In the mid-19th century, Great Britain became the world’s preeminent trading nation. The bulk of this trade – 4.2 million tonnes in 1860 – was carried in merchant schooners, not in the Clipper ships of the public imagination, nor yet in coal-powered steamers. Large numbers of these ships were built in the West Country and financed by their local communities. The great maritime historian, Basil Greenhill, writes that merchant schooners evolved to a state of perfection in this period and that, of the hundreds built to ply their trade in Europe and the Americas, few were as celebrated as the Cornish-built Rhoda Mary, who survives to this day in the collective imagination of many Cornish men and women.
But there are no surviving working examples of these once familiar cargo vessels. The Rhoda Mary, famed for her elegance and speed, operated as a trading vessel for over fifty years until she was retired in 1924, eventually to end her days as as a houseboat on the River Medway in Kent. Today, almost 150 years after she was built, her remains can still be clearly seen on the foreshore of the River Medway in Kent. Enough remains of her – when taken in conjunction with the significant documentary, technical and photographic records – to allow a faithful restoration of this iconic vessel.
“It was these ships with their fore-and-aft rig that in terms of form and function – and sheer numbers – represented the triumph of thousands
of years of sail-driven transport.”
Philip Marsden, The Levelling Sea
… Rhoda Mary, a last chance to save this iconic West Country schooner …