Fatshan was purpose-built to operate a fast overnight ferry service between Canton and Hong Kong. She was jointly owned by C.N.Co. (37.5%) and the Hongkong, Canton & Macao Steamboat Co. (62.5%) until 1906, when she passed entirely into C.N.Co. hands.
Sept. 18th. 1906. Blown ashore during a typhhoon. Refloated by 31st Dec.
"Fatshan" comprised first, second and third class cabins as well as steerage accommodation and unberthed passenger space. She was the latest design in steamer, built at a cost of £22,000 - Ramage & Ferguson having under-quoted Scotts’ by £4,000. She was fitted with triple-expansion engines (first introduced in 1881) and twin screws - the latter being an entirely new concept and Fatshan was one of the very first vessels to be so equipped.
In today’s climate of safety-consciousness it is perhaps interesting to note that Fatshan’s simple steam steering gear - consisting of a series of rods connecting the wheelhouse with the aft quadrant above the rudder shaft - was not completely boxed-in over the engine casing. The moving rods were in fact exposed at ankle height along the port and starboard side of the upper deck - a definite hazard, since the vessel could carry up to 1,000 deck passengers at any one time.
In December 1933, Fatshan was sold to breakers, having been replaced after 45 years’ service, by her namesake, Fatshan II.
Events / Stories
Fatshan Enters a Political Storm
Fatshan became the centre of a political storm, after one of her deck passengers was found dead on arrival at Canton. Local Triad-backed agitators seized the opportunity to ferment anti-foreign feeling by pinning a ‘murder’ charge onto a Macau-born crewman and calling for a boycott of C.N.Co. ships. Fortunately, the boycott was eventually denounced by the local authorities, who upheld Taikoo’s long-established reputation and pointed to the Company’s enthusiastic backing of the foundation of Hong Kong University, as an example of its commitment to the region.
Mr Smith goes to Canton
Leslie Smith, a Scotsman, worked for a firm of shipping agents in Manila and Iloilo in the Philippines between 1920-23. At the end of his three-year contract, he returned home, and during a brief stay in Hong Kong, took the opportunity of a sightseeing trip to Canton (Guangzhou), via the China Navigation Company’s Fatshan, which operated an overnight ferry service between the two cities. At the time of his visit, Guangdong Province was in a state of semi-civil war with the North. Locally, the balance of political power had seesawed for nearly a decade, disrupting trade and encouraging widespread lawlessness.
We are most grateful to Mr Anthony Smith, (who coincidentally served as a deck officer with China Navigation between 1959-62), for the following extract from his father’s letter diary, which is edited for length.
“Well, anyway, came Wednesday night and at 10 o’clock there pushed off the s.s. Fatshan for Canton, bearing amongst other things a cargo of Leslie Smith ! It struck me before leaving that there seemed a goodish lot of young fellows going to Canton, and although dressed in civvies, I had most of ’em plotted as ploughers of the sea. We had no more than cast off, however, before the lads got busy, and, to my surprise, actively prepared with machine guns and other implements of war, to do battle against Chinese pirates, whose depredations have lately been quite considerable. A whisper regarding an impending attack on the Fatshan resulted in her carrying several naval men and it was these I had noticed so particularly earlier.
But now a word as to the construction of ships taking such runs as the Hong Kong-Canton one. They carry a very excellent 1st Class department, and these offices – saloon, cabins etc etc – are on a level with, or immediately below the navigating bridge. The number of deck [steerage class] passengers travelling between Hong Kong and Canton is very considerable indeed and these are accommodated on the rest of the ship. There being no berths etc for them, they pile on top of and around the cargo, like bees in a hive, and the result is a heterogeneous mass of cargo and passengers, inextricably mixed.
Past experience has made it necessary to put iron railings – or grilles, as they are called – at all points on the ship by which the deck passengers might gain access to the 1st Class quarters or bridge. The lower deck is thus ironed off, as is also the upper deck, high into the air. The grilles even extend in spikes of some six feet long, beyond the sides of the ship. There is a first series of these grilles, and nearer the bridge, a second and similar series. When all is going well, a gate is left open and officers and 1st Class passengers may traverse from end to end, altho’ deck passengers may not trespass beyond the first gate.
Now, remember that there’s probably 3,000 deck passengers on the ship each trip. All right then. A month or so ago, a bunch of pretty sly pirates booked their passages as any others would do, and created no suspicion in so doing. Armed, they waited till the ship was at a very remote point on the Canton River, were through the grille gates before an alarm could be given, and in 20 minutes the boat was theirs. Some of them were killed and several of the ship’s officers were wounded. The ship being theirs, they rifled everything – even to leaving the passengers with the very scantiest clothing.
It was apparently some other stunt of a piratical nature that was looked for the evening I went up. Indian Sikh guards were placed at each grille gate, all heavily armed. Other Sikhs, also armed, walked amongst the deck passengers continuously. In the event of a sudden rising, the guards would have been able to swing to the grille gates at a moment’s notice, and if the first series had failed, it was certain that the second ones would have closed before a rush could have surprised them.
It was, however, from the river itself that an attack was looked for, and a very keen lookout was kept. Even I know how quietly – almost eerily – a Chinese junk of large size can slip round a bluff and draw alongside, with a sporting chance of being undetected till the last moment.
I am sorry to have reached this stage, for I fancy you are hoping, or at least expecting, great things in the next few lines of this diary. It grieves me deeply, therefore, to disappoint you and to record with perhaps an irritating blandness that we arrived quite safe and sound at Canton at 6am the following morning.
I was doing Canton on an American Express Co. tourist’s trip, and a guide met me and off we started at 8am. Both had sedan chairs, each with three carriers. We were carried through lanes perhaps five feet wide, on either side of which were highish buildings, and from these, over the lanes, hung brightly-coloured signs in Chinese, in such profusion as to considerably darken the daylight. As our sedan chairs were carried along, all that could be seen ahead was a vista of seething humanity. This was parted by the leading carrier’s strident yells as we advanced, people standing back into shops or pressing themselves against walls in order to give us room to pass.
Here we would pass a fish shop, or a meat shop (all shops of one class congregate together here), and fish or meat would be unseen because of the myriad of flies with which they would be covered. Presently, on the right, let us say, would appear a “tributary” lane – the one we were progressing being of the major road class. We would make a turn down this and our chairs would only just be short enough to make a turn without having to knock a tripe shop down first !
After about 10 minutes of intricate turning and twisting, we stopped, the guide ushered me into a dirty hovel, and I was surprised to find inside a Chinese making that wonderful kingfisher feather work. The exactitude and precision with which the feathers were cut and then placed in the required part of the silver to a nicety was wonderful to observe. A little further on, we stopped at the shop of a rice paper painter. We then proceeded to the gold brocade merchants, where I gladly purchased, at a wonderfully cheap figure, a beautiful brocaded Mandarin’s coat. That for the time being ended our shopping and we then proceeded to “sightsee”…”
Still progressing per sedan chair through these never-straight-for-more-than-15-yards lanes, we eventually came to the “Flowery Pagoda” – one of the interests of the city to a tourist. The pagoda is many hundreds of years old, and builded upon rock. Some 12 storeys go to its construction and under its shadow, joss sticks stand smouldering to the various gods represented. The Temple of the Chen clan was our next stopping place and here was seen carving in both wood and stone of an almost breathtaking wonder. The roofing of worked tile and the colouring - from the drab grey of stone to the brightness of well-polished silver and gold - told of marvels of construction and excellent art, the possession of Chinese alone.
I went to the little island of Shameen, which is shared by the British and the French as a settlement for nationals of these countries. At the Chartered Bank I drew some dough to pay the guide for all the purchases I’d made in the morning. Then to a mediocre tiffin at the Alexandria Hotel. I had intended leaving by the same boat as brought me to Canton, but this would have meant arriving back in HK about 2am. By taking a train two hours earlier, I found I’d be due in HK about 7.30pm. So, per rickshaw with all my purchases, I set out for the station.
There’s a kind of war going on in China just now, between North and South. Hence the streets are pretty thick with soldiers. All are armed and carry about four bandoleers of cartridges wound around ’em. The rifles seem to be of a very scrap-iron type and their uniforms are ragged and deplorable in the extreme. Anyway, on the way to the station, some military dignitary came flying along in a motor car (we were on the broad street at the waterfront by the way). You couldn’t see him for his bodyguard, who lined the running boards of his car and yelled like mad, flourishing their revolvers all over the place in a highly reckless fashion. Doubtless someone suffered ere they reached their destination."