Billowing free Young Australia nearing journey's end signed 'Montague Dawson' (lower left) oil on canvas 61 x 92cm (24 x 36 1/4in).
Young Australia was one of that breed of handsome commercial sailing ships which emanated from the many yards located on the shores of either the Maritime Provinces of Canada or the eastern seaboard of the United States during the middle years of the nineteenth century. Frequently built as a speculation by the yard owners, these vessels were usually sailed to Britain loaded with prime timber and then offered for sale at their port of destination which was most often Liverpool.
Designed as an emigrant ship and built in Fernald & Pettigrew's yard at Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1852, Young Australia was a lofty three-master sporting a full ship-rig. Registered at 1,021 tons gross (960 net & 723 under-deck), she measured 173 feet in length with a 36 foot beam and had accommodation for about 250 passengers in three classes. Although little is recorded of her early career, she came into her own in July 1861 when she was purchased by James Baines for his celebrated Black Ball Line, the most important of all the Australian packet services and the one which dominated the lucrative emigrant trade. Initially she sailed out of London to Melbourne but changed her destination in 1862 when she began running to Queensland, a route she thereafter maintained for the rest of her life. On her first passage out to Brisbane in the autumn of 1862, she completed the run in a very fast 84 days which was sufficiently noteworthy for her agents (in Brisbane) to use the fact as a means of attracting her homeward cargo of wool. Their advertisement in the Brisbane Courier promised a rapid delivery to London and was worded thus:
'Shippers of wool for the February sales. For London under positive engagement to sail on 15th November, full or not full. The Magnificent Clipper Ship Young Australia, John A. Phillips, Esq., Commander, 960 tons register, A1 at Lloyds, having completed her passage out in 84 days now offers the splendid opportunity for shippers to send their wool in time for the February sales. Freight of wool 1d. per lb.'
In fact, the Black Ball Line carried over 70% of the emigrants landed in Brisbane that year and the line prospered throughout the 1860s. Despite being well turned out and always splendidly maintained however, these American-built softwood clippers were widely regarded as 'wet ships' because of the deck water they often shipped and the Australia run took a particularly heavy toll on their strength. Thus, the average U.S.-built Blackballer's career was usually a short one and, in 1867, Baines sold Young Australia to P.J. Foulkes & Co. of Liverpool who kept her in the Brisbane trade to which she was so well accustomed. As late as 1870, she was still making the outward passage in under 100 days but her luck ran out in 1872 when, only 4½ hours after leaving her Brisbane anchorage in Moreton Bay, bound for London, on 31st May, she ran aground in a heavy though windless swell and became stranded. With some difficulty all the passengers were got ashore safely but the ship herself, pounded by the surf, was soon declared a total loss and subsequently sold for scrap.
L.G.G. Ramsey's standard reference on Montague Dawson lists one portrait of this ship 'Young Australia, Sea with sail ships', 23x35ins. (p.57, no. 315 refers). Although there is no illustration in Ramsey's book, its dimensions are close enough to probably be our picture.