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

This article was first posted on 27th July 2014.

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.

  • William Brown

    I have the original Book Hank is my great uncle I have the actual letters that he wrote to his wife . My grandmother lived with the Marsman and was. Raised in the Philippines and my grandfather was the minister of health for the island . Great story

    • André Wijsenbeek

      Dear William Brown,
      My wife’s grandmother was Pieternella Marsman, sister of Hank. She died 1919 of the Spanish Flue and her husband (my wifes grandfather, shortly afterwards). Her father Nikolaas Doornbosch lived with Hank (his uncle) and Aunt Mary during HighSchool times. He returned to Holland for further technical education and fled during the war to Sweden. He never was a great raconteur (he never told my wife anything) so all information is welcome. Since I am writing the family history for my grandson.
      What can you tell me about life in the Marsman mansion? And have you any information about Nick and his brother Henco?

      • Dear André

        Many thanks for your recent comment about Jan Hendrik Marsman. If William Brown does not reply to your comment please contact me and I will ask him to get in touch with you.

        Best wishes
        Hugh Farmer

  • William Brown

    I have the original Book Hank is my great uncle I have the actual letters that he wrote to his wife . My grandmother lived with the Marsman and was. Raised in the Philippines and my grandfather was the minister of health for the island . Great story

  • André Wijsenbeek

    Dear Hugh Farmer,
    Many thanks for your prompt reaction. Sorry I only saw it just now. Up till now I did not get an answer from William Brown. A copy of the original book of Hank Marsman will be send to me shortly by my Amarican brother. I would be thankfull if you could get in tough with William Brown.
    André Wijsenbeek

  • Like many others, I too have an original copy of the 1942 book by Jan Marsman which I have just re-read.

    My apologies for my earlier mistake; Marsman was, in fact, staying in the Hong Kong Hotel in Central – not the Peninsula – at the time of the Japanese attack on the Colony.

    However, the bus which was to take him and the other passengers to Kai Tak aerodrome to catch the Pan Am clipper, did leave from the Peninsula.
    Marsman never received his wake-up call, so he had to dash frantically across the harbour to board the bus.
    He states that no sooner had he boarded it and received reproving looks from the other passengers for holding them up, than they all received word that Kai Tak was being attacked by the Japanese.

    There are errors in the book, perhaps understandable given that he wrote it in 1942 – only a few months after the Japanese invasion and the subsequent battle.
    Many of the facts would not come out for many years, and it is understandable that much “hearsay” is evident.

    He describes a very different version of the murder of the senior medical officer, Lt. Col . Black, at St. Stephen’s College Stanley on Christmas Day 1941, (the massacre), to the one with which many historians are familiar.

    His frequent reference to the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps as “the Home Guard” tends to rankle slightly! Many spelling mistakes, e.g. Kai Tek for Kai Tak and the Duco Paint Factory for the Duro.
    But I am being pedantic.

    As Mike T says, propaganda plays a very important part in the writing of this book.

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