Tea Clipper Ships

Tea Clippers were replaced by iron ships called windjammers.

The first true tea clipper was Rainbow, designed by John W. Griffiths and launched in 1845. She made the journey from New York to Canton in 102 days - taking more than two weeks off the previous record for that trip. Their development was given another boost by the discovery of gold in California in 1848 and in Australia in 1851 - people rushing to seek their fortunes wanted ships that would transport them as fast as possible.

Up until 1849 the use of clippers in the tea trade was largely confined to America. But in 1849 the British Navigation Laws were repealed, meaning that American ships were allowed to carry tea from China to Britain for the first time. The first clipper to take advantage of this was Oriental, which arrived at West India Dock in London on 3 December 1850 - just 97 days after leaving Hong Kong. British merchants were horrified - this was three times as fast as the East Indiamen. They resolved to build their own clippers to rival the Americans, and the first British tea clipper, Stornaway, was built in Aberdeen in 1850.

After this, tea clippers were designed and built in Britain throughout the 1850s and 1860s; they had a narrower beam than their American equivalents, making them less powerful in heavy weather, but faster in lighter winds. There was a great spirit of competition between the British and American ships plying the tea trade, but to begin with the Americans had the edge. Then in 1851 the British ship owner Richard Green announced that he was fed up with hearing about the dismal prospects for British shipping since the repeal of the Navigation Laws, and built the aptly named clipper Challenger, with the stated intention of beating the American ships. Leaving Canton for London in 1852 loaded with tea, she fell in with the American clipper Challenge, a much larger, older ship, already greatly admired for her speed. Large sums were bet on which would make it to London first, and in the event the British Challenger beat Challenge to the docks by two days, amid much jubilation about the British success.

Clipper Races
The time of the international races was relatively short lived though, because after 1855 the American ships gradually ceased to participate in the English tea trade. But even without the Anglo-American rivalry, the competitive spirit continued. It was really ignited in 1853, when new ports in China were opened up for trade. These included Fouchow, which was much closer to the tea producing areas than Canton, the port used previously. As a result the tea could be loaded onboard earlier and fresher, and the clippers could set off in late May or early June - sometimes not even taking time to complete the official paperwork - racing back to Britain come hell or high water.