An epic in the annuals of merchant shipping, the tea race of 1866 was the most closely matched season ever. Sixteen clippers competed on the 16,000 mile passage in what was a highly wagered upon event, with the victor able to claim the 10-shilling-per-ton bounty put up for the season by the London tea merchants. Royal Society artist Henry Scott portrays the dead-heat winners ARIEL & TAEPING driving close to their 14-knot maximums. ARIEL, designed by robert steele and built by his brother at greenock in june 1865, the same year the 1863-built taeping had the fastest passage from foochow to london, being 102 days.
Both ships departed the min river on the same may 28th tide with third place finisher fiery cross, whom also finished in 99 days later in the evening on september 6. The dilemma facing those ashore with vested interests so close to victory and possible defeat by mere moments became too much. A clandestine deal was struck to split the premium between the ships. Still, the drama had ariel leading in the channel, the jockeying of pilot tugs and timing of the thames river tide. Taeping actually was the first to unload any tea while ariel reached dock first, giving both captains and crews moral victories.
Henry scott’s illuminating work of this classic race ranks at the very top of his output, stylistically emulating his compatriot montague dawson in the stable of respected london dealers frost & reed. Showing both ships employing their stunsails in the push up the english channel, it is a clear winner.
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