On the Waterfront: Milestones in the era of sail

A builder's model of the Torrens
A builder's model of the Torrens
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Although the launching of sailing ships into the Wear is well beyond living memory, the romance of sail continues to invoke a powerful sense of nostalgia.

Today we look at some of the notable vessels constructed on Wearside during the age of sail.

We begin with the 296-ton schooner-rigged Experiment, built by Thomas Rountree at North Sands in 1845.

Although built as a sailing ship, a steam engine and screw propeller were fitted later by Robert Thompson, making her the first Wear-built steam ship. She was also claimed to be the first steamer in the London coal trade.

In 1852, in partnership with George Clark, John Barkes launched the port’s first iron vessel from Clark’s boiler works, then situated at Deptford.

She was the 77-ton schooner Loftus - built for George Foster of Sunderland - which carried iron ore from the Tees to Sunderland for Consett iron works.

One of Sunderland’s most famous ships was the 1,335-ton Torrens, built by James Laing and Sons at Deptford in 1875. Of composite construction (steel framed with timber planking), she was the last full-rigged passenger clipper built in Britain.

She set a record for the fastest passage between Plymouth and Adelaide for any sailing trader, being owned for much of her career by her captain, Henry Robert Angel in association with the Elder Line of Clippers.

Eventually sold to Italian owners in 1903, she was broken up at Genoa in 1910.

The barque, Coppename would prove to be the last all-wood merchant ship built on the Wear, bringing an end to a tradition, which had seen the Wear becoming the world’s largest wooden shipbuilding port.

Launched in 1880 by William Pickersgill of Southwick for A Pearson and Co of Glasgow, she was constructed at a time when a new iron shipbuilding yard was being established there.

She survived until 1918, when - as the Portuguese vessel Atlantico - she succumbed to U-boat gunfire off Bishop Rock, Cornwall.

The advent of steel construction came in 1882, when William Doxford and Sons launched the Wear’s first steel-built ship at Pallion, this being the 933-ton barque Kirkmichael. She was wrecked at Holyhead in 1894.

In 1892, the magnificent 3,440-ton four-masted barque Andorinha was built at Southwick by William Pickersgill and Sons. With a registered length of almost 347 feet, she was the largest sailing ship ever launched on the Wear.

Originally owned by EF and W Roberts of Liverpool, she was lost in 1919 after a collision off Virginia in the USA.

As steam superseded sail, Sunderland’s last sailing ship was launched in 1893. She was the 527-ton barquentine Margarita, constructed at Southwick by William Pickersgill and Sons for SC and FH Chambers of Liverpool.