The glory days of sail.

Great Tea race

Ariel leading Taeping, Great Tea Race, 1866 by Jack Spurling

Here on Mindship we celebrate the authors of the great boys adventure books, especially those of the sea like Treasure Island and Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson, who’s birthday it is today, born Nov 13th 1850.

In the year of his birth the French launched Napoléon, the first purpose built steam powered battleship.  It was also the period when the extreme clippers were built.  This was at the peak of sailship design, when the sailing ships gave up cargo space for speed.  The beautiful, sleek and lighting fast greyhounds of the sea were born.

In the burgeoning era of steam the day of the huge East-Indiaman was over.  Steam ships could fill giant holds with cargo and plod their way over the ocean regardless of wind speed and direction.  The opening of the Suez canal in 1869 changed the world of shipping.  The final clippers were built around the time of Stevensons death at the young age of 44, in 1894.

Stevenson grew up the son of a lighthouse designer, so the sea was never far away.  The pinacle of the Clipper Era was the Great Tea Race of 1866, when Stevenson was 16 years old, a highly impressionable time in life.  In that year three ships left China on the same tide and arrived in London on the same tide 99 days and 14,000 miles later.  Taeping won the race by 28 minutes from Ariel by virtue of the depth of her dock entrance on the rising tide.  Serica finished 1 hour and 15 minutes behind Ariel.  The next two ships came in 28 hours later (Fiery Cross) and another day later Taitsing arrived.  To this day the walls of our houses are decorated by these fantastical ships.

Here is a poem by Stevenson in the spirit of a sea shanty, and in the spirit of those songs the name of the poem is the first line.

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
over the sea to Skye.

Mull was astern, Rum on the port,
Eigg on the starboard bow;
glory of youth glowed in his soul;
where is that glory now?

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
over the sea to Skye.

Give me again all that was there,
give me the sun that shone!
Give me the eyes, give me the soul,
give me the lad that’s gone!

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
over the sea to Skye.

Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
mountains of rain and sun,
all that was good, all that was fair,
all that was me is gone.

……………………………………………Robert Louis Stevenson

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