The Glittering Highway - The 'Southern Cross' signed 'Montague Dawson' (lower left) oil on canvas 61 x 91.4cm. (24 x 36in.)
Provenance :- with Richard Green, 1994, from whom purchased by the present owner's family.
The so-called medium clipper Southern Cross was built for Baker & Morrill of Boston by E. & H.O. Briggs at their East Boston yard during the winter of 1850-51. Launched on 19th March 1851, she was registered at 938 tons and measured 170 feet in length with a 36 foot beam. Well-proportioned, with a lofty sail plan, and sporting a golden eagle on the wing as her figurehead, it was predicted that she would be a flyer yet her maiden voyage from Boston to San Francisco proved a fiasco when she had the misfortune to be partially dismasted on two separate occasions during the protracted 136-day voyage. Faring better out of San Francisco, she made Singapore in an excellent 43 days and was in Calcutta after a further 13 days at sea, the total passage of 56 days from San Francisco to Calcutta establishing a new record for that run. From Calcutta, she returned to Boston in only 97 days and left her home port for her second voyage on 25th June 1852 amidst high hopes of more records. On 16th August however, far out in the South Atlantic, a fire was discovered in her lower hold and although it was eventually extinguished, she limped into Montevideo 15 days later badly burned and extremely lucky to have escaped complete destruction. Repaired and refitted, she was soon back at sea and once these earlier mishaps were behind her, her subsequent career was more successful although she never actually achieved any further records despite ten more years of reliable trading to the Far East.
In the spring of 1863, by which time the [American] Civil War was in full spate, 'Southern Cross' was chartered to take a cargo of dye woods from the west coast of Mexico to New York. Sailing from Buena Vista fully loaded on 21st March, she set a course south and made good time around Cape Horn and up through the South Atlantic. On 6th June, 77 days into the voyage at a point just below the equator, she was sighted by the Confederate armed merchant raider 'Florida' which ordered her to heave-to and surrender herself. Captain Benjamin Howes had no alternative but to comply and once he and his wife, his crew and his passengers had all been taken aboard 'Florida', 'Southern Cross' was put to the torch and left to burn, a tragic end to such a beautiful ship. In her short but colourful life, the renegade 'Florida' captured or destroyed no less than thirty-seven Union vessels and whilst many were more valuable as prizes than 'Southern Cross', none was so handsome as this splendid thoroughbred.
Literature: 'Montague Dawson, R.S.M.A., F.R.S.A.', L.G.G. Ramsey, Leigh-on-Sea, 1967, see p.41, catalogue no. 191 (text) & plate 30 (illustrated) for another close-up portrait of 'Southern Cross'.