Gordon Bennett!

The striking Lysistrata's styling was unconventional. (Hal Sisk)

The striking Lysistrata’s styling was unconventional.
(Hal Sisk)

The G.L. Watson designed and tank-tested twin-screw turbine steam yacht Lysistrata was launched by William Denny & Brothers, Dumbarton, Scotland, on this day in 1900. Such was the attention to detail demanded by her remarkable interior – festooned with evidence of her owner, New York Herald newspaper proprietor James Gordon Bennett Jr’s obsession with the owl – that completion would take until May 1901 at a final cost of over $600,000.

We’ll let the more sober New York press take up the story, without prejudice:


“Mr. Bennett’s Hansome Yacht Gives Entire Satisfaction to Owner, Designer, and Builders.

“LONDON, March 16. – James Gordon Bennett’s new steam yacht Lysistrata, designed by George L. Watson and built by W. Denny & Brothers, has just completed her trials, and is said to have given the greatest satisfaction to her owner, designer and builders. Over an eighty-five-knots course the Lysistrata showed a mean speed of 19½ knots, and without forced draught 16½ knots. The yacht handles admirably, has twin screws, and 6,500 horse power. During her high-speed trial the machinery acted faultlessly. There was no heating or complications of any kind, and so cool were the bearings at the end of the trial that the Chief Engineer said he was prepared to drive her another 300 miles without fear of the results.

“The Lysistrata is destined to excite much comment when she appears completed in May. She is of 2800 tons, has a perfectly straight stem, has a storm deck fore and aft, a single huge funnel, with one mast abaft it, and one square yard for signalling purposes. The interior arrangements are quite unique, and generally speaking, she is unlike any yacht ever built. She has no bowsprit, but a feature at the stern and bow are large owls with electric eyes, amid a scrollwork of mistletoe. More striking than all else in the yacht are the anchors, which are stockless, like those used on board warships, the shaft being drawn into the side of the ship. The hull has the appearance of being made out of a solid piece of metal, so highly is it polished and beautifully finished.”

New York Times

March 17, 1901

Lysistrata during her trials on the Firth of Clyde, spring 1901. (www.triptod.com)

Lysistrata during her Firth of Clyde sea trials, spring 1901.

Lysistrata at Cannes (www.delcampe.net)

Lysistrata at Cannes with her crew uniform hanging out to dry in the morning sun. It is said that at times she had up to 100 crew, including a masseur and, presumably, a cow hand…

Lysistrata at Villefranche. (www.triptod.com)

The owl figurehead is clearly seen in this photo of Lysistrata at Villefranche. Gordon Bennett died at nearby Beaulieu-sur-Mer in May 1918.

Lysistrata was sold in c1916 to the Imperial Russian Navy, apparently requisitioned by the Royal Navy during the first world war, then returned to Russia and perhaps not broken up until as relatively recently as 1966. She is a very special representative of the G.L. Watson steam yacht designs of the 1890s and early 1900s that may be considered the true predecessors of today’s “megayachts”. Doesn’t every self-respecting megayacht berth a milk cow in a padded stall, and stow a De Dion Bouton car at the ready?


~ Iain McAllister ~



About Peggy Bawn Press

496pg biography of Scottish yacht designer, George Lennox Watson (1851-1904). Significant book on the history of yacht design & the development of modern yachting. Beautifully illustrated. Many photographs previously unpublished.
This entry was posted in Clydebuilt, G.L. Watson, G.L. Watson & Co., G.L. Watson clients, object of desire, shipbuilding, shipyards, Steam Yacht, tank testing, yacht design, yacht designer and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Gordon Bennett!

  1. Ella Bartholomew says:

    My Father was part of the crew aboard this yacht

  2. markhsutherland says:

    The author, Dr Halliday Sutherland, had lunch aboard the Lysistrata in 1916 (then in the service of the Russian Imperial Navy). He wrote about it in his 1933 book “The Arches of the Years” (excerpt here: https://hallidaysutherland.com/2018/08/01/lunch/).

  3. Robert Soevik says:

    I’ve got a private printed travel log from a transatlantic trip aboard the Lysysistrata in 1903.

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