Today in Texas History – October 27

From the Annals of the Tall Ships – In 1877, The Elissa was launched. She is the official Tall Ship of Texas and was originally designed as an iron-hulled, three-masted barque and built at the Clyde River shipyard of Alexander Hall and Company of Aberdeen, Scotland, for Henry Fowler Watt of Liverpool, England.  After much renovation, she is a now a fully restored sailing ship that belongs to the Galveston Historical Foundation. Her overall length is 162 feet and draws 16 feet. Her gross capacity is 430 tons. She carries nineteen sails made of 12,000 square feet of a synthetic material that resembles canvas. The Elissa began her career as a British merchantman on December 19, 1877, when she carried a cargo of Welsh coal to Recife, Brazil, where she arrived on January 28, 1878. For the next ninety years, she was steadily employed as a tramp freight carrier traveling all over the world. The main United States ports she stopped at were New York, Boston, Savannah, and Pensacola. She also stopped at Galveston in 1883 and 1886.  Her career included stints in Scandinavian waters hauling lumber and being used for smuggling operations in the Adriatic.  Over the years she was converted to a motorized ship with most of her sailing rig removed.

In 1974 the Galveston Historical Foundation purchased her as a restoration project to complement the Strand Historic District.  Galveston would once again have her in port.  She was also one of the few surviving square-riggers in the world and the oldest listed in the Lloyd’s of London Registry of Shipping.

In December 1978 the ship began the voyage to Galveston when she was towed to Gibraltar. On June 25, 1979, she was towed out of Gibraltar and set sail for Texas.  She arrived off Galveston on July 20. A dockside celebration was held in Galveston on August 4 to honor the arrival.

In the next three years the Elissa underwent a complete restoration, under direction of David Brink, which included extensive hull repair and new masts, yards, rigging, and sails, as well as a new deck and new deck houses.  Restoration was largely complete by July 4, 1982, when she was formally opened as a tourist attraction. On Labor Day of that year, the Elissa also sailed again as a full-rigged ship on sea trials off Galveston in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Elissa by Don Scafidi available at


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