Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wynaud 1854 - a tea clipper built for the opium trade

The builders of ships on Rotherhithe are a fascinating bunch, and one could devote an entire blog to discussing them, but one of the many other  fascinating things about looking at their output is the subsequent history of the ships they built.  Sometimes it is difficult to pick up more than a few isolated details unless the ship was famous for its speed or a specific event.  Wynaud, although not one of the top-rated ships of her day, has quite a bit of interesting history associated with her, and she was built by a most interesting character, although somewhat lacking in modern standards of political-correctness.

Bilbe's patent slip, preserved to the
left (west) of the entrance to the
Hilton Hotel, Rotherhithe
Wynaud was built in Rotherhithe in 1854 by Thomas Bilbe, or by the partnership of Bilbe and Perry, at Nelson Dock. Bilbe on his own and Bilbe and Perry built an impressive number of tea clippers including Orient, Florence Nightingale, Red Riding Hood,  Whiteadder, Borealis and Argonaut.  Nelson Dock is now incorporated into the Hilton Hotel on Rotherhithe Street, but part of it still survives in the form of the early 1900s Mills and Night dock, now filled with water and blocked off from the Thames (which for a long time, most incongruously, had a fountain in it and I believe still sports an artificial heron and real water lilies) and Bilbe's patent slip to its west.  

Thomas Bilbe, who was born in 1803 in Sheerness, was a fairly remarkable man.  In the 1996 booklet on Nelson Dock, Stuart Rankin describes him as "an inventor and ship owner, with interests in the far eastern trade.  These were to include running opium into China, evading the Peking government's patrols which were attempting to stamp out the drug trade, and the shipping of coolies for use as cheap labour . . all in all, a not untypical mid 19th century entrepreneur!" He was also a very innovative ship designer, pioneering a new method of hull framing a few years after the construction of Wynaud. He was married to Eliza Ann Chappel, with whom he had a daughter named Frances Sarah, who was born in Rotherhithe. I will be writing more about him in the future.

Wynaud was 150ft long by 29 foot wide and weighted 596 tons (in the old measurement) or 546 (in the new).  She had two deckhouses and a raised quarterdeck.  She seems to have been named for an area of India. Initially intended for the opium trade she was fitted out more as a yacht than a ship, and was given six 9lb carronades (guns). Running opium into China was an innovation of the East India Company.  Although it was the only cargo of interest to Chinese tea merchants, other than silver, it was banned by the Chinese state, and smuggling it into China was illegal until after the Opium Wars.  The peace treaty with China, forced on them by the superior firepower of the British, provided Britain with the island Hong Kong, which was used as a base for renewing opium imports on a newly legitimate footing (although the episode is one of the more dishonourable in British history).  Quite why Wynaud was never put to use in this trade is unclear.

Instead of running opium, she was converted for use in the tea trade, as a full-rigged ship, retaining the carronades and provided with a trained gunner.  David MacGregor describes her as "Very lofty with an unusually long, hollow bow.  She was found to be slightly tender and needed careful handling." There are no illustrations of whats she looked like at launch. After her years serving in the tea trade she was converted into a barque, which reduced costs but lengthened voyages.

Wynaud on the Thames with barque rigging
It is unclear who placed the order for her, but she was certainly registered under Alexander Remington of London until 1855, when she was purchased by Dent and Co in Hong Kong.  In 1858 she was bought by A.G.Robinson in London before being sold to W.H.Tindall in 1863, for the Ceylon tea trade.  C.P. Jones purchased her in 1870 and had her only a year before selling her to James Alexander in 1871.  She was wrecked in 1874.

Her maiden voyage was from London to Adelaide and took 93 days, from 29th August to 30th November 1854.   Other examples of her crossing times in the tea trade, which were respectable without being remarkable, were Foochow to London in 140 days during the 1857-58 tea season, Macao to London in 106 days in the 1858-59 season, Shanghai to London, via Deal, in 113 days in the 1861-62 season and Amoy to London in 129 days in the 1861-1862 season.

In 1858 (the year that the Treaty of Tientsin was signed ending one of the Opium wars with China) Wynaud, Cairngorm, Chieftain, Morning Star, Warrior Queen and Lammermuir were all waiting in Hong Kong harbour to receive their tea freight.  Wynaud's master was Captain Reid, one of many Scots who commanded tea-clippers, having learned his trade in the whaling port of Peterhead, near Aberdeen.  A prize of £200 was promised to the ship that arrived first in London, to be divided among the officers, an incentive for a speedy delivery. The contest was between Wynaud, Lammermuir, Cairngorm, and Chieftain, all of which left within two days of each other.  Some of the ships took different routes, with the Cairngorm and Lammermuir taking the riskier option through the Straits of Gaspar, whilst Chieftain and Wynaud headed for the safer but longer route through the Straits of Banca.  Andrew Shewan gives a rousing account of the race, which was won by Lammemuir, beating the highly regarded Cairngorm with just six hours between them, after a 92 day run.  Wynaud came in third, at just under 100 days, with Chieftain fourth and Morning Star close behind.  Warrior Queen, never considered a contender, arrived 12 days behind the winners.  For her size, which was comparatively small, this was a very good result for Wynaud.

It is usually difficult to find out any details about the crews of tea clippers, because at the end of each voyage they were paid off and would then look for work on other vessels. Such itinerant working practices meant that few records of crews were maintained. Only the captain and sometimes more senior members of the crew would stay affiliated with a particular ship.  However, there are records of two members of the Wynaud's crews.  John William Evans (1855-1943) was born in Liverpool and was relocated to New Zealand when his family emigrated in 1859.  He became an apprentice on his father's part-owned barque and worked for a spell as second mate on Wynaud and another ship.  However, following the trends of the day, he abandoned sail for steam and served between 1875 and 1885 in the Tasmanian Steam Navigation Company before moving on to other pursuits.  Tom Bowling also served on Wynaud and his account of life on the ship, originally recorded in the Canterbury Times, was reproduced by his friend Captain Andrew Shewan who wrote a book of reminiscences, The Great Age of Sail.  Bowling served under Captain Reid as an apprentice (later becoming a captain himself) and is a good source of information about both life on board a tea clipper and the dangers posed by the Chinese and Malay pirates.  Of life on the ship, Bowling says:

In the China Sea the weather was often shockingly bad - rain in tropical sheets, thunder and lightning terrible in their intensity.  We would be wet through all day, and whenever the wind came fair it was out with the stunsails,  No possible chance was lost, for it was always a race.

We boys used to be roused out in our watch below to set topgallant and royal stunsails; and we would perch aloft, reeving and unreeving gear, and setting and taking in the sails, half a dozen times each day.
Pirates had been an ongoing threat for the clippers.  They were ruthless, boarding ships in large numbers, killing crew and passengers, stripping the ships of their valuables and then sinking them so that no trace of the crimes remained.  Bowling talks about the precautions taken when it was necessary to drop anchor in areas where pirates might be operating, and it is a really lovely account:

After working down through the China Sea, with the forest-hung mountains of Borneo on the port hand, the clipper would pass through the Banca or Gaspar Straits into the Java Sea.

All those waters, reef-dotted and shoal-infested, and the coasts of the great islands that hemmed in the narrow seas, wooded from the water's edge to their cloudy summits, swarmed with pirates . . . . Sometimes it was necessary to anchor in deep water . . . Sometimes again the anchor was let go for the night so close to the islands of Borneo and Sumatra that monkeys could be heard chattering in the trees, and the tropic birds singing or screaming; while the roar of the tiger might be heard, as 'stripes' came down to drink at some creek mouth.

On such occasions an armed anchor watch was kept - one man with a loaded rifle at the poop, and another, similarly armed, at the forecastle head, with orders to fire the instant any boat was seen approaching.

 In 1863 Wynaud left the China tea trade and was used by her new owner for the Ceylon tea trade.

The ship was wrecked in 1874 off the coast of Tasmania.  The incident was reported in the Cornwall Chronicle, 23rd February 1874.  The Wynaud, at this time rigged as a barque, had departed Hobart in Tasmania and was bound for Launceston under the command of Captain Findlay, where she was to take on another load, before leaving for London.  Unfortunately, she never made it that far.  Near Swan Island, Wynaud was wrecked at Eddystone Point.  The ship had driven through unfavourable weather, and south of Eddystone Point decided to drop anchor rather than proceeding any further.  Disastrously, the chain parted and the ship was driven to shore.  Captain Lucas of the SS Tasman and Captain Harrison of the schooner Hally Bayley both offered assistance to rescue the captain and his crew, all of whom were saved.  When they left her, Wynaud was about six foot of water at the stern and heavy seas were breaking over her.  The ship was fully insured, but it was hoped that some of the cargo could be saved (although it is not apparently recorded if any was).  The Cornwall Chronicle lists her cargo as follows, which is interesting as much for an insight into the sort of cargo a former tea clipper, now tramping from port to port, was able to secure:
For London : 69 bags chopped bark, 3 casks sperm oil, Macfarlane Brothers, For Launceston; 717 bags sugar (transhipped from Iris), Murphy and Co.; 30 half-chests tea, 1 case tobacco, 5 cases stationery, 1 case ink, 1 bundle paper 1 case stores. 1 bale clothing, 1 bale sheet, 2 cases oil. Government ; 8 barn-Is tar. Marsh ; 9 packages galvanised iron and nails, Macfarlane Brothers ; 9 packages luggage. Cowle i 68pieces stone, Gillon ; 20 boxes soap, W. Wilson ; 30 packages returned bags, Degraves ; 30 packages luggage and furniture. H. Hagon ; 1 four-oared racing boat, Whitehouse Brothers.

The scale of the loss suffered by some of those who had entrusted Wynaud with their cargo is made clear, again by the Cornwall Chronicle:

Mr Hagon, who has been in business in Hobart Town as a boot and shoemaker for many years, has un fortunately lost almost everything, his furniture and effects having been shipped on board the ill-fated ship. It was his intention to start business in Launceston shortly, but his hopes have been damped, at all events for the present. The Messrs. Whitehouse also sustained a considerable loss, the boat which was shipped by them having been intended for competition at the ensuing Tamar Regatta, she being valued at £30. Messrs. Roberts and Co.. instructed by Macfarlane Brothers, will offer the wreck and cargo for sale without reserve, at their mart, Hobart Ton, on the 3rd March next, on account of those whom it may concern.

From the website.
An inquiry following the wreck of the Wynaud concluded that if a lighthouse had been present at Eddystone Point, the disaster would not have occurred.  It was decided that to avoid further wreckages a lighthouse would be constructed.  A distinctive structure made of durable pink granite, it still stands today.

UPDATE 15/02/2014:  Last week I received an email from the friend of a lady who had recently died.  She was trying to find out more about her friend's background.  The friend's maiden name was Findlay, and she was a descendent of Captain Findlay who had commanded the Wynaud.  A lovely details is that her middle name was Wynaud, and that her uncle had had a model of the ship in his home.  Sadly, the friend had no more details than this but perhaps someone reading this will be able to shed more light on Captain Findlay and the model.

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