She was built in 1869 at Dumbarton Scotland by the firm of Scott & Linton, for Captain John Willis, and launched November 23 of that year. She was destined for the China tea trade, at that time an intensely competitive race across the globe from China to London, with immense profits to the ship to arrive with the first tea of the year.
However, the Cutty Sark did not distinguish herself in the Derby; in the most famous race, against Thermopylae in 1872, they left Shanghai together on June 18, but after two weeks Cutty Sark lost her rudder after passing through the Sunda Strait, and arrived in London on October 18, a week after Thermopylae, for a total passage of 122 days.
The Cutty Sark was then used in the Australian wool trade, and did very well, posting Australia-to-England times of as little as 67 days. Her best run, of 360 nautical miles in 24 hours, was said to have been the fastest of any ship of her size.
In 1895 Willis sold her to the Portuguese firm of Ferreira, where she was renamed after the firm, then in 1916 she was dismasted off the Cape of Good Hope, sold, re-rigged in Cape Town as a barquentine, and renamed once again, to Maria do Amparo.
In 1922 she was bought by Captain Wilfred Dowman, who restored her to her original appearance and used as a stationary training ship. In 1954 she was dry-docked at Greenwich as a museum ship, and is today a popular tourist destination.
The Cutty Sark in its dry dock at Greenwich.