Ocean Telegraph / Light Brigade (clipper)

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Ocean Telegraph
Name: Ocean Telegraph / Light Brigade
Ordered: Reed, Wade & Co., Boston, Massachusetts, for New York to San Francisco run
Builder: James O. Curtis, Medway, Massachusetts
Launched: March 29, 1854

1863: Black Ball Line of James Baines & Co, Liverpool, for London to Australia and New Zealand run
1871: Taylor, Bethell & Roberts, London, for London to Queensland run

1875: Cork Warehouse Co., Cork, Ireland
Out of service: 1883
Fate: Coal-hulk at Gibraltar
General characteristics
Tonnage: 1495 Old Measurement
(1244 Moorsom Measurement)
Length: 227 ft (69 m)
Beam: 40 ft (12 m)
Draft: 23 ft 6 in (7.16 m)
Propulsion: Sails

The Ocean Telegraph was an American extreme clipper ship. Built in 1854 for the run between New York and San Francisco, she was later sold and renamed the Light Brigade in 1863. For the next 12 years it was used predominantly to transport cargo and immigrants between London and Australia and New Zealand.

Construction - Ocean Telegraph

The Ocean Telegraph was designed by Boston-based naval architect Samuel Hartt Pook who designed several very fast clipper ships. She was built by James O. Curtis in Medway, upstream from Boston, in 1854.

The ship was 1,495 tons register Old Measurement, 1,244 tons Moorsom Measurement. She measured 227 feet (69 m) long, 40 feet (12 m) wide, and 23 feet (7.0 m) deep.[1][2]

She was described as a very sharp clipper and said to be one of the most perfect ships ever built as no expense was spared to make her so. She had much of the appearance of a pilot boat. The bow of this clipper raked boldly forward with a graceful flare and her figurehead was a carved figure of a beautiful woman surrounded by forks of lightning. A figure of Neptune surrounded by ornamental carved work graced her stern. [1]

In common with other clipper ships of the day she was constructed from wood and with three masts. Also in common with other clipper ships of the day her hull was painted black, and the bottom of the hull lined with copper. Her black hull can be clearly seen, and the copper can just be seen above the waves in an 1858 painting by James E. Buttersworth.

New York to San Francisco run - Ocean Telegraph

From 1854 to her sale in 1863 she was involved in moving cargo and passengers between New York, Boston, and San Francisco. In common with many other clippers at the time, she was often unable to procure a return cargo and often had to return to New York in ballast.[1]

Under the command of Captain Little she was involved in a race from New York to San Francisco in 1859/1860 against the Great Republic which at 109 days the Ocean Telegraph won by 1 day, and which also placed her on the list of extreme clipper ships to make the journey in 110 days or less. On her voyages she also became one of the 36 ships to make the run from 50° S in the Pacific to the Equator in 20 days or less (19 days), and one of the 48 ships to make the run from the Equator to San Francisco in 20 days or less (20 days).[1][3]

The clipper ship trade card used to advertise the Ocean Telegraph had an illustration of two telegraphers facing each other over an expanse of water.[4]

In 1863, when it was no longer possible to make a profit on the trade from New York to San Francisco, she was sold.

London to Australia and New Zealand run - Light Brigade

In 1863 sold for £7060 to the Black Ball Line of James Baines & Co., Liverpool principally for the London to Australia and New Zealand run, and renamed the Light Brigade. As part of the Black Ball Line, and under Captain Henry Evans, she carried immigrants from London to Brisbane, Australia in 1863; British troops and their families to Auckland, New Zealand in 1864 from both Calcutta and Rangoon in India, and from London, for the Maori Wars (2 separate voyages); immigrants from London to Sydney, Australia in 1867 and returned to London via Calcutta with cavalry horses for the troops in Calcutta; immigrants from London to Lyttleton, New Zealand in 1867; and immigrants from London to Brisbane, Australia in 1869 and 1870/71.[2] On this last trip Captain Evans died in Brisbane 10 days before the ship sailed again for London in April 1871 with a cargo of 2630 bales wool, 48 bales sheepskins, 500 casks tallow, 788 cases preserved mutton, 223 cases preserved meat, 11 calfskins, 1500 hides, 6031 horns, 89½ cwts bones and hoofs, 3 cases honey, and sundries.[5]

In 1871 sold to Taylor, Bethell & Roberts, London principally for the London to Queensland, Australia run. She made 2 trips from London to Keppel Bay (Rockhampton) in 1871/72 and 1872/73.[2] The Light Brigade was described on the first trip as "a smart looking full-rigged ship, admirably adapted for the conveyance of passengers and immigrants, the various compartments for their accommodation being, both roomy and well ventilated. It may be added that the ship 'tween decks presents a clean and orderly appearance."[6] Also on the first trip she made a short diversion down to Moreton Bay (Brisbane) before returning to Keppel Bay to collect cargo for the return trip to London. This cargo did not arrive in a satisfactory condition in London and settlers near Keppel Bay decided not to again ship goods as part of her cargo. As a result on the second trip she then travelled down in ballast to Sydney looking for a return cargo. The newspapers of the day do not then make it clear whether she returned to London via Batavia (Jakarta, Indonesia), or San Francisco, or both.

Each time she had sailed to Australia and New Zealand during this period she carried around 400 passengers, mail and a full cargo. The passengers for Lyttleton, Sydney, Brisbane, and Keppel Bay (Rockhampton) were predominantly assisted immigrants - labourers, domestic servants, and tradespeople for the settlements there. Return cargo was harder to procure, and return passengers were few in number.

Later years - Light Brigade

In 1875 sold to the Cork Warehouse Co., Cork, Ireland.[2]

In February 1883 arrived at Queenstown VA 19 days south of New York, leaking badly.[2]

In 1883 sold to Gibraltar and used as a coal-hulk.[2]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Era of the Clipper Ships http://www.eraoftheclipperships.com/page64.html
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Ocean Telegraph http://www.sjohistoriskasamfundet.se/LB/Nautica/Ships/Clippers/Ocean_Telegraph%281854%29.html
  3. Medford Historical Society http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A2005.05.0028
  4. Bulletin of The Business Historical Society http://www.jstor.org/pss/3111171
  5. The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864-1933), Wednesday 5 April 1871, Pg 2 http://newspapers.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/1327502
  6. The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864-1933), Wednesday 20 May 1863, Pg 2 http://newspapers.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/3163410