The Clipper Ship Era/Chapter 21

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CHAPTER XXI


THE LATER BRITISH TEA CLIPPERS


IN what may be called the ante-Suez Canal days, China was a pretty comfortable place to be in. The East India Company, with its pomp and grandeur, had passed away, but the older residents treasured the picturesque traditions of former times, and the comfort and luxury of the old days still survived.

All white foreigners in China were known as Europeans, and at the little treaty ports along the coast their communities were closely united by ties of social necessity, the barriers of national prejudice, if they existed, being soon obliterated in the effort of each member to contribute to the well-being of all. Hong-kong was the European capital. With its cathedral. Government House, regiment of soldiers, court of justice, race-course, social clubs, and annual Derby and Regatta week, it was a most entertaining pocket edition of England, set down at the base of a lofty island mountain-peak, between the bluest of seas and the brightest of skies. Almost the only things that reminded one of the Orient were the tiers of junks that lay moored at the western end of the town, and the industrious well-mannered Chinese who mingled so unobtrusively with their visitors from the west.

All of these things worked together for good. There were no cables or telegraphs to vex the souls of the righteous. The P. & O. steamer, via the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, usually arrived every month, though frequently four or five days overdue, and once in a while she would not appear at all, having fetched up on one of the numerous uncharted reefs or shoals that then infested these seas. When she did arrive, there was a ripple of excitement over receiving letters and newspapars from home, and when she had departed, the little colony settled once more into agreeable repose. The towns and cities of America and Europe seemed far away—bright, shadowy visions that dwelt in our hearts as "home."

In 1862 the Messageries Imperiales of France extended their steamship line to China, and in 1867 the first steamship of the Pacific Mail Company from San Francisco arrived at Hong-kong. Vast numbers of globe-trotters then began to appear, most of them far too energetic; they insisted, among other things, on tying their own shoestrings, and in general proved very inferior lotus-eaters. When the Suez Canal was opened and telegraph cables began to be laid, then the remnant of charm that had made the old life in China so pleasant vanished forever.

In 1859 quite a new type of China tea clipper appeared in Great Britain. The first of these beautiful vessels was the Falcon, built by Robert Steele & Son, at Greenock, and owned by Shaw, Maxton & Co. She was a wooden vessel of 937 tons register; length 191 feet 4 inches, breadth 32 feet 2 inches, depth 20 feet 2 inches, and was commanded by Captain Maxton, who had been in command of the Lord of the Isles. The Falcon was the first of the really handsome tea clippers sailing out of London. Like her, the Fiery Cross, built by Chalour & Co., of Liverpool, in 1860; the Min, by Robert Steele & Son, of Greenock, and the Kelso, by William Pile, of Sunderland, in 1861; the Belted Will, by Feel & Co., of Workington, and the Serica, by Robert Steele & Son, in 1863 were all wooden ships sheathed with red copper. The Fiery Cross, the largest of these, was only 888 tons. They were all beautiful vessels of an entirely original type and with nothing about them to remind one of the American clippers; for they had considerably less sheer, much less freeboard, and lower bulwarks, and their comparatively small breadth gave them a slim, graceful appearance.

These ships and the tea clippers which followed them had very clear decks for working ship. The deck-houses were small, and with the rails, bulwarks, waterways, bitts, hatch-coamings, companions, and skylights were of India teak varnished; the decks, also of India teak, were holystoned; and this, with the polished brasswork and the spare spars lashed amidships, made them very smart and shipshape.

The tea-trade in the early sixties was comparatively small, and did not require many vessels, but speed in the delivery of new teas was of the utmost importance, and it was this demand that brought these clippers into existence. They were designed with great skill for this special purpose, and as they invariably sailed from China with new teas during the southwest monsoon, it was necessary that they should be smart in moderate weather going to windward, as well as in getting through the northeast trades in the Atlantic. It was under these conditions that they did their best work. They did not carry as heavy spars nor as much canvas as the American clippers of the same length, and probably could not have done so to advantage, as their breadth was considerably less, and with their easy lines they did not require much canvas to drive them. They were remarkably fast in light and moderate winds, and made fine averages rather than exceptional daily records of speed, none of them reaching the extreme speed of many of the sharper and more powerful American clipper ships. Only twenty-five or thirty of these vessels were built from first to last, and not more than four or five in any one year. A list of the most celebrated of them will be found in Appendix III.

The captains were men of great ability, who handled their ships with skill and judgment; some of them accumulated considerable fortunes, being part owners of the vessels which they commanded. These ships were manned by fine British seamen, many of whom had served in the Royal Navy. When these fellows got safely to sea and properly sobered up, there were no smarter sailors afloat, whether aloft or with marlinspike, palm and needle, or watch tackle.

In 1863 the first tea clippers of composite construction were brought out—the Taeping, built by Robert Steele & Son; the Eliza Shaw, by Alexander Stephen, and the Yang-tze and Black Prince, by Alexander Hall. This system of ship-building—iron frames and wood planking—was invented by John Jordan, son of a member of the firm of L. H. Macintyre & Co., ship-builders of Liverpool, who built the schooner Excelsior upon this principle in 1850, and the barque Marion Macintyre, in 1851, these being the first composite vessels constructed.

This system combined the strength of iron frames with the advantage that the wooden planking could be coppered to prevent fouling, which was a serious matter in this trade. Great care had to be taken in building these vessels to prevent galvanic action so far as possible. Gutta-percha was placed between the frames and planking as a non-conductor; the planking was then fastened with yellow-metal screw bolts with counter-sunk heads, the holes being afterwards filled with a composition prepared for the purpose. Mr. Jordan obtained a patent for his invention, but it did not attract much attention until adopted in the construction of the Taeping, Eliza Shaw, Yang-tse, and Black Prince. From that time all the tea clippers were of composite build, though it was not until 1867 that the Committee of Lloyd's Register issued rules for their construction.

It was in 1863 also that the Seaforth, an iron ship of 1200 tons, built for the Calcutta trade by Jones, Quiggin & Co., of Liverpool, was fitted with steel lower masts, topmasts, topsails yards, and bowsprit, and with standing rigging of steel wire
The Composite Construction - 322.jpg

The Composite Construction

rope. It was estimated that by replacing wood and hemp with steel, she saved 21 tons weight aloft, besides getting less wind resistance and a very considerable increase in strength. The Seaforth was the first vessel to have steel spars and rigging, but they soon came into use on board the tea clippers.

The wild, speculative years of ship-owning which followed the discovery of gold in California and Australia, when a clipper ship was expected to pay for herself every voyage or two, had now passed away. Ship-owners retained a lively recollection of the crash in 1857 and the depression which followed, so the tea clippers were built with an eye to economy as well as speed. The rates of freight, which in the early fifties had been £6 and even as high as £8 per ton, were in 1863 £4 10s. to £5 per ton—still fine paying rates on the investment of capital, after allowing for running expenses and depreciation. Ship-owning in Great Britain had now become established upon a less profitable, though more rational and substantial basis.

The tea clippers carried from 200 to 300 tons of clean shingle ballast, laid beautifully smooth and even, upon which the chests of tea were stowed, and a considerable quantity of dunnage wood, for which allowances were made in reckoning the actual cargo capacity. The Taeping, which under the new rules based on the cubic capacity of the hull registered 767 tons, carried 1234 tons of tea at 50 cubit feet per ton, with a crew of 30 men all told. Vessels were now designed on scientific principles, and it may be doubted whether the qualities then desirable in a merchant sailing ship —speed, strength, carrying capacity, and economy—have ever been so successfully united as in these famous China tea clippers.

Some exciting contests took place between the various clippers of the new type, the Falcon, Fiery Cross, Serica, and Taeping proving the most successful. In the year 1865 the Fiery Cross and Serica sailed from Foo-chow side by side, on May 28th, both bound for London. After a close race during which they sighted each other several times, both ships made their signals off St. Catharine's, Isle of Wight, at almost the same moment, 106 days from Foo-chow, and continued up Channel before a light westerly breeze. Off Beechy Head they fell in with the tugs sent out to meet them, the Serica at that time having a lead of about two miles. The Fiery Cross, however, secured the most powerful tug and reached her dock one tide before the Serica, thus winning the premium of 10 shillings per ton. The Taeping sailed from Foo-chow some days later and made the passage to the Downs in 101 days. As may be supposed, this system of awarding premiums led to a good deal of unpleasantness.

In 1865, Robert Steele & Son brought out the sister ships Ariel and Sir Launcelot; Alexander Hall, the Ada, and Council & Co., of Glasgow, the Taitsing, all of composite construction; and in the following year the most famous race between these vessels—the one which the tea brokers of Mincing Lane still discuss with enthusiasm—was sailed. It was arranged that nine clippers should sail from Foo-chow as nearly the same date as possible, and during the last week in May the picturesque Pagoda Anchorage presented a scene of unusual activity. The Ada, Black Prince, Chinaman, Fiery Cross, Flying Spur, Serica, Ariel, Taeping, and Taitsing were all hurrying to finish loading and get to sea. Cargo junks and lorchers[1] were being warped alongside at all hours of the day and night; double gangs of good-natured, chattering coolies were on board each ship ready to handle and stow the matted chests of tea as they came alongside; comfortable sampans worked by merry barefooted Chinese women sailed or rowed in haste between the ships and the shore; slender six-oared gigs with crews of stalwart Chinamen in white duck uniforms darted about the harbor; while dignified master mariners, dressed in white linen or straw-colored pongee silk, with pipe-clayed shoes and broad pith hats, impatiently handled the yoke lines.

On shore the tyepans and their clerks hurried about in sedan chairs carried on the shoulders of perspiring coolies, with quick, firm step to the rhythm of their mild but energetic "woo ho—woo-ho—woo ho." The broad, cool veranda of the clubhouse was almost deserted; in the great hongs of Adamson, Bell; Gilman & Co.; Jardine, Matheson; Gibb, Livingston; and Sassoon, the gentry of Foochow toiled by candle-light over manifests and bills of lading and exchange, sustained far into the night by slowly swinging punkahs, iced tea, and the fragrant Manila cheroot. The Fiery Gross was the first ship to get her final chest of tea on board, at midnight, and she towed to sea early on the morning of May 29th; the Ariel left the Pagoda Anchorage at 10: 30 and the Serica and Taeping at 10:50 a.m. on the 30th; the Taitsing followed at midnight on the 31st. Here we must bid good-bye to the Ada, Black Prince, Chinaman, and Flying Spur, for these vessels, unfortunately, did not finish loading in time to take part in the race. The five competing ships, however, represented the flower of the fleet, and for this reason had been the favorites with shippers. The Fiery Cross, Taeping, and Serica were fast and well-tried vessels, while the Ariel and Taitsing were just beginning their successful career. The captains, Keay, of the Ariel; Robinson, of the Fiery Cross; Innes, of the Serica; McKinnon, of the Taeping, and Nutsfield, of the Taitsing, were all seamen of skill and experience, well known in the China trade.

The Fiery Cross found a light northeast breeze outside, and passed through the Formosa Channel with royal studdingsails set, followed by the other four ships. They all carried this breeze for four hundred miles, when the Fiery Cross drifted into a calm which let the other ships run up, but she was the first to get the southwest monsoon, and soon drew away again. On June 8th the Fiery Cross and Ariel met on opposite tacks, both ships having a strong southwest breeze, and the Fiery Cross passed three miles to windward. She kept her lead through the Straits of Sunda, passing Anjer Point at noon on June 19th, and was followed by the Ariel on the morning of June 20th and the Taeping during that afternoon; the Serica passed Anjer Point on the 22d. and the Taitsing on the 25th. From Anjer Point to the meridian of Mauritius they all carried fresh trade winds, and it was on this stretch across the Indian Ocean that each ship made her best twenty-four hours' run—the Ariel, 317; Taeping, 319; Serica, 291; Fiery Cross, 328; and Taitsing, 318 miles.

The Fiery Cross rounded the Cape of Good Hope on July 14th, 46 days from Foo-chow, followed by the Ariel also 46 days; Taeping, 47 days; Serica, 50 days, and Taitsing, 54 days. The Fiery Cross was on the equator, August 3d, 20 days from the Cape of Good Hope, with the Ariel still only one day astern, while the Taeping and Taitsing had each gained 1 and the Serica 2 days on this stretch. On August 9th, in latitude 12° 29' N., the Fiery Cross and Taeping exchanged signals, and they continued in company, with calms and variable winds until the 17th, when the Taeping picked up a breeze which carried her out of sight while the Fiery Cross lay becalmed for another twenty-four hours. Meanwhile, the Ariel, which was about thirty miles further to the westward, found better winds and now led the fleet, while the Taitsing brought up a good breeze and passed the Taeping, Serica, and Fiery Cross and was closing on the Ariel. At the Azores the Ariel still held the lead, though closely followed by the Taitsing, Fiery Cross, Serica, and Taeping in the order named. From the Azores to the entrance of the English Channel, the Taeping and Serica passed the Taitsing and Fiery Cross and closed on the Ariel, the Taeping leading the Serica by about six hours. At daybreak on the morning of September 5th, two of the clippers sighted each other running in for the Lizard; they were about five miles apart, beam and beam, steering on slightly converging courses. There was a strong southerly wind with smooth sea, and both ships were being driven at their utmost speed—a good fifteen knots—their lee scuppers smothered in foam, with the wind well abaft the starboard beam; both were under the same canvas, main skysail, topmast, topgallant, royal, and square lower studdingsails. Neither captain required the example of the other to send his ship along at her best speed—they had been doing that for ninety-eight days and nights. When their signals could be made out these ships proved to be the Ariel and the Taeping. After passing the Lizard the wind moderated, and they raced up channel almost side by side, now one and then the other gaining a slight advantage, but never far apart, and as they passed the various headlands along the coast they presented a spirited marine picture. They were off the pilot station at Dungeness at three o'clock the next morning and burned their blue lights for pilots, who boarded both ships at the same time. With a moderate wind they were now making not more than five or six knots through the water, but the tide was sweeping them along fast. Off the South Foreland the wind slackened again with the rising sun. Here the Ariel held a slight lead and she passed Deal at 8 o'clock, followed by the Taeping eight minutes later, but as the latter vessel had sailed from the Pagoda
The Ariel and Taeping - 329.jpg

The "Ariel" and "Taeping" Running up Channel, September 5, 1866

Anchorage twenty minutes after the Ariel, ninety-nine days before, she had won the race by twelve minutes. Both ships had sailed 16,000 miles.

The Serica passed Deal four hours later; all three ships went up the Thames on the same tide, and after the usual tugboat race, the Taeping arrived in the London Docks at 9:45, the Ariel in the East India Docks at 10:15, and the Serica in the West India Docks at 11:30 p.m. on September 6th. The Fiery Cross passed Deal on the 7th and the Taitsing on the 9th, each 101 days from the Pagoda Anchorage.

The following is an abstract of their logs:

Ariel Taeping Serica Fiery
Cross
Taitsing
From the Pagoda Anchorage to Anjer 21 days 21 days 23 days 21 days 26 days.
Prom Anjer to the Cape of Good Hope 25 " 26 " 27 " 25 " 28 "
Prom the Cape of Good Hope to the equator 20 " 19 " 18 " 20 " 19 "
From the equator to Deal 33 " 33 " 31 " 35 " 28 "
Total 99 " 99 " 99 " 101 " 101 "
The best twenty-four hours' runs were as follows:
Ariel June 25 317 miles 13.2 Average
knots.
Taeping " 25 319 " 13.3 "
Serica " 29 291 " 12.1 "
Fiery Cross " 24 328 " 13.7 "
Taitsing July 2 318 " 13.25 "

This contest of 1866 was one of the grandest ocean races ever sailed, partly on account of the number of evenly matched vessels engaged in it, but chiefly by reason of the splendid manner in which it was contested and the close, exciting finish. The tea cargoes of the five ships were: Taeping, 1,108,709 lbs.; Ariel, 1,230,900 lbs.; Serica, 954,236 lbs.; Fiery Cross, 854,236 lbs.; Taitsing, 1,093,130 lbs.

The usual altercation arose over the award of premium, which this year was 10 shillings per ton; Shaw, Maxton & Co., owners of the Ariel, protested that their ship had arrived first at Deal and was therefore entitled to the prize money, but the contention of Rodger & Co., owners of the Taeping, that their ship had made the fastest passage and had also reached her dock first, prevailed, and the matter was finally adjusted by dividing the premium. The captains all dined together at the Ship and Turtle Tavern in Leadenhall Street, and harmony was restored, but there were no premiums after this race. The system of awards had always led to controversy, and such an effort to combine sport and business could not be made to flourish. There had also been heavy betting on these races, large sums of money changing hands, and this continued; but it was better understood whether wagers were being laid on the clippers or tugboats, for under the old system, there had been nothing except expense to prevent a ship towing from the Azores.

In the next two years the fleet was increased by a number of fine vessels, built to meet the competition of steam, which was now beginning to be felt in the China trade. We have seen how fierce and prolonged a contest there had been between sail and steam on the Atlantic, where the brave old packet ships had finally been driven into other trades, and how the California and Australian clippers had gradually been superseded by other means of transportation. The difficulty and peculiar conditions of the China voyage made this a harder field to conquer.

Since 1845 the P. & O. steamers had carried passengers between England and China via the Red Sea, but they were expensive vessels to operate, and there were difficulty and delay in transportation across the Isthmus of Suez; consequently, their rates of freight were high and they were unable to compete with the tea clippers. On the other hand, auxiliary vessels did not have sufficient power to drive them against the southwest monsoon when new teas were shipped from China, as their heavy masts, yards, and rigging held them back in head winds. A number of auxiliaries were tried in the China trade, among them the Scotland, Erl King, Robert Lowe, and Far East, but they were not successful. As late as 1866 there were no steamers that could make the voyage between England and China with sufficient cargo to meet expenses, and very few persons at that time believed that the direct trade between Europe and China could ever be carried on by steamers, or that the Suez Canal, even if completed, would prove of any commercial value.

In this year, however, Alfred Holt, of Liverpool, brought out three iron screw steamships with compound engines—the Ajax, Achilles, and Agamemnon,—2270 tons gross and 1550 tons net register—and put them in the China trade. These vessels could steam from London to Mauritius, a distance of 8500 miles, without coaling, a remarkable performance in those days, and they made the passage from Foo-chow to London in 58 days, at an average speed of 235 miles per day. These were the first steamships to perform long ocean voyages successfully, and they marked a new era in steam navigation, although they were expensive vessels to operate compared with steamers of the present day, and it was at first doubted whether they could be made to pay.

The owners, builders, and captains of the tea clippers were not men to yield without a contest; they met this new and aggressive invasion of steam by building in rapid succession such noted fliers as the Titania, Spindrift, Forward Ho, Lahloo, Leander, Thermopylæ, Windhover, Cutty Sark, Caliph, Wylo, Kaisow, and Lothair. These, with the older tea clippers, held their own against the steamers until the opening of the Suez Canal in November, 1869, greatly lessened the length of the voyage and the difficulty and expense of obtaining coal.

In 1868 the Ariel, Taeping, and Sir Launcelot sailed from Foo-chow on May 28th, the Spindrift on the 29th, the Lahloo on the 30th, the Serica on June 1st, and the Leander on June 3d. The Ariel and Spindrift made the passage to Deal in 97 days, the Sir Launcelot in 98 days, the Lahloo in 100 days; Taeping, 102 days; Leander, 109 days, and Serica, 113 days.

The famous tea clipper Thermopylæ was launched in this year. She was of composite construction, built by Walter Hood, of Aberdeen, for George Thompson & Co., who also owned the Star of Peace, Ethiopian, Aristides, Patriarch, Salamis, and other fine ships well known in the Australian trade. The Thermopylæ was 947 tons register; length 210 feet, breadth 36 feet, depth 21 feet; she carried double topsails, but no skysail, and like all the Thompson ships, her hull was painted sea green from the copper up with white yards and lower masts. She carried a handsome figurehead of the brave Leonidas, and was a very beautiful ship. She was designed by Bernard Weymouth, an accomplished naval architect who was for many years the secretary to Lloyd's Register of Shipping. He had before this designed the tea clipper Leander, and later designed the Melbourne, a fast ship in the Australian trade, built and owned by Richard Green, of London, of which further mention will be made later.

On her first voyage the Thermopylæ sailed from London to Melbourne under command of Captain Kemball, who had formerly commanded the Fairlight and the Yang-tze. She left Gravesend, November 7, 1868, and arrived at Melbourne, January 9, 1869, thus making the passage in the remarkable record time of 63 days, the same time as the record passage of the James Baines, from Liverpool to Melbourne fourteen years before. She had a fast run of 21 days to the equator; on the three days before and after crossing the line she made 202, 140, 228, 271, 288, and 293 miles—an unusual rate of speed for that part of the ocean. Her best days' runs were made on January 3d and 4th—330 and 326 miles; her log records on both days "northerly, strong," so that it may be assumed that she had as much fair wind as she needed. Her log records nine days during the passage when her runs were over 300 miles, and five days of less than 100 miles. The entries on December 9th and 10th are: "Northwesterly, fresh gale, 240 miles," and "southwesterly, blowing a gale, 224 miles." These were fair winds. An analysis of this log leads to the conclusion that the Thermopylæ was a very fast ship in average weather at sea, but in heavy weather could not be driven at a high rate of speed for a vessel of her length, probably on account of her small breadth and low foreboard. [2]

She next made the run from Newcastle, New South Wales, to Shanghai in 28 days, which is the record between those ports. On this passage large days' runs are not to be expected, but on one day she made 300 miles, and she showed the same fast averages in moderate weather as before. There was great excitement in the hongs at the coast ports of China in this year (1869) when it became known that the Thermopylæ was chartered to load new teas at Foo-chow for London; for no racing yachts ever had firmer friends and backers than the tea clippers; moreover, the rivalry between Aberdeen and the Clyde was acute. Of late years the Clyde clippers had carried all before them, and it was now felt that Aberdeen was about to regain, her former glory; but this did not prove to be the case. The Ariel sailed from the Pagoda Anchorage on June 30th; the Leander, July 1st; Thermopylæ, July 3d; Spindrift, July 4th; Taeping, July 9th, and the Sir Launcelot, July 17th. They arrived off Deal as follows: Sir Launcelot, 89 days; Thermopylæ, 91 days; Taeping, 102 days; Leander, 103 days; Ariel, 104 days, and Spindrift, 106 days.

The winner, the Sir Launcelot, was commanded by Captain Robinson, formerly of the Fiery Cross, a seaman of great energy and experience. On this passage she sailed 354 miles in twenty-four hours while running through the trades in the Indian Ocean, which is believed to be the greatest speed ever made by any of the tea clippers of that period. This vessel was 886 tons register; length 197 feet 6 inches, breadth 33 feet 7 inches, depth 21 feet, drawing 18 feet 9 inches aft and 18 feet 7 inches forward, and carried 45,500 square feet of canvas, with a crew of 30 hands all told. She delivered 1430 tons of tea at fifty cubic feet per ton, and in addition to 200 tons of shingle ballast, she carried 100 tons of kentledge, cast to fit the floors along the keelson between the fore and mizzen masts. Her owner, James MacCumm, of Greenock, claimed that she was the fastest of the tea clippers, which her record passage of 89 days from Foo-chow to London and her twenty-four hours' run of 354 miles would seem to justify, though there were probably very slight differences in speed between any of these vessels under similar conditions of wind and weather.

The race of 1870 from Foo-chow to London was won by the Lahloo in 97 days, the other vessels being: the Windhover, 100 days; Sir Launcelot, 102 days Leander, 103 days; Thermopylæ, 106 days. In 1871 the Titania won in 93 days; the Lahloo, 111 days, from Foo-chow to London; and from Shanghai to London the Thermopylæ was 106 days; Cutty Sark, 110 days, and Forward Ho, 118 days. This was about the last of the tea clipper racing, for the combined competition of steam and the Suez Canal proved too powerful for sail. No more tea clippers were built after 1869; by degrees these beautiful vessels were driven into other trades; and so the Clipper Ship Era drifted into history.

Great Britain had regained her empire upon the sea, and few British ship-owners could be found who any longer doubted the wisdom of Free Trade. Through the irony of fate, Duncan Dunbar, who had been one of the most vehement opponents of the repeal of the Navigation Laws, became under the new conditions, the largest ship-owner and one of the wealthiest in the United Kingdom, leaving at his death an estate of £1,500,000.

In comparing the speed of the British tea clippers with that of American clipper ships, a good deal depends on what is meant by speed. In ordinary weather at sea, when great power to carry sail is
The Lahloo - 336.jpg

The "Lahloo"

not required, the British tea clippers were extremely fast vessels, chiefly on account of their narrow beam, which gave their hulls a comparatively small wetted surface, and their smooth copper bottoms which reduced skin resistance. Under these conditions they were, perhaps, as fast as the American clippers of the same class, though from very different causes;—such ships, for instance, as the Sea Witch, Samuel Russell, Game Cock, Phantom, White Squall, Nightingale, Shooting Star, Northern Light, Surprise, Witch of the Wave, Sword-Fish, and others. But if speed is to be considered as the maximum performance of a ship under the most favorable conditions, though these conditions may not often occur, then the British tea clippers were certainly no match for the larger American ships such as the Flying Cloud, Typhoon, Neptune's Car, Challenge, Comet, Hurricane, Flying Fish, Stag-Hound, Young America, Trade-Wind, and others of this class, to say nothing of the James Baines, Red Jacket, Champion of the Seas, Lightning, Sovereign of the Seas, and Great Republic. The greater breadth of the American ships in proportion to their length, meant, in sailing vessels of this type, not only power to carry canvas, but also power in the form of buoyancy; and this, with their longer and sharper ends, enabled the American clippers to be driven at much greater speed than the British clippers in strong gales and before heavy seas. It should, however, be remembered that none of the British tea clippers exceeded 1000 tons register, and it may again be said that they probably combined the good qualities of a merchant ship in a higher degree than any other vessels that have ever been built.

The Melbourne, already mentioned, was perhaps the fastest ship ever built in Great Britain. In 1875, commanded by Captain Marsden, she made the passage from London to Melbourne in the not very remarkable time of 74 days, but when running her easting down in strong westerly gales she sailed 5100 miles in 17 days, an average of 300 miles a day, and her best twenty-four hours' run was 374 miles, an average of over 15½ knots. She was an iron vessel of 1865 tons register; length 269 feet, breadth 40 feet, depth 23 feet 7 inches, and while not an extreme clipper, was a finely designed ship.

It should be remembered that both the American and the British clippers were dependent upon the form of their lines for stability; this problem in their design was therefore a far more intricate and difficult one to deal with than that of producing stability by hanging a huge mass of lead below the body of a hull, as is the custom with our modern racing yachts.

Yachting is the grandest of sports when yachtsmen handle their yachts themselves, and there are a good number of yachtsman who are excellent seamen and navigators. It is pleasant to recall that in the race for the Emperor's Cup in 1905, four of the competing yachts were sailed and navigated by their owners; and although there is far too much wasteful extravagance and enervating luxury in yachting, still, the increasing number of yachtsmen who show a keen interest and are amateur experts in the design, construction, rigging, and sailing of their yachts, is an encouraging sign for the future of the sport.

Nevertheless, it must be frankly admitted that yacht racing, even across the Atlantic, in comparison with the old clipper ship racing, resembles snipe shooting as compared with hunting big game in the wilds of Africa, while the gold and silver yacht racing cups appear as mere baubles beside the momentous stake of commercial supremacy for which the clippers stretched their wings.


  1. A lorcher is a fast Chinese vessel, used a good deal by fishermen, and in former times by the Chinese pirates and smugglers.
  2. The Thermopylæ repeated this remarkable passage of sixty-three days from London to Melbourne during the following year.