Changsha I

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Sister ship of Taiyuan I, Tsinan I and Chingtu

ID /IMO No. 1091952.
Type cargo/passenger
Gross Registered Tonnage 2,269 grt. 1.463 nett.
Builder Scott & Co. Yard No. 246.
Delivery date 1886
Hull Steel, clincher construction.
Decks 2
Length 320.0 ft. F'c'sle 43.0 ft. Bridge 102 ft. Poop 46.0 ft.
Width 38.0 ft.
Depth 25.0 ft.
Forecastle 43.0 ft.
Bridge 102.0 ft.
Passengers 1st class 15, 2nd.class 28, 3rd.class 28, plus 150 deck in Chinese waters.
Engine Builder Greenock Foundry Co CD
Engine Type Steam, Triple Expansion.
Engine cylinders 3, 25" dia. 40" dia. 62" dia.
Engine stroke 4.0 ft.
Engine Power 400 nhp. 1600 ihp.
Engine RPM 70
Propulsion mode Single screw
Speed 12 knots
Rigged Schooner.
Displacement 4,436 tons.
Deadweight 2,683 tons
Bale capacity 126,930 cu.ft.
Block coefficient (Cb) 0.683
Aspiration Natural
Condenser cooling surface 3,000 sq.ft.
Steam expansion ratio 10.0
ratio_of_air_pump_capacity_to_lp_cylinder_volume 15.0
ratio_of_sw_circulating_pump_capacity_to_lp_cylinder_volume 15.8
Boiler 2, cylindrical (Scotch), double ended.
Boiler pressure 150 psi.
Boiler dimensions (total) 12.5ft high x 16.0ft. long
Heating Surface (total) 4,602 sq.ft.
Grate Area (total) 157.4 sq.ft.
Steam space volume 1,094 cu.ft.
Fuel Coal.
Furnace 6 per boiler.
Furnace dimensions 2'11"dia. X 6'6" long
Draught Natural.
Generator voltage 110v. dc.
Propeller Right hand, 16.5 ft.dia. 18.5 ft.pitch.
Propeller blades 4
Propeller formation Solid.
Propeller material Cast iron.
Launched July 17th. 1886.
Original owner China Navigation Co.
Delivered to owner Aug 23rd. 1886.


One of a quartet of ships built for C.N.Co. by Scotts’, for the China-Australia trade, Changsha and her sister ships, Taiyuan I, Tsinan I and Chingtu, were well known for their trim, yacht-like build, and their comfortable passenger accommodation.
This class of vessel was the first occasion for C.N.Co. when triple expansion steam engines were installed, instead of the 2 cylinder compound engines originally ordered.

1900. G.S.Yuill & Co. appointed Austarlian agents at Newcastle (N.S.W.), Sydney and Melbourne. In 1912, C.N.Co. withdrew from the East Australia trade and Changsha and her sister ship Taiyuan were sold to The Australian-Oriental Line, who continued to run the ships with Butterfield & Swire acting as their Far Eastern managers. Electric refrigeration was fitted to facilitate the carriage of meat northbound to the Philippines.

July 24th 1890 About 14.00 hrs. during a voyage from Sydney to Hong Kong, during a dense fog, the vessel ran aground when about to turn back, at slow speed on the southern side of Rattray Island in the Whitsundays of the Queensland Barrier Reef, near Bowen. The Second Mate and the Purser left the ship to report that the ship was lying headed north-west with her bows on boulders as far as midships, with seven fathoms of water under the stern. The ship being fully exposed to the southerly and easterly winds, but in no immediate danger. The Master, James Edward Williams organised the removal of over 100 tons of cargo from the for'd holds to the aft holds to raise the bow, in preparation for the arrival of a high tide, when the vessel was successfully refloated. Assistance was offered from the Maranoa but was declined. After an investigation of the incident, The Queensland Marine board censured the Master James Edward Williams for using obsolete charts when later charts were available.

Aug. 1912. Sold with the Taiyuan I to G.S.Yuill & Co.,who formed the Australian Oriental Line. London registry.

Aug.1920. Registry transferred to Hong Kong.

Mid Aug. 1923. Went aground on a sandbank/reef north of the Celebes, holed in the forepeak and No1 hold. Refrigerated cargo dumped and other cargo transhipped to Sandikan. Refloated Sept. 1923. Repairs completed in Hong Kong in Nov. 1923.

Nov 20th. 1925. Final voyage:- Melbourne, Sydney, Townsville, Thursday Island, Sandakan, Manila, Hong Kong.

Changsha was sold to breakers in August 1926.


Changsha was the first of the four to arrive at Sydney, in January 1887, under the command of Captain James Edward Williams. who was a pioneer captain of the fleet, who had previously commanded Whampoa, one of the first C.N.Co. vessels to operate a regular service to Australia in 1883.

On Changsha’s arrival, a dinner was held on board for merchants and local dignitaries and Captain James Edward Williams was later presented with a diamond ring by the Chinese merchants of Sydney.

After this, Changsha began a regular run between Hong Kong and Melbourne, via Thursday Island, Townsville, Brisbane and Sydney; calling at Newcastle to bunker.

Changsha’s passenger accommodation consisted of first (saloon) class, cabin class and steerage class in the ‘tween deck spaces, (the latter usually monopolised by Chinese emigrants to Australia).

Cargoes included tea and rice southbound and raw sugar, coal and sometimes meat from Townsville, northbound. In 1899 she contracted to carry refrigerated cargoes at £1 per pound. Two holds were insulated and ready for use by 1900.

Events / Stories


From an article by David Walker (Walkeratsea) researched from news articles published in the Newspapers of Queensland. New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, of the time.

This article was researched from news articles published in the Newspapers of Queensland. New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, of the time. The Changsha, Chingtu, Taiyuan I, and Tsinan I were all completed and delivered from Scotts & Co. Greenock, Scotland in 1886. Four vessels ordered by John Samuel Swire the Senior for the Australia-Far East trade. They were known as the Australians at a time when John Swire, after his business interests, and time in the Colony, was looking to expand his shipping on the Yangtse River, and the China Coast. It was not a decision he made without some reflection. However they were ordered and delivered from a builder who had built ships for him previously. Scotts became partners in the China Navigation Company (CNCo), and went on to build over a hundred ships for the Company.

The trade as a Passenger Cargo Line lasted for eighty four years albeit with an interregnum taken up by the Australian-Oriental Line, owned and managed out of Australia by G.S. Yuill & Co. George Yuill was the brother-in-law of James Scott, of Scott’s the ship builder, who also became Chairman of John Swire and Sons on the death of John Samuel Swire in 1898. Yuill’s became agents for CNCo, and it wasn’t until the seventies that the name was dropped from the Swire Shipping agency in Australia.

The Australians were 315 ft. long and 38 ft beam with a depth of 23.8 ft. and 2,269 gross tons. The original order was for single screw compound engines (two cylinder), but was almost immediately changed to a more powerful triple expansion engine, which may explain why in service there was a number of propeller shaft failures. The Engine was 400 H.P. giving a speed of 12 knots. Passenger capacity was First and Second Class with Steerage and Deck classes. Cargo deadweight was some 2,300 tons. Provision for refrigerated cargo was added to Changsha, and Taiyuan after building to meet the trade requirements.

The Service was from Japan to Australia and the ports they called at were from Japan :- Kobe, Kochidate, for coaling, Foochow (China for Tea) Formosa, (Taiwan today) Hong Kong, Manila, Zamboanga, Port Darwin, Thursday Island, Cooktown, Cairns, Townsville, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and sometimes Launceston and Hobart. There were occasional calls north bound to Noumea.

They were described in the Press at the time of Tsinan’s maiden voyage as a new “steel screw” ship for The China Navigation Co. Her sisters had already passed in review before the public and each was spoken of and written about in terms of high commendation. They were built for the special purposes of forming a connecting link between the ocean mail ships on the Australian line and those on the India and China route.

Described as having "square Saloons the full width of the vessel. Elaborately furnished and decorated. The state cabins contain only two berths. The Saloon floor is laid with mosaic tiles, with the appearance of the entire apartment suggestive of coolness, light, and luxury. Their capacity is 24 Saloon, and 30 second Class passengers. There is berthing space for a further 40 passengers. Marble baths are provided, with a hot, cold, or shower service. There is also a Ladies Boudoir, sumptuously furnished. The Saloon is reached from the promenade deck, and the companion entrance forms a large social hall with seats all round. There is also a piano". Electric lighting was a novel feature, and a welcome facility especially in the hotter climes. Each ship was fitted with Haslam’s patent refrigeration machinery, and in tropical seas this was found to be of "inestimable advantage". A constant supply of fresh fish, fowl, game, meat and, milk etc. and ice was always available.

The ships were fully equipped with Lifeboats made of mild steel. They were also furnished with Hastie’s patent steam steering gear. Ritchie’s patent compasses, and Sir William Thompson’s sounding machine. Windlass winches and other appliances for working the vessel, and cargo were also provided. They had a Yacht like appearance. Tsinan was originally in the command of Captain Augustus Hunt who was known in the China trade both in the tea clipper era and the present period of steam passenger ships.

Whilst perhaps not revolutionary for their time they certainly were the latest in shipping. With a speed of 12 knots they must have been among the faster single screw passenger cargo steamers of the time. Certainly elegant and Yacht like in appearance with their Clipper bow raked masts, and funnel. On the Foremast they carried auxiliary sails. Foresails set on stays between mast and bowsprit. A Yard on the fore of the mast to set a fore course. A Gaff on this mast to set a fore Main. Sails that enhanced their speed, and coal consumption in favourable winds.

There were a number of occasions when the sisters required assistance because of broken propeller shafts perhaps as a result of the more efficient triple expansion engine. Taiyuan was towed into Port Phillip in July 1898 by the Nemesis having broken her shaft in the Bass Strait. A report in August 1893 describes the rescue of Chingtu off Ballina. She had broken her Propeller shaft and was dragging her anchors in strong winds. She was taken under tow by Kallatina. The tow was abandoned because Kallatina lost a propeller blade due to her engine over revving in heavy weather. The tow was later resumed by the tug Hero having crossed the bar at the Richmond River, an act of seamanship that earned Capt Fenwick of Hero along with his crew public recognition in the form of the award of a Bronze Medal. With the assistance of sails set on Chingtu, Hero towed her to Brisbane.

There were two incidents of a Diplomatic nature. On the 24th July 1904 Tsinan was intercepted, being within 140 miles of Yokohama, by the Russian Vladivostock Squadron. The leading cruiser Rossia drew near ordering her to stop. A boats crew rowed two officers to the Tsinan. The Russians had previously sunk another vessel the Knight Commander for carrying "contraband of war" (rice). Tsinan’s manifest was examined and the contents signalled to Rossia. She had 4000 bags of rice on board. Fortunately Rossia’s Captain decided not to seize the ship and its cargo, but instead required Capt. Brown of the Tsinan to take the Knight Commander’s Lascar crew of 21 to Yokohama. The remaining crew and Officers along with a German crew were taken to Vladivostock to appear before a prize court.

The other somewhat bizarre diplomatic incident was the French cruiser Forfait firing on the Taiyuan some two hundred and fifty miles north of Hong Kong. Reported in the "Hong Kong Telegraph" on 25th. October 1894.

“That the French are actually desirous of picking a quarrel with Great Britain is a matter open to grave doubt, but in the light of various recent events it would almost seem as if, throwing prudence to the winds, France was anxious to again measure her strength with “perfidious Albion”. And the action of the commander of the French cruiser Forfait in firing two shots across the bow of the British steamer Taiyuan presumably because the British vessel omitted to dip her ensign to a foreign war vessel. The facts of the case are; about 0530 hrs Taiyuan on her way from Japan to Hong Kong overtook the Forfait. At 1100 hrs the Forfait then some six miles on Taiyuan’s port quarter hauled over to starboard placing herself on Taiyuan’s starboard quarter. About 1300hrs. She fired the first shot and five minutes later a heavier one. Taiyuan’s engine was reduced to half speed, and she hoisted a signal “What do you want” to which a reply “Show your ensign”. The British ensign was displayed and the signal run up “Is that all you want” to which an answer “affirmative” was received. With the ensign flying Taiyuan proceeded at full speed. What reason the commander of the Forfait had for his extremely high-handed and wholly illegal action is not yet known”

No doubt there was some questions and explanations to be asked/made when both vessels arrived in Hong Kong.

Navigating in the area, of the Barrier Reef and south of Manila was in those days somewhat hazardous. Lighthouses, Beacons and Buoys were few, and far between. There were a number of groundings of various severity. All without serious loss and mostly explainable. In 1899 Chingtu reported in a Notice to Mariners that she had grounded on a shoal in 15 ft. of water SSE of Cape Croker. The Beacon had been blown away by a Cyclone. Another grounding in 1907. was of H.M.S. Pyramus a light cruiser. She was on passage from Port Darwin (Darwin was always referred to as Port Darwin in those days) to Cairns. She grounded on a coral and sand reef some fourteen miles North East of Flinders Island. She was carrying the State Governor General, and his staff from a visit to Port Darwin. Tsinan was in the vicinity and came to her assistance. Attempting to tow the Pyramus off she broke the towing hawser. It was decided to transfer the Governor and his staff to Tsinan and proceed to Cairns where ground tackle was despatched to the stranded cruiser. The Governor also sent live sheep and provisions before continuing his journey onto Brisbane aboard Tsinan. The cruiser managed to float herself off after a number of days. Looking at the records of the time it is obvious that with the increase of traffic within the reef more uncharted obstacles to navigation were becoming known to these Pioneering steamers.

It would seem that the main frustrations to keeping a schedule in those days, apart from weather, were matters of Quarantine and Immigration on the Australian coast. It was not uncommon for ships to be delayed at quarantine because passengers would arrive with or showing signs of smallpox or other infectious diseases. At each port a quarantine Doctor would board the vessel and consult with the ship’s doctor. Any suspicious cases were landed at the “Q” station, sometimes with all the passengers for that port. They would remain until such time as the “Q” period was over. This also meant that the ship had to be fumigated before proceeding to the next port where the investigative procedure was again repeated. There was a sad occasion when one of the “sisters” was carrying Chinese passengers. During fumigation a Chinese passenger thought the vessel was on fire and jumped over the side and severely injured himself landing on the dock. Chingtu requisitioned in 1901 to bring home NSW and Victorian troops from The Boxer rebellion was quarantined in Sydney. An argument developed between the “Q” authorities and the Troop Doctor disputing the diagnosis, because it meant all troops landing in Sydney would have to go into quarantine. Representation was made to the NSW State Prime Minister by the Trooping Officer and the President of The Board of Health became involved.

Immigration, especially that of Chinese passengers, was always a contentious matter. Chinese immigrants would have to furnish a landing certificate issued by the State they were landing in proving they were “Bona fide“ immigrants . So often the validity of these documents would come into question, and it wasn’t unknown for passengers to be returned to the point of embarkation ie. China. There were even disputes between State and Federal immigration authorities as to the validity of the documents.

One of the most unusual happenings involving two of CNCo’s “Sisters” was in the Brisbane River and is tell-able because both Masters were exonerated in Marine Boards of enquiry. The incident involved the Australian coaster Lady Musgrove. She was a locally built 115 ft. 150 tons deadweight, steam powered vessel trading Moreton Bay and northern local ports. Outward bound she overtook the Chingtu close to Pile Light. Later the larger vessel slowed to navigate the channel. Lady Musgrove on a bend collided with Chingtu’s port quarter as Chingtu overtook her. The passage continues as little damage has been caused to either vessel. Further in her outward voyage the Lady Musgrove encounters a severe squall and the visibility is substantially reduced so she anchors in the channel. Inward bound is the Taiyuan. Seeing the Lady Musgrove in very low visibility anchored in the channel she collides with her causing damage just above the waterline to deck level. By transferring cargo Lady Musgrove manages to remain afloat. In the subsequent enquiries the Pilot of the Chingtu is suspended for three months and the Capt of the Lady Musgrove had his certificate endorsed for anchoring in the channel obstructing Taiyuan. There can’t be many ships in collision with two ships of the same Company on the same day, and get the blame for it.

Cargoes south bound were tea and rice out of Foochow. Various herbs and eastern cargo described as “Chow-Chow Cargo” in the press of the time. Refined sugar from Swire’s Taikoo Refinery in Hong Kong along with Mail and Passengers. North bound from Australia Hides, bones, and meal, various metals such as copper and lead. Bullion was occasionally carried. There was a robbery of five thousand gold sovereigns from the mail room on one of the vessels between Sydney and Hong Kong. It was suspected to have been landed in Port Darwin. Later Taiyuan and Changsha were fitted with refrigerated cargo space to carry frozen meat to Manila. Refrigerated storage in Manila and a large contingent of United States troops occupying the Philippines were the end users of the frozen cargoes. In 1912 the passenger trade declined and Ceylon tea became more popular than China tea. Changsha and Taiyuan were sold to G.S. Yuill & Co. when CNCo. decided to withdraw from the trade. The two vessels serviced the trade under Yuill’s Ownership until Taikoo Dockyard (Swire Dockyard) built Taiping and Changte in 1926. When they came into service Taiyuan and Changsha were broken up in Japan and Hong Kong. Chingtu and Tsinan were sold to outside interests in 1912, the latter continuing in service as the Russian Indigirka until 1939 when she struck a reef and sank.

In 1949 CNCo built at Scotts a new Taiyuan and Changsha, also referred to as the “Australians”, and ran them in parallel with Taiping and Changte for the next ten years until those two stalwart Yuill vessels, having survived WWII, went to the Breakers yard. The new Taiyuan and Changsha continued in the trade, foreshortened to exclude Japan, in the latter years until the trade was containerized in the early seventies when Taiyuan and Changsha were sold to Pacific International Lines Pty. Singapore


The following description of the "Changsha" appeared in the "Northern Territory Times and Gazette (Darwin N.T.) on Saturday 1st. January, 1887.

Arrival of the s.s."Changsha"

The s.s."Changsha", Cap't James Edward Williams, arrived in our harbour from Greenock, via Hong Kong, on Wednesday morning last, and as this vessel is the first of the new steamers for the China and Australian trade, recently built for the China Navigation Co., we append a brief description.

The s.s."Changsha" is a handsomely modelled steel vessel, 314 feet long, 28 feet beam, and 25 feet depth of hold; her registered tonnage being 1463 tons, while her carrying capacity reaches 2,500 tons. Her engines are of the latest design, being on the triple expansion principle, 400 nominal horse power , working with 150 pounds pressure and steaming 13 knots. The vessel was built by Scott and Co., Greenock, is schooner rigged and her mean draught of water is 20 feet 6 inches. She carries on deck four steel lifeboats, and her accommodation for the comfort of passengers is everything that the most exacting could desire. The state rooms and saloon for first class passengers are situated amidships where the vibration of the machinery can hardly be felt. Here accommodation is provided for 20 passengers, the cabins being large and airy, floored with Minton's tiles, and fitted with all the latest improvements in the way of lavatories, electric bells etc. The bath rooms are simply luxurious, being floored with tiles, and fitted with solid marble baths, supplied with hot and cold water from the engine room. The saloon is a handsome apartment, floored with mosaic tiles and most comfortably furnished, the whole of the wood pannelling being artistically carved, and the skylights and ceiling being Handsomely decorated in white and gold. The deck accommodation is very large, no space being taken up by hencoops or sheep pens, all the fresh provisions required being carried in a frozen state in the steamers refrigerating room.

The accommodation for second-class passengers-of which there is room for 36-is also most spacious and comfortable, airy cabins, roomy saloon, and well fitted bathrooms being provided. Excellent accommodation is also provided for steerage passengers, who are located futher aft; while the Chinese deck passengers are kept well to themselves in the fore part of the vessel. The "Changsha" is the first vessel of her class which has visited this port, and we could not miss the opportunity of visiting her refigerating-room when courteously offered to us by the captain. The sensation as one descends from the deck, where the thermometer is registering about 98deg. to the refrigerating-room where the glass indicates that the air is a trifle above freezing point, is a novel and not altogether pleasnt one. The cold air seems to strike through ones clothing with irrestible power, and the gradual feeling that the blood in your veins is cooling down from its normal state to the gentle warmth of a lemon ice is scarcely pleasant. The cold air pipes surronding the storage-room are coated with snow,and for once we experienced the novelty of rolling a snow-ball, the first made in the Territory, which we made for the benefit of that well-known waterman, "Wharf Rat" who scarcely apreciated the delicate attention, in fact he resented our unusually cool treatment in the most marked mannerr. The refrigerating-room was plentifully stocked with frozen carcases of sheep, deer, lamb, while partridges, pheasants and every description of poultry and game hung round the walls, and was a sight to make a Darwin gourmand's mouth water. The ice required for the use of the passengers is manufactured by the same machinery which supplies the cold air to the refrigerating-room, and our opinion of the comforts provided for travellers was certainly not lessened while trying to sip a cold glass of lime-juice and soda, which absolutely made the teeth ache. the whole steamer from stem to stern is a model of the very latest inventions for the comfort of the luxury-loving traveller. Nothing of the ginger-bread style of decoration or ornamental candle box cabins, but good substantial solid comfort, combined with every necessary ornamentation which the good taste of the designer could suggest. Captain Williams who was formerly of the s.s."Whampoa" is in command of the "Changsha I", and with Mr. Nelson, chief officer, and Mr. G.Brown, Chief Engineer, brought the vessel from Greenock. We can only hope that the Australian trade will amply repay the China Navigation Co. for their enterprise in building such a fine class of steamers.

The second of the fleet the s.s."Ching-tu" has arrived at Hongkong under the command of Captain Varden, and will be the next of the line to visit Port Darwin. We must not close these notes without expressing our thanks in Captain Williams and his officers for their ready courtesy in showing us over the vesel, and supplying us with all the above detailed information.

July 29th. 1901. A.B."Banjo" Paterson, Australian author, poet and war correspondent, travelled as a passenger on the Changsha to Shanghai which called at Thursday Island, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. He had intended travelling to the UK by the Siberian route, however this was closed so he proceeded by ship to the U.K.