The port city of Bristol, England, in the 1800s is home to Java Head, a sailing ship line company. The owner has two sons. One, a handsome seafarer, is in love with a local girl, but cannot marry her due to a long-running feud between their fathers. After a lengthy voyage, he returns with a very exotic, noble Chinese wife, which scandalizes the conservative town. His other son, a "landlubber", seeks to convert to steamships, to the disgust of his father. Even worse, he is secretly dealing in contraband.