No expense was spared during the construction of the luxury yacht Falcon at the List Shipyard on the Isle of Wight in England. Chares Anderson-Pelham, 1st Earl of Yarborough, commissioned his yacht to look more like a 20-gun corvette.
He founded the Royal Yacht Squadron which was part of the Royal Yacht Club.
Yarbrough ran his yacht like a British Man of War and insisted his crew confirm to the strict rules of the Royal Navy. He paid them well, but they could not serve on his yacht unless they signed an agreement that they consented to be flogged, if needed, using a cat o’ nine tails for a violation of discipline and in order to maintain peace and harmony on the Falcon.
No fair-weather sailor, Commodore Pelham, the Earl of Yarborough, sailed his yacht with the Royal Navy and the Falcon engaged her eleven guns with the enemy at the Battle of Navarino off the coast of Greece. Falcon flew Pelham’s flag as Admiral of the Isle of Wight at the main mast and his commodore burgee at the fore. Lord Yarborough sailed his Falcon with the Royal Navy for many years with the experimental squadron which was a training and testing exercise by the Royal Navy. Falcon was fast and good competition for new designs being tested by the Royal Navy. And she was a beauty to behold.
Yarborough’s sailing days ended when he was badly injured in 1835 when, in a strong gale, he was thrown across the deck and smashed into a sea chest. His injuries were complicated by an attack of influenzas. He sold the Falcon for 5500 pounds. The buyer fitted her with two 24 horsepower engines and took her to Calcutta under sail. It was hoped that she would be bought for use in the Burmese war. That was not to be her fate. She was bought by Jardine Matheson and Co. They proceeded to remove the engines, and at great expense, fitted her out for the opium trade. There still remained a beautiful clipper headed for ignominy.
No more to compete with glory in the King’s Cup Regatta or sail with the Royal Navy, she would henceforth be used in the lucrative opium trade where speed and the ability to fight off pirates was essential. Clippers in the opium trade were designed to sail against the monsoons. They carried opium from Bombay and Calcutta to Canton and Hong Kong via Singapore. In the early days, they rendezvoused with receiver ships that would lie off Macao or at anchorage. Then after the opium trade was ended when the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 was signed, ships were permitted to trade opium in the ports of Hong Kong, Canton, Amoy, Foochow, Ningbo and Shanghai.
Opium would then be transported by smaller vessels up to coastal towns and fishing hamlets. The one exception to this was the Falcon. She shipped narcotics to ports that were not signatories to the treaty and belonged to the famous shipping company Jardine, Matheson and Co.
It is important to note that before the early 18th century, the East India Company paid for its tea mainly in silver. The Emperor of China chose to embargo European manufactured commodities and demanded payment for all Chinese goods in silver. This caused the prices to rise and restricted free trade. The East India Company turned to opium as a currency. And began to manufacture a product that was desired by the Chinese as much as tea was by the British: opium. The effect was enormous in both India and China. Opium was also imported into Britain and was not prohibited because it was thought to be medically beneficial. Laudanum, which was made from opium, was also used as a pain killer, to induce sleep and to suppress anxiety. The famous literary opium addicts Thomas De Quincey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Wilkie Collins also took it for its pleasurable effects. The Limehouse area in London was notorious for its opium dens, many of which catered for Chinese sailors as well as English addicts. Opium was an addictive
narcotic and like similar narcotics, today, wreaked havoc across the world and filled the pockets of those who would trade in the product. It took great seamanship to navigate the tricky waters into which opium clippers were forced to sail. In addition, there was the ever-present danger of grounding and the attacks of pirates eager to steal the lucrative opium cargo. Her man of war armaments, speed and agility made Falcon the ideal ship for the opium trade.She had a bow that was round and full above the waterline but sharp and wedge like where her bow parted the waves. The design gave her a minimum resistance to cutting through the water. Her strong construction enabled her to withstand the press of her full rigged sails. Her yards and sparse were built to dimensions equal to a ship twice her capacity. The words of one of her officers writing in his diary explains it best: “It was in the Falcon that I learnt to comprehend and to adopt a singular belief that prevails among seamen, and it was in her, and by her, that I was first toughed by that strange sympathy which is created by a favorite ship upon the minds of appreciative crew. If the Falcon had been a living being that sympathy could scarcely have been greater. She would resent every neglect in her handling, and rebel at once against any overpressure or any tampering with her trim, so that our common expression-expression that could have no meaning to a landsman-that she was complaining or sulking or huffed or offended seemed to us to be rightfully applied. One felt proud to watch her dealing with opposing forces so persistently and so gallantly. We had been afloat in her for upwards of three years with few losses and fewer changes that could have been expected in so large a crew; and, having watch and studied here pretty ways for so long a period, we had acquired readiness and skill in her management, and had learnt to look upon her a thing to be loved and petted. ‘She can do everything but speak’ was a common remark among the crew.”The Falcon was a noble vessel, perhaps one of the finest of the 100 or so ships in the opium trade. She was loved by her crews. If she could but speak, undoubtedly, she would lament her fall from grace into the dastardly opium trade. She would have, perhaps been proud to have been a part of providing the medicinal benefits of Laudanum in easing pain, but ashamed of her role in the dreadful life of the opium addicts around the world.