Teaclipper Cutty Sark was built by Jock “White Hat” Willis in Dumbarton, Scotland in 1869. He came from a ship-owning family and he wanted a fast clipper to carry tea from China to Britain where tea was a valuable commodity. When it was time to name his new ship, he turned to a poet that he along with many Scots had long admired – Robbie Burns. Burns, unofficial poet laureate for all Scots, had written a poem titled “Tam O’Shanter” in 1791.
The poem tells the story of Tam, a hard-working and hard-drinking Scottish lowlands farmer who had ridden his favourite mare Meg into his village for a drink (or two) after a hard days work on the farm. As dusk was falling, he started to head home but while passing the local church (or kirk to Scots) and the adjacent graveyard, Tam spies a beautiful witch dancing around an open fire. She wears nothing but a “sark” which is old Norse and Gaelic for a chemise or petticoat. Her name was Nannie Dee and she had apparently been given the sark while still a child, hence the expression “cutty” for short. And so “cutty sark” meaning short petticoat. At one point, mesmerized by the scantilly clad witch, Tam cries out: “Weel done, cutty-sark”! At which point, Nannie along with her sister witches all begin to chase poor Tam. Ah, but that is as they say – another story!