One of the oil paintings I was researching today at work was of the wool clipper, the Torrens. Captain Angel was part owner and the first captain. This is a HUGE coincidence because the name Angel features quite strongly in my John Irving novel. But it’s not the coincidence I want to blog about…actually it only just occurred to me as I was typing.
The thing about the Torrens was it’s speed. It managed to hold the record of 64 days from London to Adelaide back in the late 1800s. She was first launched in 1875 when Captain Angel and his daughter, Flora, smashed a bottle of champagne over her bow.
The Torrens would take passengers to the colonies and return to England carrying wool and other produce. She did this successfully for many years. But her many trips were not without incident.
There was the time she was carrying explosives that decided to go off and, in 1899, she ran into an iceberg. But she was a tough old boat and only sustained a bit of damage. To be exact, she lost her foretopmast, jib boom, bowsprit and figurehead. This didn’t bother her too much and she continued in active service until being scrapped by a bunch of Italians in 1910. But this blog isn’t about the boat…as such.
In 1973, while wandering around checking wildlife on Macquarie Island, two scientific type chaps spotted a bit of driftwood, wedged between a couple of boulders. Intrigued, they pulled and pulled until it came tumbling out. It was a headless woman. A wooden, headless woman.
They wanted to carry her back to the research station but the thing weighed over 300 pounds and the going was pretty rough so, sadly, they left her standing upright on a big rock.
They raced back to the station and managed to grab four other guys and a stretcher. This was but one of many expeditions to bring the figurehead in. In fact, it took two years.
Eventually she was shipped out to Melbourne, where she was left in a warehouse to rot. Presumably she was upset about not being left wedged between the rocks as the wet would have kept her safe.
Anyway, someone found her and transferred her to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, where the conservators tried to rescue her.
No-one knows for sure where she came from but one guy, Glyn Roberts reckons she is the figurehead lost by the Torrens back in 1899! He has lots of evidence, which you can read here if you like – as well as the un-Gary’d version of the story.
The thing is, the figurehead (while she still had a head) was originally modelled on Flora Angel! The daughter of the part owner and first captain of the Torrens.
That’s it. Nothing too amazing. I just liked the story.