NotesThe model was purchased by the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney in 1980. It was displayed at an exhibition entitled "The Great Age of Sail" at the State Records of NSW and Stage I of the Museum.
The full size "Thermopylae" clipper was designed by Bernard Weymouth of London and built by Walter Hood & Co. of Aberdeen, Scotland, for George Thompson, owner of the Aberdeen White Star Line. Cyril Hume himself described "Thermopylae" as "flawless, and represented the pinnacle of clipper ship design and perfection. She had a graceful yacht-like hull, with green topsides, above the yellow metalling of the underwater body. A rising gold-decorated bow was surmounted by a pure white figurehead, and the pleasing line of the sheer, accentuated by a gold strake level with the main deck, with a brass edged t'gallant rail above, tapered aft to a shapely bird-tail stern. Her tremendous tracery of rigging was suspended against the sky by slender, white and varnished tapering spars, and to complete the whole, were a profusion of bright teak and sparkling polished brass work on deck".
The hull was of composite construction, wood planking on iron frames. The hull planking was of rock elm from the keep to topside, East India teak above, a deck of four-inch-thick yellow pine, and poop house decking of New Zealand kauri. The figurehead was of the young Spartan King Leonidas, who, with a shield on his left arm and sword arm extended, represented the epic defence to the death of the pass of Thermopylae against the Persian hordes. "Thermopylae" also carried patent reefing gear on her main top gallant in the form of a rolling spar mounted on the fore side of the yard. This could be revolved from the deck, winding the sail around it like a roller blind. Cyril says this "was a very handy contrivance in a squall; instead of sending men aloft the sail could be furled in a matter of seconds and so lessen the possibility of the t'gallant mast going over the side."
"Thermopylae" was launched on 19 August 1868 and on her maiden voyage from Gravesend to Hobson's Bay in Victoria achieved the trip in 63 days, the fastest passage on record. Cyril noted that "Thermopylae" was not actually designed expressly for the China trade, but more a trader to take cargo from Melbourne, such as coal, to China then compete in the new season's tea race. "Thermopylae" often raced the London clipper "Cutty Sark" to be the first to bring back to London the new season's tea from China. The coastline south of Hong Kong was often the location of pirate attacks from junks. Cyril said that "Thermopylae" was well prepared with two small guns lashed to the main deck and various other weapons including 20 Tower Hill muskets, 20 cutlasses, 20 boarding pikes, 20 round shot and 20 grape shot located around the mizzenmast below deck.
Competition from steam ships, which could carry much larger cargoes, and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1868, drastically cut the route to the Far East by one third. The square riggers needed the trade winds and monsoon to round Africa so the Canal was not for clippers. Many of them were re-rigged to reduce the sail area and need for the number of crew to sail such a large amount of canvas. The once great sleek and beautiful clippers, known as the greyhounds of the sea, got work where they could as tramps carrying general cargo from port to port with no fixed schedules. From 1882 "Thermopylae" got a second chance carrying wool between Australian and England for 8 years. Again the clipper ship raced "Cutty Sark" for the bounty awarded for the first spring wool to reach the London docks and the English textile mills.
In 1890 "Thermopylae" was sold to the Canadians for 5,000 pounds, was cut down to a barque rig and carried cargos between Victoria, British Columbia, and Far Eastern ports from Tokyo to Singapore. Five years later the ship was sold to the Portuguese Government and served as a cadet training ship under the name "Pedro Nunes". On 13 October 1907, the clipper was towed out of Lisbon's Tagus River and torpedoed by two Portuguese men-of-war with full naval honours.
Unpublished notes on "Thermopylae" by Cyril L. Hume, n.d.