The famous crack clipper Thermopylae built in 1868 was designed for the China tea trade. She is regarded as one of the fastest clippers, setting numerous record passages, averaging 63 days from London to Melbourne and was the Cutty Sark’s nemesis.
In her later years in the 1880s she carried wool from Sydney and Melbourne. It was during this period that she made a quick visit to Lyttelton with a cargo of coal from Newcastle while waiting for a wool cargo. She arrived in Lyttelton 9th April 1885.
The painting depicts the Thermopylae just off Godley Heads departing Lyttelton with the Union Steamship steam passenger vessel Rotomahana also departing. The paddle steam tug Lyttelton is bearing away after assisting the Thermopylae. It’s rather ironical that she was carrying coal, which ultimately lead to her own demise.