Robert Kemball (1823-87), Master of the Clipper Thermopylae and Commodore of the Aberdeen White Star Line

By Raymond J Skinner, published February 2003


Founded by George Thompson in 1825, the Aberdeen Line grew to be a global trading company by the 1840s. The firm participated in the development of the tea clipper, commissioning numerous new ships, including the record-breaking Thermopylae, the fastest merchant sailing ship afloat at the time she entered service (1868).   Suffolk-born Robert Kemball was the ship’s first master (1868-74), renowned for making fast passages on the China and Australia routes and nicknamed ‘Pile-on-Kemball’.   Under Kemball’s command on her maiden voyage, the Thermopylae made the London-Melbourne run in 60 days, an astonishing feat at the time. This paper looks in detail at Kemball’s life and career.

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Filed under: Atlantic | English Channel | Other (Nineteenth C) | Indian Ocean | Pacific
Subjects include: Biography | Merchant Marines | Ship Handling & Seamanship | Shipbuilding & Design

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