The Great Tea Race of 1866 - Loading


The race was not only a test of sailing, but also of efficient management at the port of departure. Each ship needed to be ready to receive her cargo. The hold was prepared by spreading a layer of clean shingle across the bottom to act as ballast. This was additional to the iron ballast carried by these extreme clippers. Between 150 and 200 tons of shingle was needed, and it was levelled to follow the curve of the deck above, at a distance precisely measured to be an exact number of tea chests. The tea arrived in lighters called "chop boats" (taking their name from the identifying marks on each batch of tea they carried). Lower value chests were loaded first as a layer across the ballast, with some shingle being packed between the chests and side of the hold. Then the main cargo was loaded in further layers, being carefully packed in with dunnage by the excellent Chinese stevedores.

Despite the care taken, loading could be done quickly. In the 1850s a ship loaded 8,000 chests of tea and 1141 bales of silk in 17 hours work spread over two days.

On 24 May the first lighters arrived with tea, packed in chests, ready for loading. On Ariel, the first layer of 391 chests and 200 half-chests were loaded. By 27 May, she had 16 lighters alongside, with the Chinese stevedores working round the clock to stow the main part of the cargo. At 2 pm on the 28th, the job was done, giving a total of 1,230,900 lbs of tea. Ariel was first to complete loading. At 5 pm she unmoored and moved down-river to anchor for the night, ready for an early start.

The same task was underway on other ships in the anchorage. Fiery Cross was next to finish, some 12 hours later, loading 854,236 lbs. Her master, Captain Robinson, in his haste to sail, neglected to complete his paperwork or sign his bills of lading - to the fury of Captain Innes of Serica. Taeping and Serica were able to get away together, having loaded 1,108,700 lbs and 954,236 lbs respectively. Taitsing, with 1,093,130 lbs, was a day behind.