The China Clippers

Simon Daniels

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    The idea of "one belt, one road" in the UK-China relationship reached its pinnacle of maritime enterprise in the mid-19th Century. The commodity was tea. Captain Arthur Clark summed up what drives the maritime road when he observed that the demand for tea in the mid-19th Century created a breed of shipmaster who could deliver their cargoes to the tea auctions in London as rapidly as possible, in order to fetch the highest price. For very good reasons, the clipper Masters were the finest seafarers in the world, with a vested interest in beating their rivals in the race home to the London tea auctions. A successful Master could earn the enormous sum of £5,000 a year - approximating to £450,000 in 2016 - and so he drove his ship to the limits of her endurance, slashing home through the English Channel, a hundred days out of China. Some Masters only went below to change their clothes or take a bath; others used the settee in the chart room or even a deck-chair as a bed. The tea race of 1866 proved to be the most thrilling of all. From the traders in the City of London to the locals in the humblest village inn, bets were placed and arguments raged over the favoured contenders. Indeed, the crews of the Serica and Fiery Cross bet a month's pay against each other that they would be first home to London. It proved to be one of the most thrilling events in maritime history. As the Smithsonian has put it: The Tea Race of 1866 caused an enormous stir in the sporting and nautical circles of Britain. Ariel and Taeping had left Foochow together and arrived home on the other side of the globe still together, Ariel's winning time being seven thousandths of one per cent faster than her rival's. The Tea Race was never so close again in its 30-year history. By a remarkable coincidence, delegates from Southampton Solent University were participating in the International Conference on Maritime Policy, Technology and Education, Shanghai, on the 150th anniversary, to the very day, when the leading contenders left China; so it was fitting that the anniversary should be commemorated with this monograph.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherSolent University
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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