E O Murphy, co-founder of Bailey’s Shipyard

Hugh Farmer with thanks to IDJ, Stephen Davies and Sue Evans, the youngest child of W.S.Bailey.

Some initial notes on EO Murphy founder with WS Bailey of WS Bailey & Co or Bailey’s Shipyard.

born ?
died 1911

W.S. Bailey & Co

This well-known firm of engineers and shipbuilders was founded in 1897 by Mr. W.S. Bailey, who began business as a consulting engineer and importer of steam pumps and engineers’ requisites. In 1900 Mr. Bailey was joined in partnership by Mr E.O.Murphy, and the present works at Kowloon Bay were established. The firm’s first order was for the 50-foot steam launch Ida, and was received from the Hongkong Steam Laundry Company.

Mr. Murphy is of Irish parentage, and was born in Liverpool, where he served his apprenticeship with Messrs. John Jones & Sons. He was afterwards junior engineer in several vessels of the White Star Line, and arrived in Hongkong, as second engineer of the Abyssinia, in 1895. For the next five years or so he served as chief engineer in the C.P.R. liners Empress of India, Empress of China, and Empress of Japan. Mr. Murphy is a Whitworth scholar, and vice-president of the Institute of Marine Engineers, London. (1)

Stephen Davies added in March 2019: There is a January 1912 story of “four large cabin cruisers” being built by WSBailey for a Mr James B. Wood of Seattle. I think the Gleniffer may have been one of these as may have been the Walronda, though details are very sketchy and the only outcome I have found so far is a cops and robbers tale involving J.B. Wood and his wife, the Walronda, and some cross-border shenanigans involving boat engines, an order for four boats in HK that caused much local friction with Vancouver/Seattle boat builders who’d lost business, and that ended with JBW doing a year’s hard labour in gaol! It is possible the Sheileena had been a trial run for the new build-foreign-and-buy-cheap route.

My sideline on this has to do with WSB’s partner, E.O. Murphy (ex-engineer with Canadian Pacific Railways Line), whose wife was a widow from Vancouver (though originally a Brit). Theirs is a very complex (and rather sad) story, which ends with EOM committing suicide in 1911 after his marine engineering consultancy business failed. The Murphys, who had married in HK in 1902, had left HK for Canada in 1910 (not sure of the back story, but something possibly fishy to do with a deal between Bailey & Murphy and McLane & Co. Zamboanga for a hemp spinning machine that B&M were making, which one way or another caused a parting of the ways). Anyway, the suspicion, without a shred of evidence, is that Murphy was somehow involved in the order for boats from Bailey’s that James B. Wood was involved in. It is at least possible that Murphy’s business failure had resulted from Wood basically cutting him out after Murphy had outlived his usefulness in being the contact who set up the deal.

Even more interesting, after Agnes Murphy’s two boys and one daughter had grown up, sometime c.1923 she moved back to HK and by 1925 was proprietress of a boarding house in Kowloon Tong, which she ran until her death in 1936 (by which time her younger son was in HK working for HK & Shanghai Hotels). Curiously (perhaps mere coincidence) her grave in the HK Cemetery is right next door to W.S. Bailey’s, who had predeceased her by two months.

HK never ceases to intrigue.

HF: Sue Evans, the youngest child of William James Seybourne Bailey emailed me in June 2020. This extract from Sue’s message concerns her response to Stephen Davies’s paragraph above starting with…”Even more interesting, after Agnes Murphy’s…”:-

“That Agnes Murphy and my father’s graves are side-by-side is surprising given the circumstances but I don’t think too much can, or should, be read into it.  Without  evidence  to the contrary,  perhaps it is best not to suggest (as I feel you do) that it is anything  more than a coincidence? I should be very grateful if  you  could make some amendment to your comment without damaging the flow of a most interesting article. Agnes Murphy’s death was quite possibly as unexpected as my father’s (she was relatively young) and I doubt if, in the 2 month interval between them both dying, that she had rushed out to secure the plot next to my fathers.”

HF: I am presuming the photo below is of E.O. Murphy’s wife and boys until corrected.

Agnes Murphy And Kids

L-R: Edward Owen Murphy; Agnus Murphy(nee Kirkwood); John Denman Kirkwood Murphy Courtesy: WestendVancouver.


  1. Extracts from Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai and other Treaty Ports of China, ed A Wright, 1908


  1. More information about Agnes Murphy

This article was first posted on 18th March 2014.

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  • I did actually mean coincidence and only that, but not actually that surprising a one.

    After all there can be no question but that Agnes Murphy and WSB will have known each other and no reason to suppose that they (and their families) would not have had a fairly well-established friendship. Nor that the friendship would have been maintained once Mrs Murphy returned to HK. Nineteen-thirties expatriate HK was a very small world and nineteen-thirties Kowloonside very, very much smaller. That smallness both plays to the thought of the renewed friendship AND to the unlikelihood of impropriety – small worlds have no easy place for misbehaviour (as WSB’s own back story and his first marriage attest).

    Burial plots in the Colonial Cemetery (as was) were, as far as I can work out, allocated pretty much in order of decease in the area being filled up at that time. So with WSB and Agnes Murphy dying pretty close together in time, that they ended up being side-by-side in the cemetery isn’t surprising.

    The small point I was making was merely that, from a narrative history point of view, happenstance has a curious tendency to complement and connect otherwise divergent narratives. In this case the original partnership between WSB and EOM that ended unhappily being bookended by the return of Mrs Murphy and one of her boys to HK, the possibility of a re-mending of once ruptured connections and the symbolic registration of that, in a sense in perpetuity, in the side-by-side graves.

    We cannot know whether the aesthetic elegance of the bookending has any solid basis in fact unless there are letters, diaries or similar that support the hypothesis of a post-1923 inter-family friendship. Without that evidence, all we have is a curious but, as noted, fascinating and very Hong Kong (or, to generalise, small town) coincidence signalled by the juxtaposed burial plots.

  • it is wonderful to know Motor Yacht Gleniffer is still alive!!!!!–http://gleniffer.ca/

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