Despite being constantly referred to as a 'Blackwall frigate', the Walmer Castle was actually built at Sunderland, in the far north-east of England, rather than anywhere near Blackwall on London's River Thames. Launched from Pile's Yard in 1855, she was ordered by Green's of London for their extensive fleet of Indian trading ships and, like those of her larger sisters which had also been designed and built by William Pile, she proved a highly successful vessel.
Registered at 1,064 tons (gross & net) and measuring 193 feet in length with a 35 foot beam, she sported a full ship-rig and, when completed, looked every inch the thoroughbred she soon became. Under her first master Captain C.L. Daniel, she began her career with two round trips from London to Melbourne, each taking approximately a year, after which, as she lay idle in the London docks awaiting her third voyage, she found herself chartered by the British government to take troops to India where the 'Great Mutiny' was in its final phase. Early in August 1858, she loaded 400 troops at Gravesend - cavalry as well as infantry - and disembarked them at Calcutta on 23rd November after a fairly speedy though uneventful passage. Returning home with a complement including 100 invalided soldiers, 9 women and 18 children, she sailed from Calcutta on 26th January 1859 and arrived off Gravesend in May after a passage of 109 days and an absence from England which had lasted 9= months. The voyage home was a melancholy one however, with numerous deaths amongst both crew and soldiers, mostly from diseases such as dysentery which spread easily in the confined spaces of the ship's holds.
Thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, Walmer Castle then began ten years of regular sailings to Calcutta, Madras and China, usually completing one round trip per annum and carrying a variety of cargoes in addition to passengers to and from their colonial destinations. Her final years under Green's colours found her trading to the Cape of Good Hope and Australia as well as India, and she also did some runs from Cardiff to Bombay and Rangoon ironically carrying the Welsh steam coal which was already sounding the death knell of commercial sail. Sold to John Kemp Welch, another London shipowner, in 1874, he re-rigged her as a barque to cut costs only to find his investment prematurely cut short when Walmer Castle was destroyed by fire whilst loading cargo at Samarang (Java) on Christmas Day 1876.
The term 'Blackwall frigates' was a generic name applied to a breed of commercial sailing ships built for the lucrative India trade between 1837 and 1869, following the expiration of the East India Company's monopoly in 1833 which thereafter opened the eastern trade routes to all comers. The name derived from the fact that many - but by no means all - of these vessels were built by Green & Wigram in their yards at Blackwall, on the Thames, and because they were said to be 'frigate-built', not in the sense of resembling the naval frigates of the day but in that they were faster than the older and more traditional East Indiamen of the previous generation.