A brief history of Rhoda Mary

The Rhoda Mary was built in 1868 at Point, near Falmouth in Cornwall, in a shipyard owned by John Stephens of Devoran. She was designed by William Foreman Ferris, who became the headman and moulder for John Stephens in 1867.

The Rhoda Mary was the first of his designs, being 109 foot on deck, 95 foot at the waterline, with a 21 foot beam, 10 foot draught, and a displacement of 130 tons. She was financed through the 64-share system in which members of a community could invest in the construction of a vessel and profit from its trading activities.

This was a true cooperative enterprise – a trading ship financed by villagers, built by villagers, and then sailed by villagers. Basil Greenhill says of the Rhoda Mary: “This vessel, a relatively large schooner of 130 tons gross, was to be famous for her speed along all the west coast of England as long as she remained afloat. Her speed came from her narrow beam, for she was less than twenty-two feet wide, from her fine run and her raked and flaring clipper bow. She had a rake on her stem of over twenty degrees. The Rhoda Mary was a work of some genius.”



Rhoda Mary was constructed with English oak framing, an American grey elm keel with grey elm, Baltic red pine and tamarack in her planking. The local Lloyds’ surveyor reported her to be “altogether a strong well built vessel, is excellently equipped and a very superior vessel of her class.”

As a merchant vessel, she worked British and European ports, trading actively until 1924, an incredibly long career for such a vessel. Throughout her career, she retained a reputation as a fast passage maker. In 1893, for instance, she made sixteen passages with cargo in ten months. Even in 1912, she managed 22 passages in twelve months.

Sadly even a ship of her grace and speed reached an end to her useful life and in 1925, she was decommissioned, eventually becoming a houseboat on the River Medway in Kent.

In 1949, although by then “a gutted hulk”, she was extensively surveyed by Basil Greenhill and his colleague, David McGregor. They took her lines, photographed and sketched her in considerable detail. This material, together with what remains of her today, permits a faithful reconstruction of the Rhoda Mary.



… a last chance to rescue this iconic vessel and preserve it for future generations …