DEREK G. M. GARDNER | Tea Clipper, Duke of Abercorn
  • DEREK G. M. GARDNER | Tea Clipper, Duke of Abercorn


    24" x 36" / 61cms x 91cms

    Oil on canvas


    Built by Charles Connell, who was trained by the equally famous designer Robert Steele, in 1869, The Duke of Abercorn is an archetypical British Clipper. Sailing the Chinese Tea Route before transitioning to the Australian passage, she represents a period when these vessels fought to retain their value in the face of the Suez Canal and the increasing preference for steam; that she remained lucrative for her career despite these impediments is testament to the enduring brilliance of the Clipper design. A single vessel of this size was often able to carry cargoes (of tea or Australian gold) worth up to £250,000 (£18 million today) far more than the value of the ships themselves. Abercorn herself largely worked in the Australian wool trade, and photographs still exist of her berthed in Adelaide in 1875.


    Made in the same year as Cutty Sark, Abercorn would routinely travel the same lanes as her. A particularly interesting moment is recorded in the log of the Sark, when both ships were preparing to leave Shanghai in 1870, that points to the attitudes that fuelled the Clipper trade. [Lubbock, B., The Log of the Cutty Sark (Brown and Ferguson, 2008)] recounts:

    'Captain Dalrymple of the Duke of Abercorn was evidently full of confidence that his ship could beat any other ship in Shanghai on the race home, and he proceeded to challenge every clipper which was going to load new teas. This sporting spirit led to a great deal of betting amongst the shipping fraternity, and final the crews of the Cutty Sark, Duke of Abercorn, Serica, Forward Ho, Argonaut, Ethiopian, and the John R. Worcester waged a month’s pay, to go to the ship which made the quickest passage from Shanghai to the Channel'. 


    Although Cutty Sark eventually won the race, the event is a highly illustrative and illuminating example of the competitive impulses that surrounded the Clipper culture. It was precisely this drive to commercially outperform one another that so many records were set, as a notably fast ship often commanded the greatest charter fees.


    Abercorn continued to ply the Australian routes into the 1880s and is notable for being one of the first vessels sailed by a young Charles Lightoller, the future second officer of the Titanic and the most senior member of the crew to survive the disaster. As was the case with so many Clippers, she was lost at sea in 1892 on a voyage from Cardiff to Callao, Peru.

    • Gardner is widely considered to be the leading British maritime painter of the 20th century. Entirely self-taught, he became a master of his art with an unmatched skill for conveying the colour, luminosity and atmosphere of the maritime setting. During World War II, he served with the Royal Navy on armed trawlers and destroyers in the North Atlantic and in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1988 the Royal Society of Marine Artists elected Gardner as their honorary vice-president for life. In 2005, as part of celebration of the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar an exhibition of his work featuring a painting of every ship in which Nelson served, was presented in London. His work is included in several marine art texts and held in public collections including the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

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