Blackwall frigates

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The generic name given to a series of sail trading ships built between 1837 and 1869 for the Indian trade following the expiration of the East India Company's exclusive charter in 1833, which threw the trade to the East open to all comers. They got their name because a number were built at Blackwall, on the River Thames, and because they were said to be ‘frigate built’. This did not mean they bore any resemblance in design to the typical naval frigate but that they were built with a finer run, and were thus faster than the typical East Indiaman. In this respect they could be compared in performance much in the same way as could a frigate with a ship of the line.

Three firms were concerned with the building of the Blackwall frigates in Britain: Green and Wigram of Blackwall, T. and W. Smith of the Tyne, and Duncan Dunbar of Sunderland. The first Blackwall frigate was Green and Wigram's Seringapatam, a packet ship of 818 tons, built in 1837, which set up a new record of 85 days from London to Bombay.

A large number of these Blackwall frigates were built, not all of them in Britain, as many were constructed of Burmese teak at Moulmein in Burma, and they dominated the trade to and from India until the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Thereafter, though they continued to run successfully for a time in the wool trade from Australia, they were eclipsed by the clipper ship.

Lubbock, B., The Blackwall Frigates (1922).

Subjects: Maritime History.

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