The tea clippers ‘Taeping’ and ‘Ariel’
Print of the tea clippers ‘Taeping’ and ‘Ariel’ competing in the Great China Tea Clipper Race of 1866.
Courtesy of Mr Donald MacKinnon
In 1866 London tea importers paid a premium of 10 shillings a ton for the first China tea of the season to arrive in London. On 30th May sixteen clippers left Foochow, including the favourite, the ‘Ariel’, and the ‘Taeping’, captained by Donald MacKinnon of Heanish and carrying almost 500 tons of tea.
As the boats raced home, the lead passed from one ship to another. As they reached the Lizard, the ‘Ariel’ and ‘Taeping’ were level. However, the shallower draught of the ‘Taeping’ allowed her to beat the tide and reach London Docks twenty minutes earlier than the ‘Ariel’, 16,000 miles and 99 days after leaving China.
The tea merchants of London were less than delighted to have such a glut of tea on the market and never offered the premium again. Captain MacKinnon returned to Tiree in glory but died the following year aged thirty-nine.