McGarrett's Painting

painting of 2 clipper ships

Great Tea Race of 1866

by Montague Dawson (1895-1973)

*the actual painting has survived and hangs in a fan's home

Clipper ships of the mid nineteenth century were the fastest thing afloat. Under full sail the ship could reach speeds of up to 23 knots(26.46 mph). With high masts a fully rigged ship could set up to seven sails per mast plus an additional 'sky sail'. With sheeting on every jib and spar there could be up to forty three sails! Controlling this array was eleven miles of rope rigging and rat lines.

With these extra sails she could 'clip' the last bit of wind.

Plying the trade routes from England 'round the horn' to the orient these ships were the main source of import. The prize cargo was tea. Commencing in the late 1850's the various shipping lines held a regatta between Foo Chow (Hong Kong today) and London. The ship arriving with the season's first tea won a prize of 8 pounds per pound weight of tea.

Ariel was launched June 29th 1865 by the Robert Steele Company of Scotland. She had a 179'4" keel and a narrow 33' 9" beam. Her main mast was 147'9" with a 21' draft. She weighed a modest 1058.73 tons, 100 tons of that being iron ballast which was modeled directly to her timbers.

Her first trip took 79 days 2 hours from Gravesend to Hong Kong and back.

Her most famous moment was to come the following year: The Great Tea Race Of 1666. She and the Taeping left Hong Kong together. In the quest to be first she broke two spars along the way. As they came into view of the Dover V\Cliffs they were side by side. Ariel pulled into the East India Docks and quickly off loaded a chest of tea. Taeping sailed on to the London Docks and officially arrived twenty minutes later. That year was declared a tie and both crews were given the 8 pound rate.

The following year (1867) she came in second to Thermopile. In 1868 she again beat Taeping,this time by one hour.

In 1872 she was reported as missing on the outbound run.

Clippers, including the American Baltimore class, continued their racing until the 1896 opening of the Suez Canal. Larger steam ships then took over the tea supply and the sailing vessels were left to chase runs where ever they could. Australian wool trade gave them a few more years of life/ Most of the bigger ships were sold off to smaller nations and others were blasted for naval gunnery practice.. The once mighty fleet faded into obscurity.

If you want to learn more about clippers or tea racing visit the Cutty Sark website There you will see up close the only remaining clipper. Even without its sails she is an awesome reminder of a bygone era.


Montague Dawson was the son of a keen yachtsman and the grandson of the marine painter Henry Dawson (1811-1878). Much of his childhood was spent on Southampton Water where he was able to indulge his interest in the study of ships. For a brief period around 1910 Dawson worked for a commercial art studio in Bedford Row, London but with the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Royal Navy. While serving with the Navy in Falmouth he met Charles Napier Hemy  who considerably influenced his work. Dawson was present at the final surrender of the German Grand Fleet and many of his illustrations depicting the event were published in theSphere.





















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