Had it not been for her untimely end when barely two years old, it is highly probable that Spindrift would have joined the likes of Ariel, Cutty Sark and Thermopylae in the Pantheon of truly great clippers when their histories came to be written.
Designed and built by Charles Connell of Glasgow for James Findlay of Greenock, she was undoubtedly her builder's finest tea clipper. A composite vessel of 899 tons net, she measured 219½ feet in length with a 35½ foot beam and appears, by a small margin, to have been the longest wooden clipper in the trade. With a very large sail plan, including a huge mainyard of 84 feet, she was extremely fast on a reach, where she was Ariel's equal, and was probably even faster than her biggest rival in strong winds. Launched on 18th July 1867, she cleared London for her maiden voyage on 13th September, under Captain Middleton, and made Shanghai, where she docked on New Year's Day 1868, in 108 days. On the run home Ariel, Sir Lancelot and Taeping all left Foochow a day ahead of her but even though Ariel was first to dock by eleven hours, Spindrift was adjudged the winner of that year's race as she had sailed twenty-five hours later. That homeward passage of 97 days proved the fastest of the season and it seemed that Spindrift had a glittering career ahead of her. The next year (1869), she left Foochow on 5th July but Captain Innes came home via the so-called 'Eastern Route' and the passage took him 105 days, still fast but nowhere near the year's best. Docking in London on 18th October, she was turned around and ready to sail again in a month; on 20th November she put to sea bound for Shanghai with a cargo worth £200,000 but was wrecked off Dungeness the following night. At the official enquiry it was stated that her leadsman was inexperienced and the pilot mistook a star for the Dungeness Light despite the clearness of the night. Whoever was to blame however, a potential legend had been lost due to negligence and the fact that she was not insured caused James Findlay, her owner, to lose his mind and hastened his premature death.
Dawson also painted a slightly larger version of this work, basically identical but lacking the junk in the left centre, for details of which see Ramsay, p.42, no. 196 and plate 31. A very comparable picture entitled 'Morning at Foochow - the Thermopylae' can also be seen in Ranson, p. 66.