1874 Typhoon | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

1874 Typhoon

In one of Martyn Gregory's old photo albums a couple of photos show the destruction of this powerful typhoon, and a folded, yellowed slip of newspaper describes the event. All are reproduced here with Martyn's kind permission.

The first photo shows several sunken ships and the ruined piers and sea-wall between Central and Sheung Wan. The large building on the right in the distance is the City Hall.

Damage from 1874 typhoon


North-China Daily News






(Abridged from “Daily Press.")

It is our painful duty to record one of the most appalling disasters that has ever happened in this Colony. A typhoon of unprecedented violence raged in this neighbourhood on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning last.

The weather during the day had been threatening, the barometer having fallen very considerably during the forenoon, and still remaining low in the evening. About six o’clock the wind began to threaten, and shortly after 8 o’clock was blowing a strong gale. This increased rapidly and in the course of an hour it was evident that a typhoon of a severe character was to be apprehended, and this proved too soon to be the case. The Barometer kept rapidly falling, and the wind increased frightfully in violence, raging and howling at first, and after a time sounding like one continued peal of muskketry, broken at intervals by artillery, as sudden and more violent gusts swept through the harbour and over the land.

Gwulo in London: Talk on 20th February, 2016

Please click here for details and how to book.

At times even above the fierce howling of the wind could be heard the pitiful cries of thousands vainly battling with the storm. Not a single ship in port escaped undamaged, and the casualties and loss of life— the latter estimated at over 2,000 souls— have exceeded anything which has ever before been upon record. The city after the occurrence presented the appearance of a town which had been besieged. In all directions were roofless and shattered houses, crumbling walls, naked poles and rafters standing out gloomily against the leaden sky. The roads were strewn right and left with debris, wreck of boats, and trees—some  of gigantic size—torn up by the roots. The telegraph on the Island and the Marine telegraph between Hongkong and Saigon was interrupted ; the gas-pipes were torn up ; dead bodies in all directions washed ashore; the flagstaff at the Peak was seen leaning at an angle, a sad signal to ships miles away of the ravages to which the Colony has been subjected.

The tide was exceptionally high, which materially increased the amount of the damage inflicted, and to the Eastward a great deal of injury both to life and property was caused by the height of the water, which, on the plane at East Point was on an average about four feet high. To add to the disasters, a fire occurred in a house on the Praya near the Canton wharf, but fortunately was soon got under, but it is a noticeable and somewhat ominous incident, in connection with the news as to incendiaries from Macao, as it is to be feared that there are desperate characters here ready to avail themselves of any such disaster as a typhoon for the purpose of plunder. So strong was the wind that the flames of the fire were blown out in some instances like the light of a candle.

A very curious circumstance is mentioned on good authority, namely, that a large number of clocks in the Colony stopped at the same hour. Our informant has heard of five, and suggests the hypothesis of a slight shock of an earthquake having occurred while the typhoon was raging. Certainly the oscillation in many of the houses would favour such a supposition.

To convey an adequate idea in general words of the awful effects which this unprecedented gale has produced is impossible. At the present moment all business is suspended and an oppressive silence reigns over the Colony, broken only by the clicking of the hammers of those repairing the houses and other ruins ; at Aberdeen, near the Docks, lies high and dry on the land, the magnificent steamer Alaska belonging to the Pacific Mail Company, and the dead bodies of victims are being drifted ashore in all directions.

SS Alaska washed ashore by typhoon
SS Alaska in the distance

The following is a list of vessels known as having been wrecked or injured, and of vessels seen but whose names are not known :-

  • Sea Bird, British schooner, on the Commissariat wharf, but can be got off.
  • Flamer, H.M.G.B., on the Government Pier, advertised for sale.
  • Lizzie H., American bark, went on Messrs. D. Lapraik & Co.’s wharf, but already afloat.
  • Leonor, Spanish steamer, at Messrs. D. Lapraik & Co.’s wharf, sunk.
  • Albay, Spanish steamer, at Messrs. D. Lapraik & Co.’s wharf, sunk.
  • Mindanao, British bark, at the P.M.S.S. Co.’s wharf, sunk.
  • Courier, British bark, at West Point, capsized and sunk.
  • Imogen, British bark, at West Point, sunk.
  • Malvern, British bark, off Possession Point, sunk.
  • Teresa, Spanish bark, sunk.
  • Seaforth, Siamese bark, sunk.
  • Vessels unknown:—One, off Cheung Yue Point, seen to go down at 1 p.m., sunk; one, near North-east Point, off Lantao, water-logged ; one, in Sulphur Channel, with two masts gone ; one, at South Point, off Chung Hue.
  • Low-toe, Siamese schooner, missing.
  • Dudu, Siamese barque, missing.
  • Amoy, Siamese brig, missing.
  • Early Bird, steam tug, missing.
  • A. E. Vidal, German barque, missing.
  • Aldebaran, German barque, missing.
  • Everhard, German barque, missing.
  • Macao, Peruvian ship, missing.
  • Lizze and Rosa, British bark, high and dry, at West Point.
  • Blue Bell, British tug-steamer, at Belcher’s Bay, high and dry.
  • A bark not known, on Green Island, has been got off since.
  • A bark not known, off N. E. Point, Lantao, at anchor.
  • Therese, American bark, off N.E. Point, at anchor.
  • Morning Light, British ship, cut away masts.
  • Pawtuxet, American steamer, dismasted.
  • Ardent, British bark, dismasted and stem knocked in.
  • Charlotte Andrews, British bark, dismasted and stem knocked in.
  • Courier, British bark, dismasted and stem knocked in.
  • Belle Sauvage, German ship, drifted down to Green Island from Kowloon.

The British bark Malvern was run into by the Falcon off Possession Point; and sank, the captain and wife and all hands are supposed to be lost. The captain of the Maury was lost when the vessel went down. The American ship Comet from Manila lost all her masts. The whole of yesterday bodies were being picked up and washed on shore, and up to late in the afternoon about 112 had been recovered. It is stated that the lowest state of barometer at the Peak on Wednesday morning was 27.10. The Spanish steamer Formosa put back. The Captain of the Siamese bark Seaforth is the only one of that vessel who is saved. The Early Bird tug belonging to Messrs. Hook & Co., is missing.

The British gunboat Kestrel, was forced aground and went right into the Boat-house, which is almost in ruins, most of the boats are broken up. The walls are all down, with the exception of a portion of that looking on the Praya, and part of the wall facing the Barracks.

The M. M. steamer Tanais got through the gale admirably. She did not move from her anchorage, although the M.M. steamer Ava, which was close to her, drifted some distance.

A correspondent places the loss of life at over 2,000 ; the loss of property is difficult to realise, but it certainly cannot be less than $1,000,000.  Some idea of the loss of merchandise may be formed when it is stated that the sea rose 5 feet in some places and 7 feet in others above the level of most of the Godown floors near the Praya. Chinese are especially heavy sufferers from this.


At Macao, immense destruction by wind, water and fire ; the Portuguese gunboats Camoens and Prince dom Carlos, and bark Concordia high and dry, past recovery. White Cloud wrecked. Cathedral and 100 houses burnt.


Martyn Gregory is a specialist in 'China Trade' paintings and pictures related to the Far East: that is, works of the period 1700-1900, by both Western artists and Chinese artists who painted 'in the Western manner' for the traders and ships' officers who visited the China coast. You can learn more at: http://www.martyngregory.com/


Today in Hong Kong we're facing a different type of extreme weather - extreme cold, by Hong Kong standards at least. The current temperature is around 8°C, but it is forecast to drop to 5°C on Sunday night. As the current temperature at the Peak is 3°C, and at Ngong Ping on Lantau it is just above 1°C, frost in several places across Hong Kong looks likely.

Here at home the cold had a dramatic effect when the sound of a sharp crack made us jump. The cold weather has made the building's concrete contract much faster than the tiled floor in our kitchen could cope with, so the tiles have risen up and cracked:

Cracked floor in cold weather

Also on Gwulo.com this week:



No one was hurt I hope.  That cracked tile looks expensive to repair, will you simply replace it?  Given this precedent, what will you do when the next cold snap comes along?


Thanks Breskvar, no-one hurt, but a few nervous moments til we worked out what was going on!

Luckily we're renting, so we'll call the landlord and ask them to sort it out. It'd make sense to repair it with something with a bit of 'give', especially as when we reported it to the building's management office they say they've seen this happen before in other cold spells. But I guess it will just be replaced with something very similar.

Regards, David