Jan Hendrik Marsman – Escape from HK during WW2

Hugh Farmer and “Tide Swell”: New information in red.

These are introductory notes about Jan Hendrik Marsman, b1892 Netherlands, d1956 [exact dates needed], known as Hank to his friends. He started his working life as an engineer.  He developed extensive business interests in the Philippines. As elaborated on below he became involved through  his company Marsman Hong Kong  China Ltd, in Needle Hill Tungsten Mine. [JHMs’ personal involvement dates in HK needed]

Married to  Mary Blythe Marsman.

This abandoned mine is situated on the southern slopes of Needle Hill between Upper Shing Mun reservoir and Tai Wai. It was among the largest mining operations Hong Kong has seen.

The deposit was discovered in 1935 by a civil engineer, Mr G Hull, who was working on the construction of the Jubilee Reservoir (now known as Shing Mun). Hull was panning in a stream at lunchtime. He recognized wolframite-rich placer deposits (which are an accumulation of valuable minerals formed by gravity separation during sedimentary processes) in sediments being excavated from the Upper Shing Mun river and traced the mineralisation to quartz veins on Needle Hill.

Hull obtained a mining licence in the same year but the lease was subsequently transferred to Marsman Hong Kong China Ltd.  Marsman undertook prospecting from 1935-1937, and development works began in 1938 with three adits used to extract the ore. From 1938-1941 an estimated average annual production of 120 tonnes of wolframite concentrate was achieved with the establishment of a medium capacity gravity concentration plant capable of treating 100 tonnes of crude ore per day.


Jan Hendrik Marsman photo

Tide Swell added this comment to our article Needle Hill Tungsten Mine:

Mr. Jan Marsman, an American of Dutch extraction whose family owned the wolfram mining concession, was in HK on business when the Japanese invaded on 8 Dec 1941. He was staying at the Peninsula Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, but due to human error he did not receive the early morning wake-up call on 8 Dec to catch the Pan Am clipper plane due to leave HK. (The flight was scheduled to go to Hawaii).

By the time he boarded the bus to take him and the other passengers to Kai Tak aerodrome to catch the plane, the Japanese were already bombing the Colony. Consequently the plane was sunk at its mooring at Kai Tak – without, fortunately, anybody on board.

Had it taken off at the scheduled time, it would undoubtedly have been shot down by the Japanese Air Force with attendant heavy loss of life. Marsman forever held that the passengers & crew should have thanked him profusely for saving their lives – albeit unwittingly!

He later escaped from HK rather than go into Stanley internment camp, & once safely back in the US wrote an amazing book of this period in his life, titled “I Escaped from HK.”

Marsman escaped from Japanese occupied Hong Kong on 10th Feb 1942.


  1. http://gwulo.com/search/node/marsman
  2. For a general history of the Marsman-Drsydale Group please refer to: http://www.marsmandrysdale.com/history.php

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. Marsman Hong Kong China Ltd
  2. Needle Hill Tungsten Mine
  3. Gordon Burnett Gifford Hull [1885-1969]



  • Mike T.

    As it happens, I own a copy of the book. (It’s marked Third Printing and Copyright 1942.) The entire rear dust jacket is an ad for war bonds and stamps, so it’s clearly at least in part a propaganda piece, and has to be read in that light. Many years since I’ve read it, but perhaps time to give it another look…

    Let me know if you’d like a scan of anything from it — cover of the dust jacket, table of contents, whatever.

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