Visual History of the Sailing Ship
This is an illustration of the development of the European sailing ship from the Middle Ages to early 20th century, from the Viking long boat in 9th century to the barquentines used in cod fishing off Newfoundland in the 1920s.

All the sailng ship models shown here are masterpieces of skilled ship model makers who made them to the best available plans, true to scale and accurate to the very details. If you look for specifics on naval technology changing over time, here you may find them displayed in an illuminating way. Every museum would be proud of having these models in its collection.

Each model has its own webpage with background information on the original ship. Links are given to specific literature and relevant museums. Each ship model is shown in 20 - 50 photos. Click on the photos to get the high resolution megapixel pictures. You will be surprised by the clarity of the structures in the actual size photos.

The 33 tall ship models shown here of course cannot give a complete picture of all the ship types used in Europe since the Viking age. They are just singular pieces, but still the gradual changes of ship shapes and increase in rig efficiency and hull construction over time are clearly visible. If you look for a comprehensive work with many illustrations on the development of the sailing ship, I recommend Björn Landström, The Ship. An Illustrated History. Doubleday & Company, Inc., New York 1961. Otherwise interested: look at this literature list.

1. Medieval Viking boats and Hansa ships

2. Galleons, warships and traders in 17th century

3. Traders and yachts in 18th century

4. Frigates and ships of the line in 18th century

5. The last sailing warships in 19th century

6. Traders, fishermen and work boats in 19th and 20th century

1. Medieval Viking boats and Hansa ships

 Viking ship in the burial mound of Oseberg

Viking ship Skuldelev 5, ship model

Hanseatic League ship of 1470, ship model
The Oseberg Ship was built around A.D. 820. It is a typical clinker-built Viking ship, made of oak.

  The Viking ship Skuldelev 5 was a small warship, length 17.5 m, that was built in A.D. 1040. With a crew of up to 30 men it could go by 14 knots under sail.

  The Hanseatic League ship of 1470 is a symbol of an important historical epoch.
In 15th century the clinker-built Hansa cogs were more and more replaced by larger carvel-built ships like the one shown here.

2. Galleons, warships and traders in 17th century
Ship model galleon of 1610  Ship model Vasa of 1628  Ship model Dutch fluyt Zeehaen of 1639 
A galleon of 1610, reconstructed according to an English treatise of 1620 on ship-building, and to a votive ship from that time in the "Great Church" (Storkyrkan) in Stockholm
  The Swedish Vasa of 1628, one of the large warships built by Swedish King Gustavus II Adolphus. On her maiden voyage she capsized and sank in Stockholm harbour.
  The Dutch fluyt Zeehaen of 1639 was one of the expedition ships of Abel Tasman. He was the first European to discover New Zealand.
Ship model French expedition ship La Belle of 1689         
The French expedition ship La Belle of 1689.
In 1684 - 1686 the French nobleman Robert Cavelier de La Salle undertook an expedition to establish a French colony at the mouth of the Mississippi. The La Belle was one of his four ships.

3. Traders and yachts in 18th century
Model of a splendid yacht of 1711  Ship model galiot Stadt Elbing  Ship model Bermuda sloop of 1740 

A splendid yacht that was ordered in 1711 by Max Emanuel, Duke of Bavaria and  governor of the Spanish Netherlands.

  The galiot Stadt Elbing was built in 1738 at an Elbing shipyard for the merchant Heinrich Doering.       A Bermuda sloop of 1740.
The Bermuda sloops were a commonly used sailing vessel in the Caribbean.
Ship model East Indiaman of 1740  Holländische Galiot von 1740 Ship model galeas from Stettin

An English East Indiaman of 1740.

An East Indiaman was a ship operating under charter or license of the East India Companies of the major European trading powers in the 17th to 19th century.


A galiot of 1740.

The Dutch galiots were flat-bottomed ships with a rounded bow and aft, especially useful in shallow waters. Their development started in the 17th century.

They were used mainly as merchant ships in northern Europe and the Mediterranean.



A galeas from Stettin, around 1750,

a type of trade ship that was common in the Baltic Sea and North Sea from the 17th to the early 20th centuries.

The galeas was developed from the Dutch galliot.

Ship model English brig Duke of Bedford of 1750. Ship model Endeavour of 1768  Ship model Frech slaver L'Aurore of 1784

The English brig Duke of Bedford of 1750.
Brigs were very popular in the 18th and early 19th century, due to their speed and maneuverability.
Both masts were square-rigged. Brigs were used as merchant ships and, with 10 to 18 cannon, as ships of war.

  The Endeavour of 1768, the expedition ship of James Cook.
James Cook set sail on 25 August 1768 from
Plymouth to his study of the South Seas. On that journey he went to Tahiti, Tubuai and other islands, then to New Zealand and Australia. Via the Cape of Good Hope he returned to England on 12 July 1771.
  The slaver L' AURORE of 1784.
L' AURORE was built in France by the shipbuilder H. Penevert.  From France ships of this kind sailed to the coast of Angola, in order to take over 600 slaves for the journey to Haiti. From there colonial goods were bought, usually sugar, and transported to France.

4. Frigates and ships of the line in 18th century
Ship model Wappen von Hamburg III Ship model French 40 gun frigate of 1750 Ship model French bomb ketch LA SALAMANDRE of 1752

The Wapen von Hamburg of 1720.

On 12 November 1720 a third ship of this name was launched as a convoy ship by the City of Hamburg. 

A contemporary dockyard model of this vessel in 1 : 16 scale still exists. It is displayed in the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte.



  A French 40 gun frigate of around 1750.
The model was built to the plans of Amiral Paris and Chapman. The sails were set like the ship being on starboard tack in wind abeam.

The French bomb ketch La Salamandre was launched in 1752.

This ship model is made only partly planked to allow for views into the ship's interior.

Ship model HMS Victory of 1765 Ship model USS Confederacy of 1778  

The HMS VICTORY of 1765, a

100 gun three-decker ship of the line. She was the flagship of Admiral Nelson 1805 in the battle of Trafalgar.




The USS Confederacy of 1778, built in style of the admiralty models.

Only two short years after she was launched, Confederacy was captured by the British off the coast of Cape Francois, West Indies, where she had been sent to retrieve supplies for the American army.

5. The last sailing warships in 19th century
Ship model Dutch bomb galiot  Ship model Norwegian gunboat Axel Thorsen of 1810. Ship model English 74 gun HMS Wellesley of 1815

A Dutch bomb galiot of 1800.

Bomb galiots needed to withstand the powerful downwards recoil of the mortars.

Small beamy structures like the Dutch galiots were well suited for this. The bomb vessels were difficult to sail, in part because they typically had the masts stepped farther aft than would have been normal in other vessels of similar rig, in order to accommodate the mortars forward and provide a clear area for their forwards fire. 



  The Norwegian gunboat Axel Thorsen of 1810.
Many of the Norwegian coastal defence vessels of that time were schooner-rigged gunboats. They carried one or two heavier guns. To keep and adjust the position when firing the ships were equipped with a few oars.

The English 74 gun HMS Wellesley of 1815.

HMS Wellesley was built by the East India Company at Bombay and launched on 24th February 1815 as a 3rd rate 74 gun ship of the line. She was named for the Duke of Wellington.
She saw active service in the Far East on several occasions. She participated in the First Opium War, which resulted in Britain gaining control of Hong Kong.

Ship model French corvette La Créole of 1827   Ship model Russian frigate Pallada of 1833   Ship model Russian screw clipper STRELOK of 1856
The French corvette La Créole of 1827
The La Créole was a 24-gun corvette of the French Navy. Her plans were drawn by P. M. Leroux in 1827. She was launched in Cherbourg in May 1829.
The ship took part in the French invasion of Mexico in 1838, and most notably in the Bombardment of San Juan de Ulloa before French troops disembarked and captured the city of Veracruz.

The Russian frigate Pallada of 1833.

The Russian frigate Pallada was built in 1833 to the prototype of an American frigate, the USS President. The ship was one of the best ships of the Russian Navy and was thus chosen for taking the Russian consulate to Japan in 1853.
This journey got well known by the account of the writer Ivan Goncharov, who wrote a travelogue, "The Frigate Pallada", published in 1858.

The Russian screw clipper Strelok of 1856.
The screw clipper Strelok was one of six sister ships that were built in winter 1855/1856 in Arkhangelsk, to avoid the British blockade during the Crimean War. They were intended as light cruisers against the British merchant marine, but the war was over before they could be put in use. The Strelok served 1858 – 1862 in Far East and Northern Pacific, i.e. charting the Sea of Japan.
Ship model Prussian corvette Elisabeth of 1869    

The Prussian corvette Elisabeth of 1869.
The corvette Eisabeth was one of the first ships of the North German Alliance with propeller drive. She was the last warship built totally from wood.
The corvette was built 1866 - 1868 at the royal shipyard in Danzig and came into service 1869.
The experiences in the Crimean War proved that wooden ships had substantially lost combat capability and no more could be used for war purposes. On transfer to the Imperial German Navy in 1871 the corvette was used as training ships for sailors.


6. Traders, fishermen and work boats in 19th and 20th century
Ship model French barge Le Canot Impérial Ship model English tea clipper Cutty Sark of 1869 Ship model German zeesenboot of 1880

The French barge Le Canot Impérial was built in 1811 for Napoleon's inspection of the fortifications of Antwerp. This barge, which is 17.21 m long and 3.35 m wide, was built in only 21 days, including all the decorations.
Napoleon used this pretty small boat only once, on the occasion of his visit to Antwerp. Today the ship is on display in the entrance hall of the Musée de la Marine in Paris. 

  The English tea clipper Cutty Sark of 1869
The Cutty Sark was launched 1869 in Dumbarton, Scotland. In tea trade until 1890, she took part in the tea clipper races from China to London which made her famous and gave her a legendary reputation.
In 1954 she was moved to a purpose-built dry-dock in Greenwich and preserved as a museum ship.

A German zeesenboot of 1880.
The zeesenboot is a type of fishing vessel that was developed for the shallow coastal waters of the southern Baltic Sea coast. The fishing net was held by two booms at bow and stern while the ship was slowly drifting with wind abeam and sails close-hauled.
The type of vessel shown here in this model was the kind that was built in the 1880s after introducing the center board for stabilization, instead of the leeboards used before.


Ship model German galiot HOFFNUNG of 1897   Ship model French barquentine Cote d'Émeraude of 1925    
The German galiot Hoffnung of 1897
A galiot is usually a schooner-rigged vessel that is very bluff both at bow and stern. Many variations in size and rigging were built in the Netherlands and at the German North Sea and the Baltic Sea coast. The galiots had a large hold, simple handling of the sails and low draft. The draft was crucial for the shallow harbours in the tidal waters of the North Sea coast and for going up river estuaries.
The French barquentine Cote d'Émeraude of 1925
The barquentine  Cote d'Émeraude was built in Saint-Malo, France, and used for cod fishing off Newfoundland.



The models shown here are taken from my gallery of ship models sold.