For initial details refer to information under the sister ship Swatow I.
August 9th. 1883. Vessel wrecked in a fog at Fan Island, Chefoo, while on a voyage from Newchang to Chefoo.
Events / Stories
The Maiden Voyage of the Foochow
Foochow was a small coastal steamer of 845 gross tonnes, fully rigged and with a navigating bridge open to the elements but for canvas screening and awnings. She was launched on the Clyde by Scotts’ Shipbuilding and Engineering, in 1873, and delivered July 2nd 1873 as the Theresa Batters and was intended for the Spanish trade. Due to civil unrest in Spain at the time, however, her owner was forced to withdraw from this trade and in 1874, the vessel was sold to the Coast Boats Ownery – an embryonic China coast company established by John Samuel Swire, with backing from the Scott and Butterfield families. Swire intended the CBO to complement the Yangtze River services that the China Navigation Company had been operating since the spring of 1873. The company eventually merged with CNCo in 1883.
With her sister ship Swatow (William Batters), Foochow pioneered Swire’s highly successful entry into the coastal beancake trade. Beancake – made from crushed soya bean - was shipped from north China ports for use as a fertiliser in the agricultural areas of the south. Foochow eventually went aground in fog off Chefoo (Yantai) in 1883.
The following is a brief sketch of Foochow’s maiden voyage to the Far East, under the command of Captain James Nicol (1840-1926) - a Master with the Blue Funnel Line when he retired to Panmure, near Warrnambool, in Victoria, Australia, in 1882. During 1902, he filled a closely written exercise book with recollections of his life at sea, which he left to his friend Robert Vickers.
“…..I got a letter from Mr Swire, 19 Billiter Street, London, to say he wished to see me. I saw him in his office. After a few minutes conversation, he asked me if I would take command of the steamer Foochow, which was lying in Cardiff, out to China, which I agreed to do. I then resigned from Scotland, got Mr Richard Stuart to take my place, went to Cardiff, took command four days after, got her cleaned up, fitted out and loaded with steam coal**. It was terrible weather all the time I was there, frost and snow with heavy gales.
I sailed from the Bute Dock on 15th December 1874, then fine weather, but before we had got out of the Bristol Channel it came on another southwest gale. After passing the Nash Light Ship, sent the pilot away before dark and faced the storm, which was increasing, sea rising very fast. Then the wind shifted to the northwest, with rising barometer. Made sail: thought we would run out of it, but the faster we were running, the worse the storm and sea was coming.
We were running before it all the next day: the seas washing over us swept everything off our decks. We were now in the Bay of Biscay, the decks continually full of water. Thought we would founder. At midnight, at the change of watch, took in all sail, sent every man aloft to make them fast. When they were on the fore topsail yard, out of the way of the water, I put the helm hard down to lie head to the sea. But she would not come head to the sea. Then a tremendous sea came on board, smashed one of our lifeboats on the bridge against the steering wheel, broke it, and flattened the bulwarks from the bridge to the forecastle – washed me overboard of the bridge, but I caught hold of the lead line, which held me. The next roll the steamer made, I was washed on board again, round the lifeboat. I hit against something – broke two of my ribs. I crawled on the bridge again: the Chief Officer thought I was gone.
It was a fearful night, but the hatches, skylights and ventilation kept all right. The next morning, the wind had passed. We could get about the decks to see the damage and found the reason why the steamer had not come to was the saloon skylight cover had been washed off, fouled the wheel chains*, and the helm was only half over. We cleared it and fixed up the wheel and kept on our course.
Soon after, we sighted a schooner flying signals of distress, bore down toward her, read her signal, which was “Want assistance. I am sinking.” She was the Vesper of Fowey: her boats were washed away. I lowered my lifeboat, sent her to take the crew off, which was done safely, and left her to sink, which she did soon after. Just as we were leaving her, a full-rigged ship came along with signals flying that they were short of provisions. They had no boats to send and the sea was running too high – I could not assist him. Told him how to steer for Coruna harbour. (He) had a fair wind and would get there before dark.
Kept on my course. Still blowing strong and high and high confused sea. Passed Cape St. Vincent, when the weather moderated until we arrived in Gibraltar harbour, where we landed the shipwrecked crew, repaired damage, got provisions and proceeded for Port Said. Went along the Spanish coast, round Cape de Gatt [Cabo de Gata], then across the Gulf of Lyons to Cap Bon. Passed Zembra [Djamour el Kebir], Pantelleria, Gabes and Malta Islands. Strong breeze with nasty sea all through the Mediterranean Sea. Made the Egyptian coast at Damietta [Dumyât], and arrived at Port Said 3rd January, 1875.
Took in coal and water. Entered the Suez Canal: Papa Pilot a Frenchman. Only got 29 miles when we had to stop: the P&O s.s. Deli across the Canal and blocking it, (which was very common then). When we got to Ismailia, changed pilots, which took us to Suez, and proceeded down the Gulf. Passed Râs Zafarana, Râs Ghârib and Shadwan Island [Shaker Island], into the Red Sea. Passed the Brothers [El Akhawein], Daedalus Reef, Jazirat at Ta’ir, Zubair Islands [Jaza’ir az Zubayr], Twelve Apostles, Abu Ali and Perim Islands. Went through the little Strait of Bab el Mandab (Hell’s Gates) and anchored in Aden harbour 13th January for orders. Took in water, fixed up the boilers and sailed for Singapore.
Had fine weather. Passed Cape Guardafui [Raas Caseyr], the Island of Socotra [Suqutra] and Maldives; Colombo, Point de Galle, then across the Bay of Bengal, south of Nicabar Islands, Pulau Rondo, Pulau Jara, Pulau Verra and Penang. Through the Straits of Malacca, between the sand banks and reefs. Arrived in Singapore 4th February. Sailed next day for Hong Kong against strong northeast monsoon.
Anchored in harbour 15th February. Discharged 700 tons coal. Lay there a week. Cleaned up ship, took in cargo and sailed through the Lyemoon Pass for Swatow [Shantou]. Mr Williams pilot. Discharged cargo and sailed for Amoy [Xiamen]. Took in cargo and sailed for Shanghai, where we arrived 2nd March, 1875, when I handed the ship over to Mr Mackintosh and (Mr) Scott [respectively, Deputy Manager and Manager of Butterfield & Swire in Shanghai]. Captain Thomas took command, as she was to remain on the coast.
I remained there two weeks, when I went on board the S.S. Diomed, (Captain Jackson), saloon passenger for London, calling at Amoy, Hong Kong, Singapore, Penang. Had a fine weather passage all the way home. Arrived in London 23rd May, 1875. We were full of passengers from China and spent a very good time – plenty of amusement to pass the time away.”
[* On early ships, chains connecting the ship’s wheel with the steering gear ran aft from the bridge in channels along the deck, then around the steering quadrant, which was connected to the rudder stock. This type of steering mechanism survived well into the 20th century.]
[** In the coal fired steam ship era, no ship ever had to sail from Britain in ballast - it was always possible to load Welsh steam coal for discharge at a coaling station somewhere.]