This magnificent model of the famous tea and wool clipper "Thermopylae" was made by one of Australia's most important maritime historians, authors, ship modellers, and experts on clippers, Cyril Hume (1900-1984). Clippers were extremely fast sailing ships of the 19th built to carry expensive perishable cargo quickly around the world. They were low in the water and carried enormous amounts of sail. The term clipper, coined in 1830, was used because such ships clipped or moved swiftly.
Cyril Hume first became interested in clippers when he was unemployed in Sydney during the Great Depression. He began ship modelling as a hobby to occupy his enforced leisure hours, but it quickly developed in to a lifelong pursuit. He combined to an exceptional degree, the technical skill of a craftsman and the historical accuracy of a scholar. Even in the late 1930s he sought out former sailors from the actual "Thermopylae" to ensure all the details were meticulously correct and true to scale. The rigging on his model is so painstakingly accurate in scale that a single strand of human hair was used for the signal halliards. Tiny water barrels on deck have individually-coopered staves and one of the blocks, which is less than 1/16th of an inch in length, has a working sheave.
The full size "Thermopylae" clipper holds a significant place in the maritime history of Australia. The ship was one of the fastest and most renowned clippers engaged in the wool trade between England and Australia in the late 19th century. With all the famous clippers gone from the seas, and "Cutty Sark" preserved in England in a Greenwich dry dock but tragically burnt to the waterline in a fire in 2007, the historical importance of extremely accurate models of these vessels, such as this one, can only increase over time.
Cyril Hume became a world authority on the clipper ship era and gained international acclaim. "Thermopylae" took some 8,000 hours to complete and is believed to represent the crowning achievement of his model making career.
Curator, Science & Industry