Sordid Fate Of The Clipper Ship Sunny South
By James Donahue
Clipper ships were the last hurrah for sailing ships on the high seas during the years steamships
were arriving on the scene. They were sleek and built to speed and in their day, were setting new records in travel. Among
the fastest of the clippers was the Sunny South, a 154-foot vessel known for its long sharp lines and slightly concave bow.
Conflicting with her name, Sunny Side literally displayed a dark appearance, perhaps symbolizing what
it was eventually to become . . . a slave runner. It was said the ship’s topsides were painted black and the figurehead
was a scaly sea serpent.
No one expected the ship to meet this fate when it was launched in Williamsburg, N.Y. in 1854.It was
built for the Napier, Johnson & Co. of New York that expected to put the ship on regular runs between West Coast ports
and China. But Sunny South proved to be too small to be profitable on such long hauls. Under the command of Captain Michael
Gregory, the Sunny South began making voyages along the West Coast between California and Brazil. When she crossed the Pacific
the ship proved to be fast, sailing from San Francisco to Hong Kong in just 51 days.
In 1859 Sunny South was sold to new owners in Havana. She was given the name Emanuela and sailed under
the Chilean flag in the Atlantic slave trade. It became one of only three American-made clipper ships known to have been used
as slavers. The Emanuela was believed to have been the fastest slaver on the high seas.
In spite of its speed, the Emanuela was captured the following year by the British screw sloop-of-war
HMS Brisk, under the command of Captain Algernon de Horsey, in the Mozambique Channel. The capture followed a four-hour chase
in which the crew of the Brisk used both steam and full sail to get close enough to fire a shot across the clipper’s
bow Had there been more wind that day, the old salts say the Brisk would never have caught up with the Emanuela..
The officers of the Brisk boarded the Emanuela, took the officers captive and brought the clipper
in as a prize, something still practiced on the high seas in the Nineteenth Century.
The Emanuela had 846 African slaves packed in its lower "slave deck." Of these, 105 died. Many were
women and children. The slaves had gone for nearly a week without food.
Author Charles Dickens visited the ship while it was docked at London six months after the capture.
He wrote that the ship still smelled despite efforts to scrub down the decks and disinfect the vessel.
So what happened to the captured crew of the slave ship? The British authorities found no laws on
their books that made it illegal to operate a shave ship at sea, so the officers and crew were released and they escaped unpunished.
The freed slaves were put ashore on the Island of Mauritius, off the coast of South Africa, where they found employment on
the sugar plantations.
The old clipper also was taken to Mauritius where it was given a final name of Enchantress. It was
used as a storage ship by the Royal Navy, anchored off the African coast. The ship was wrecked on a reef at Mayotte, also
in the Mozambique Channel in February, 1861.