Victoriana, Patrice Le Pera, Chinese Frigate, Chinese Junks, shipping tea, clipper ships
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VICTORIANA - Enjoy articles relating to the Victorian Era. A regular column in each issue of The Tea House Times. Written by Patrice LePera - Authority, Victorian Era, Historical Writing -

October 2009 Posts


Blog Entry

S/O09 - The Spellbinding Tale of Shipping the Tea

posted by TeaHouseTimes Admin, ADMINMonday, October 26th 2009 @ 11:19 AM

From The Tea House Times SeptOct2009 issue:

Winds of Fortune – Chinese Junks, Frigates to China Tea Clippers, The Spellbinding Tale of Shipping the Tea by Patrice LePera

The Dutch controlled the Spice Trade since 1600:  Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves & pepper from the Spice Islands.  Since the Emperor of China wanted nothing from barbarians, one had to wait for the massive Chinese Junks to sail down to the Dutch.  So the English sent envoys to trade with the Emperor (1706 and in 1740), but they ignored all the rules of Chinese politeness and Emperor Ch’ien-lung had the arrogant Naval Officers banished, and Chinese tutors executed.

Eventually a new Emperor allowed ships in the port of Canton.  Since only silver was currency, the British East India Company sent huge Frigates to sail a three-way trade route from India to get silver and opium, then to China to trade for tea, porcelain, and silk, then waited out the Monsoons before returning home to England.  Chinese laborers picked tea high in the mountains of China, stomped it into bamboo baskets with bare feet, and carried it overland to the port.  The tea was in baskets in smelly fish-filled cargo holds for years.

I shall skip lightly over the Emperor’s growing alarm over the import and usage of opium, and a letter of righteous indignation sent to Queen Victoria, asking her to stop the trade.  Britain’s answer was an armed naval response, and the tea-trade continued.  In 1812 the Brits captured and replicated the American Tea-Clipper, with its long-narrow hull and acres of masts.  It could sail straight into Monsoons, and didn’t need to wait out the season.  The Tea-Clippers were loaded with lead-lined chests, filled at the docks in Canton, and sped to America and Britain in the teeth of monsoons and winds.  The flavor of the tea improved dramatically, and the Frigates were scrapped.

1839 the canny Scottish gardener, Lord William Bentinck brought 20,000 tiny Tea plants from China to India, and began a plantation.  In a few years, the supply of tea from India and Ceylon supplanted the Chinese tea.  Thus, the Victorian question, Would you like some Tea?  India or China? Was a political question!

Huge competition sprang up between the center of Tea Trade on Mincing Lane, London, versus New York.  In 1853 the port of Fouchow was opened.  The clippers would load frantically, thunder down through the South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean, dash round the southern-most tip of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope, race north over the Atlantic, back to Britain.  Arriving clipper crews were applauded by waiting crowds on the dock, and richly rewarded, as first tea in port, sold for highest prices.

In 1866 the greatest and most famous clipper race took place between 10 clippers. The Taeping, Fiery Cross and Serica, were the first away from Fouchow, with the Ariel gaining on them. They raced neck and neck, often in view of each other, across the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope and north across the Atlantic. London was electrified by the telegraphed news of the race, and fortunes wagered on the outcome.  The Taeping docked just 20 minutes ahead of Ariel to cheering Victorians on the pier.

In 1869 the Suez Canal opened and steamships became more efficient for the China tea trade. One of the last of the Tea-Clippers, the Cutty Sark is still preserved at Greenwich in London.

©2009 by Patrice LePera ~ Authority, Victorian Era, Historical Writing ~

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