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China: Pagoda Island

° Amoy ° Guangzhou ° Fuzhou, Pagoda Island ° Canton
° Henan Province: Shaolin (Kung Fu), The Jews of Kaifeng
° Hong Kong ° Macau ° Peking (Bejing) ° Shanghai ° Tientsin ° Whampoa
° Yangzhou ° Pirates in the China Seas ° The Great Wall ° Mahjong

Fifteen minutes east of Fuzhou lies Mawei, cradle of Chinese seamanship, and site of the famous Pagoda Anchorage. Chinese named giant rocks, “Double Turtle Guarding Door,” “Five Tigers Defending Gate,” and “Warriors Leg.” Sailors from Fuzhou were trading overseas before most of China knew that seas existed . . . and city was an international trading port by year 618 AD.

After opening Canton consulate in July 1843, George Tradescant Lay arrived in Fuzhou in July 1844. He was forced off his ship at Pagoda Island and made to go up river in a small boat. Fuzhou authorities allocated him a house built of boards, over the river, which flooded twice a day.

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Fuzhou

Between Pagoda Anchorage and the sea, Min surged through a narrow gorge that was so tight that old salts claimed monkeys jumping from one side to or got tails caught in rigging; these were tall tales but many a ship, like Oriental in 1853 and Vision in 1857, sank in mighty Min. No one took Min for granted—especially the Chinese, who were among the greatest ocean-going adventurers of our ancient world.

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Pagoda Anchorage II
Montague Dawson

In 1859, Sea Serpent loaded for tea at Pagoda Island. . . her time from crossing bar of Min River to London was only 130 days—during height of adverse monsoon. She beat all clippers who anchored alongside her.

In 1866, Foochow became the starting point of Great Tea Race . . . 16 clippers were loaded tea at Pagoda Anchorage. In late May and early June, they began their race across 16,000 miles of open ocean to London Docks, arriving 99 days later.

The Taeping reached Gravesend first, followed by Ariel and Serica.

1869: There are few scenes that linger in my memory more vividly than the Pagoda Anchorage in Foochow River a day or two after the "new teas" market had opened, when the first flight of clippers was getting ready for sea.

The "opening of market" was a feature peculiar to Foochow tea trade. In city of Foochow, stocks of first pickings from teagardens in the interior had accumulated since early in May, but Chinese merchants were slow in making up their minds to sell at prices acceptable to foreign buyers.

It was perhaps known from the outset that certain foreign "hongs" — that is, mercantile houses — would eventually purchase particular "chops" of tea. A "chop" was a number of boxes of the same make and quality of leaf, variable as to weight, but usually a product of one particular garden. "Chops" bearing a well-known name were bought year after year by the same foreign merchants, yet, even so, weeks were often spent in haggling. The price was slowly and reluctantly lowered by the Chinese merchant . . . When it had been reduced sufficiently, some of more important firms were tempted to close. Then the hurry began.

As soon as it became known that Jardine's or some other well-known English firm had opened the market, all merchants began to buy their favourite "chops" at proportionate prices.

Speed was the order of day. Forty-eight hours or so were required to weigh and label tea-chests, then each "hong" made all haste to load them into lighters which waited to convey the fragrant leaf for Foochow to Pagoda Anchorage, a distance of about twelve miles . . .

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Chinese workers loading Tea onto a Clipper
for transport to England
Angus McBride

Generally some three or four clippers with good records were chosen as "going ships," and combinations of shippers would concentrate on filling these . . . it was a keen contest; yet it was not always the ship considered fastest which got away first. Much depended on tonnage of the vessel and status and influence of the agents concerned . . .

It would usually happen that a dozen or more clippers would be lying ready, with holds swept and garnished, for two or three weeks perhaps . . . then one day, or one night as likely as not, immediately after the opening of market, watchmen on the waiting ships would be kept on qui vive by hearing blowing of many conch shells and a distant din on river . . . as the first "tea chops" came down. The men on board vessels kept up insistent sing-song calls, which represented, in Chinese tongue, inquiries as to where they should anchor to be near the particular vessel for which their cargo was designed.

The method in vogue was to chant in a long drawn-out wail Chinese name of the "hong" which owned tea. Thus Jardine Mathieson's employees would wail out: "Ee-wo! Ee-wo!"; those in Turner and Company would snap back a discordant "Wha-kee! Wha-kee!" . . .

The finest display of clippers that I ever remember seeing waiting for market to open was in 1869. In that year, no less than fifteen of these beauties, more like yachts than merchantmen, lay moored off Pagoda, with holds ready, ballast levelled, ground chop stowed, waiting for new teas. I do not suppose that in any port in the world one could have seen such a fleet of beautiful craft as were assembled in the River Min on that occasion.

Among them were Thermopyle, Leander, Windhover and Kaisow, all on their first trip; Spindrift and Lahloo on their second; the proven and noted flyers Sir Lancelot, Ariel, Taeping, and Serica; as well as somewhat older but still handsome vessels Black Prince, Falcon, Min, Flying Spur and little Ziba. . .

Fine reprints of images of China and the clipperships are available by clicking on the image.
Ariel and Taeping
Montague Dawson
(Quality Giclee prints are available by clicking on image.)

Montague Dawson was the son of a yachtsman and the grandson of the marine painter Henry Dawson (1811–1878). Dawson was born in Chiswick, London in 1895. For a brief period around 1910 Dawson worked for a commercial art studio in Bedford Row, London, but with the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Royal Navy. Whilst serving with the Navy in Falmouth he met Charles Napier Hemy (1841–1917), who influenced his work. His paintings are featured in the Royal Naval Museum and the National Maritime Museum. After the War, Dawson established himself as a professional marine artist, concentrating on historical subjects and portraits of deep-water sailing ships often in stiff breeze or on high seas.

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The Tall Ship 'Clipper Kaisow'
Montague Dawson

Thus it went at Foochow, and Foochow in sixties was the premier port for shipment of teas. Though it had been opened to foreign trade as far back as 1842, for a number of years afterwards Canton, or Whampoa, was the more important place. "Orange" and "Flowery Pekoe," "Scented Capers" and or choice teas were those for which this port was famous.

Andrew Shewan
Great Days of Sail

Part of the trials and tribulations of these ports were pirates . . . each year several cases of piracy -- attempted or accomplished -- were recorded. There were thieves among the seafaring population all along China coast, but reportedly none were as bloodthirsty as Cantonese and their neighbors.

By 1871 newer steamships began to replace these great ships. Tea Clippers were vital to tea trade until the opening of Suez Canal in 1869 and were in operation until the end of 1880's.

Quality reprints can be ordered by clicking on the image.

The Thermopylae leaving Foochow
Montague Dawson

On a Saturday morning in August 1884, the French destroyed the Chinese fleet in about half an hour. The French commander had warned foreign consulates and the Chinese day before, but international law required at least 30 days notice. The French refused China’s request for one more day to prepare, they attacked, and seven hundred Chinese seamen went to a mass grave beside Memorial Hall of Majiang River Naval Battle.

Pagoda Anchorage
Pagoda Anchorage
Montague Dawson

Explore World Heritage Sites


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Fine reprints of images of China are available by clicking on the image.
Spindrift preparing To Leave Foochow.
Montague Dawson

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When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail
Eric Jay Dolin
Ancient China collides with America in this epic tale of opium smugglers, sea pirates, and dueling clipper ships. Brilliantly illuminating one of the least-understood areas of American history, best-selling author Eric Jay Dolin now traces our fraught relationship with China back to its roots: the unforgiving nineteenth-century seas that separated a brash, rising naval power from a ancient empire. It is a prescient fable for our time, one that surprisingly continues to shed light on our modern relationship with China. Indeed, the furious trade in furs, opium, and bêche-de-mer--a rare sea cucumber delicacy--might have catalyzed America's emerging economy, but it also sparked an ecological and human rights catastrophe. Peopled with fascinating characters--from the "Financier of the Revolution" Robert Morris to the Chinese emperor Qianlong, who considered foreigners inferior beings--this saga of pirates and politicians, coolies and concubines becomes a must-read for any fan of Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower or Mark Kurlansky's Cod. Two maps, and 16 pages of color and 83 black-and-white illustrations.

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Reminiscences of a
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Based partly on experiences of his great great uncle, an Irish sailor, Derek Lundy recreates voyage of a merchant sailing ship -- Beara Head -- around Cape Horn in 1880s. Way of a Ship is a white-knuckle journey around the notorious "graveyard of ships" and a an evocation of a bygone era, depicting not only dangerous day-to-day life aboard a square rigger but also how ascendancy of steam ships ultimately rendered commercial sailing vessels obsolete as the Age of Sail gave way to the Age of Steam. The "beautiful, widow-making, deep-sea" sailing ships could sail fast and carry substantial cargo, but were vulnerable wear and the sea's many dangers. Life at sea was often brutal and relentless; seamen were sleep-deprived and malnourished, at times half-starved. Derek Lundy's masterful account reminds readers what Melville and Conrad expressed so well: that a sea voyage is an overarching metaphor for life itself.

When China Ruled the Seas by Louise Levathes.
When China Ruled The Seas: The Treasure Fleet of Dragon Throne 1405-1433
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A hundred years before Columbus and his fellow Europeans began making their way to the New World, fleets of giant Chinese junks commanded by the eunuch admiral Zheng He and filled with empire's finest porcelains, lacquerware, and silk ventured to edge of world's four corners. This time of exploration and conquest ended in a retrenchment so complete that less than a century later, it was a crime to go to sea in a multimasted ship.

When America First Met China.
History of OpiumOpium Regimes.

For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed HistoryGreat Britain.

The Sea: A Cultural History

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