Newly constructed global indices of ocean freight rates in the 1850s show large cyclical fluctuations in these years. A new type of freight rate index, referred to as a repeat sailings index, is presented, which is similar to a type of index frequently applied to house prices. An econometric model of the freight rate market is estimated on monthly data from the 1850s. It is found that harvest failures, business cycles, the supply of tonnage and the Crimean War all significantly affected freight rates in this period. The Crimean War may have accounted for about a quarter of the surge in freight rates in the years prior to the outbreak of the War; once the War broke out in March 1854, however, it was of less importance.