The China tea Clipper Blackadder at sea in the moonlight signed 'J. Steven Dews' (lower left) oil on canvas 61 x 91.4cm (24 x 36in).
Blackadder was one of the very last clippers specifically designed for the famously lucrative China Tea trade before that route finally changed over to steamships in the late 1870s. Launched from the Greenwich yards of Maudslay, Sons & Field on 1st February 1870, she was built for John Willis of London, the owner of two of the most celebrated clippers of them all, namely Tweed and Cutty Sark. Sadly, Blackadder was not destined to match their prowess although she nevertheless proved a fast ship when skilfully handled and had luck on her side, advantages she in fact lacked for most of her life. Registered at 970 tons gross (917 net), she measured 216½ feet in length with a 35 foot beam and was identical to her sister Hallowe'en which had been constructed alongside her. Unfortunately, Blackadder's builders had made their name as engine-builders and had little experience actually building ships; serious errors were made fitting her masts and her dismasting on her maiden voyage merely confirmed Willis's mistake in selecting that particular yard to build her. In the event, her first passage was a whole catalogue of mishaps, some of them near disasters, and Blackadder gained an unfortunate reputation as an unlucky ship. Eventually settling into a routine schedule, she turned in one near-record passage (Deal to Shanghai in 95 days) during the north-east monsoon in 1872 but was dismasted again in 1873 and nearly wrecked on two other occasions that same year. Her later career on the Australian wool run was less accident-prone and she was still logging 16 knots out of Brisbane in the 1890s. Eventually sold to Norwegian owners in 1900, after Willis's death, she was lost on 5th November 1905 whilst en route from Barry (South Wales) to Bahia (Brazil) loaded with a full cargo of Welsh steam coal.