PEKING - The history of the four-masted barque from Hamburg

PEKING returns to Hamburg (2020)Hamburg Port Museum

There is a historical sailing ship in front of the Hamburg Port Museum - the PEKING! A real "Hamborger Veermaster". What is the history of the ship, which oceans has she sailed and how did she come back to her home port of Hamburg for the first time in 88 years?

PEKING in the German Bay, 1920ies (1920/1930)Hamburg Port Museum

The history of SS PEKING

The PEKING is one of the last large cargo sailing ships that, at the beginning of the 20th century, was able to compete against steam and motor ships due to her speed, safety and precision.

PEKING under sail in the atlantic ocean in the 1920ies (1920/1930)Hamburg Port Museum

It proved its speed and loading capacity as a transport ship for the saltpetre from Chile, which was in great demand at the time. Saltpetre (sodium nitrate) from the Atacama desert was used as a nitrogen fertilizer and in black powder production. In Iquique, Taltal or Mejillones, the loading process took several weeks: 5,000 tons of saltpetre - equivalent to 33 wagon loads - had to be loaded in sacks.

PEKING Around Cape Horn (1929), Film by Irving Johnson (1929/1929)Hamburg Port Museum

Irving Johnson, who filmed the PEKING's voyage in 1929, was able to change to a tug here and film the PEKING in motion.

Sailing Vessel Harbour, November 1930 (1930)Hamburg Port Museum

Unloading of the cargo ship

In the 1920s, the cargo sail ships could still keep up with the steamships.

In the picture the two windjammers PAMIR (left) and PARMA - also Flying P-Liner - can be seen. The cargo on the sail freighter PAMIR is currently being unloaded.

Barges lie alongside the sailing ship.

On the right the four-masted barque PARMA, next to it the freighter CUYABA.

A small three-masted sailing ship lies at the Asia Kai; her cargo is unloaded in waiting freight wagons.

Working on board the PEKING, 1920ies (1920/1930)Hamburg Port Museum

The ground of the ship was covered with wooden slats, reed and bast mats so that leakage and condensation could drain away.

Working on PEKING in the 1920ies (1920/1930)Hamburg Port Museum

The sacks were then hoisted on board from smaller ships with hand winches and stowed alternately along the length of the ship or athwartships in the hatches, in the shape of a pyramid, to serve the stability of the ship in a way that it prevents shifting of the cargo.

PEKING Around Cape Horn (1929), Film by Irving Johnson (1929/1929)Hamburg Port Museum

Despite stormy journeys, the load was not allowed to shift - the PEKING only reached its remarkable speed when the freight was positioned correctly.

PEKING at Elbe estuary, meeting a streamboat in the 1920ies (1920/1930)Hamburg Port Museum

When carried out correctly, the stability of the cargo and ship was so good that even constant cruising in strong winds and high waves off Cape Horn did not cause the cargo to shift.

The sea off the southern tip of South America is one of the largest ship cemeteries in the world with over 800 wrecks. Captains who circumnavigated the dreaded Cape on a sailing ship without an auxiliary engine, like the PEKING, were accepted into the community of so called Cape Hornier.

PEKING in the south atlantic ocean. (1929/1929)Hamburg Port Museum

Until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, the route was the cheapest way to get from Europe to the west coast of South America, despite all the imponderables. And the trip was worth it for the shipowner. With minimal loss rates of the safe P-Liners and enormous profits from the sale of saltpetre, the risk was calculable.

PEKING Around Cape Horn (1929), Film by Irving Johnson (1929/1929)Hamburg Port Museum

Irving Johnson accompanied the PEKING in 1929 on a circumnavigation of Cape Horn and was able to make these film recordings. He describes the dangerous maneuvers when circumnavigating the Cape.

Arrival of PEKING in Hamburg (2020)Hamburg Port Museum

The black above-water hull of the PEKING - under water it was red, the waterline white, a triad of imperial German national colors - was the shipping company's trademark at the time. The colors were retained in the course of the restoration.

Portrait of Sophie Christine Laeisz, nèe Knoehr (1831 – 1912)Hamburg Port Museum

The ship impresses with its size and speed - and that although the name, like that of all ships in the P-Liner class, can be traced back to a less impressive animal: the »poodle«. That was the nickname of the - curly-headed - wife of the shipowner Carl Laeisz.

PRIWALL at the sailing vessel harbourHamburg Port Museum

The success of the Flying P-Liners, 65 of which were built, was based not only on the perfect teamwork of the 31-person crew but also on the reliable speed of the “flying” sailing ships. Here we see one of them - the PRIWALL.

At the Kaiser-Wilhelm-HarbourHamburg Port Museum

However, the increase in efficiency in steam and motor ships heralded the end of this success story. And the great saltpeter trips were sealed with the invention of artificial fertilizer after the First World War and the opening of the Panama Canal.

Förderung durch die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien und die Behörde für Kultur und Medien in Hamburg, 2021/2021, From the collection of: Hamburg Port Museum
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Based on a decision of the German Bundestag, the Minister of State for Culture and the Media will fully fund the construction of the new German Port Museum in Hamburg as well as the restoration of the four-masted barque PEKING with a total of 185.5 million euro.

The preparations for the arrival of the PEKING in Hamburg and the start of operation as a museum ship are funded by the Ministry for Culture and Media of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.

Credits: Story

Read more about the PEKING here.

Learn more about the PEKING in the context of the German Port Museum

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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