Submitted by Klaus on Thu, 02/08/2024 - 23:03

Reports about the damage caused by a typhoon usually only compile facts – how many ships, houses, piers etc. were damaged or even destroyed, and the number of human casualties and deaths. I couldn’t find reports earlier than 1874.
I was searching for an 1871 typhoon which possibly destroyed Pedder’s Wharf (first generation). However, looking through the 1871  Government Gazette gave no indication. Advice gave the Twentieth century impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China by: Wright, Arnold. Publication date: 1908, page 192 where a typhoon on September 2, 1871 was listed. Having a date now, this opened the chance to find something in the old newspapers. And that was a direct hit.
The report in The Hong Kong Daily Press is so vivid and reminds a bit of a live broadcast, much more than just a list of facts. That’s why I hope this would be of general interest.


The typhoon which has been prophesied for some time came at last on Saturday night, the weather throughout the day having been very thick, and the water more and more turbulent. As early as 11 a.m. the waves in the harbour had assumed very threatening dimensions, and several of the smaller craft at anchor were tossing about in a manner by no means reassuring to those who foresaw the coming storm. However, the wind did not greatly increase until towards evening, but at about 5.30 began those ominous gusts, growing by degrees more and more violent, which are always looked upon as a sure presage of a typhoon, if presage were required after the indications already given by the faithful barometer.

[barometer readings not digitized]

At 6.30 the cyclone had fairly taken possession and its violence increased rapidly, until at about 9.30 or 10 the Praya was flooded. The wind however was not then at its highest, though the appearance of the sea might have led to that conclusion, for as it was high water at that time the tide naturally favoured the cyclone in impelling the water far over the sea wall and well on its way towards the Queen's Road. The scene on the bund at this time was one which beggars description. Unlike the typhoon of last year this one occurred at night, and its grandeur was enhanced by the innumerable effects of the darkness. The enormous waves appeared yet more gigantic from their indistinctness, and sparkling throughout with the phosphorescent light of these seas formed alone a spectacle of great grandeur and great beauty. Added to this was the picturesque appearance of the shipping, the only visible portion of which consisted of sombre hulls, and brilliant lights, now appearing for an instant, then hidden behind a giant wave, the dark hull rolling, the gay light flickering, at times dimmed by the intervening spray and again shining out with a brilliancy sufficient to indicate to those on shore the exact position of the vessel. Unfortunately these inconstant lights by no means retained the same position, but showed many of them too clearly by their westward motion that the dragging of anchors had already commenced. The steamer Peiho was seen to drift rapidly in the direction of Peddar's wharf, (which at this time was indicated only by a more violent [illegible likely meant splash] of the water), and by 11 o'clock she had reached a point nearly opposite the wharf and at a remarkably short distance from shore. Here she appeared to pull up, either because she got up steam or because her anchor held, but at all events she was there on Sunday morning. The China, a short distance farther west seems to have held out manfully, her position being scarcely changed, but the Cleator drifted down into dangerous proximity. The Acantha, a little farther out, had apparently plenty of elbow room, while the Shaftesbury some distance east of these, riding to an extra-ordinary length of cable would seem to have escaped danger altogether. The little hulk which has been used as a small-pox convalescent Hospital has made a voyage during the night, and has brought up at a not very safe distance from the John Adam, having been partially unroofed during her progress. Throughout the early part of the night, especially during the flood-tide, the Praya was deluged, and the smaller craft were piled on top of it with utter disregard to arrangement of any kind. The vagaries of some of these boats were unpleasant. Opposite the Pottinger Street Wharf, Inspector Grimes, who was coming down towards the harbour, was suddenly confronted by a great, indistinct mass apparently bound for the Queen's Rood at an astonishing rate of speed: He had time to get out of the way in an open doorway, and had the anticipation of seeing the said mass, which proved to be a ship's gig, pass him like an express train. Similar effects were observed elsewhere, all the streets and ways leading down to the Praya being ultimately strewed with boats and the remains of boats.

At East Point the glass fell on Saturday slowly, but surely, with short heavy puffs. From the Military boundary the line of the Praya eastward was entirely occupied all day by innumerable native boats of all sizes and classes, striving to obtain shelter either in the Lagoon to the northward of the race course or in Causeway Bay, very many came to grief in the passage and the bund was covered with fragments and debris, while accidents of a serious nature were abundant. One boat in trying to round the corner of Messrs. Wahee, Smith & Co.'s premises into Causeway Bay was capsized; and some of her crew, consisting of 12 persons, were with great difficult saved by Mr. Smith, who took 9 in his gig; one old woman and two children were washed by the sea before the boat could reach them. The glass continued to fall rapidly towards dark. At 11 p.m., when it reached its lowest points, the gale was at its height, and blew harder than has been experienced in Hongkong for many years. The Brig Selina Jane was driven onshore near the Hospital. Schooner Gaviota is reported sunk at her moorings. Mr. Speechly's Steam Launch found her way to the bottom, while the new steamer just launched by Messrs. Hook & Son, had her stern stove in and was filled with water. Her engines not having been placed in her, she floated flush with the water's edge and was saved.

The Praya was terribly cut up, und at the proposed site of the new Pier Company, the sea wall was entirely washed away, carrying with it about half the carriage Road. The wooden Pier at the old “McGregor” house was completely destroyed at the shore end leaving a mass of ruins to mark its site. The yachts laid up in ordinary, suffered but trivial damage, losing merely portions of their mat roofing. Messrs. Jardine's garden suffered terribly, the trees, bamboos, and shrubs being torn and wrenched in every direction. A corrugated iron building at Mr. Jack's slip was unroofed and rendered useless, while one of the houses in the Bazaar had its front completely driven in. The Sugar Refinery and Distillery suffered but little, the Praya Wall at the former being prostrated, while the latter had their godown doors blown in and portion of their cooperage untiled. The destruction of boating in Causeway Bay was very heavy. One large Swatow junk was capsized opposite the residence of the Sugar Boilers at the Refinery, driving the head of her mainmast through the wall of the house. She was full of passengers, who were all rescued and kindly cared for, though the poor fellows had lost their all in the wreck. From the north-eastern corner of the Refinery, up the bay past the Distillery, the Praya wall, which was in dead lee is lined with wreck of Pea junks, cargo boats and other native shipping, in some places three and four deep. The steam-launch Firs was found on her beam ends, but it is believed has sustained no serious injury.

The scene yesterday morning was melancholy to contemplate. From Pedder's Wharf westward for several hundred yards the Praya is demolished. Like Troy, the Praya was, as far as this portion of it is concerned. The wall is an unshapely heap of granite, huge blocks of which have been carried by the impetuous violence of the sea to distances of twenty and thirty feet from their original locations. But not only have the stones been displaced, but large gaps have been formed, reaching almost to the verandas of the houses. This is particularly the case between Peddar's wharf and the P. & O. offices. Farther to the west the damage done is great, but the destruction of the Praya less complete than in the Central portions. Peddar's Wharf is greatly injured, as indeed are all the prominent stone constructions, while the wooden piers, through which the water has free passage, are unhurt except as regards the tearing up of the planking which is easily remedied. Close to Peddar's wharf a large Government lighter came ashore and sank. Her gunwales are now flush with the water's edge, and one of her ropes is coiled round the telegraph wire which is broken further east. Another Government lighter sank in mid-channel, off Messrs. Douglas Lapraik & Co.'s Wharf. Opposite this spot too are visible the masts of a junk which went down with a valuable Chinchow cargo. Proceeding westward, one finds the destruction of native boats more and more apparent. East of the P. & O. godowns (whose tiles have been blown off) an occasional hole. Sampans and plenty of debris attest the wholesale devastation which has come upon the boat population. The Canton steamer wharf is not extensively injured, though at one time during the night it was in danger of being entirely carried away by a large iron ship which drifted down upon it. Although almost within arm's length of wharf the ship went clear, and the only injury done was the absolute effect of the water which upon a wooden pier has apparently very little power. On the eastern side of the wharf, however, Messrs. Hook's lighter Advance lies in a forlorn condition, level with the water. The Despatch appears to have sustained no great injury, as she rides at anchor in a safe enough position. The Pacific Mail Wharf has been somewhat injured in its planking, but repairs are being promptly executed. The America rides at her anchor slightly weather beaten and with an insignificant list to starboard, but otherwise as if nothing had happened. Further west the Atrevida and Cornuvia are both dismasted, the former ashore with stern badly knocked about, and on Sunday afternoon the pumps were vigorously at work. Still farther west, the destruction of native bouts increases, and one may see at frequent intervals a wretched family sheltered in a dilapidated sampan, the women bewailing the loss of their relations oг their dwellings, und the children weeping in concert probably without knowing exactly why. The misery amongst these boat people must be very great, those even who have been fortunate enough to save their boats, which are their only habitations, having lost a great portion of their property either accidentally swept or necessarily thrown overboard. Indeed the whole of the long bay reaching nearly to the Sailors' Home was thronged with Chinamen, some grappling from boats, some diving for the numberless articles, invaluable to these poor people, which strew the bottom at this particular point. Near the Sailors' Home-there is a fine junk with seedy bottom ashore and very fearfully smashed, while just beyond there is another full of water, apparently loaded with some valuable cargo.. About this point but farther out in the harbour are two vessels, the Joseph Clark and another, broadside on together, and mutually damaged, while as far as the eye can reach towards Capsingmoon appear, the masts and yards of ships which have dragged their anchors far from their original berths.

Eastward, the devastation is less apparent, though there has been enough of it. The pier opposite the Military Store is in part demolished, the remainder being very much dilapidated. Close to it are two or three sunken junks, pretending a most melancholy appearance. Shops have been unroofed everywhere, but this is trifling compared with the loss of life which has taken place. At West Point as well as eastward the reports are numerous. At Wanchai details are given two men, have been taken dead to the Civil Hospital from East Point, having been smashed between two cargo-boats which came together broadside on. Many more have been killed, and unknown numbers injured in the same way, and yesterday at MacDonald's, Wanchai, the Chinese were engaged in fishing up the bodies of these unfortunate persons. The police-station at Wanchai was crowded during the night with Chinese seeking shelter from the storm. Inspector Orley was energetic in saving life at McDonald's pier, and in this he was ably assisted by five Europeans who tendered their service in the good cause. The loss of life appears to have been most serious at West Point, Wanchai, Aberdeen; and Sowkewan. The latter station specially seems to have been the scene of great disaster, exposed as it is to the full-force of the northerly wind. Sampans and junks ashore, houses blown down, with scarcely any part standing, lives lost, plunder immense, and all capped by a desperate attack on the police on the part of the plunderers: these are some of the things which are reported from Sowkewan. One constable received serious wound on the shoulder during the fight, and seventeen of the disorderly ruffians have been arrested. Not content with plunder these wretches attempted to take the lives of the unfortunate junk people, in protecting whom the police turned on themselves the tide of their violence.

Proceeding, however, towards the East we may note a fine brig driven onshore at the buck of the native Guard-house. She was newly bought and newly masted by Messrs. W. B. Spratt & Co. On the beach near the Commissariat a smaller schooner lies high and dry. Four Government lighters are sunk, abreast of the Dockyard, one of them being ashore. One of then sank about four feet from the American ship Florella, and but for the energetic help of Captain Peabody, who hove lines to her crew, many of them would have gone down in the lighter. One of these lighters sank on top of the chains of the barge Veronica. About a hundred Chinese boatmen and boatwomen were driven ashore at the Dockyard during the night, one woman belonging to one of the sunken lighters, half a dozen of whose crews are still missing. Abreast the Dockyard a small two-masted yacht has gone down, and her masts are sticking up out of the water.

The P. & O. steamers Madras and Ottawa dragged nearly as far as the P. &.O. factory at West Point. The French barque Arabie fouled the Madras, and the French ship Nancy fouled the Ottawa, flattening her boats on her side. The P. & O. Co. also lost a lighter with a cargo of coals. It is sad to have to record the loss of the Nancy's gallant master Captain Mangat. After fouling the Ottawa, the Nancy parted her cable and drifted towards Capsingmoon, and was running ashore, when the crew managed to get out a rope. By means of this every man got off safely, und even the Captain's dog was taken ashore before he left. As he did so the rope snapped, Captain Mangat disappeared, and has not since been seen. The Nancy, half laden with a valuable cargo for Bombay is totally lost.

On shore the casualties have of course been fewer and less serious. The only loss of life yet heard of being that resulting from the [collapse of] two Chinese houses in Sayingpoon which killed and badly injured several natives. Matsheds, wherever they existed, exist no longer, except in skeleton. The German Club matshed, and that over the Seamen's Church are destroyed almost entirely, while the bamboos have forced some courses of the brickwork of the latter building out of the perpendicular. The matshed on Government House is also demolished, and two or three Europeans appeared on the roof at 4.30 pm. yesterday, looking apparently for damages, und portending Supplementary Estimates. If the Surveyor General was on the look out there other officials were not less energetic after the cessation of the storm. The Lieut. Governor, the Attorney General, and the Colonial Secretary were abroad, contemplating the ruin wrought by other hands than theirs. In every part of the town where there were trees, there is now plentiful debris of trees. In Queen's Road, Wyndham Street, Staunton Street, Robinson Road, and elsewhere, branches are strewed athwart the way, and leaves and young wood are scattered in the gutters. Not least remarkable of the comical signs is that of the town clock, which stopped (as it tells you) at 4.25 a.m. in utter disgust at as the kind of weather it was called upon to face. If, however, one looks at the northern face, the reason is apparent, as the glass has been smashed in and probably has deranged the mechanism. Almost any resident could testify that this result was not singular, as the houses have suffered seriously from the breaking of glass and venetians, and the destruction and fall of tiles. Altogether, the devastation wrought by the typhoon of September 2nd 1871, has not been matched for several years.

Source: The Hong Kong Daily Press, 1871-09-04, page 2