Of all the magnificent tea clippers of the 1860's, Ariel proved one of the fastest and certainly one of the best-known after her performance in the Tea Race of 1866. Built at Greenock by Robert Steele in 1865, Ariel had been ordered for Shaw, Lowther & Maxton of London for their prestigious China fleet and no expense was spared in her construction. Registered at 852 tons net, she measured 197 feet in length with a 33 foot beam, and proved capable of a remarkable 16 knots when coaxed by the right captain in optimum conditions. In fact she made her name for speed from the start when, leaving Foochow loaded with the new season's tea on 28th May 1866, she began her epic run home in company with Taeping and three other famous clippers. Dashing across the world's oceans, passing and re-passing each other continuously, Ariel and Taeping raced neck and neck up the English Channel and finally docked in London within half-an-hour of each other on the evening of 6th September after the most spectacular race in the entire history of the tea trade. Equally good passages followed almost every year until she retired from the tea route in 1871 after which she switched to the Australia run. On 31st January 1872, she cleared London for Sydney but was never heard of again, lost in circumstances unknown and a tragic end for such a legendary flyer.
Taeping, 767 tons, was another of Robert Steele's creations and almost as famous as Ariel. Built for Alexander Rodger of Glasgow in 1863, she too was a flyer and was first home with the new season's tea in 1867 and again in 1870 quite apart from her outstanding 1866 performance. Also like Ariel, her career was a short one and she was wrecked in the South China Sea on 22nd September 1871.