Model of famous tea clipper docks at Maritime Museum

The original shipbuilder's half hull model of the famous tea clipper Thermopylae, the fastest sailing ship in the world at her peak and faster than the Cutty Sark, has been unveiled at Aberdeen Maritime Museum, Shiprow.

The model, which is in its original and unrestored condition, was used by shipwrights as a means of planning a ship's design. It was purchased at auction in May (2015) by the maritime museum using a grant from the National Fund for Acquisitions, along with support from the Friends of Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums.

Thermopylæ was a hugely significant vessel; she was designed for the China tea trade and was fast – a bonus when it came to the 'Tea Races'. 'Tea Races' were considered a sporting event in the tea trade, and prize money was given to the first ship to arrive back on the Thames with the first tea harvest of the season. These fast sailing ships soon became world famous.

Thermopylæ's best known race against the Cutty Sark took place in 1872, when the two ships left Shanghai on 18 June. Thermopylæ won – arriving in London on 11 October, a week before Cutty Sark who had lost her rudder in a heavy gale.

In the 1890s, after more than two decades as a China tea clipper and then an Australian wool clipper, Thermopylae was sold to a Canadian company, and in 1897 sold to the Portuguese Navy as a training ship and renamed Pedro Nunes. The vessel was converted to a coal hulk and finally sunk by gunfire as target practice on 13th October 1907. In June 2003 a group of divers found the remains of Thermopylae about 30 metres down on the seabed off Lisbon.

Aberdeen City Council's Convener of Education and Children's Services Committee Councillor Angela Taylor said: "As no original plans survive, this builder's half hull model of Thermopylae gives us a tangible connection not only to the ship but those who built it. Now the model has returned to the city of its birth, we have a direct link to the ship once more."

The half hull model is on permanent display at the museum along with other models and objects relating to the Thermopylae and other Aberdeen-built ships.

Opening times

Monday – Saturday 10am-5pm

Sunday 12noon-3pm

Admission free