Plymouth Emigration, Further Reading

Plymouth, emigration trade and the harbour master’s cat.

Emigration, Plymouth,
Plymouth, Emigration
76 x 121 cm (30″ x 48″), £15,000,
A lost history of Plymouth documented by this painting and a very quick and famous clipper ship.
A lost history, this port painting, a Plymouth scene and diligently researched, shows an aspect of Plymouth the citizens can be justifiably proud of.

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During the whole of her career under the Aberdeen house-flag, the only mishap Samuel Plimsoll suffered was the carrying away of a fore topmast : happily this was free from casualties.

This was the case with most of the well maintained Thompson’s green clippers.

On the occasion of this her only mishap a tropical squall carried away the bobstay, and down came the fore-topmast and main topgallant mast.


Samuel Plimsoll was in distress.

It happened that a Yankee clipper was in company.

This vessel beat up to the dismantled Samuel Plimsoll and sent a boat off with a message that she was bound for Australia and would gladly tran-ship the passengers and carry them on to their destination.

This offer, Captain Simpson, then commanding the Samuel Plimsoll, declined with thanks, so the American went on her way.


In the remarkably short time of a long day of hard work the Aberdeen flyer had fresh masts aloft.

Then the Samuel Plimsoll settled down to make up the lost time.

Nobly the Samuel Plimsoll made her time.

One week’s work in the ‘Roaring Forties’ totalling 2300 miles, and she eventually arrived in Melbourne, 82 days out.

Some days later the Yankee arrived and her captain at once went to the Samuel Plimsoll’s agents and reported speaking to her dis-masted in the Atlantic, at the same time he commented on her captain’s foolhardiness in not trans-shipping his passengers.

Is it the Captain Simpson sitting over there you are referring to?” asked the agent.


Extracted, edited from THE COLONIAL CLIPPERS by Basil Lubbock, Page 242
This painting
Emigration, Plymouth,
Plymouth, Emigration

Samuel Plimsoll’, bound Plymouth for Australia.

76 x 121 cm (30″ x 48″), £15,000,

The year is 1875, a warm August Moon is rising over Mount Batten with its distinctive Martello Tower.

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Plymouth Emigration Depot :
Emigration, Plymouth depot
Plymouth, Emigration, a depot detail

Plymouth, a rich and historically accurate detail of migrants and their baggage departing, while the harbour master’s black cat looks on…

Plymouth, already famous as the departure point of Mayflower with the Pilgrim Fathers.

During the 19 th century Plymouth operated the most modern most humane emigration depot in Great Britain.

The depot was demolish in approximately 1935 leaving only one building to be used as The Pier Master’s Office and The Mayflower Sailing Club.

To reconstruct the old depot my principal sources were an aerial photograph of the neglected depot taken soon before demolition and and a charming, very informative drawing made by a migrant and which was published in an Australian newspaper at that time.

Samuel Plimsol
Plymouth, Emigration, a detail, Samuel Plimsol

Jenny cliff and Plymouth Sound glow with mysterious moonlight and moon shadows.

She will be to be noted for her record runs.

Samuel Plimsoll was a first quality ship, a green hulled clipper ship of the Aberdeen White Star Line.

Her anchor is hove short, sails shaken loose, she is in the final stages of loading emigrants, bound to go with the first of the ebb tide.

The ship is ready to sail.




Plymouth was already famous as the departure point of Mayflower with the Pilgrim Fathers.

The port is known to have been frequented by pre roman ships of Phoenicia, there is they used the beach in the lee of Mount Batten and traded for a precious metal mined in Devon and Cornwall, tin.

Many a famous voyage commenced at Plymouth, Francis Drake sailed from Plymouth to become the first captain [second ship but captain Magellan died] to complete a circumnavigation of this planet.

Captain James Cook, Admiral Horatio Nelson, Charles Darwin, are the names of just a few of the others.

By the 19th century Plymouth had became the 3rd busiest British point of departure.

Aside from a geographic advantage and more so with the coming of railways, Plymouth had the most advanced [for the time], most popular, migration depot.


The shipSamuel Plimsoll’:

The Samuel Plimsoll sails under government contract, having been specially converted when outbound for emigrants including with cabins and a surgeon.

She eventually made 17 voyages with emigrants, returning with wool, racing her clipper ship sisters.

Samuel Plimsoll’ seen her bound Plymouth for Australia, taking on board the last of her migrants and their baggage.

A famous ship, the clipper ‘Samuel Plimsollis moored on one of the most historic pieces of water in Britain, The Plymouth Cattewater.

Samuel Plimsoll” was noted for her record runs annually from Plymouth, mostly to Australia.


Samuel Plimsoll had very similar lines to famous ‘Cutty Sark‘ and her great rival, ‘Thermopylaeregularly racing them and proving herself a very fast ship.

This fine clipper ship was christened and launched in the presence of Samuel Plimsoll MP in who’s honour she was named, by Mrs. Boaden, wife of her first commander, Captain Boaden.

Her first voyage took 180 souls from Plymouth on 19 November 1873 arriving at Sydney in the very smart time of 68 days.

Well maintained, her long career was largely trouble free.


Samuel Plimsoll was an iron hull composite clipper built 1873 at Aberdeen by W. Hood & Co, for the Aberdeen White Star line.


Mr. Samuel Plimsoll and the Plimsoll Line :

At a time when literally some 5 thousand families per year where being made fatherless because ships were being overloaded so lost in storms, Samuel Plimsoll became a renowned campaigner for sailor’s rights and safety at sea.

It is no exaggeration to say seamen world wide today still benefit from Samuel Plimsoll’s lifelong campaign for sailor’s rights.

Mr. Plimsol was an ardent campaigner for sailor’s rights, innovator of the ‘Plimsoll Line‘, a mark protecting seamen, which today appears on the ships of 164 countries world wide.

Samuel Plimsoll literally has made his mark, a great achievement, a truly great legacy.


There is an excellent award winning book on the subject The Plimsoll Sensation by Nicolette Jones.

I’m honoured to report bought a signed numbered print of this picture. Ask for details or visit my web site page Marine Art Prints



The Cattewater :

this is a name strange upon the modern tongue.

Yet so very many famous voyages started from Plymouth Cattewater (older spelling Cat Water).

Upon the Plymouth Cattewater the Phoneticians, Saxons, Francis Drake, Frobisher, Hawkins, the Mayflower and Pilgrim Fathers, James Cook, Nelson, James Darwin and flying boats, American D Day shipping, solo ocean races and very much more have sailed voyages that have changed lives and our world beyond measure.


The name ‘Cattewater’ derives from water were anchors were ‘a cat-head’ or ‘catted’.

In old time wooden sailing ships anchors were as vital as they are today.
Anchors were big heavy beasts that if miss handled could seriously damage a ship, maim or kill men.

Meaning as ship design developed anchors came to be ‘handled’ via a primitive derrick, one each side of a vessel just abaft the bow which some ancient mariner, bit of a wag, pointed out were like two cat’s whiskers; the name stuck, has become sea lore, part of the mariner’s language.

Plymouth has been the third busiest point of departure from Great Britain.

Many a captain chose to have his ship lie to anchor in the sheltered river Plym, its mouth being The Cattewater.

I’ve seen many a full moon rise over the Cattewater where I used to race dinghies when had a family and where I moored my yacht “Music Maker”.

I’d long thought the scene deserved to be painted, this study is one of the results, enjoy.

Copyright reserved 2020

I have much more of her career in my file.


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This was  location is one I’d long wished to paint.
I knew it intimately and I was to discover much more.
Little did I realise just how much history I was standing on and looking at… or how many souls had emigrated via Plymouth.
This painting is a part of Plymouth’s legacy, being the only accurately detailed representation of this part of Plymouth’s lost history,  researched as diligently, as meticulously as I could manage and including by great good fortune a ship which sailed 17 times from Plymouth, the famous elegant, emigrant and wool clipper, the  “Samuel Plimsoll”.

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Research :

Credit where it is due: My particular thanks to Bob Brennan for tireless research and encouragement, to David Folley for the use of his facilities, Captain Tim Charlesworth of / and the Cattewater Harbour Commissioners, Ian Criddle of Plymouth Naval Reference Library, Nigel Overton Heritage Officer of Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, Alan Collie in New Zealand who provided information unknown in Plymouth from the 1884 WESTERN FIGARO newspaper including drawings, David Meale who’s ancestor Richard James Stead who emigrated in the Samuel Plimsoll and kept a diary which includes a drama, a collision at sea during the voyage; and by no means least, to the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour in Sydney.

All helped enormously and willingly, giving authority to this magnificent port painting “ Plymouth, Emigration, the Cattewater“.


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Gordon Frickers © 02.03.12 Updated 14.06.2020

[This Gordon Frickers, art signature is on all my more recent paintings]

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