Club Lusitano's historic propeller
When Ian heard I was giving a talk at the Club Lusitano, he tipped me off that they had a valuable piece of Hong Kong's history I should look out for: "Ask to see the old propeller".
So last Wednesday evening I was led to the 26th floor, and shown this propeller on their restaurant's wall:
The Club's staff mentioned it was from the 1950s, but Ian's research shows it is much older, dating back to 1924 and the earliest days of flying in Hong Kong.
The propeller has an inscribed metal plate fixed to it, but it's hard to read after years of polishing:
Fortunately the arrival of the propeller (and the plane it was attached to!) was widely reported in the newspapers of the time. Captains Peires and Pais had intended to make the first flight from Lisbon to Macau, Portugal's most distant territory. But bad weather meant they had to carry on past Macau, ending their journey when they made a forced landing near Shum Chun (today's Shenzhen) on Friday, 20 June 1924. The rough landing explains the damaged appearance of the propeller.
The next day's edition of the SCMP reported the aviators' unexpected arrival in Hong Kong.
The Portuguese aviators have arrived. They came by train!
Bruised, wet and tired, they made a dramatic entry into Kowloon last night, strange to the place, only a Police Inspector and some railway officials knowing of their arrival. Literally, they “asked a policeman.”
Mr G.A. Walker of the Kowloon-Canton Railway, was the first in Hong Kong to hear of their coming. He had a telephone message from his staff at Shum Chun. The aviators had arrived there afoot, and were even on their way to Hong Kong by the 7.19 train! Mr Walker was away from his office at the moment, and the train was hurrying in. With little time to do anything, he would have liked to acquaint the Portuguese Consul. He did the best thing under the circumstances: he rang up the Water Police station. Accordingly, Inspector Angus was awaiting the visitors when they reached Kowloon.
Efforts were made to communicate with the Club Lusitano, but only a boy answered and no satisfaction was derived. The Inspector bethought him of the Club de Recrieo, and there he later ushered his charges in, unheralded among the club members, even then sitting and chatting and wondering when the Portuguese aviators would arrive! As soon as the identity of the unknown guest was announced, a shout went up, and a rousing welcome was accorded to the plucky fliers. Champagne was broached and headed by the Portuguese consul, Mr Albuquerque, the Club members toasted the aviators, compensating in full measure for the bleakness of their unexpected arrival.
To drop the facetious tone, it is to be recorded that the Portuguese flying men have exhibited their pluck and spirit right to the end of their adventurous voyage. Their finish was by no means inglorious rather it was typical of the dangers of the undertaking and of the courage which has made it successful. Capt. Brito Paes and Capt. de Beires are to be congratulated. As is known the aviators have been held up for some days by bad weather. They were expected at the beginning of the week, the plan being that they would land at Macao, the end of their flight, where a great welcome had been prepared for them. Then they were to come on to Hong Kong. A telegraphic message from Macao yesterday stated they had to make a forced landing at Sontay, north-west of Hanoi, owing to engine trouble. It added that the flight would not be resumed for ten days. Accordingly, Macao and Hong Kong sat down to wait patiently for further news.
The Macao message proved incorrect. The aviators waited at Hanoi for some days because of bad weather, but yesterday better condition promised, and taking advantage of a bright spell, they decided to hop off on the last stage of their journey. [...]
Though they weren't able to visit the Club Lusitano when they arrived in Hong Kong on Friday, that was put right on the following Tuesday evening.
RECEPTION AT THE CLUB LUSITANO
[...] In the evening an informal reception was held by the members of Club Lusitano to which the aviators made their first visit. Besides Majors Brito Paes and Sarmento de Beires, the airman’s mechanic Lieut. Gouvela, was also present. As soon as the airmen reached the Club premises they were received with loud cheers from the members, whilst the Committee of the Club was in waiting to receive the distinguished guests. After formal introductions to the members of the Club, a group photograph was taken on the steps of the main entrance. The party then adjourned to the Hall Luiz du Camoens, where the President (Mr A.F. B. Silva Netto) proposed the health of the aviators. Hong Kong Telegraph, Wednesday 25 June 1924.
The next day the men sailed to Macau on the gunboat Patria.
[...] When the aviators stepped ashore the jetty was invaded by the crowds, so much so that the police were helpless in their efforts to keep a clear. Young ladies showered flowers as they landed.
His Excellency the Governor being the first to greet the aviators. Then amidst the cheers of the onlookers, the party moved to the Town Hall, flowers being thrown out of the windows all along the route. [...] Hong Kong Telegraph, 27 June 1924.
After two weeks' hospitality and celebrations in Macau, the men were back in Hong Kong to start their journey home to Portugal. This time it was a slower, but much more comfortable journey, sailing via America. Before they left Hong Kong there were more parties to attend, and the propeller shown above made its first appearance in its new home.
PORTUGUESE FLIERS FETED IN HONG KONG
Reception at Club Lusitano
Practically all the Portuguese community of the Colony, some forty representatives from Macao, and a number of well-known Europeans gathered at the Club Lusitano last evening, when a reception was given in honour of Major Brito Paes, Major Sarmento Beires, and Lieut. Manoel Gouvela, the daring Portuguese aviators. The function was arranged to mark the Portuguese community’s gratification of the accomplishing by their compatriots of the first aerial flight from Lisbon to the Far East, thus worthily following in the trail laid by famous Portuguese navigators’ centuries ago.
[...] The excellent decorations of the Club building, the great hall and the facade was in the capable hands of Mr M.F. Baptista and Mr F.A.V. Ribeiro. The transparency showing an aeroplane in full flight exhibited over the Club’s main entrance was a striking feature of the decorations. On the landing of the staircase a broken propeller of the Patria plane occupied a prominent position. Below on the pedestal the national colours of Portugal were displayed. A cleverly executed plan of the aerial route was shown across the wall facing the entrance to the Hall Luiz Camoes. Hong Kong Telegraph, 11 July 1924.
Thank you to Ian for sharing his research with us. The newspaper extracts quoted above are taken from a much more complete set of clippings that he has painstakingly transcribed from the HKHAA newsprint archive.
If you'd like to know more about Portugal's role in local aviation history, Ian recommends the book: Aviation in Macau, One hundred years of adventure.
The HKHAA mentioned above is the Hong Kong Historical Aircraft Association. They have an excellent archive of material related to the history of aviation in and around Hong Kong.
Finally, Ian has posted over 700 photos and comments to Gwulo over the years, many with an aviation theme. You can see them by visiting the page for his username, "IDJ".
What's on your wall?
What other hidden items of Hong Kong history are out there? Maybe something you see on the wall of your home, club or office? Or maybe something in your family collection?
Small or large, we'd love to see it and hear its story. Please let us know about it in the comments below, or even better please take a photo of it and upload it to Gwulo for us to see.