Part of the Acorn Archive
Hearts of Oak
Captain J L Vivian Millett
The Ships – Page 3
THE SINKING OF THE KOWSHING
( THE SINO-JAPANESE WAR 1894-1895 )
The Battle of Asan began at 7.5 a.m. on 25th July 1894. It was well over when, at 8.30 a.m., the British-owned transport Kowshing was sighted in the distance, and at 9.15 a.m. the Naniwa fired two blank charges at her and signaled to her to stop. What followed is described by Captain J L Vivian Millett, and here is appended Captain Galsworthy's Report
The British steamer Kowshing, owned by the Indo-China Co., left Shanghai on July 17th, bound to Taku, under charter to carry Chinese troops from that port to Asan, on the coast of Korea. Arriving at Taku on the 20th, arrangements were made to ship the troops, and on the 23rd 1100 came on board, including two generals, a number of other officers of various ranks, and a German ex-army officer named Hanneken, who came as an ordinary passenger. At 9.50 p.m. on the 23rd the ship proceeded on her voyage to Asan. All went well until the morning of the 25th, when off Shopeiul Island, we passed a man-of-war flying the Japanese naval ensign, with a white flag above it. This vessel proved to be the Chinese warship Tei Yuen. Shortly afterwards we sighted three Japanese men-of-war, the Naniwa, Yoshino, and another (probably Akitsushima). The Naniwa at once steamed towards us, flying a signal ordering us to stop. She also fired two blank charges, and signaled us to anchor, which we did at once. The Naniwa then steamed away, apparently to communicate with the other ships. I at once enquired by signal if I might proceed, to which the Naniwa replied, "Heave-to or take the consequences." A boat then came from the Naniwa and an officer came on board. He was received at the gangway, and he asked to see the ship's papers. They were shown him, and his attention particularly called to the fact that she was a British ship. Numerous other questions were asked and answered, the most important one being, "Would the Kowshing follow the Naniwa?" Being utterly helpless against a man-of-war, I replied that there would be no alternative but to do so, under protest, if ordered. The officer then left the ship, and proceeded to the Naniwa. Shortly after, being still at anchor, I was ordered by signal to cut, slip, or weigh immediately. The Chinese generals learning the meaning of the signals, and finding preparations were being made to follow the Naniwa, objected most emphatically. They were told how useless it would be to resist, as one shot would sink them in a short time. The generals then said they would rather die than obey Japanese orders, and, as they had 1100 men against about 400 on the Naniwa, they would fight sooner than surrender. They were told that if they decided to fight, the foreign officers would leave the ship. The generals then gave orders to the troops on deck to kill us if we obeyed the orders of the Japanese or attempted to leave the ship. With gestures they threatened to cut off our heads, to stab or shoot us; and a lot of men were selected to watch us and carry out the order. A signal was then made requesting the Naniwa to send a boat, in order to communicate the state of affairs. A boat was at once sent, but a crowd of armed Chinese took possession of the gangway, until I prevailed on the generals to send them away. Eventually the officers came alongside, and a message for the commander of the Naniwa was sent, stating that the Chinese refused to allow the Kowshing to be taken, and insisting upon returning to Taku. It was again pointed out that she was a British ship, and that she had left port before war had been declared. The boat then returned to the Naniwa, and on her arrival a signal was hoisted ordering the Europeans to leave the ship at once. A reply was given that they were not allowed to leave the ship, and asking for a boat to be sent. Notice was sent to the engineers to be handy on deck in case the Japanese fired. The Naniwa shortly afterwards replied that a boat could not be sent. The Naniwa then hoisted a red flag at the fore, which was apparently a signal for discharging a torpedo, as one was fired at the Kowshing, but missed her. A broadside of five guns was then fired. At the time I was on the bridge, my officers having left it, and seeing that the soldiers set to watch me had left their station at the foot of the ladder, I rushed to the wheelhouse, and, after obtaining a lifebelt (the last one remaining), I jumped over the ship's side. In doing so I heard a terrific explosion, and upon returning to the surface of the sea I found the atmosphere was thick with smoke and fine coal powder. I at once struck out for the shore, distant about 1¼ miles. There were many Chinese in the water, but I only saw one European, Mr. Von Hanneken. As the air cleared, a bullet struck the water close to my ear, and was followed by a shower of bullets. Knowing that shot from the Naniwa could not strike near me, owing to being sheltered by the hull of the Kowshing, I turned on my back, and saw the Chinese soldiers firing at me from the deck and the 'tween deck ports. As far as possible I protected the back of my head with the lifebelt, and swam as low in the water as I could. Shortly after the Kowshing went down, stern first. After being in the water some time, I was picked up by the Naniwa's cutter, in a very exhausted condition. The same boat had already rescued one of the quartermasters, who had been wounded in the neck by a rifle bullet. On arriving at the Naniwa we found that the chief officer was the only other person saved by the Japanese, leaving five Europeans connected with the ship, and the passenger, missing. We anchored off Shopeiul about 9 a.m. The firing commenced about 1 p.m., and we were taken aboard the Naniwa about 2.30 p.m. During the evening the Naniwa steamed away, arriving the next morning at the rendezvous of the Japanese Fleet in Korea. We were then transferred to the Yayeyama, together with a Danish electrician, named Muhlenstedt, and about sixty Chinese, who were taken prisoners from the Chinese steamer Tso Kiang, the same day. The Yayeyama then proceeded to Sasebo I and Mr. Tamplin, the chief officer, came here in a small tender at noon on Sunday last, having in the mean time been interviewed by Mr. Suyematsu Kencho, President of the Imperial Board of Legislature, who came down from Tokyo for that purpose. The quartermaster remained behind owing to his wound not having properly healed up, whilst Mr. Muhlenstedt is being further detained. During our detention we received every care and attention necessary for our comfort. After arriving here we proceeded to H.M.'s Consulate, and made an affidavit of the entire circumstances. The Naniwa, I may mention, had been damaged on the port quarter from a shot fired from the Tche Yuen in the morning. I can positively say I did not see the Japanese fire on the Chinese in the water. The Chinese killed many of their own people.