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A clipper was a type of mid-19th-century merchant sailing vessel, designed for speed. Clippers were generally narrow for their length, small by later 19th century standards, could carry limited bulk freight, and had a large total sail area. "Clipper" does not refer to a specific sailplan; clippers, by sailplan, may be schooners, brigs, brigantines, etc., or indeed "ships" as restrictively defined in the Age of Sail. Clippers were mostly constructed in British and American shipyards, though France, Brazil, the Netherlands and other nations also produced some. Clippers sailed all over the world, primarily on the trade routes between the United Kingdom and China, in transatlantic trade, and on the New York-to-San Francisco route around Cape Horn during the California Gold Rush. Dutch clippers were built beginning in the 1850s for the tea trade and passenger service to Java.
The boom years of the clipper era began in 1843 in response to a growing demand for faster delivery of tea from China. This continued under the stimulating influence of the discovery of gold in California and Australia in 1848 and 1851, and ended with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869.While composite iron-framed wooden clippers continued to be built into the 1870s, sailing ships of the next generation had iron hulls. The last full-rigged composite passenger clipper, Torrens, was launched in 1875, while iron-hulled clippers continued to be built for the Australian wool trade into the 1890s.
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The term "clipper" most likely derives from the verb "clip", which in former times meant, among other things, to run or fly swiftly. Dryden, the English poet, used the word "clip" to describe the swift flight of a falcon in the 17th century when he said "And, with her eagerness the quarry missed, Straight flies at check, and clips it down the wind." The ships appeared to clip along the ocean water. The term "clip" became synonymous with "speed" and was also applied to fast horses and sailing ships. "To clip it", and "going at a good clip", remained familiar expressions in the early 20th century.
The first application of the term "clipper", in a nautical sense, is uncertain. The Baltimore Clipper was in use over the last quarter of the 18th century through to the first half of the 19th century, but under a different name for much of that time. At first, these vessels were referred to as "Virginia-built" or "pilot-boat model"—with the name "Baltimore-built" appearing during the War of 1812. It was not until the final days of the slave trade (c. 1835 -1850)—just as the type was dying out—that the name "Baltimore Clipper" became common. The retrospective application of the word "clipper" to this type has been a source of confusion.
The Oxford English Dictionary's earliest quote (referring to the Baltimore Clipper) is from 1824.British newspaper usage of the term can be found as early as 1832 and in shipping adverts from 1835.
There is discussion of clippers being faster than other vessels by captains called before court in A report of the trial of Pedro Gibert et al before the United States Circuit Court of 1834;
Edward H. Faucon: I have been to sea twelve years. I am master of a vessel, and...I should think there would be thirty per cent difference in favor of the clipper... Samuel Austin Turner: I...know the Mexican. Should think, in a royal breeze, she would run six knots, while a clipper would sail one third faster. In a fresh, fair wind, the difference would be smaller—perhaps none at all. Don’t think the brig would ever have the advantage of the clipper.
There is no single definition of the characteristics of a clipper, but mariner and author Alan Villiers describes them as follows:
To sailors, three things made a ship a clipper. She must be sharp-lined, built for speed. She must be tall-sparred and carry the utmost spread of canvas. And she must use that sail, day and night, fair weather and foul.
Optimized for speed, clippers were too fine-lined to carry much cargo.They typically carried extra sails, such as skysails and moonrakers on the masts, and studding sails on booms extending out from the hull or yards, which required extra sailors to handle them. In high winds where other ships would shorten sail, clippers drove on, heeling so much that their lee rails were in the water.
The first ships to which the term "clipper" seems to have been applied were the Baltimore clippers, developed in Chesapeake Bay before the American Revolution, and reaching their zenith between 1795 and 1815. They were small, rarely exceeding 200 tons OM.Their hulls were sharp ended and displayed a lot of deadrise. They were rigged as schooners, brigs or brigantines. In the War of 1812 some were lightly armed, sailing under Letters of Marque and Reprisal, when the type—exemplified by Chasseur, launched at Fells Point, Baltimore in 1814—became known for her incredible speed; the deep draft enabled the Baltimore clipper to sail close to the wind. Clippers, running the British blockade of Baltimore, came to be recognized for speed rather than cargo space.
Speed was also required for the Chinese opium trade between India and China. Small, sharp-bowed British vessels, called opium clippers, were the result.
Meanwhile, Baltimore clippers continued to be built, in particular specifically for the opium trade between India and China, a trade that had become unprofitable for American shipowners by 1849.
Ann McKim , built in Baltimore in 1833 by the Kennard & Williamson shipyard,is considered to be the original clipper ship. She measured 494 tons OM, and was built on the enlarged lines of a Baltimore clipper, with sharply raked stem, counter stern and square rig. Although Ann McKim was the first large clipper ship ever constructed, it cannot be said that she founded the clipper ship era, or even that she directly influenced shipbuilders, since no other ship was built like her; but she may have suggested the clipper design in vessels of ship rig. She did, however, influence the building of Rainbow in 1845, the first extreme clipper ship.
In Aberdeen, Scotland, the shipbuilders Alexander Hall and Sons developed the "Aberdeen" clipper bow in the late 1830s: the first was Scottish Maid launched in 1839.Scottish Maid, 150 tons OM, was the first British clipper ship. "Scottish Maid was intended for the Aberdeen-London trade, where speed was crucial to compete with steamships. The Hall brothers tested various hulls in a water tank and found the clipper design most effective. The design was influenced by tonnage regulations. Tonnage measured a ship's cargo capacity and was used to calculate tax and harbour dues. The new 1836 regulations measured depth and breadth with length measured at half midship depth. Extra length above this level was tax-free and became a feature of clippers. Scottish Maid proved swift and reliable and the design was widely copied." The earliest British clipper ships were built for trade within the British Isles (Scottish Maid was built for the Aberdeen to London trade ). Then followed the vast clipper trade of tea, opium, spices and other goods from the Far East to Europe, and the ships became known as "tea clippers".
From 1839, larger American clipper ships started to be built beginning with Akbar, 650 tons OM, in 1839, and including the 1844-built Houqua, 581 tons OM. These larger vessels were built predominantly for use in the China tea trade and known as "tea clippers". Smaller clipper vessels also continued to be built predominantly for the China opium trade and known as "opium clippers" such as the 1842-built Ariel, 100 tons OM.
Then in 1845 Rainbow , 757 tons OM, the first extreme clipper was launched in New York. These American clippers were larger vessels designed to sacrifice cargo capacity for speed. They had a bow lengthened above the water, a drawing out and sharpening of the forward body, and the greatest breadth further aft. Extreme clippers were built in the period 1845 to 1855.
In 1851, shipbuilders in Medford, Massachusetts built the Antelope, often called the Antelope of Boston to distinguish her from other ships of the same name. This vessel is sometimes called one of the first medium clipper ships. A ship-design journalist noted that "the design of her model was to combine large stowage capacity with good sailing qualities."The Antelope was relatively flat-floored and had only an 8-inch dead rise at half floor.
The medium clipper, though still very fast, could carry more cargo. After 1854 extreme clippers were replaced in American shipbuilding yards by medium clippers.
The Flying Cloud was a clipper ship that claimed the fastest passage between New York and San Francisco, 89 days 8 hours. (The other contender for this "blue ribbon" title was the medium clipper Andrew Jackson —there is an unresolvable argument over timing these voyages "from pilot to pilot"). 60-61Flying Cloud was the most famous of the clippers built by Donald McKay. She was known for her extremely close race with the Hornet in 1853; for having a woman navigator, Eleanor Creesy, wife of Josiah Perkins Creesy, who skippered the Flying Cloud on two record-setting voyages from New York to San Francisco; and for sailing in the Australia and timber trades.:
Clipper ships largely ceased being built in American shipyards in 1859 when, unlike the earlier boom years, only four clipper ships were built; a few were built in the 1860s. The last American clipper ship was "the Pilgrim" launched in 1873 from the shipyards of Medford, Massachusetts, built by Joshua T. Foster. Among shipowners of the day, “Medford-built” came to mean the best.
British clipper ships continued to be built after 1859. Earlier British clipper ships had become known as extreme clippers, and were considered to be "as sharp as the American"-built ships. From 1859 a new design was developed for British clipper ships that was nothing like the American clippers; these ships continued to be called extreme clippers. The new design had a sleek graceful appearance, less sheer, less freeboard, lower bulwarks, and smaller breadth. They were built for the China tea trade, starting with Falcon in 1859, and continuing until 1870. It is estimated that 25 to 30 of these ships were built, with no more than four or five in a year. The earlier ships were made from wood, though some were made from iron, just as some British clippers had been made from iron prior to 1859. In 1863 the first tea clippers of composite construction were brought out, combining the best of both worlds. Composite clippers had the strength of iron spars with wooden hulls, and copper sheathing could be added to prevent the fouling that occurred on iron hulls.
After 1869, with the opening of the Suez Canal that greatly advantaged steam vessels (see Decline below), the tea trade collapsed for clippers. From the late 1860s until the early 1870s the clipper trade increasingly focused on the Britain to Australia and New Zealand route, carrying goods and immigrants, services that had begun earlier with the Australian Gold Rush of the 1850s. British-built clipper ships and many American-built British-owned ships were used. Even in the 1880s, sailing ships were still the main carriers of cargoes between Britain, and Australia and New Zealand. This trade eventually became unprofitable, and the ageing clipper fleet became unseaworthy.
Among the most notable clippers were the China clippers, also called tea clippers or opium clippers, designed to ply the trade routes between Europe and the East Indies.The last example of these still in reasonable condition is Cutty Sark , preserved in dry dock at Greenwich, United Kingdom. Damaged by fire on 21 May 2007 while undergoing conservation, the ship was permanently elevated three metres above the dry dock floor in 2010 as part of a plan for long-term preservation.
Before the early 18th century, the East India Company paid for its tea mainly in silver. When the Chinese Emperor chose to embargo European manufactured commodities and demand payment for all Chinese goods in silver, the price rose, restricting trade. The East India Company began to produce something desired by the Chinese as much as tea was by the British: opium. This had a significant influence on both India and China. Opium was also imported into Britain and was not prohibited because it was thought to be medically beneficial. Laudanum, made from opium, was used as a pain killer, to induce sleep and to suppress anxiety. The famous literary opium addicts Thomas De Quincey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Wilkie Collins also took it for its pleasurable effects. The Limehouse area in London was notorious for its opium dens, many of which catered for Chinese sailors as well as English addicts.
Clippers were built for seasonal trades such as tea, where an early cargo was more valuable, or for passenger routes. One passenger ship survives, the City of Adelaide designed by William Pile of Sunderland. The fast ships were ideally suited to low-volume, high-profit goods, such as tea, opium, spices, people, and mail. The return could be spectacular. The Challenger returned from Shanghai with "the most valuable cargo of tea and silk ever to be laden in one bottom". [ citation needed ] Given their speed and maneuverability[ citation needed ], many clippers were fitted with cannon or carronades and used for piracy, privateering, smuggling, or interdiction service[ citation needed ].Competition among the clippers was public and fierce, with their times recorded in the newspapers. The ships had short expected lifetimes, and rarely lasted more than twenty years before they were broken up for salvage.
The last China clippers were acknowledged as the fastest sail vessels. When fully rigged and riding a tradewind, they had peak average speeds of over 16 knots (30 km/h). The Great Tea Race of 1866 showcased their speed. China clippers are the fastest commercial sailing vessels ever made; their speeds have often been exceeded by modern yachts, but never by a commercial sail vessel. Only the fastest windjammers could attain similar speeds.
There are many ways of judging the speed of a ship: by knots, by day's runs, by port-to-port records. Judged by any test, the American clippers were supreme.
Donald McKay's Sovereign of the Seas reported the highest speed ever achieved by a sailing ship – 22 knots (41 km/h), made while running her easting down to Australia in 1854. (John Griffiths' first clipper, the Rainbow, had a top speed of 14 knots...) There are eleven other instances of a ship's logging 18 knots (33 km/h) or over. Ten of these were recorded by American clippers... Besides the breath-taking 465-nautical-mile (861 km) day's run of the Champion of the Seas , there are thirteen other cases of a ship's sailing over 400 nautical miles (740 km) in 24 hours...
And with few exceptions all the port-to-port sailing records are held by the American clippers.— Lyon, Jane D, p. 138 Clipper Ships and Captains (1962) New York: American Heritage Publishing
The 24h record of the Champion of the Seas wasn't broken until 1984 (by a multihull), or 2001 (by another monohull).
The American clippers sailing from the East Coast to the California goldfields were working in a booming market. Freight rates were high everywhere in the first years of the 1850s. This started to fade in late 1853. The ports of California and Australia reported that they were overstocked with goods that had been shipped earlier in the year. This gave an accelerating fall in freight rates that was halted, however, by the start of the Crimean War in March 1854, as many ships were now being chartered by the French and British governments. The end of the Crimean War in April 1856 released all this capacity back on the world shipping markets - the result being a severe slump. The next year saw the Panic of 1857, which had effects on both sides of the Atlantic. The USA was just starting to recover from this in 1861 when the American Civil War started, causing significant disruption to trade in both Union and Confederate states. 14-15:
As the economic situation deteriorated in 1853, American shipowners either did not order new vessels, or specified an ordinary clipper or a medium clipper instead of an extreme clipper. No extreme clipper was launched in an American shipyard after the end of 1854 and only a few medium clippers after 1860.
By contrast, British trade recovered well at the end of the 1850s. Tea clippers had continued to be launched during the depressed years, apparently little affected by the economic downturn. 15 The long-distance route to China was not realistically challenged by steamships in the early part of the 1860s. No true steamer (as opposed to an auxiliary steamship) had the fuel efficiency to carry sufficient cargo to make a profitable voyage. The auxiliary steamships struggled to make any profit.:
The situation changed in 1866 when the Alfred Holt-designed and owned SS Agamemnon made her first voyage to China. Holt had persuaded the Board of Trade to allow higher steam pressures in British merchant vessels. Running at 60 psi instead of the previously permitted 25 psi, and using an efficient compound engine, Agamemnon had the fuel efficiency to steam at 10 knots to China and back, with coaling stops at Mauritius on the outward and return legs - crucially carrying sufficient cargo to make a profit.
In 1869 the Suez Canal opened, giving steamships a route about 3,000 NM shorter than that taken by sailing ships round the Cape of Good Hope. Despite initial conservatism by tea merchants, by 1871 tea clippers found strong competition from steamers in the tea ports of China. A typical passage time back to London for a steamer was 58 days, while the very fastest clippers could occasionally make the trip in less than 100 days; the average was 123 days in the 1867–68 tea season. :225–243 The freight rate for a steamer in 1871 was roughly double that paid to a sailing vessel. Some clipper owners were severely caught out by this: several extreme clippers had been launched in 1869, including Cutty Sark , Norman Court and the Caliph.
Of the many clipper ships built during the mid-19th century, only two are known to survive. The only intact survivor is Cutty Sark , which was preserved as a museum ship in 1954 at Greenwich for public display. The other known survivor is City of Adelaide , unlike Cutty Sark she was reduced to a hulk over the years. She eventually sank at her moorings in 1991, but was raised the following year and remained on dry land for years. Adelaide (a.k.a. S.V. Carrick) is the older of the two survivors, and was transported to Australia for conservation.
Departures of clipper ships, mostly from New York and Boston to San Francisco, were advertised by clipper ship sailing cards. These cards, slightly larger than today’s postcards, were produced by letterpress and wood engraving on coated card stock. Most clipper cards were printed in the 1850s and 1860s, and represented the first pronounced use of color in American advertising art.
Relatively few (perhaps 3,500) cards survive today. With their rarity and importance as artifacts of nautical, Western, and printing history, clipper cards are highly prized by both private collectors and institutions.
The Clipper Ship Era.
and may be called an American Clipper
The well-known Clipper SAGUENAY,
Ann McKim clipper ship.
Cutty Sark is a British clipper ship. Built on the River Leven, Dumbarton, Scotland in 1869 for the Jock Willis Shipping Line, she was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest, coming at the end of a long period of design development, which halted as sailing ships gave way to steam propulsion.
A Baltimore Clipper is a fast sailing ship historically built on the mid-Atlantic seaboard of the United States of America, especially at the port of Baltimore, Maryland. An early form of clipper, the name is most commonly applied to two-masted schooners and brigantines. These vessels may also be referred to as Baltimore Flyers.
Challenger was a wooden clipper ship built in 1852 by Richard & Henry Green, in their Blackwall Yard for Hugh Hamilton Lindsay, London. She was the 291st ship built by the yard and was a remarkable departure from the previous ships produced. In 1850 the American clipper ship Oriental visited West India Docks, the largest clipper ship to visit London and the Admiralty was given permission to take her lines, and this was done by Messrs Waymouth and Cornish, both Lloyd's Surveyors, in the dry dock at Green's Yard in Blackwell. This is probably the reason that it was said that Challenger's design was inspired by and had a close resemblance to the Oriental's.
In the middle third of the 19th Century, the clippers which carried cargoes of tea from China to Britain would compete in informal races to be first ship to dock in London with the new crop of each season. The Great Tea Race of 1866 was keenly followed in the press, with an extremely close finish. Taeping docked 28 minutes before Ariel - after a passage of more than 14,000 miles. Ariel had been ahead when the ships were taken in tow by steam tugs off Deal, but after waiting for the tide at Gravesend the deciding factor was the height of tide at which one could enter the different docks used by each ship. The third finisher, Serica, docked an hour and 15 minutes after Ariel. These three ships had left China on the same tide and arrived at London 99 days later to dock on the same tide. The next to arrive, 28 hours later, was Fiery Cross, followed, the next day, by Taitsing.
Sea Witch was an American clipper ship designed by naval architect John W. Griffiths for the China trading firm of Howland & Aspinwall. She was launched at Smith & Dimon in Manhattan on December 8, 1846.
Stag Hound was launched on December 7, 1850 in East Boston, Massachusetts. Designed by shipbuilder Donald McKay for the California trade, she was briefly the largest merchant ship in the world. She was in active service from 1851 until her total loss in 1861.
An extreme clipper was a clipper designed to sacrifice cargo capacity for speed. They had a bow lengthened above the water, a drawing out and sharpening of the forward body, and the greatest breadth further aft. Extreme clippers were built in the period 1845 to 1855.
A medium clipper is a type of clipper designed for both cargo carrying capacity and speed. An evolutionary adaptation of the extreme clipper, the medium clipper had been invented by 1851, when the hull type appeared in U.S. shipyards. Medium clippers continued to be built until 1873, when Pilgrim, one of the last known medium clipper ships to be built, was launched by Joshua T. Foster from the shipyards of Medford, Massachusetts.
Sylph was a clipper ship built at Sulkea, opposite Calcutta, in 1831 for the Parsi merchant Rustomjee Cowasjee. After her purchase by the Hong Kong-based merchant house Jardine Matheson, in 1833 Sylph set a speed record by sailing from Calcutta to Macao in 17 days, 17 hours. Her primary role was to transport opium between various ports in the Far East. She disappeared en route to Singapore in 1849.
The schooner Anglona was the first American opium clipper. She sailed in the Chinese coastal trade in the 1840s, and had a famous race with the schooner Ariel around Lintin Island.
Lahloo was a British tea clipper known for winning the Tea Race of 1870, and finishing second in the Tea Race of 1871. She sailed from Foochow to London with over a million pounds of tea in 1868.
The SS Erl King was built at A and J Inglis, Pointhouse, Glasgow and launched in 1865 and owned by Robertson & Co London. She was designed as an Auxiliary Steam Ship - steam power would be used to supplement the propulsion from the sails, when there was no wind or if there was a light head wind. She was fitted with a propeller that could be lifted up when sailing, so as to reduce drag. The engine was not powerful enough to push the ship, with all the windage of standing rigging, directly into a strong headwind. Auxiliary steam power had the advantage of allowing this vessel to use the Suez Canal when it opened in 1869 - something which was not possible for sailing vessels.
Lord of the Isles was the first iron-hulled tea clipper, built in Greenock in 1853. She served in the tea trade until 1862, and also made voyages to Australia. She is known for a record passage between Greenock and Shanghai, and for her close finish in the 1856 Tea Race from China to England, docking in London just ten minutes before Maury. This race was the basis for the plot of a 1927 movie by Cecil B. DeMille The Yankee Clipper.
Stornoway was a British tea clipper built in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1850. It has been suggested that she was the first clipper built in Great Britain.
Zephyr was an 1842 opium clipper built by Samuel Hall, East Boston that was known for its speed.
Red Rover was the name of two clipper ships.
Alfred Basil Lubbock MC was a British historian, sailor and soldier. He was a prolific writer of naval and sailing histories, and a member of the Society for Nautical Research.
Ann McKim was one of the first true clipper ships. The opening of new Treaty ports in the East in the early 1840s eased an access of the US merchants to China, which demanded the ships that could move cargo faster than then-traditional slow-moving, high-capacity merchant ships. The Ann McKim was one of the ships that had answered the demand in the early years and sailed between New York and China in 1840-1842, until newer and faster cargo-carriers, such as the nearly 600-ton clipper Houqua, the 598-ton China packet Helena, Witch of theWave, and Rainbow, with the last two built expressly to outperform the Ann McKim started dominating the shipping world of the US-China trade and the Ann McKim was shifted back to the South American trade routes.
James Killick was a British sea captain, shipowner and entrepreneur. He founded Killick Martin & Company with James Henry Martin.
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