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Inverclyde History: Greenock's fine sailing ships were Tea Race winners

Gourock Pierhead has changed throughour the years <i>(Image: Newsquest)</i>
Gourock Pierhead has changed throughour the years (Image: Newsquest)

SAILING ships built in Greenock were winners in the Tea Races from China to Britain.

The races began in 1856 when London importers starting offering premiums of £1 or more a ton for the first of the new season’s cargo to arrive.

Winner of the first race was the Lord of the Isles, which was built by Scotts’, with a passage of 128 days from Foochow to Gravesend.

Built by Robert Steele, the Ellen Rodger was the first of the clippers home in 1859 and the following year the prize was taken by the Falcon, constructed by the same Greenock yard.

Steele’s Serica brought the first cargo back in 1864 and would have won the premium the following year but the tug arranged to bring her into port did not appear and the tide was missed.

For the next seven years Steele produced a winner every year with clippers such as the Sir Lancelot, Lahloo, Ariel, Taeping and Titania.

Although she never won the race, the best known tea clipper and sole survivor is the Cutty Sark on display in Greenwich, London.

She was built by Scott and Linton in Dumbarton but the business ran out of money and the vessel was completed by the town’s William Denny and Brothers.

There are Greenock connections with the Cutty Sark. She was towed here from Dumbarton for rigging on December 20, 1869.

The 100th anniversary of her arrival at Greenock was significant to Mrs Violet Mason, of 64 Eldon Street. She possessed a testimonial given to her grandfather, Henry Henderson, by the Cutty Sark’s owners.

I have no record of where Henry was born or lived but he was the ship’s carpenter under three captains.

In August, 1872, the Cutty Sark lost her rudder in heavy weather on passage from Shanghai to London. Henry made a temporary rudder and went over the side to fit it, receiving £50 in gold sovereigns for saving the ship and her cargo.

Gourock Pierhead

The appearance of Gourock’s pierhead area changed dramatically with the demolition of the Bay Hotel and the Post Office. Another pierhead feature to disappear was its kiosk pictured in 1975. Its customers included Western SMT bus crews on the Glasgow service taking their breaks.