John Ferguson MCGOWAN (aka Jack) [1899-1948] | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

John Ferguson MCGOWAN (aka Jack) [1899-1948]

John Ferguson
Alias / nickname: 
Birthplace (town, state): 
Lanchester, Durham
Birthplace (country): 
c.1948-02-12 (Day is approximate)

I have only just got information about my great uncle Jack Mcgowan and his wife (I have no information on her, she may have been Chinese or a prior English wife) were in the siege of the Repulse Bay hotel and after lived in the sewer drain for the duration of the Japanese occupation. I was about 8 or 9 when he returned to the UK and I can only remember meeting this living skeleton off the train in London, but no wife.

A Mr Mcpherson who was the superintendant of the then new Auckland harbour bridge knew him and survived with him in the drain.

I don't know whether others will be interested in this information?

Thank you for your interest, regards Peter


Dear Peter,

Thanks for writing. It's interesting to hear stories like this, and try and add what extra info we can to them.

A couple of people that were present at the siege of the Repulse Bay Hotel wrote about their experiences later:

From their explanation, the drain was used as an air raid shelter during daytime, then people returned to the hotel building at night.

When the Japanese finally took the hotel, the civilians were first marched to today's Quarry Bay area, and later moved to the Kowloon Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. Later they were moved to the Stanley Internment Camp, which is where your great-uncle would have spent the following years until liberation in 1945.

A couple of other references that may or may not be related. Tony Banham's research lists two McGowans and one McPherson on the 'Civilians' page:

  • McGowan, A.J.A. IAKH
  • McGowan, J.F. IAKH
  • McPherson, J.R. 37, Australian, Chief Engineer, Jardine’s WMH

Geoffrey Emerson's book lists one McGowan, unfortunately under the list of people who died in the camp during 1943:

  • Lillian May McGowan, died 5th Dec 1943 aged 47, Nursing Sister

The inititials in the first list don't match the name in the second, so I'm not sure if they're talking about the same people or not.

If you'd like to see if anyone remembers your great-uncle, I recommend you post a message to the Stanley Camp Discussion Group.

Regards, David

Peter - Please do not think I am in any way disputing your information. But I thought you might be interested to know that a list of occupants of Repulse Bay Hotel appears in Tony Banham's "Not the Slightest Chance". There is no MacGowan or McPherson in the list, but as Banham himself says the list is a "subset" meaning, I think, that it is not complete.

The occupants took shelter in the drain, but did not live in it. It was a stormwater drain rather than a sewer.

I do not know who first referred to the "siege" of the hotel, but this has become a popular notion since. In fact there was no siege. The Japanese were high up in the hills sniping at the hotel, and on a couple of occasions actually reached the hotel. But there was a lot of movement in and out of the hotel throughout the "siege", not admittedly without running the risk of being shot.

Barbara Anslow wrote:

I think  the JACK McGOWAN referred to in Gwulo9264 might be Mr John F. McGowan.   Prewar he worked in the same Dept. at Queen Mary Hospital ( as did my future father-in-law F.P Anslow.)
In Stanley JFG worked in the camp hospital office.  JFG's wife Lilian was also in Stanley with a girl of about 17 and a boy of about 13 from (I understand)  a previous marriage to a Chinese with American connections.  We  knew the children as Betty and Jacky McGowan, but their surname was actually FitzGerald: they had American citizenship and were repatriated with the Americans in 1942.  Lilian died in Stanley of cancer the following year.
Following repatriation and some months convalesence, most HK Govt employees returned to their jobs in Hong Kong.   JFG did this, and (around 1947/8) was killed in a car accident when on duty in Kowloon or New Territories delivering salaries or goods for the Medical Department.


 Regarding Jack McGowan/Repulse Bay Hotel and MacPherson.

 The man mentioned by Peter re above subject, has to be my Uncle – Duncan George MacPherson. During the war he was a Lance-Sergeant in the HK Police. He couldn’t have been in the pipe for long! Because he was interned by the Japanese in Stanley prison camp, and married my father’s sister, Doris Emily Elizabeth Brooks, in the camp on 9 June 1943. She was a stenographer – though I see she is listed somewhere as a ‘nurse’, perhaps that was an advantage under the occupation?

 Duncan was in the CID, he became a Commissioner of Police and was transferred to Kenya in 1954. He left the Police Force in 1957 when he moved to New Zealand with Doris.  He then became Superintendent of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, New Zealand, when it was opened in 1959

Regards, Suziepie

UK WWII Civilian Deaths 1939 - 1945

Lilian Mary McGowan age 47 wife of J F McGowan 3 December 1943

[dob abt 1896] Her date of birth was in fact 1892.Her children were born with the surname Soo. Their father was J C Soo aka Chong Soo

Passenger List 1945 Hong Kong to Southampton

John F McGowan 46 Government Servant UK address 3 Church Street Marley Hill Newcastle

RAF WWI Records

John Ferguson McGowan son of John McGowan and Isabella Grant 

Birth registered Lanchester Durham Quarter 2 1899

Baptism records

John Ferguson McGowan born 3 May 1899 and baptised 22 June 1899 Tanfield Durham

Passenger List Hong to Southampton arriving 9 November 1945

John F McGowan age 46 government servant UK address 3 Church Street Marley Hill Newcastle

Carl Smith Card 122025 John Ferguson McGowan

Burials St John's Cathedral John Ferguson McGowan  steward medical department aged 49  buried 12 February 1948