THE AMERICAN NAVY ON THE CHINA COAST

This first appeared in issue #1 of 'History Notes', compiled by the late Phillip Bruce. It is reproduced here on Gwulo by kind permission of Mr Bruce's family.

The activities of the United States in Chinese waters in the [nineteenth] century are not, perhaps, appreciated as much as they should be by British-orientated historians.

It is interesting to read in the Chronicle and Directory for 1873, published by the Hong Kong Daily Press, details of the United States Navy's Asiatic Station.

The ships of the station were listed alphabetically and the first was the Ashuelot. This was an interesting ship, being a side- wheel paddle gunboat of the Mohongo class, designed for operations in shallow and river waters. She sailed out to her Far East station via Europe, nonetheless. Ships of the class were 255 feet long, 35 feet wide, nine feet mean, and normally carried a crew of between 159 and 190, according to the reference works.

The Ashuelot was lost on the Lamock rocks off Swatow in February 1883. The Daily Press reported the arrival in the colony of the captain and surviving crew on February 22, 1883, saying the ship went down in dense fog at about 4 am on February 14.

"We are told her bottom was coated with mud, and the shock did not appear very severe, but she at once commenced to fill and went down in about 40 minutes in 15 fathoms of water. In the meantime the boats had been got out and the men were got into them as speedily as possible. Owing, however, to the steam launch being secured with iron instead of hemp, considerable delay was caused in getting it out, and before all the men could be got off, the ship went down with 11 Americans and three Chinese who were all drowned. The boats reached the light house, and from thence one of them went to Swatow, a distance of 36 miles, for assistance. The Revenue Cruiser, Ling Feng, gave her services and went out to the rock, bringing back the remainder of the ship's company, who came on to Hong Kong by the Thales. We are told the fog was so dense that it was only possible to see a few yards ahead, and the reason of the vessel getting upon the rock was that she was caught in a current of which her officers were unaware and carried far out of her reckoning; indeed at the time she struck it was thought that she was at least eight miles distant from where she actually was. The current was so strong that one of the boats drifted four miles in two hours. It was not until three o'clock in the afternoon that the boats found the light house. The Ashuelot was a double ender of 786 tons, and carried six guns. Her complement consisted of 12 officers, 123 men, and 18 marines. There is, we hear, no hope or raising her."

A report in the same paper of February 24 stated: "Although in the wreck of the American steamer Ashuelot we lost a familiar form to the harbour, she was no great loss to the navy of the Great Republic. The Ashuelot was an antiquated double-ender, being a special type of man of war. She was of low draught, and was built, I believe, during the Civil War to penetrate the narrow rivers being fitted with a rudder at each end so as to obviate the necessity of turning; but since running in the open sea one of these contrivances has been abolished. She was a sister ship of the Monocacy, and both were quite recently placed in thorough repair at Shanghai at very considerable outlay - $30 000 each, if I remember rightly. Whether they were worth the expense is best known to the American Admiralty. The Ashuelot belonged to the Third Class of the American Navy."

The writer regretted the deaths of the sailors: "There has been no such melancholy loss of life in connection with the striking of a steamer on the China Coast for some time.

"The fogs are answerable for the largest proportion of the ship wrecks along the coast during this monsoon. Even with the greatest possible care, catastrophes are sometimes unavoidable, especially if, as in the case of the Ashuelot, a vessel gets into an unknown current. The worst of it is that the sets on this coast are so eccentric as to preclude the possibility of reducing them to any possible system."

A report in paper of February 26, but dated Swatow February 23, put the loss of life at eight Europeans and three Chinese, with the ship striking at 4 am on the 13th rather than the 14th.

The sister ship of the Ashuelot, the Monocacy, put out from Hong Kong for Swatow to pick up the survivors but on arrival there found they had already left for Hong Kong.

The flag ship of the Americans was the Hartford. The unusual thing about this ship is that, though launched in 1858, she survived almost a hundred years, sinking at her berth in 1956. She displaced 2 550 tons with a speed of nine and a half knots. In 1860 she was known to have 20 nine-inch smooth bore guns, though in the 1873 she was listed as having 18 guns, and displacing 2 900 tons.

At Yokohama, Japan, there was the storeship Idaho, a "failure". She was built as a steamship to be capable of maintaining 15 knots for 24 hours but was such a flop that the machinery was removed and she was converted to a full-rigged sailing ship, one of the fastest ever. Launched in 1864, she was recommissioned in 1867 and went originally to Nagasaki as a store and hospital ship.

Attempting to return to the US in September 1869 she was dismasted and then was used at Yokohama until sold in 1874.

The screw-ship Iroquois was launched in 1859 and it was listed the following year as having one five-inch rifled muzzle loader and four 32-pounder guns, 1 488 tons, capable of 11 knots. In the Directory it is said to have six guns and displace 15 75 tons. She was "stricken" in 1910.

The Lackawanna was one of the Ticonderoga class wooden screw ships, commissioned in 1863 and sold in 1887, and present at the battle of Mobile Bay. Displacing about 2 562 tons, she was a barque- rigged, single-funnel ship with a complement of about 270. The Directory has her mounting 10 guns and displacing 2 220 tons.

The Monocacy was another of the Mohongo class of side-wheel gunboats, like the Ashuelot. The last survivor of the class she played a part in the Chinese rebellion of 1900 and was sold in 1903.

The Palos, a screw-ship was said to be a fourth-rate, displacing 806 tons by the Directory.

The Saco was a Kansas class gunboat built in Boston in 1863 and sold in 1883. In 1865 her armament was one 4.2 inch Parrott rifled muzzle loader, two 11-inch smooth bores, two nine-inch smooth bores and five smaller guns. The Directory lists her as having eight guns and displacing 900 tons.

In the same class as the Saco, and a survivor like the Hartford, was the last vessel, the Yantic, commissioned in 1864 and stricken in 1930.

The 1873 Directory gave the following names, several appear twice, being listed both with their ships and with the Asiatic Station:

Surname

Initials

Position

Ship

Adams

H.A.

Commander

Iroquois

Astor

L. A.

1st Engineer

Yantic

Babbin

H. J.

Passed Assist. Surgeon

Hartford

Baker

H.R.

Lieutenant

Iroquois

Bartlett

H.

Fleet Marine Officer

Asiatic Station

Bartlett

Henry

Captain Marines

Hartford

Birdsall

J. A.

Sailmaker

Hartford

Bloodgood

Delavan

Fleet Surgeon

Asiatic Station

Bloodgood

D.

Surgeon

Hartford

Bolles

T.D.

Master

Ashuelot

Bowman

C.G.

Master

Yantic

Breck

R.A.

Master

Yantic

Brosnahan

J.G.

1st Assist. Engineer

Lackawanna

Callander

Albert F.

Mate

Palos

Cassel

Douglas

Lieutenant Commander

Ashuelot

Colvocoresses

G.P.

Master

Hartford

Converse

Geo. A.

Flag Lieutenant

Asiatic Station

Cooper

Francis

2nd Assist. Engineer

Palos

Cross

R.H.

Gunner

Hartford

Cuddy

W.

Sailmaker

Lackawanna

Delano

F.H.

Master

Ashuelot

Dixon

Jno. A.

Carpenter

Hartford

Dowenpart

R.G.

Master

Saco

Downs

J.

Midshipman

Hartford

Edes

B.L.

Lieutenant

Yantic

Elliott

W.P.

Midshipman

Lackawanna

Emory

W.H.

Flag Lieutenant

Asiatic Station

Field

W.L.

Lieutenant

Lackawanna

Fisher

H.G.B.

Secretary

Asiatic Station

Fitch

H.W.

Chief Engineer

Lackawanna

Ford

J.D.

1st Assist. Engineer

Hartford

Foster

C. A.

Midshipman

Lackawanna

Fox

C.E.

Midshipman

Hartford

Franklin

T.

Master

Saco

Fuller

Henry C*

Mate

Palos

Fulmer

D.M.

2nd Assist Engineer

Ashuelot

Galt

R.W.

2nd Engineer

Yantic

Garvin

John

Master

Hartford

Gates

G.S.

2nd Assist. Engineer

Iroquois

Gill

C.B.

Lieutenant

Hartford

Gilpatrick

W.W.

Lieutenant

Yantic

Guild

Chas. F.

Paymaster in Charge

Naval Depot, HK.

Hall

G.W.

1st Assist. Engineer

Iroquois

Hall

M.E.

Ensign

Monocacy

Harber

G.B.

Master

Iroquois

Harder

Jacob

Paymaster's Clerk

Naval Depot, HK.

Harms

J.C.

Midshipman

Hartford

Harvey

H.P.

Assist Surgeon

Hartford

Hawkins

C.E.

Boatswain

Lackawanna

Hays

J.

Gunner

Lackawanna

Heelner

L.C.

Midshipman

Iroquois

House

J.B.

Master

Iroquois

Houston

N.T.

Ensign

Ashuelot

Hunisicker

J.L.

Midshipman

Hartford

Hurlburt

S.D.

P. Assist Paymaster

Saco

Impey

R.E.

Lieutenant

Ashuelot

James

N.T.

Midshipman

Yantic

Jenkins

Thornton A.

Rear Admiral

Asiatic Station

Jenkins

N.H.

Carpenter

Lackawanna

Kellog

A.G.

Lieutenant Commander

Lackawanna

King

William M.

Surgeon in Charge

Nav. Hosp. Yokohama

Lisle

R.M.

Lieutenant

Lackawanna

Long

George W.

Assist Paymaster

Ashuelot

Lusher

O.E.

Midshipman

Yantic

Magruder

A. F.

Assist. Surgeon

Iroquois

Mansfield

C.D.

Passed Asst. Paymaster

Monocacy

Marshall

W. A.

Midshipman

Hartford

Marthon

Joseph

Lieutenant

Monocacy

McCormack

E.

Lieutenant

Hartford

McDaniel

C. A.

Paymaster

Iroquois

McDonald

C.

Midshipman

Iroquois

McGunnigle

W.S.

Lieutenant

Saco

McIntosh

H.P.

Midshipman

Lackawanna

McKean

W.G.

1st Assist Engineer

Ashuelot

McMurtrie

D.

P. Assist Surgeon

Ashuelot

Mety

A.

Midshipman

Yantic

Meyers

T.D.

Assist. Surgeon

Monocacy

Miller

P. J.

Boatswain

Hartford

Moore

John W.

Fleet Engineer

Asiatic Station

Moore

J.W.

Chief Engineer

Hartford

Moore

A.M.

Assist. Surgeon

Saco

Naber

F.W.

Midshipman

Lackawanna

Nagle

C.F.

2nd Assist. Engineer

Saco

Nelson

T.

Lieutenant

Idaho

Nelson

Thomas M.

Mate

Palos

Nichols

H.E.

Lieutenant

Lackawanna

Nickels

A. H.

Ensign

Iroquois

Nields

H.C.

Lieutenant Commander

Iroquois

Palos

Rowland'Jno. H.

Lieut Commander

Palos

Parker

J . B \ *

Passed Asst. Surgeon

Yantic

Paul

A.G.V \

Lieutenant

Saco

Paulding

R.P.

Assist. Paymaster

Palos

Phillip

J.

Lieut. Commander

Hartford

Plgman

G.W.

Lieut. Commander

Yantic

Potter

W.P.

Master

Hartford

Potts

H.D.

2ns Assist. Engineer

Monocacy

Rhinebaut

B.F.

Midshipman

Yantic

Rodger

J.A.

Master

Hartford

Ruschenberger

C.W.

Master

Iroquois

Sa

J. de

Paymaster's Writer

Naval Depot

Schenck

W.

2nd Lieut. Marine

Lackawanna

Schofield

W.K.

Surgeon

Lackawanna

Seabury

S.

Midshipman

Iroquois

Selfridge

J.R.

Master

Lackawanna

Shepard

E.M.

Lieut. Commander

Hartford

Shirley

Paul

Captain

Lackawanna

Sibley

W.E.

2nd Assist. Engineer

Lackawanna

Smith

W.S.

1st Assist. Engineer

Monocacy

Smith

James Gordon

Captain's Clerk

Palos

Spalding

L.G.

Master

Yantic

Spicer

W.F.

Captain

Asiatic Sta

Spicer

W.F.

Captain

Hartford

Sprague

J.

1st Assist. Engineer

Iroquois

Stanton

O.F.

Commander

Monocacy

Stevenson

J.H.

Paymster

Lackawanna

Stewart

Edwin

Fleet Paymaster

Asiatic Stai

Stewart

Edwin

Paymaster

Hartford

Terry

Edward

Commander

Saco

Thompson

C.

Midshipman

Yantic

Torbert

W.F.A.

Paymaster

Idaho

Totten

G.M.

Lieutenant

Lackawanna

Towne

N.P.

1st Assist. Engineer

Hartford

Tremaine

H.L.

Master

Monocacy

Turner

W.H.

Master

Saco

Utley

J.H.

Midshipman

Iroquois

Vail

A. H.

Lieutenant

Hartford

Van Buskirk

P.C.

Mate

Palos

Van Reypen

W.K.

Midshipman

Iroquois

Wallace

R.R.

Commander

Ashuelot

Watson

J.C.

Lieut. Commander

Idaho

Webb

William H.

Lieutenant

Palos

White

C.H.

Surgeon

Idaho

White

G.H.

1st Assist. Engineer

Saco

Whitehead

Ira C.

Actting Assist. Surgeon

Palos

Wilson

J.C.

Master

Monocacy

Wilson

Byron

Commander

Yantic

Wood

T.T.

Master

Monocacy

Wright

J.M.

Midshipman

Hartford

Yorke

L. A.

Paymaster

Yantic

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