1936 Typhoon: beached ship | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

1936 Typhoon: beached ship

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1936 Typhoon: beached ship

[Update: I originally believed this showed the 1937 typhoon, but as you'll see in the comments below, it actually shows the after-effects of a 1936 typhoon]

When: The big typhoon of 1937 hit Hong Kong early morning on September 2nd.

"Several gusts exceeded 125 m.p.h., and it seems probable that the typhoon was the most violent which has ever visited the Colony." [1]

Things have settled down by the time this photo was taken, likely the following day.

Who: The spectacle has attracted a crowd of onlookers, no doubt relieved to have survived the typhoon unhurt. Many of those living at sea weren't so lucky - initial estimates said 11,000 "in native craft" were killed [2]. Thankfully the final figure was much lower, but still recorded 2,565 deaths.

Of the people we can see, my favourite is the young boy at the bow of the boat. He's wondering whether one sharp push would be enough to send it back into the sea:


What: Can anyone identify the ship?

It has a couple of distinguishing features; a gun on the front deck:


and these two Chinese characters above the bridge:


Are they "海鶖", a type of sea bird ?

Could it be a Chinese Maritimes Customs cruiser? An article in the newspapers [3], said one was washed ashore:

Along the foreshore at Laichikok were a large number of junks and several small launches washed up on the shore beside a Chinese Maritime Customs cruiser and a river steamer.

Where: The tide has gone right out, leaving wet sand in the background, so it's somewhere with shallow water. The ridge in the background looks like the hills at the back of Kowloon.

Do they match the area around Lai Chi Kok?

Please leave a comment below if you can tell us more.

Regards, David

Trivia: Whoops! The 1st September newspaper [4] had an article titled:

Typhoon will miss H.K.

The next day's paper [5] found some good news among the death & destruction:

Catching Fish in Nathan Road

Following the flooding of the railway track, enterprising Chinese were seen "fishing" in pools of water in Nathan Road, many catches of still live fish being obtained.

Among them was one several feet long, of a breed unfamiliar to Hong kong waters, which had evidently been swept along by the typhoon for many miles.


  1. The Royal Observatory's report for 1937 : "The destructive typhoon of September 2nd. The typhoon passed close to the south side of Hong Kong Island on a WNW track between 3 and 4 a.m. At the Observatory the minimum barometer reading, reduced to sea level, was 29.298 inches, which is the lowest recorded since observations commenced in 1894. Several gusts exceeded 125 m.p.h., and it seems probable that the typhoon was the most violent which has ever visited the Colony."
  2. The Harbour Master's report for 1937 : "The loss of life in native craft was at first estimated at about 11,000, but is now reported to be 2,565."
  3. Hong Kong Sunday Herald, 1937-09-02, page 1.
  4. Hong Kong Sunday Herald, 1937-09-01, page 1.
  5. The China Mail, 1937-09-02, page 1.

Reference: BA001

Date picture taken (may be approximate): 
Sunday, August 16, 1936


Looks similar to the CMC vessel here:


Hi Lim-peng,

Thanks for the link. Here are the two ships next to each other - doesn't look like a match unfortunately:

ship comparison

Thomas suggests it might be a ship from the Chinese Navy:

If so, it would seem it was a Chinese Navy ship.  For a short period of time the then ROC Navy name their boats starting with 海 and associate it with a certain creature。 鶖 is a bird﹐ making it 海鶖艦.  I found in Wiki they have another called 海虎艦。The word 艦 simply means a navy vassel.

I also had a chat with Moddsey about this photo. He thinks it may have been taken over towards Kowloon City.

Regards, David

This ship is identified as a Chinese Customs vessel as captioned in a picture in a book written by someone who was there at the time. This picture is a different view of the ship and shows the same building. The location is inferred to be near the airport. Unfortunately I cannot post the picture as I do not have access to the book at the moment.


Looks like I've got the wrong ship, and the wrong Typhoon!

Here's the photo IDJ mentioned:

1937 Typhoon-beached ship

Note the date, 16th August 1936.

A quick check in the papers finds this:

A Chinese gunboat, the Hai Chow, which was under repair at the South China Dock and Engineering Company, was washed ashore at 5 a.m., near Ping Street, Kowloon City, but the vessel had a remarkable escape from what might have been very serious damage, being lifted high and dry on to the beach, in between two lots of rocks!

The China Mail, 1936-08-17, page 1

Can anyone confirm if that's our ship?

Thanks to IDJ for the photo,

Regards, David

They look like the same ship, and there was a gunboat called 海鶖 Hai Chow in the Chinese Navy in the 1930s.  However, the photograph's caption refers to it as a customs cruiser.  Prof. Ma Yau-Woon, one of the few true experts in Chinese naval history, can probably give us the full history of the vessel.

The Chinese naval ensign at the time is the same as the Kuomintang party flag -- a white sun with twelve rays on a blue background.  It resembles the ensign flown in the bow.

David and IDJ:  In which book does this photograph appear?

The photocopy image was from a book titled "Everybody is Different" by Richard Price, an Australian aviator. His autobiography was self published in about the 1980s. Nothing more about the ship. He was only trying to illustrate the typhoon damage he saw at the time.

The book "Ships of China" published in the PRC in 1988 has a few poor images of what are described as Chinese gunboats of similar size and single funneled like the beached ship, but the names are different. No 'Maritime Customs' vessels appear to be depicted in this book.

I found this photo in the following weekend's Sunday paper. It has the caption:

The Chinese gunboat Hai Chow, miraculously escaped serious damage when she was piled up on Ping Street, Kowloon City, at 5 a.m. last Monday morning during the height of the 131 m.p.h. gale which swept the Colony.

Chinese gunboat "Hai Chow"

Thanks for the help to track this one down,

Regards, David

Looks like they have taken advantage of being on shore to put the washing out

1936 Chinese Gunboat Hai Chow

Both belonged to the Kwangtung faction of the Chinese Navy

馮啓聰 who later became C in C of Nationalist Chinese Navy in Taiwan had been First Officer of 海鶖 in 1939  海軍海鶖艦副艦長 (1939年2月). 海鶖 was with Chinese Maritime Custom in 1937. It is more a sloop as revenue cutter than a cruiser.

海周"Hai Chou" or Hai Zhou, 海周, was a British built 1250-ton sloop, one 4.7 in gun, used as revenue cutter) alone. Hai Chou was seriously damaged in 14 Sept 1937 by Japanese  IJN cruiser Yubari and destroyers Oite, Hayate (IJN 5th torpedo sqdn) on Sep 14 1937 near Humen of Pearl River, cruiser "Chao Ho" (肇和)  a 1909 built protect cruiser, 2600 tons, 152mm guns x 2, 20 kts.  retreated and ran aground, leaving "Hai Chou" alone which was seriously damaged. Japanese warships  were covering a landing force were then attacked by gunfire from Humen Fortress, then retreated. 

Thanks for the extra photo & information - it's good to have the difference between Hai Chou and Hai Chow explained.

Regards, David

I've moved all the comments about Ping Street over to their own page: http://gwulo.com/node/13138

Regards, David

Seeing this item made me search in my philatelic collection for another ship beached in this typhoon.  I have an envelope from Dr. K C Cheam c/o M V van Heutsz dated 12th May 1937.  When I looked for informaiton  about this ship I found this photograph.   Sorry I do not seem to be able to upload the photo of the ship beached in south HK waters.


Hi, That'll be good to see. I've posted some instructions about how to upload a photo on this page. Let me know if you run into any problems.

Regards, David