The Kaisyu Maru ex-Hang Cheong, built Taikoo Dockyard 1923

HF: I asked Stephen Davies (ex-Director of the Maritime Museum, Hong Kong) if he had further information about the Kaishu Maru which a BAAG report of July/August 1944 suggests was, pre-WW2, a HK-Canton river steamer (see link below).

SD: The only Kaishu Maru and Kaisho Maru that I know were both Imperial Japanese Army transports and ex-general cargo ships, sunk in 1943-ish.

The only help I can offer is a Lloyd’s Register entry (1945) for a Kaisyu Maru, ex-Hang Cheong, ON153502, 1086 GRT, built Taikoo Dockyard 1923 and launched on 16th Aug for the Yau Tak SS Co Ltd of Macau (a comprehensive SCMP story of the launch 17.8.1923, p.3). She was driven ashore in a typhoon on a beach at North Point from her anchorage in Kowloon Bay two days later and slightly damaged.

[HF/SD Can anyone provide an image of the ship as either the Hang Cheong or Kaisyu Maru? We have been unable to find one in either guise. The image below of Taikoo Dock in 1923 may just possibly show the ship being constructed.]


Taikoo Docks 1923 Courtesy: Historical Photographs of China

Her maiden voyage was on 6th January 1924, departing Douglas Wharf, Central for Canton/Guangzhou on the ’night run’ under chapter to the Wing On SS Co. In July that year the was in a minor scrape when the SS Tai Lee got swung into her by the tide when the Tai Lee was berthing.

On 4th June 1925 she was in collision with the Fatshan as a result of allowing the Fatshan to pass her in the narrowest part of the Canton River when berthing – both skippers found equally to blame by the HK Court of Inquiry.

Like most of the river steamers, she was forced to suspend services at the height of the general strike in 1925, during which period she seems to have been berthed at Kowloon Docks. Her captain in 1925 was Alexander Jenkins and from other data the previous Captain was a Capt Evans, the Wing On SS Co’s senior captain in October 1926 when full services were resumed after the strike, at which time Capt Jenkins shifted commands, though I don’t know who followed him into the Hang Cheong.

It seems that in the cut throat world of the ferries post-strike, the Hang Cheong ceased operating on the HK-Canton run and worked the Macau-Canton run until – it seems after she had changed charters – she appears in early August 1929 on the HK-Macau run during a price war. That war was settled  (basically it was between a Macau owner syndicate and HK firms) at the end of August and the Hang Cheong seems then to have resumed the Macau-Canton run. Tucked into this saga is the Tung On SS Co – a major Chinese owned coastal shipping mover and shaker between the wars – chaired by Mr Woo Hay-tong, which seems to have been part of an effective cartel controlling operations on the Macau-HK-Canton runs that gets referred to here and there as the “Canton-Macau Line”.

By March 1936, according to a letter to the SCMP whining about the activities of the HK Seamen’s Union, the Hang Cheong was laid up “for lack of trade”, though by October that year things had looked up and the ship was back on the Canton-Macau run.

In 1938 she was involved in the heavy passenger traffic occasioned by refugees from the mainland trying to reach Macau, at which time her skipper was a Captain Couto.

On Jan 9th 1940 there is a record of the “Kwangtung Inland River Navigation Company (a Japanese concern)” purchasing the “Portuguese vessel” the Hang Cheong for the Canton-Macau run. On January 11th there’s a news story claiming that the Hang Cheong had been renamed Hoichu Maru…which doesn’t agree with anything that appears in Lloyd’s Register, where no ship with a name beginning Hoichu is recorded…although a story in March 1940 and another in December repeat the name. However, in June 1941 the name Hoichu Maru ceases to appear in the list of river ferries and the name Kaisyu Maru appears instead, so putting that together with Lloyd’s Register suggests that either there was a brief period with another name, or someone had a wire crossed.

In 1930 she was owned by Woo & Mok Ltd (a company incorporated on 3rd August 1920 and dissolved 11th Jan 1938) and registered in HK. That continues until a blank in 1936, when she appears not to have been registered, to reappear in 1937 owned by the Tung Yick SS Co Ltd and Macau registered, which was still the state of play in the 1940 Register. In 1941 she appears as the Kaisyu Maru, owned by the Canton Inland Shipping Association registered under Japanese ownership in Kiirum (Keelung (Taiwan). This is how she stays through until 1945 when the register entry under that name ceases.

If she was repossessed post-war and restored to her former owners (supposing the company survived the war under the same name), she didn’t reappear as Hang Cheong, there being no register entry for that name after 1940 and in default of any trace of a new, post-war name, that’s where my trail stops.

See: The Historical Photographs of China website

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. BAAG records of shipping in HK during 1944-45 – the Kaishu Maru
  2. Kowloon (HK & Whampoa) Dockyards during the Occupation 1942-45

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