In the 1860's 90% of the tea drunk in Britain came from China. Tea loses some of it's flavour while in hold storage,so traders demanded it be carried home as quickly as possible,with bonuses paid to the first ship to reach London. The ships the tea was carried in were the China Tea Clippers, fast, elegant vessels which by 1866 had become household names in Britain.
The Spring crop of tea was brought from the fields by sampans down the Min River to the port of Foochow [modern day Fouzhou] then packed and loaded onto the clippers.Fiery Cross
,the first ship home in 1861-62-63 and 65,was the first ship to leave Foochow on the 29th May,followed 14 hours later by Ariel, Serica
[winner in 1864]and Taeping,
the new Taitsing
on the 31st and Ada, Black Prince, Chinaman
and Flying Spur
between the 3rd and 6th of June. In the event, the race would be between the first four ships away.Fiery Cross
held her lead as they ran south, passing the Paracel Islands on the morning of the 3rd June, Ariel
following in the afternoon, with Serica
about a day behind.On the 9th, Fiery Cross
passed each other on opposite tacks,and the next day Taeping
met on the same tack.Fiery Cross
still held the advantage and was first through the Sunda Strait on the 19th June. From there, the route ran across the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope, then out into the Atlantic to catch the trade winds home. Storms forced the ships to shorten sail in the Indian Ocean between Mauritius and the Cape,though betwen Anjer and Mauritius, Ariel
made 330 miles in 24 hours in front of a steady south-easterly.
As they swung out into the the Atlantic, Fiery Cross
maintained her lead, crossing the Meridian 15 hours ahead of Ariel,
a day ahead of Taeping,
4 days ahead of Serica
and 9 days ahead of Taitsing
.The race northwards saw Taeping
close the gap considerably,and when the Equator was crossed on the 4th August the three leaders were in sight of each other.Off the Cape Verde Islands,Fiery Cross
was becalmed for 24 hours,while Taeping
managed to catch enough wind to move her clear of the dead zone.
The race was now between Ariel
with the fast closing Serica
in third.The two leaders entered the Channel side by side and raced at 14 knots towards the pilot station at Dungeness. Taeping
, nearest, and Ariel
off the Lizzard.Ariel
arrived first at Dungeness,but had to hove to until 4am on the 6th September until a pilot came out, by which time Taeping
was alongside. The race continued to Deal for the steam tugs,the best of which came out first, and picked up the nearest ship,Taeping.
Taeping had further to go to reach her berth at London Docks,which she did at 9.45pm on the 6th September,20 minutes before Ariel
berthed at the East India Dock.
Serica arrived on the same tide and berthed at the West India Dock at 11.15pm. After 102 days and 14,000 miles the first three ships had arrived within 2 hours of each other.Fiery
Cross arrived on the 8th and Taitsing on the 9th.
The great days of the China Tea Clippers would soon pass, as production moved increasingly to Assam and Ceylon and tea was brought to Britain in steamships using the Suez Canal, but 1866 saw the greatest of all Clipper races.