The Dovenby was one of those, and she was found recently by the Wessex Archaeology investigation of the Thames, covered by the BBC series Thames Shipwrecks: A Race Against Time. There is original footage of her, which was shown on last night's episode, and she was a quite beautiful sailing ship with an steel hull. The source of the photographs on this page is the website of the State Library of Victoria.
She was built in 1891 by Pickersgill in Sunderland for one Peter Iresdale., and was the second ship to hold this name. She sank off the Nore lightship in the Thames estuary - after a trip all the way from Lobos D'Afuera in Peru with a cargo of guano, en route to Antwerp. She had three masts built of steel (of which a part of one was found and retrieved), with many layers of sail, and was 70m long. The BBC episode called her "a great ship of Empire". A quite extraordinary vessel. I wish that I could find out more about her, but there is almost nothing on the Web. The best websites for ships are all those which look at naval vessels, and the Dovenby was commissioned for commercial purposes. I may find out more from seeing the same episode on BBC iPlayer, because I missed the entire first half of the programme - hopefully it will become available in the next couple of days and will tell me more.
For a ship as beautiful as the Dovenby, 2,575 tons of bird droppings were not the most glamorous cargo. She'd picked up her load in Peru and was en route for Antwerp when she was intercepted by a Royal Navy cruiser off Falmouth, and taken to the Thames. Guano, normally used as fertiliser, could help to make explosives.
The Dovenby was among the last ships from the great age of sail, when Britannia ruled the waves. Ships such as the Cutty Sark had once been the fastest afloat. By 1914, when the Dovenby sank, that title belonged to steamships. Windpower was cheap and still useful for hauling heavy bulk cargoes, so steel-hulled sailing ships were built. Between 1870 and 1920, 60 per cent of all new ships were British, and in 1914 the British Merchant Marine was 18.9 million tons, four times the size of its biggest rival, Germany.
The Dovenby was being led into the Thames when a fog bank rolled out. With almost no visibility, she dropped all sail and drifted. Suddenly the bow of the steamship Sindoro appeared and the two ships collided. The Dovenby sank in less than three minutes, with her helmsman aboard.