1880. "Hoihow" was built for John Samuel Swire in 1880, for the Coast Boats Ownery fleet. This ship was the first of the Swire/CNCo., practice of building a series, or class of identical vessels. In the early days , the vessels were purchased with Swire funds and registered accordingly, they were then transferred to CNC0. as funds permitted.
After the C.B.O. had been absorbed into C.N.Co. in 1883, "Hoihow" pioneered C.N.Co.’s expansion into the Antipodean trades and was the first C.N.Co. ship into New Zealand, arriving in Wellington from Foochow on the 28th July, 1883.
On this voyage, Hoihow, under the command of Captain Bewley, (slight confusion as Captain Vardin possibly was the master) carried a consignment of 1,200 tons of tea. Her northbound cargo was slightly more unusual. In addition to a cargo of cereals and meat, she carried the bodies of 230 Chinese emigrants, which were being sent north for burial on the China coast. The bodies, which were loaded aboard at Dunedin, were packed in zinc lined wooden coffins and stowed in the ‘tween decks - their relatives having paid a rate of between £4 and £8 per head passage.
It transpired that not all of the coffins had been adequately sealed, and when Hoihow reached Sydney during her voyage north, the port Health Officer insisted that the grizzly cargo be transhipped to the quarantine ship Faraway, whilst "Hoihow" went south to Newcastle to bunker. According to the Evening Star of September 3, 1883, the bodies were “in such a bad state of preservation as to make that vessel ["Faraway"] anything but a desirable lodging place.”
After a period of legal wrangling, during which it seemed likely that the Health authorities would order a mass burial at sea, "Hoihow" reshipped her “cargo” and proceeded to Hong Kong without further delay.
1884. Hoihow began a regular Australian service.
1922. Sold for breaking up to Chinese shipbreakers.
Events / Stories
Between 1883 and 1888 there were calls by ten CNCo vessels in New Zealand, forming a pattern of two sailings each year with cargoes of new season’s tea from China.
The earliest vessel appears to have been “Hoihow”, commanded by Captain Vardin, which sailed from Foochow on 3rd July direct for Wellington. After experiencing fine weather and moderate SE winds it was reported that she encountered heavy weather for two days, with the wind veering round the compass. On 13th July she crossed the Equator in longitude 148 deg E and two days later off the coast of New Ireland she met up with HMS Espiegle and brought mail from her. Approaching New Zealand on 22nd July the weather deteriorated with strong SE winds and heavy seas which no doubt delayed her arrival in Wellington until the morning of 29th July.
The Wellington Evening Post reported that:- The steamer is excellently kept and a credit to her Master and crew. She brought no passengers for Wellington but has a cargo of 1200 tons of tea, - 700 for Wellington and Auckland, 400 for Dunedin 100 for Lyttelton.”
Hoihow sailed three days later into weather so bad that the Wellington pilot could not be landed and had to remain on board until the next port Dunedin, where she arrived on 3rd August.
The local newspapers in Dunedin were kept busy reporting on Hoihow’s visit.
North Otago Times 3rd August 1883. “Much congratulation was expressed today when the steamers Rotorua and Hoihow were brought right up to Dunedin wharves by the harbour board’s Victoria Channel. The latter is a very large lengthy boat and was drawing 14 feet 6 inches aft. She is the steamer, which will take back 300 bodies of defunct Chinese to the Flowery Land”.
And again on 9th August “The SS. Hoihow left Dunedin on Wednesday for Hong Kong, via Sydney, - freighted in addition to general cargo, - with the remains of 230 Chinamen, the result of exhumations that have been so perseveringly carried on throughout the colony for some time past. Special provision was made in the ‘tween decks for these silent passengers , whose carriage was paid for at the rate of something like £7 or £8 per head. The bodies, or rather in many cases, the “remains” were packed singly in zinc and wooden boxes, and stowed closely side by side upon staging that was specially erected for the purpose. Some 45 live Chinamen accompanied the deceased as passengers, and these before leaving Port Chalmers, gave a perfect fusillade of fireworks on honour of their departure for the “Flowery Land,” and further to ensure the spirits of their compatriots being conveyed in peace to their native shores. On the first outbreak of this pyrotechnic display it was imagined that some accidental explosion had occurred on board, and a number of people hastened down to the pier in some alarm.”
In addition to this unusual cargo the ship also loaded a substantial tonnage of more mundane products including flour, bran, oats, cement and fungus.
At her next port, Lyttleton, local reporters must have considered Hoihow as a heaven sent opportunity to put pen to paper and went on board determined to earn their money and furnish their readers with detailed descriptions of the ship and cargo.
The Star, 10th August “This steamer, which has previously called at Wellington and Dunedin, arrived from Port Chalmers at about 3.30 pm, yesterday, having left that port at 8pm. on Wednesday. She is a neat looking schooner rigged vessel, and somewhat resembled the Bowen in general appearance, and has a fine flush-deck running her whole length. She is stated to be one of a line of 23 steamers trading on the coast of China, and must be eminently suitable for that trade. She has a Chinese crew and four Chinese quartermasters, and her officers speak well of them as an industrious and quiet lot of men. Besides this, they have the recommendation of cheapness, the ordinary hands earning about £3 per month. The Hoihow is laid on for the Flowery Land, via Sydney and besides her freight she carries the corpses of between 200 and 300 Chinese arranged on a framework two deep in the ‘tween decks in neat varnished coffins. The Hoihow brings 120 tons of tea for this port and on being berthed at Gladstone Pier immediately commenced to discharge. She has room for only three ordinary passengers, but is advertised to take a number of Chinese who may wish to return to their native country.”
The Press, 10th August. “The steamer Hoihow, Captain Vardin, arrived yesterday afternoon from Port Chalmers and was berthed at Gladstone Pier. She is consigned to the Union Steamship Company, and has on board about 120 tons of tea and sundries, original cargo that was shipped at Foochow on July 3rd. Wellington was her first port of call from thence she went on to Dunedin, where cargo was discharged and some taken in, including 286 coffins, containing the mortal remains of as many exhumed bodies of deceased Chinese. The steamer then came on to this port to land the balance of her original cargo and take on cargo for Sydney or Hong Kong, whither she proceeds today. The Hoihow arrived here in excellent order, a credit to her crew of Mongolians, who are by the way though, officered by Britishers. She is almost a new vessel having been built at Greenock only in 1880 by Scott & Co. Her owner is J.S. Swire of Billiter Street, London and there are twentytwo steamers, it is said, belonging to the company of which he is the managing owner. Their trade is almost wholly connected with China, and the vessels have as a consequence, been named after ports in the Flowery Kingdom which finds them in employment. Her length is 248 feet 9 inches, breadth 31 feet 3 inches, depth 23 feet 2 inches, registered tonnage 896 tons. Her engines, which are of the improved modern type are of 160 horse-power nominal. There is saloon passenger accommodation on board in a comfortably furnished saloon aft for two or three passengers. Upon the hatches of the steamer being removed yesterday, when she was moored at the pier, a scene was disclosed both novel and astounding. In the ‘tween deck on both sides of the ship and along the centre, extending from amidships right forward, there were temporary fixtures ranging fore and aft and athwartships, which at first glance would likely be mistaken by the onlooker for berths for passengers but which on second look proved to be heavily wooded coffin shaped boxes, tier upon tier, in each of which was the skeleton of a deceased Celestial. No less a number than 286 of these repulsive looking packages were snugly stowed in their silent berths or bunks for the voyage to Canton. Passing along past them it could be seen that the coffins were of various sizes and shapes. The majority were of full size but in the centre tiers were to be seen boxes of about four feet long and one foot deep and wide, and others still smaller ranging as small as eighteen inches long and about eight inches wide and deep. These latter were explained to contain the bones of those who had been a great many years interred and were packed in together without attempt at articulation. An immense amount of labour must have been bestowed upon this extraordinary shipment. Every one of those bones having undergone a process of cleaning and scraping before being shipped. The Mongolian graveyard on board Hoihow was a sight certainly not calculated to inspire the most cheerful frame of mind but it must be granted that the cargo was not in point of odor one that could be said to be offensive. Though not certainly pleasant it was not so obnoxious as its peculiar character would justify the fellow passenger in expecting. Every casket or coffin was duly labelled and branded showing all the particulars of name, age, date of death and so forth of the spirit that had passed away to the happy hunting grounds. The steamer attracted a large number of Chinamen during the afternoon, many of them belonging to the steamer Gordon Castle, lying at another wharf, taking the opportunity of visiting their countrymen. The Hoihow had also on board about 40 Chinese en route to their native land, some of whom might be regarded as lucky diggers, while others were said to be returning with their pockets by no means full.”
Unfortunately in this case the reporter’s sharp eyes did not appear to be quite matched by his racial awareness.
After only a short stay in port Hoihow sailed for Sydney on 10th August.
The story of Hoihow’s unusual cargo was repeated in the provincial newspapers throughout the country under various headlines; - “Cargo of Corpses,” “A Horrible Cargo,” “Gruesome Cargo,” all with varying degrees of accuracy, particularly on the level of the freight rate charged which ranged between £8 per head down to £4.
It is interesting to note that the shipper of the coffins, a Chinese firm in Dunedin, Sew Hoi, is still in business today and a copy of the freight contract is filed in our London office.
However on her arrival in Australia it would seem that the authorities there took an extremely dim view of the ship’s unusual cargo.
Sydney 25th August 1883 “With regards to the 286 bodies of Chinese which the steamer Hoihow brought to this port last week from New Zealand ports, the health authorities have refused to allow that vessel to take them with her to Newcastle, where she was to load a cargo of coal and proceed thence to China. The Hoihow left for Newcastle last night but the remains are to be kept on board the Faraway until she returns to take them away. The representatives of the China Steam Navigation Company have entered into a bond to remove the bodies some of which are not merely “bones”. In fact the officials at the quarantine station have reported that a most offensive effluvium has been perceptible since the coffins were placed in the hospital ship. The coffins or boxes are of various lengths, some of them being 10 feet long, while others are much shorter. The other portion of the Hoihow's cargo from New Zealand consisted of wheat, flour, oatmeal, beef, oats, bran, potatoes, hams, etc”
The Melbourne Argus 25 August “By the steamer Hoi-How, on Monday, from New Zealand for Hongkong, were 286 boxes of defunct Chinamen, supposed to be bones only. However, on the voyage Captain Bowley found to his great annoyance that they had not been delivered on board in good order and condition; and this is another instance of how the Heathen Chinee can come the double over his white brother. Several cases of Chinkee were refused to be taken on board, on account of their being too "high;" but Johnny's "nosavee" soon got over that difficulty, and they were sent on board later on, in apparently good order. On arrival at the quarantine station these boxes were placed on board the Faraway hulk, but now nothing would induce the skipper to receive them back again on board, and, of course, they will have to be dealt with by the authorities. It is probable that the health officer will condemn the whole "cargo" of bones, and they will be relegated to a grave in the blue waters of the Pacific instead of being transmitted to Chinese soil. Meanwhile their freight to China is £4 per box, and the ship is answerable for their safe delivery.”
Sydney Morning Herald. 29th August 1883 Shipping News. “ The second steamer of the China Steam Navigation Co's. fleet (says the S. M. Berala of the 20th inst.) to visit this port arrived on Friday evening. She is not, however, direct from China, like her predecessor the Whampoa, having made her first voyage to New Zealand with a cargo of the new season's tea from Foochow. Of her original passengers she brings one, in the saloon, Mr. Mullany, and 29 Chinese in the steerage. On arrival at the quarantine ground she was boarded by the assistant health officer, and detained there until Saturday evening, for the purpose of transferring a number of coffins, containing the remains of Chinamen to the hulk Faraway, where, they will remain until the steamer leaves for Hong Kong. The bodies of these Chinamen, to the number of 286, were exhumed at burial places in the South Island of New Zealand by their friends, and shipped on board the Hoihow at Dunedin, to be conveyed to Hong Kong, where they will be sent on to their native places to be reinterred. The coffins having been removed to the hulk, the steamer was fumigated and then granted pratique. She steamed up to the Union Company's Wharf, where she was berthed at 11 p.m. on Saturday night. The Hoihow is not a new vessel, having seen about two years' and a half of active service in Chinese waters. As regards general appearance she is not unlike the Whampoa, while her deck fittings are on the same principle. The Hoihow was built at Greenock in 1880, by Messrs. Scott and Co. She is 230ft. in length, and her cargo-carrying capacity is equal to 1,900 tons. In addition to her saloon accommodation, she has room for 100 Chinese. The crew, numbering 33, are Chinamen.” “It is remembered that the Hoihow had as supplementary cargo to the "bones” some quantities of ham, bacon, bran, flour, and general produce. We imagine storekeepers having newly imported stocks of these articles on hand will be careful not to label them as from New Zealand, and it will certainly be sound policy for New Zealand shippers in future to be a little more careful as to the character of the goods by which their articles are to be accompanied.”
Back in New Zealand the “Australian Summary” printed in the Evening Post on 30th August informed their readers :-
“With regard to the 286 bodies of Chinese which the steamer Hoihow brought to this port last week, says the Sydney Morning Herald of August 24, from Now Zealand ports, we learn that the health authorities have refused to allow that vessel to take them with her to Newcastle, where she was to load a cargo of coal and proceed thence to China. The Hoihow left for Newcastle last night, but the remains are to be kept on board the “Faraway” until she returns to take them away. The representatives of the China Steam Navigation Company here have entered into a bond to remove the bodies, some of which it will surprise the public to know are not merely "bones." In fact the officials at the quarantine station have reported that a most offensive effluvium has been perceptible since the coffins were placed in the hospital ship.”
Perhaps The Nelson Evening Mail 30th August had the final word on this strange episode. “In spite of the prevailing talk about dull times there has been some growth of commercial enterprise in New Zealand lately, as instanced by the establishment of refrigerating companies; and the colony seems more than likely to embark on another rather novel line of business. I allude to the export of defunct Chinamen. De mortuis nisi nihil bonum, - but the subject is unsavoury. There may be a difference of opinion as to the claim of such an undertaking to rank as a local industry, but if the article is originally an imported one, the late shipment by Hoihow was, from another point of view, literally a product of New Zealand soil. And in the course of the transaction a good round sum of money must have left the pockets of Celestials to circulate beneficially in a less confined area. The expense of such a crop for raising, carrying, storage, freight, etc. was probably anything but light, and it was borne without a groan. This opens up on encouraging vista, which I for one do not care to contemplate. If New Zealand is to become commercially great, I should prefer it to become so by other means. Still the more sordid may look at the matter in a different light. They may reason “Chinamen are unlovely in our eyes, - if they will come here, let us make a good thing out of them.” If such arguments carry the day, all idea of a poll tax will of course be given up. Chinese immigration will be encouraged, and if the immigrants are not glorious in their lives, our colonists will seek to make them profitable in their deaths. The new industry certainly has a somewhat ignoble sound, but that might not so much matter if it were made to pay. If enterprise is permanently directed into this channel, however, the exporters will for one thing certainly have to provide special vessels for the service. I for one was not sorry or surprised to notice that Hoihow was quarantined in Sydney.”
Obviously political correctness was unheard of in those days!!!!