Shadowbox Model of Clipper Ship Twilight

Original content by: Dr. Paul Goodwin

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

The artifact shown here is a model of the clipper ship Twilight, shown in a shadow box format.  A shadowbox is essentially a frame that is used to display memorabilia or creative works.

Launched on October 6, 1857, from the Mystic, CT shipyard of Charles Mallory, the Twilight was a mid-sized clipper ship. The vessel's construction was overseen by its first captain, Gurden Gates, who was the ship's commander until its sale in 1863.  The Twilight quickly earned a reputation as a fast sailing ship on voyages to San Francisco and across the Pacific.  

Essentially a bulk carrier with a cargo capacity of 2500 tons, on its second voyage in 1859, Twilight loaded guano at the Chincha Islands in Peru and then delivered it to Hampton Roads.  Unfortunately, the ship's acquaintance with the guano trade foreshadowed a darker history. Following an extensive overhaul at Mystic in 1864, the Twilight, owned by Merchant’s Express Line (New York) and under the command of Captain Joseph Warren Holmes of Mystic, was sold in San Francisco to agents of the Peruvian government who contracted for Chinese labor to work the country’s guano deposits.  Renamed the Compania Maritima del Peru, No. 1, the ex-Twilight for a time was involved in the inhumane trade of Asian contract laborers between China and Peru. In its final years, the vessel sailed under the Portuguese and Costa Rican flags, both in this trade and again as a bulk carrier.  Severely damaged in a storm in 1877 the ship was deemed beyond repair, broken up, and burned.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. Why do you suppose clipper ships were often used to transport Chinese laborers to Peru?
  2. What do you know about Chinese labor in 19th century US history?
  3. Why was the guano trade important?