Ariel (clipper)

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File:Taeping and Ariel.jpg
The Great Tea Race of 1866 between the Taeping and the Ariel
Career (UK)
Builder: Robert Steele & Co., Greenock
Launched: 1865
Fate: foundered 1872
General characteristics
Class and type: Clipper
Displacement: 853 tons
Beam: 33.9 ft (10.3 m)
Draught: 21 ft (6.4 m)
Propulsion: Sails

Ariel was a clipper ship famous for making fast voyages between China and England in the late 1860s.

Ariel was a full rigged ship of 853 tons net register, measuring 197.4 feet x 33.9 feet x 21 feet. She was designed by William Rennie, and built in 1865 by Robert Steele & Co., Greenock for Shaw, Lowther & Maxton of London. Like most tea clippers she was composite built, of timber planking over iron frames.

Ariel is most famous for almost winning The Great Tea Race of 1866, an unofficial race between Foochow, China and London with the first tea crop of the 1866 season. Premium prices were paid for the first consignment to reach London. The clipper Fiery Cross left Foochow on 29 May and Ariel, Taeping and Serica on the 30th. On 6 September Taeping docked twenty minutes ahead of Ariel, and about two hours ahead of Serica. Fiery Cross and Taitsing arrived two days later.

Taeping, under Captain McKinnon, owned by Captain Alexander Rodgers of Cellardyke, Fife, drew less water than Ariel and was able to tie up in the London docks twenty minutes ahead of Ariel, under Captain Keay, 99 days and almost 16,000 miles out of Foochow. Taeping divided her winnings of 10 shillings per ton with the crew of Ariel and Captain McKinnon divided the captain's £100 with Captain Keay, who hailed from Anstruther.

With the completion of the Suez Canal the tea trade was taken over by steamships and most of the clippers transferred to the Australian trade, carrying general cargo to either Sydney or Melbourne, and returning with wool — for which a premium price was also paid on the first shipments of the season.

Ariel sailed from London for Sydney on 31 January 1872 under the command of Captain Talbot, but failed to arrive. Around August 1872 the remains of a teak-built ship's life-boat carrying a brass fitting with the gothic-script letter A were found on King Island in Bass Strait. It was believed to have come from the missing vessel, which, if the assumption was correct, probably foundered in the Southern Ocean after rounding the Cape of Good Hope.


  • Basil Lubbock, The Tea Clippers, Brown, Son & Ferguson, Glasgow
  • Graeme Broxam & Michael Nash, Tasmanian Shipwrecks, Volume I, 1797-1899, Navarine Publishing, Canberra, 1999
  • Captain Alexander Rodger of Cellardyke

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