for sea, will have swallowed up 2 fortunes - she will have cost at least £50,000, exclusive of the expense of provisions and other necessaries for passengers.  The length of this gigantic ship is 302 feet over all, the length between perpendiculars being 283 feet, whilst her extreme breadth of beam is 45 feet, and her depth 20 feet. Her builders' tonnage is 2,600 tons. To give some idea of the immense spread of canvas which this ship will carry, we may state that the mainmast is 110 feet in length, the main-yard 113 feet, main topsail-yard 93 feet, main-top gallant yard 65 feet, main-royal-yard 55 feet, and main-skysail-yard 45 feet. We believe we are correct in stating that these are the squarest yards of any ship afloat - including even the British Navy. The quantity of canvas spread will be 18,000 yards!  At sea, as well as on terra firma, people like plenty of room to exercise their limbs; and passengers by the Schomberg may rely upon it that they will have no cause to find fault in this respect. The flush deck is a magnificent promenade. But the poop naturally attracts the attention of visitors, and, on stepping inside of it, they will be amazed at the magnificent apartment which is before them - had they been in some old baronial hall they could not have been more astonished. The length of the poop is about 62 feet, and its height nearly 9 feet. The centre portion of it is the Dining Saloon, which is 20 feet in width, and fitted up to accommodate 60 persons.  A flood of light is admitted through spacious windows, each about 4 feet by 3; and there are 10 very large mirrors, the workmanship of which is most splendid. The whole apartment bears an appearance of magnificence which can only be appreciated by those who may have the good fortune to see it - gold and white being the prevailing colours. The carpets are of velvet pile, and the furniture is of mahogany, and of first-rate workmanship.  Proceeding to the extreme stern of the vessel, through 2 doors, painted and decorated in the most chaste manner possible, we come to the Ladies' Saloon, or drawing-room - an apartment which reminds one of fairy halls. This saloon is inlaid with rosewood, setoff into Grecian arched panels, and ornamented with pilasters, surmounted with a very massive cornice, composed of clusters of carved fruit and flowers, and printed in white and gold. Around the upper part of the saloon is a sofa stuffed with horsehair, and covered with choice velvet, capable of seating 30 ladies. The furniture is all of rosewood, and is of first-class workmanship. The stern-post is hid from view by an octagonal plate-glass mirror, which reflects all parts of the saloon; and there are 5 other mirrors of large size in various parts. Probably the most magnificent pieces of workmanship that were ever seen on board a ship are the doors in the ladies' saloon. They are of bird's eye maple and mahogany, with glass panels, which are inlaid with collections of fruit and flowers made of pearls and brilliants. The coverings of the chairs are of satin damask, the colour being green, purple, and gold, and the carpets are of the very best velvet pile. The ladies, and we cannot doubt the gentlemen too, will be particularly pleased to learn that a piano has been provided.

When we visited the ship yesterday afternoon, we were highly pleased to find upon the ladies' saloon table a centre piece of silver, or beautiful design, presented by the Merchants of Liverpool to Captain Forbes, to record their admiration of his skill as a navigator, his devoted kindness and attention to his passengers, and the courage, energy, and decision displayed, by him in the management of his crew, when he made the unparalleled voyage from Liverpool to Port Phillip and back in 5 months and 21 days, including a detention there in the celebrated ship Marco Polo, belonging to Messrs. James Baines and Co., in 1853. There was also a silver salver and a tea and coffee service presented by the owners to Captain Forbes; and, last, though not least, a remarkably handsome silver goblet, presented to the Captain by the lady passengers of the Lightning - another of Messrs. Baines and Co.'s ships - for his kindness and attention to them during the voyage from Melbourne to Liverpool, in October, 1854. The number of windows in the ladies' saloon is 8, and between each of them is a transparency of a view from Europe, Asia, Africa, America, and Australia. Altogether, this part of the vessel presents a gorgeous appearance and exceeds in grandeur anything of the kind we have yet seen on board ship.

A voyage like that to Australia would be extremely monotonous unless some means of amusement were provided. Ever mindful of the wants of their passengers, Messrs. Baines and Co. have appropriated a spacious room on the port side of the ship, abaft the Dining saloon to a library and writing-room.  The fittings of this room are all of oak, and the shelves which have been put up will be stored with about 400 volumes of standard literature. Abreast of the library, on the opposite side, is the captain's cabin, with a door from the saloon lobby, and one also to the deck, through which he can pass without disturbing the repose of those slumbering beneath the saloon.  In this room, again, the greatest taste and elegance has been displayed in the selection of the fittings, the furniture, and the draperies.  A crowned head might not refuse to repose in such a glorious apartment.

Descending by a flight of stairs, covered with Brussels carpet, of a very rich pattern, we come to the saloon passengers' cabin.  This is a noble place, and all that refined taste would suggest has been done to make each berth a miniature palace.  The bedding is of the very best material, and the fittings are replete with every convenience.  The carpets are of various coloured velvet pile, and the curtains are of satin damask, lined with white satin, and French cambric curtains inside these.  The fronts of the berths are highly decorated, and festoons of flowers are painted on the panels.  No 2 berths are furnished with the same coloured material, and the visitor is, therefore, much pleased with the variety which he has to inspect. Ascending again to the dining saloon, we proceed up a flight of stairs which bring us to the poop deck - a most excellent promenade for the saloon passengers. Proceeding forward, we find in a deck-house every accommodation for the petty officers and the surgeon. In the centre are the galleys and the ovens in which bread sufficient can be baked daily to supply the whole of the passengers and crew - 1000 persons. The 2nd deck is appropriated to the berths for the 2nd cabin passengers, and the 3rd deck for the steerage. The ventilation and lighting of these two parts of the ship have been most carefully attended to and the comfort and cleanliness of the 2nd and 3rd class passengers has been attended to by putting up iron berths for them, at a cost of double what wooden berths could be furnished.  There are on board baths and other conveniences ; and the provisions we anticipate will be of a very superior quality, ample pens having been erected wherein to keep fowls, swine, etc.  A cow, too, will be carried to furnish milk for the use of the passengers. Boats, fire-engines, and other means of precaution have been duly adopted, and at the bottom of the ship are tanks for containing 90,000 gallons of water. These tanks have cost, we believe, at least £3000.

We have endeavoured to present our readers with a slight sketch of this leviathan of the deep, but we have found difficulty in doing so. Everything is so chaste and elegant in the saloons, the lower decks are so excellently fitted, and the culinary and other arrangements are so complete, that it baffles us to find a word wherein to express out admiration of what we saw. There is one thing, however, to be said, and that is that this ship is a model which might be imitated with advantage is the case of our American liners. The abominations with which Emigrant vessels are too often infested cannot possibly exist in the Schomberg.

In conclusion. we would say that there is every prospect of the berths being all fitted, and the cargo all engaged, for the Schomberg; and we must congratulate Messrs. James Baines and Co. in having such a gentleman as Captain Forbes to command this clipper. If it possibly can be done, Captain Forbes will, with his gallant craft, put an end to all the croakings about the inability of clipper ships to compete with steamers to Australia.

SG & SGTL Vol 12 ; Pages 275 & 283 ; 17 - 31 Dec 1855

Wrecking of the Schomberg

On 6th October, 1855, she was hauled through the pier heads amidst the cheers of a patriotic crowd of sightseers, with the boast of "60 days to Melbourne" flying from her signal halliards. The passage was one of light and moderate winds.  Schomberg was 28 days to the line and 55 days to the Greenwich meridian. Running her easting down she averaged 6 degrees daily to 130° E., her greatest speed being 15 knots and her best run 368 miles. She made the land off Cape Bridgewater at 1 p.m. on Christmas day, the wind being fresh at E.S.E. On 27th December after 2 days' tacking, with the wind still blowing fresh from ahead, Forbes went about at noon when 4 miles off shore and tacked out; at 6 p.m. he tacked in again.  At about 10.30 p.m., the land being faintly visible, the wind gradually died away. It was a moonlight night. Forbes was playing cards in the saloon when the Mate came down and reported that the ship was getting rather close in under the land and suggested going about.  As circumstance would have it, Forbes was losing and, being a bit out of temper, insisted on playing another rubber of whist before tacking ship, and the danger point had been overstripped when at 11 o'clock he came on deck and gave the order to 'bout ship.'  As there was next to no wind and a current running 3 to 4 knots to the westward, the Schomberg refused to come round.

A game of cards called “Whist.” “Rubber” is the best of 3 Games.

Forbes next tried to wear her, with the result that the ship slid up on to a sandbank 35 miles west of Cape Otway. On sounding round the ship it was found that she was stuck fast in 4 fathoms of water. Sail was kept on her in the hopes of it pulling her off into deep water again .   Forbes, on being told that the ship was hard aground, said angrily:- *'Let her go to Hell, and tell me when she is on the beach," and at once went below. Henry Cooper Keen, the mate, then took charge, and finding that the Schomberg was only being hove further in by the swell and current, clewed up all sail, let go the starboard anchor and lowered the boats.  It  was subsequently proved at the inquiry afterwards that it was chiefly due to the Chief Officer and a 1st  class passenger, a Civil Engineer of Belfast named Millar, that all the passengers were safely disembarked and put aboard the steamer Queen, which hove in sight on the following morning. All efforts to save the ship failed and she presently went to pieces.  Forbes at the inquiry was acquitted of all blame for the stranding, the sandbank being uncharted, but at a mass meeting of his passengers in the Mechanics' Institute, Melbourne, he was very severely censured. Many of them declared that he was so disgusted with the slowness of the passage that he let the ship go ashore on purpose . Others complained of his tyranny during the voyage and even made worse allegations against his morality and that of the ship's doctor; altogether the affair was a pretty scandal and Forbes never obtained another command in the Black Ball Line.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013