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History of Cricket In Hong Kong - Sinking of the SS Bokhara
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The history of Hong Kong cricket is marred by the tragic shipwreck of the P&O Steamship SS Bokhara, which occurred on 10th October, 1892. On board was the Hong Kong cricket team, returning home from an Interport match against Shanghai. Eleven of the thirteen team members perished, along with another 114 passengers and crew.

Click the following links to find out more about the disaster:

The SS Bokhara

SS Bokhara
SS Bokhara - click for a larger picture

The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Line (P&O) Steam-ship (SS) Bokhara was a three masted steamer of 2,948 tons net and 1,967 tons registered. She was powered by two compound steam engines generating 2,500 horsepower with a maximum speed of 13 knots. She was built by 'Caird & Co.' at Caird Yard, Greenock in 1873. The ship's dimensions were: Length: 365 feet; Beam: 39 feet; Depth: 29 feet (moulded).

Interestingly, on 21st June 1873, the Bokhara, on her maiden voyage, was stranded on an uncharted rock off Hong Kong, but was refloated without difficulty and was docked at Kowloon for repairs. The 'rock' was subsequently charted and named the 'Bokhara Rock'. Following this, authorities offered a reward of $10 to each Chinese fisherman who could point out any uncharted rock. The Navy also took a hand in improving the survey of the waters adjacent to Hong Kong.

The Bokhara came to Hong Kong under the Command of Charles Dawson Sams RNR in August 1892 from England with a crew of 143. Captain Sams was considered as one of the most promising of the younger commanders in the P&O Company's service. Bokhara's crew comprised 4 Officers, 4 Engineers, a Winchman, a Boilermaker, 7 Quartermasters, an English Boatswain and a Carpenter. In addition there were 42 Deckhands (Lascars) and about 25 Stewards.

Interport Cricket - Hong Kong v. Shanghai

Interport Teams 1892
The Interport teams of Hong Kong and Shanghai from October 1892 - click for a larger picture

The first Interport cricket match between Hong Kong and Shanghai was played in 1866, 15 years after the founding of the Hong Kong Cricket Club. The series of home and away matches continued until 1948, just prior to the Communist takeover of China in 1949.

The following passage regarding the 1892 Interport matches between Hong Kong and Shanghai is taken from Peter Hall's book '150 Years of Cricket in Hong Kong':

"Two matches were played in this year, the first in Hong Kong during an 'excessively' hot February, when a very strong Hong Kong side defeated Shanghai by an innings and 132 runs. Captain John Dunn, although dropped on 45, 89 and in the 90's, batted 'brilliantly' to score the first Interport century. EW Maitland (No. 9) and G Taylor (No. 10), each with half centuries, helped the side amass over 400 runs.

Shanghai were bowled out by EJ Coxon and Dr JA Lowson, who had match analyses of 12 for 121 and 8 for 98 respectively.

Hong Kong: 429
Shanghai: 163 and 134

When Hong Kong visited Shanghai in October that same year, certain leading Hong Kong players were unable to make the trip. The same 'for business or other reasons' problem applied equally to Shanghai, when the Interport took place in Hong Kong.

The match result was reversed in equally dominant fashion, Shanghai winning by 157 runs. Lowson took the first eight wickets for 66 runs in Shanghai's first innings, but was 'lamed' again when batting and couldn't bowl in Shanghai's second innings! Sgt Mumford, with his 'underhand grubbers', had the Shanghai players mesmerised and captured 6-68. But it was AGH Carruthers who devastated Hong Kong with 5-29 and 8-41 respectively.

Shanghai: 112 and 202
Hong Kong: 78 and 79"

In his journal, 'Reminisces of Interport Cricket', (and recounted in Peter Hall's book) Dr Lowson, one of the survivors of the tragedy, also wrote this of the match:

"A pressing invitation from Shanghai led the HKCC to send up an eleven in October, 1892. On this occasion, we were weakly represented. We went off with five men who had only a nodding acquaintance with Eastern first-class cricket. Shanghai batted first on splendid wicket. Keeping up the pressure, the first eight wickets fell to me for about 30 runs, and the visions passed before my eyes of making a record in these matches by getting all ten wickets - then John Dunn dropped an easy catch at mid-off. There was excuse for this missed catch and also the failure in batting in this last match of that great cricketer Dunn. For some time he had been suffering astigmatism. Opening our batting, the writer was again unfortunate as Barff lamed him with a fast ball and he was only a spectator of the game afterwards. Corporal Mumford with six wickets for 68 came to the fore with underhand grubs. The wicket was wearing badly. We were overwhelmed by a very much stronger side."

A Fateful Journey

According to records maintained by the Hong Kong Marine Department, the SS Bokhara, under the command of Captain Sams, left Shanghai on 8th October 1892 with 148 persons embarked and a cargo of silk, specie, treasure and 'the mails' bound for Hong Kong, Colombo and Bombay. It was not a full cargo, only weighing some 150 tons. The vessel was due at Hong Kong on 11th October 1892, a three-day journey of some 1600 miles. She sailed from Shanghai against the usual north-east monsoon and high seas astern and all seemed well. But on Sunday, the weather grew worse and by nightfall the barometer fell rapidly and the wind rose, indicating the approach of a typhoon.

No warnings had been received in those pre-wireless days and no SOS could be sent. Captain Sams gave orders to for all precautions to be taken, the hatches being battened down and other steps taken to meet the oncoming storm. All through Monday, 10th October the ship battled the fierce gale, but was steadily driven towards the north-west coast of Formosa (Taiwan). The sails were furled. The engines were set to dead slow and the ship brought to the wind on the port tack in a desperate bid to rescue the situation. The by-now tiring crew failed in their efforts laying beam on to the sea with her engines stopped and the Bokhara underwent a fearful battering.

One by one the lifeboats and deck fittings were wrenched from their davits and either smashed or swept overboard as the Bokhara drifted across the Taiwan Straits. The Captain tried vainly to bring her head around, but she drove on helplessly. By Monday evening everyone was near giving up hope. In a last ditch effort to abate the heavy seas, Captain Sams ordered oil to be pumped overboard. For a brief while it appeared to have the desired effect, but the oil soon stopped as a result of blocked pipes. At about 9:30 that night, three monstrous waves broke in succession over the Bokhara. The engine room skylights were shattered, the engine fires were doused and the machinery flooded.

It was almost midnight when land was spotted on the lea beam, not more than a few hundred yards away. While Captain Sams went below to warn the passengers, the engineers heroically attempted to restart the swamped engines. It was all to no avail. Within minutes, the Bokhara struck the reef protecting Sand Island (Pescadores Islands) for the first time. At her striking the reef a second time, her starboard side was ripped wide open. In less than two minutes she sank in ten fathoms of water.

Handful of Survivors

One hundred and twenty-five persons were drowned and twenty-three were saved. Only two of the twenty-five passengers were saved - both members of the Hong Kong cricket team. They were Doctor James Alfred Lowson of the Government Civil Hospital and Lieutenant Markham of the Shropshire Light Infantry - 53rd Regiment. Other survivors were the Chief Officer, Third and Fourth Officers, two European Quartermaster and 18 'Asiatics', including some Lascar members of the crew (it is noted that the Lascar members of the crew were stationed above decks when the ship first hit the reef, from where they were hurled directly onto the beach.).

Bokhara Monument on Sand Island
This picture, which shows the Bokhara monument on Sand Island in the Pescadores, was obtained from Taiwanese Military Authorities, as the island is now a shooting range!

The survivors were in a miserable condition and still precarious state when they were discovered by local fishermen, brandishing axes and knives, who appeared on the island once the storm had abated sometime on 12th October 1892. Dr Lowson would recount later in vivid testimony, "First thing we saw next day was the Chinese coming ashore with axes and knives and for the second time we thought the end was near".

After salvaging what they could from the wreck, the local fishermen took the survivors to Peihou Island and later to Makung Mandarin (Wakung County/Province) where they were fed "Capital food and champagne and cigars to any extent". The survivors were subsequently picked up by the Douglas Steamer Thales and then transferred to HMS Porpoise for disembarkment in Hong Kong.

Dr Lowson, once described as a "cricketer of eminence, a slashing hitter and a fastish medium bowler", was so severely affected by the shock and exposure that he had to retire from the Civil Service. It was also necessary for the Hong Kong medical authorities to remove a lung as a result of his watery ordeal, after which he became known as 'Wun Lung Lowson'. Despite this, he continued to represent Hong Kong at cricket until 1898. He was also an excellent golfer, winning the Hong Kong Championship three times in 1895, 1896 and 1899. He eventually settled in Scotland where he died on 21st October 1935.

Lieutenant Markham stayed on in the Army and was promoted to the rank of Captain before he died in London in May 1909.

Reactions

When the Bokhara failed to arrive in Hong Kong, the worst was feared and vessels set out in search. First news of the disaster began trickling through on Sunday, 16th October, but it was not until 17th October that the full catastrophe was realised, when the following telegram was received by the P&O Co. from Captain Burr of the HMS Porpoise:

"I regret to have to report that the Bokhara is a total wreck near Sand Island in the Pescadores. She sank immediately, heavy seas having broken on board and put the fires out, so the ship became unmanageable. About 125 persons were lost and only 23 saved.

Survivors (as stated but 18 natives) - 34 bodies recovered, 4 being women. Swatow British Consul being responsible for burial and arranging for protection of the cargo saved."

The reaction by Hong Kong's expatriate community was one of profound shock and horror and many messages of sympathy were received. A relief committee was set up under the Governor, subscriptions were raised and memorial services were held. There was public anger that more should have been done to save the vessel and its passengers.

In Shanghai, there was also a feeling of profound sense of shock and the St Andrew's Ball, to be held a few weeks afterwards, was abandoned.

Local and international newspapers carried stories of the tragedy. The following appeared in the "The Illustrated London News" on 22nd October 1892 (page 507):

"WRECK OF PENINSULAR AND ORIENTAL STEAM-SHIP

Much regret has been caused by the news of a maritime disaster in the China Sea which has involved the loss of many lives, nearly a hundred and thirty, with the destruction of one of the steam-ships of the Peninsular and Oriental Company's fleet. The Bokhara, an iron three-masted ship of 2,970 tons, with 3000-horse power engines, built at Greenock in 1873 and refitted in 1880, was engaged to carry the mails, with a valuable cargo of silk and specie, from Shanghai to Hong Kong, whence she would have proceeded to Colombo and Bombay. She left Shanghai on Oct. 8: it should have been a three-days voyage. The weather was very tempestuous, and she was not heard of until Oct. 17 when a telegram from Hong Kong reported that she had been wrecked on Oct. 10 on the Pescadores Islands, west of the large island of Formosa, east of China. This is considerable distance from the straight track, nearer the mainland coast, usually followed on that voyage; but it is stated that the sea had put out the engine fires, and the ship had become unmanageable, so as to be driven far out of her course. The commander, Captain CD Sams, of the Royal Navy Reserve, was an excellent officer long in the company's service. He, the second officer Mr Inglis, four engineers, and most of the crew have perished. Twenty-three were saved and have been brought to Hong Kong by HMS Porpoise. The ship had accommodation for 120 first and second class passengers, but it was thought likely that there would be but few Europeans on board at this time of the year. The passengers saved are Dr. Lowson and Lieutenant Markham, with five of the ship's officers, Messrs Prickett, Parry, Sweeny, Ward and Lewis. Of the passengers missing we have the names of Major Turner, Captain Dunn, Captain Dawson, Lieutenants Doyle and Burnett, several other gentlemen, and four ladies."

A Marine Board of Inquiry, addressed by Commander Rumsey RN (Retd), was quickly convened and, after two days of testimony, issued its findings on 22nd October 1892, which noted the following:

"Upon this evidence the Court has formed the following opinion:- That the loss of the ship is to be attributed to her being drawn over to the eastern side of the Formosa Channel either through 'Head-reaching' while 'lying-to' or through the current setting more Southerly than was expected and calculated for, or possibly to both of these causes; that the Captain was zealous and unremitting in his attentions to his duties.

The Court cannot help thinking that he committed an error of judgement in too readily concluding afterwards that the ship was drifting on a safe course and that in consequence more strenuous efforts were not made to get the ship round on the starboard tack.

Proper discipline appears to have been maintained on board. The conduct of the crew was, according to testimony of the Officers, entirely satisfactory.

The Court has also before it the voluntary testimony of Dr Lowson, one of the two surviving passengers, to the gallant conduct of the Captain and Officers, in which testimony is supported by Lieutenant Markham of the Shropshire Light Infantry, the other surviving passenger.

Finally, as we find do not that the loss of the Bokhara was caused by the wrongful act or default of any Certified Officer, and as no blame attaches to them, the Certificates of the survivors are not dealt with.

The Court desires particularly to be noticed the humane conduct of the people amongst whom the survivors were cast, the native priest in Peihou, who relieved their immediate wants and the Mandarin of Makung, who, it appears, treated them with the greatest kindness and hospitality."

Given under our Hand at Hong Kong this 22nd Day, October 1892
Rumsey - Retired Commander RN

Memorials

Two significant memorials, in the form of a monument and a stained glass window were dedicated to the loss of the Bokhara and members of the Hong Kong cricket team.

A letter in local Naval records, from the Commodore to the Governor dated 9th June 1893, states that a report had been received from Captain FW Hawkes of HMS Mercury reporting that a monument to the Bokhara had been safely erected on Sand Island near the place where the unfortunate ship struck (see picture). The Bokhara monument still stands today but the island is now used by the Taiwanese military as a shooting range and access is restricted.

References to the stained glass are identified from a caption in an issue of the "The Cricketer" dated May 10th, 1924 which reads:

"A memorial for the whole team, in the form of a stained glass window, was subscribed for by members of the Shanghai CC and placed in the South aisle of the Cathedral of Hong Kong. It consists of two lights. The Western one has a full-length picture of St Paul, with a scene under it of his shipwreck; the Eastern a full-length picture of St Peter walking on the water. On a pier between the two lights is fixed a brass plate with the following inscription:-

In token of their Deep Regret for the Loss of
Major Turner, A.P.D.
Captain J. Dunn, A.S.C.
Captain Dawson, Hong Kong Regiment
Lieutenant Burnett, 53rd Regiment
Lieutenant C.G. Boyle, R.A.
Sergeant Donegan, 53rd Regiment
Sergeant Mumford, 53rd Regiment
Quartermaster-Sergeant Jeffkins, R.E.
G.S. Purvis, Esq.
G.E. Taverner, Esq.
C. Wallace, Esq.

Members of the Hong Kong Cricket team, who
Perished in the
Wreck of the P. and O. Steamer Bokhara
On 10th October, 1892
While on their return voyage to Hong Kong after
The Interport Cricket Match


This window is Erected by the Members of the
Shanghai Cricket Club.
No other Cathedral in the world contains a memorial to members of
a cricket team, and we trust that no occasion will arise for one to be erected.

Further information indicates that the window mentioned in the inscription was erected in the South Precept of St John's Cathedral. Apparently it was taken down and stored in crates just prior to the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. Its whereabouts is now uncertain. Some say that it was seen at dockside being transhipped to safety (location unknown) and some say that it was stored under the Cathedral. Unfortunately there are no known pictures of the window on record.


Bibliography:

Hall, Peter. "150 Years of Cricket in Hong Kong". Lewes, Sussex: The Book Guild Ltd, 1999.

Pictures courtesy of Hong Kong Cricket Club.

Thanks to the following persons for their research material that was used to compile this page:

  • Nigel Stearns - General Manager, Hong Kong Cricket Club
  • Stephen Rabson - P&O Historian and Archivist