SMS Emden: the “Kaiser’s pirate ship” Hong Kong’s favourite foe, WW1

HF: Stuart Heaver wrote a fascinating article in the Sunday Post Magazine of 26th January 2014. The subject being the SMS Emden, a German cruiser which was a frequent visitor to Hong Kong before the outbreak of World War One.

As Stuart writes: German merchants were well represented in commercial shipping circles in Hong Kong: Melchers & Co had been founded in 1866 and Jebsen & Co in 1895. The German contingent numbered 342, according to the 1911 census, and was one of the largest European communities in Hong Kong. This was a British maritime hub in Asia with a distinctly German flavour.

The article begins: One hundred years ago today (January 26, 1914, was Lunar New Year’s Day), the German cruiser SMS Emden, commanded by the gallant and widely respected Captain Karl von Muller, was anchored in Victoria Harbour, enjoying a warm welcome from local dignitaries and the sizeable German expatriate community based here.

SMS Emden in Tsingtao, early 1914, snipped en.wikipedia.org

SMS Emden in Tsingtao, early 1914 Courtesy: en.wikipedia.org

SMS Emden was a particular favourite in Hong Kong. With sleek lines and painted brilliant white, she was known by local mariners as the Swan of the East and was a frequent visitor to Hong Kong en route to, or from, the German naval base at Tsingtao (Qingdao, Shandong province).

Karl Van Muller, captain of the SMS Emden, SCMP article

Karl von Muller, captain of the Emden. Courtesy: SCMP

The next day was the German emperor’s 55th birthday, which meant that Captain von Muller could reciprocate the lavish hospitality he found in the city with a formal reception. The great and the good of Hong Kong’s expatriate elite descending from The Peak for the occasion were treated to the spectacle of every ship on the China station being “dressed overall” (when decorative flags and bunting are hoisted from masts and yards to celebrate a special occasion) in respect for “Kaiser Bill” (Wilhelm II).

These were times when maritime affairs were central to most people’s existence and local newspapers from the era read more like Shipping Today than general news publications. The China Mail in 1914 contained lists of warships on the China station and interminable details on steamer arrivals, passenger liners and naval appointments – even features about trends in German warship design and the future of submarine warfare.

In 1914, 43 per cent of the world’s trade was carried on British shipping and Germany was the country’s only serious rival in maritime affairs, undertaking a significant 12 per cent share. German merchants were well represented in commercial shipping circles in Hong Kong: Melchers & Co had been founded in 1866 and Jebsen & Co in 1895. The German contingent numbered 342, according to the 1911 census, and was one of the largest European communities in Hong Kong. This was a British maritime hub in Asia with a distinctly German flavour…

Emden, SMS, SCMP snipped image

The wreck of the SMS Emden some years after the First World War in the Cocos Islands. Courtesy: The SCMP

Sources:

  1. SCMP article – SMS Emden: Hong Kong’s favourite foe 25th January 2014

See:

  1. wikipedia  SMS Emden

Related Indhhk articles:

  1. The German Speaking Community in Hong Kong 1846-1918 – Part One
  2. The German Speaking Community in Hong Kong 1846-1918 – Part Two

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