Ship model, tea and wool clipper, "Thermopylae", of Aberdeen White Star Line, scale model, wood/fibre/glass, made by Cyril Hume, New South Wales, Australia, 1935 - 1979
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 together with his passion for 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. A row of 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
The model of the clipper "Thermopylae" was made by Cyril Leonard Hume (1900-1984). It was commenced just before the Second World War and completed in 1979.
Cyril Hume was born in New Zealand in 1900, a fitter and turner and toolmaker by trade. By the 1930s he was living in Sydney and unemployed during the Depression. He would take refuge in the Public Library of New South Wales and there came across a book entitled "How to Make Ship Models" which changed the course of his life.
He began making a model of the "Cutty Sark" to "keep his eye in" purchasing a lump of solid course-grained pine wood which cost him a precious 1 shilling. His young wife was not too impressed as Cyril was still out of work and down to his last pair of trousers. He began carving the model in the lee side of his suburban fowl house in the backyard of his Hurstville home, but was soon allowed to move up to the corner of the back veranda and later the dining room table. He purchased a six-penny hand drill from Woolworths which enabled him to do the fine drilling, using sewing machine needles as bits. It also served as a lathe for turning up fittings and attachments for the model. The "Cutty Sark" took two years to complete and during that time Cyril avidly researched the ship to ensure its accuracy. He knew nothing about sailing boats and taught himself by researching books, journals, drawings and photographs of the ship and talking to old sailors. He once said "I used to walk around Balmain on Saturday mornings, collecting old sailors like postage stamps". He spoke to all men who served on the clippers from masters to able seamen at a time when these men were still living, collecting information and details which never survived in the written records. The "Cutty Sark" model is also in the Museum's collection.
Cyril retuned to work as a fitter and toolmaker but continued making models and researching clipper ships in his spare time. He went on to make another 7 models and in doing so meticulously researched and collected a variety of photographs and original documents including discharge papers, abstract logs and various documents from the ship's company. He made two models of "Thermopylae"; the first one is now in the collection of Melbourne Museum and the second is this one.
While researching the "Thermopylae" models Cyril located five seamen who had served on the vessel at various times. A Mr Sewell of Manly joined the ship in 1876 as an apprentice; so too did Mr Charles Fyfe of Melbourne in 1877; Mr Garner of Melbourne was the ship's bosun in the later days; Captain R.B.V. McKilliam was her third and second mate successively, and later Master of the Aberdeen Line's clipper ship "Salamis"; while Captain Bilton of Victoria, British Columbia, served in her during her Canadian ownership. All these men formed a voluntary advisory panel for Cyril and their information was invaluable, especially for the deck layout.
Cyril Hume died at Neutral Bay, a harbour side suburb of Sydney, on 4 May 1984.
Baverstock, Bill, "Model Citizen", in "Walkabout", July 1973.
Colman, Michael "He creates history in sail" in "North Shore Times", 10 April 1980.
"Following a Model Course" in "Focal Point: Journal of Overseas Containers Australia Pty Limited", December 1981, Vol 4, No.3.
"Cyril Hume and the Construction of the Model" notes produced by the State Archives of New South Wales for "The Great Age of Sail" exhibition in 1980.
The model was purchased by the Museum 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.