Tuesday February 19, 2008 | 0 comments
Finally the news would arrive by semaphore that one or three or four clippers were beating up the English Channel. Then, as W.H. Ukers described it in his exhaustive classic All About Tea,
Swarms of sampling clerks would descend upon the docks to draw samples for brokers and wholesalers as soon as the news came that the racers had passed Gravesend (the mouth of the Thames). Some spent the night in nearby hotels, others slept at the docks. By 9:00 A.M., the samples were being tasted in Mincing Lane. Then the bids were made by the large dealers; duty was paid on the gross weight, and by the following morning the new season’s Congous would be on sale in Liverpool and Manchester.
The race of 1866 saw forty-odd ships – all British and none American, as it happened – sail from Chinese ports with that season’s tea. Of these, five left Fuzou anchorage within three days of one another and these were the real contenders. The Ariel, Captain Keay, was the favorite. Launched the year before, she was 852 tons and could pile on sail equivalent to the area of ten tennis courts. The Fiery Cros, Captain Robinson, was the ship the Ariel had to beat, it was thought. Of 65 tons, she had won the race in 1861, 1862, 1863, and 1865, losing by only one day in 1864 to the Serica, which had as master with a reputation as a hard driver, Captain Innes. The Taeping, 767 tons, was built like the Ariel, to excel in light winds. Her captain had died on the outward voyage and she was commanded by First Mate Dowdy. The fifth ship was the 815 ton Taitsing, newer than the Ariel even and commanded by another hard driver, Captain Nutsford.
[photo credit: main post image by Nicky at www.flickr.com; Ariel by Art Quest – the book at www.flickr.com]