Stag Hound

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Stag Hound
Career (United States) 100x35px
Owner: George B. Upton, Sampson & Tappan, Boston
Builder: Donald McKay, East Boston
Launched: Dec. 7, 1850
General characteristics
Class and type: Extreme clipper
Tons burthen: 1534 tons OM, 1100 tons British measurement
Length: 226 feet LOA
Beam: 39 ft. 8 in.
Depth of hold: 21 ft.
Sail plan: Nearly 11,000 square yards of canvas under full sail; foremast, mainmast, and mizzen.
Complement: 36 A.B.‘s, 6 ordinary seamen, 4 boys, under Capt. Josiah Richardson, on maiden voyage, Feb. 1, 1851 [1]

The Stag Hound, launched on December 7, 1850 in East Boston, Massachusetts, is usually credited with being the first extreme clipper ship ever built. Designed by shipbuilder Donald McKay for the California trade, she was briefly the largest merchant ship in the world. She was in active service from 1851 until her total loss in 1861.

Construction and history

The commercial success of U.S. clipper ships in the China trade in the 1840s, closely followed by the California gold rush of 1849, made it possible for the designs of square-rigged merchant ships to reach their culmination of development. Merchant firms such as Boston's Sampson & Tappan were able to venture the capital necessary to build extreme clippers, a type of vessel longer, with taller masts, more heavily sparred, and with sharper lines than any built before this time. With the money in hand, McKay and his men built the Stag Hound in only 100 days in late 1850.

"Designed and built by Donald McKay at East Boston, her model was original. The entrance and clearance lines were very long and sharp, slightly convex." The "Boston Atlas" of 1851 described Stag Hound as follows: "Her model may be said to be the original of a new idea in naval architecture ... She is longer and sharper than any other vessel of the merchant service in the world, while her breadth of beam and depth of hold are designed with special reference to stability." [1]

She was built to carry 1,600 registered tons' burden, several hundred tons of freight capacity greater than any other vessel then being built for the California trade. Almost all of the manufactured goods consumed in the California gold fields had to be carried from the United States East Coast.

Description of launch

"When she was launched, the Stag Hound was the largest merchant ship ever built, being 215 feet long, and having a register of 1,535 tons. No less than 15,000 people gathered to see her launched despite the cold, and, as the tallow froze, boiling whale oil was poured upon the ways."[2]

Jane Lyon wrote this description of the launch in 1962, based on contemporary journalistic accounts:

The bells of Boston pealing noon were echoed by the sound of hammers knocking away the blocks. The watchers held their breath as the great ship stirred. "There she goes!" they cried, and the foreman smashed a bottle of rum across her forefoot. "Stag Hound!" he shouted, "Your name's Stag Hound!" She slid gracefully into the water. Cheering reverberated across the bay; a cannon roared; a band played loudly.[3]


On many of her voyages, the ship did not meet with favorable winds; nevertheless "in moderate breezes she was conceded to be a very fast ship and in strong winds frequently logged 16 and 17 knots. Her best day’s run ... was 358 miles."[1]

Race to San Francisco, 1851

The Stag Hound sailed from New York City on February 1, 1851 for San Francisco with a crew of 46 men. She was so heavily sparred that, at full sail, she carried almost 6,000 square yards of canvas. This was more sail area than most able seamen and their officers knew how to handle in those days, and after only 6 days, a gale blew out her main topmast and all three topgallant masts.

Despite this mishap, she beat the John Bertram and the Sea Serpent to Valparaíso.[2]

The Stag Hound's crew raised a jury rig and reached California in 113 days (108 days at sea and 5 days in port), a very fast time for a partly dismasted vessel. The Stag Hound then proceeded to Guangdong to load a cargo of tea. The entire round-the-world voyage earned a profit of $80,000 in 1851 U.S. dollars, which was enough to inspire the construction of a fleet of California clippers in future years.[4]


“Up till the time of her loss the Stag Hound seems to have been unusually free from accidents. True, she lost spars on her first voyage, but so did most all the early clippers and her after record shows that the underwriters were seldom called on ... She had one mutiny on board, at Anjer, in 1860, where the first and second mate were reported stabbed by members of the crew. Captain Hussey was in command at the time."[1]

Loss of the ship

A fire broke out on board about 45 mi. south of Pernambuco, Aug. 2, 1861, at 1 AM, as the ship was en-route from Sunderland, England under Capt. Wilson, bound for San Francisco with a cargo of coal. The crew was able to contain the fire until 5 PM, when they had gotten 4 boats out and salvaged what was possible. At that point, the ship burned rapidly, and within one hour the masts went over the side. The crew arrived in Pernambuco the following morning.[1]

Image of the ship

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Howe, Octavius T; Matthews, Frederick C. (1927). American Clipper Ships 1833-1858. Volume 2, Malay-Young Mechanic. Salem, MA: Marine Research Society. pp. 615-628. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Some ships of the clipper ship era, Their builders, owners, and captains. Boston, MA: Printed for the State Street Trust Company. 1913. p. 16.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "statestreet" defined multiple times with different content
  3. Lyon, Jane (1962). Clipper Ships and Captains. American Heritage Publishing Co.. pp. page 59. Library of Congress #62-21579. 
  4. "The 'Stag Hound'", accessed November 29, 2007