A model of a four-masted bark the Great Republic

Wood, string, silk and paint with coppered and black painted bottom
Collection of the Trustees of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor in the City of New York

Launched in late 1893, the Great Republic was the pride of builder Donald McKay and the world’s largest ship.  Her sails covered more than 15,683 running yards, one and one half acres if spread flat. Her main yard was 120 feet long, and she was 53 feet broad and 334 feet in length.  Her tonnage was 4556 tons. But, with the exception of her maiden voyage at the end of a tow rope from Boston to New York, she never sailed as built. 

On December 26, 1893, while she was loading for a trip to Australia via San Francisco at a South Street pier, sparks from a warehouse fire nearby ignited her sails and rigging.  Her four masts, higher even than the mast of the liner United States, caught fire, and the ship burned for two days.  To save her hull, she was allowed to sink to the bottom of the East River.  With the use of a giant cofferdam, she was raised, rebuilt up to her third deck, and rigged in a more conservative fashion.  Even then, as a four-masted bark, she was a great and fast ship. Her best run was 413 miles in one day, a figure equaled only a half a dozen times by other American clippers.

Photographs by Michael Falco