The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 8 (November 2, 1936)
How the “Kent” Beat the Tea-Clippers
How the “Kent” Beat the Tea-Clippers.
One of Captain Clayton's paintings depicts an ocean race in which the Kent overtook and passed the Owen Glendower, a ship which brought troops to New Zealand in the war days. This is a story of an even more exciting race.page 20 page 21
Early one calm morning in 1862, when the Kent was one degree north of the Equator, London-bound from Melbourne, young Captain Clayton found himself in company with four China tea-clippers. Those were the days when enormous interest centred in the annual races homeward from China with the first of the season's teas, and only the fastest sailers were employed in the trade. They carried immense spreads of sail, and cracked on tremendously under studding-sails and all sorts of extra wind-savers, from “Jamie Greens” to ringtails and water-sails. The four tea-carriers lay there almost motionless, heading all ways, a mile to a mile-and-a-half from the Kent, and piled to the trucks with sail. Captain Clayton spoke them. Two of them, the barque Robin Hood and ship Falcon, were bound to London; the other two, the Ellen Rogers and Queensborough, were for Liverpool. There was a big bonus on the cargo of whichever got into port first.
The commander of the Robin Hood requested Captain Clayton to keep in company with him, as his vessel had something the matter with her rudder-head. The Kent's captain promised to do so if he could. About an hour later the light N.E. trades sprang up, and all five vessels trimmed their sails for a race. The Robin Hood and the Kent kept company with each other for about two days; the others left them behind. Then the wind increased in strength and the Robin Hood ran away from the more heavily-built Blackwall liner.
The Kent saw no more of the clippers all that race up to English soundings. It was an exciting time on board, nevertheless, for Captain Clayton was determined to keep his ship up as close to the clippers as possible, though he had very little hope of beating any of them. He got very little sleep for the rest of the passage; he was constantly on the watch, taking the utmost advantage of all the winds that blew and keeping his ship crowded with canvas.
“At last,” Clayton told me, in his brisk, animated way, “we got up to the mouth of the English Channel. Not seeing anything of the tea-clippers I made for the Eddystone Light and hove-to to report. I had printed forms on board, in which there was a space to enter any ships I spoke. I had one of these forms already filled up with particulars of the four ships. As I hove-to I signalled for a pilot, and the pilot who usually took my ship into Plymouth came alongside. I gave him my report and a present of rum and tobacco, and made him promise to take my report on shore immediately. Off he went, and I at once made sail again and went up the Channel with a fair wind, studding-sails set.
“By next morning I was off the Dungeness light. It was a cloudy morning. All of a sudden the clouds cleared a bit, and looking astern I saw two big square-riggers coming up after me, crowded with sail. I was the first to see them.
“ ‘Here come the two tea-clippers!’ I said to my chief officer, who was standing near me on the poop. ‘Signal for a steamer!’
“We were then about five miles off the Ness. Up went the flags for a steamer, and one soon appeared, making for us. The tea-ships were now four or five miles behind us, I had every possible stitch of sail set, with three stu'n' sails on each side, the wind right aft. The decks were crowded with excited passengers, and there were any number of bets on. The crew cheered when they saw the steamer coming.
“As soon as the steamer was alongside, I told the chief officer to run the stu'n' sails in. The crew had them in in about five minutes. It was the sort of work to thrill a sailor. Directly we got the stu'n' sails in, the steamer took hold of us. Looking astern, I saw the two clippers taking in their wings, too, and signalling.
“ ‘Hoist a signal for another steamer,’ I said to the chief officer. In a few minutes another steamer was alongside us. Up-Channel we went with a steamer on each bow.
“The Kent's feat was the talk of the city. My report, sent ashore by the pilot, was the first news of the four tea-clippers that reached the London Exchange, where there was great interest in the race, and there was much surprise at the fact of us beating the fast ships. My owner introduced me to Duncan Dunbar, the great shipowner. Mr. Dunbar looked me up and down; I daresay he thought ‘What a boy to go and beat the China clippers’!”
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