Empress of Asia
Empress of Asia was completed in the UK in 1913 for the Canadian Pacific Railway for use on routes from British Columbia to the Orient. She served in both world wars and was sunk by bombing in 1942. There is a scale model of the ship in the Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung Collection at the University of Columbia.
I constructed this page after being contacted by Anne Jones whose mother sailed in her in 1920 and provided many photos of this trip which are reproduced below.
|Registered owners, managers and operators||Canadian Pacific Railway Co.
Managers: Canadian Pacific Steamships Ltd.
|Builders||Fairfield Co. Ltd.|
|Overall Length||590 Ft|
|Engines||Four Parsons steam turbines|
|Engine builders||Fairfield Co. Ltd.|
|Boilers||6 double-sided and 4 single-sided boilers operating at 190 psi|
The Lloyds Register entry for Empress of Asia for 1941-2 has the following additional information about her:
- She had four steel decks and a steel/teak shelter deck
- Cruiser stern
- Fitted with radio direction finding equipment
|23 November 1912||Launched and named by Mrs.Bosworth (wife of the Vice President of the Canadian Pacific Railway)|
|14 June to 31 August 1913||Maiden voyage from Liverpool to Vancouver|
|1916||Owners restyled as Canadian Pacific Railway Ocean Lines|
|1918||Port of registration changed to Vancouver, Canada|
|1922||Owners restyled as Canadian Pacific Railway Co|
|5 February 1942||Sunk by aircraft bombing|
Empress of Asia was brought into service in 1913 when she undertook her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Vancouver via Madiera, Capetown, Durban, Colombo, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki, Kobe and Yokahama. She was in service on the trans-pacific route until the outbreak of WW1.
Further details about her service in this period can be found on the Empress of Asia website - External Ref. #74.
Empress of Asia was requisitioned for use by the Royal Navy in 1914 and was fitted with eight 4.7" guns. She took part in a number of operations including the blockade of Tsingtau and containment of enemy ships in Manila. She later took part in the famous pursuit of the German cruiser Emden which was later sunk by HMAS Sydney.
She was then assigned to the Middle East until the late 1915 when she was refitted and returned to service with Canadian Pacific resuming the trans-pacific route.
In 1918 she was requisitioned again, this time by the Canadian government, and used as a troop ship to convey troops to Europe.
After the Armistice was signed, she was used to return troops to Canada.
I have found no evidence to suggest that Empress of Asia was damaged during the war, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database has no records of crew members having been killed on her during WW1.
Return to the Trans-Pacific Service
She was refitted and returned again to Canada Pacific Railway and rapidly resumed her duties on the trans-pacific service.
A Voyage in 1920 taken by Anne Perkins Swann Goodrich
I am indebted to Anne Jones for information and photographs from her mother's voyage to China in 1920.
Anne Perkins Swann - later to become Anne Perkins Swann Goodrich - was born in 1895 and died in 2005 at the remarkable age of 109. She had graduated from Vassar College which had been founded in 1861 to provide higher education for women; the college was associated with the social elite of the Protestant establishment. She achieved a major in History and a Master's degree in Exercise Therapy at the Teachers College and Union Seminary of Columbia Univerity. She went on to work at the First Presbyterian Church in Greenwich Village as Director of Religious Education under a newly graduated minister, Harry Emerson Fosdick. Fosdick was later to become controversial with a famous sermon 'Shall the Fundamentalists Win?'. His views were investigated by a commission set up by the church at which he was represented by John Foster Dulles - later to become US Secretary of State under President Eisenhower; the controversy was resolved by his resignation from the church. He was then invited to become a pastor of the Park Road Baptist Church which was supported by John D. Rockefeller Jr. Fosdick seems to have been very far sighted and was an outspoken opponent of racism and injustice. Anne Swann shared his views and decided to go to China as a missionary under the auspices of the American Board for Commission of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) - at the time, the largest and most important of the American missionary organisations.
Anne Jones believes that her mother travelled across country from New York (presumably to Vancouver) with a group of women travelling to Asia to become missionaries. Anne Swann was single and, once in China, she worked with Chinese women in factories teaching them exercises to combat long hours of work, provided health education, and started up 'cottage industries' so that the women could earn money to help to support their children. She learned Chinese and remained in China until 1925, returning again in 1930, 1981 and 1987. Whilst in China, she married Luther Carrington Goodrich (L.Carrington Goodrich), himself the son of two missionaries; his father had prepared one of the first Chinese-English dictionaries and translations of the Bible and his mother had worked mainly with the women. Goodrich had been born and raised in China and had native proficiency in Chinese and complete fluency in Mandarin. When he met Anne he was working for the China Medical Board of the Rockefeller Foundation. After arrival in New York, Goodrich worked for his Masters and Ph.D. at Columbia University. He spent much of his working life there teaching, and ultimately became Head of the Chinese and Japanese Department and Dean Lung Professor. After his retirement from teaching he remained associated with Columbia as Dean Lung Professor Emeritus of Chinese. Goodrich's 'A Short History of the Chinese People' is still well thought of and was reprinted as recently as 2007.
Anne Goodrich brought up five children and remained very active in the Church throughout her life. She also wrote three books about the folk religion she had observed when in China - the last of them being published when she was 96 years old. The titles of the books were The Peking Temple of the Eastern Peak (1964), The Peking Temple of Eighteen Hells and Chinese Conceptions of Hell (1981), and Peking Paper Gods: A look at Home Worship (1991). She published her last article and gave her last lecture - without notes - at the age of 103.
Life on Board
During these long voyages, and in the absence of modern kinds of entertainment, passengers were happy to entertain themselves and take part in various deck games and other homespun activities. Anne Swann took a number of photos during her voyage and these are reproduced below by courtesy of her daughter.
Collision with steamer Tung Shing
The Clydebuilt Database website - External Ref. #72 - reports that Empress of Asia "collided with and sank the steamer Tung Shing on 11 January 1926." The sunken vessel was a 1,829 GRT Passenger/Cargo vessel belonging to the British company Indo-China Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. The location of the collision was the lower reaches of the Whangpoo River.
According to the Board of Trade Report on the wreck - External Ref. #73 - Tung Shing sailed from Hong Kong on or about 7 January 1926 with a crew of 72 and 19 passengers. Empress of Asia was travelling down river and three steamers were coming up river - the third of which was Tung Shing. After passing the first two without issue, Empress of Asia struggled to alter her course sufficiently due to the helm being sluggish on account of shoal water. Both ships realised that a collision was imminent and attempted to take avoiding action. This was not successful and according to the report:
..... Empress of Asia struck Tung Shing "abaft the boat deck and abreast of her No. 3 hold at an angle of about 35 degrees. The Empress of Asia's engines were stopped and the two ships remained in contact; the Tung Shing sank in about two minutes in 30 feet of water. The Empress of Asia stood by and lowered a boat to save life. Some native craft which were in the vicinity also rescued a number of Chinese. Ten Chines passengers are not accounted for but no bodies have been found and some at any rate appear to have been rescued and taken ashore by these Chinese boats.
The Court concluded that the Master of Empress of Asia had navigated his ship in a seamanlike and proper manner except that, having regard to the circumstances, he should have stopped or reduced speed at the moment he first ported his helm so was partly to blame. The Court concluded that the Master of Tung Shing was in error in not altering his course to starboard sufficiently and at an early enough time and that he was not holding the starboard side of the channel when he first blew one blast. The greater responsibility therefore lay with the Master of Tung Shing. There is no mention of any disciplinary action that may have followed.
Empress of Asia was requisitioned a for use as a troopship in 1941 and was refitted on the River Clyde. During the refit she was equipped with defensive armament consisting of a 6" gun, a 3" gun, six 20mm Oerlikons, eight Hotchkiss guns, Bofors guns, PAC rockets and depth charges.
Empress of Asia took part in 5 convoys and many independent voyages during the war years according to information shown in the table below which is provided courtesy of Convoyweb - see External Ref. #4. She was lost while in the final convoy listed in the table - Convoy BM 12.
|Shanghai, Sep 5, 1939||Independent||Hong Kong, Sep 8, 1939|
|Hong Kong, Sep 9, 1939||Independent||Manila, Sep 11, 1939|
|Manila, Sep 11, 1939||Independent||Hong Kong, Sep 13, 1939|
|Hong Kong, Sep 15, 1939||Independent||Shanghai, Sep 17, 1939|
|Shanghai, Sep 17, 1939||Independent||Honolulu, Sep 30, 1939|
|Honolulu, Sep 30, 1939||Independent||Vancouver, Oct 6, 1939|
|Vancouver, Oct 18, 1939||Independent||Shanghai, Nov 3, 1939|
|Shanghai, Nov 4, 1939||Independent||Hong Kong, Nov 6, 1939|
|Hong Kong, Nov 6, 1939||Independent||Manila, Nov 8, 1939|
|Manila, Nov 9, 1939||Independent||Hong Kong, Nov 11, 1939|
|Hong Kong, Nov 14, 1939||Independent||Shanghai, Nov 15, 1939|
|Shanghai, Nov 15, 1939||Independent||Nagasaki, Nov 19, 1939|
|Nagasaki, Nov 19, 1939||Independent||Kobe, Nov 20, 1939|
|Kobe, Nov 20, 1939||Independent||Yokohama, Nov 22, 1939|
|Yokohama, Nov 22, 1939||Independent||Vancouver, Dec 1, 1939|
|Vancouver, Dec 16, 1939||Independent||Yokohama, Dec 27, 1939|
|Yokohama, Dec 28, 1939||Independent||Nagasaki, Dec 30, 1939|
|Nagasaki, Dec 31, 1939||Independent||Shanghai, Jan 1, 1940|
|Hong Kong, Jan 5, 1940||Independent||Manila, Jan 6, 1940|
|Manila, Jan 8, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, Jan 10, 1940|
|Independent||Shanghai, Jan 14, 1940|
|Shanghai, Jan 14, 1940||Independent||Nagasaki, Jan 17, 1940|
|Nagasaki, Jan 17, 1940||Independent|
|Kobe, Jan 18, 1940||Independent||Yokohama, Jan 19, 1940|
|Yokohama, Jan 19, 1940||Independent||Honolulu, Jan 27, 1940|
|Honolulu, Jan 27, 1940||Independent||Vancouver, Feb 2, 1940|
|Vancouver, Feb 10, 1940||Independent||Kobe, Feb 24, 1940|
|Kobe, Feb 24, 1940||Independent||Shanghai, Feb 27, 1940|
|Shanghai, Feb 28, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, Mar 1, 1940|
|Hong Kong, Mar 2, 1940||Independent||Manila, Mar 4, 1940|
|Manila, Mar 5, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, Mar 8, 1940|
|Hong Kong, Mar 27, 1940||Independent||Shanghai, Mar 29, 1940|
|Shanghai, Mar 29, 1940||Independent||Yokohama, Apr 3, 1940|
|Yokohama, Apr 4, 1940||Independent||Kobe, Apr 5, 1940|
|Kobe, Apr 5, 1940||Independent||Vancouver, Apr 13, 1940|
|Vancouver, Apr 20, 1940||Independent||Yokohama, May 1, 1940|
|Yokohama, May 3, 1940||Independent||Nagasaki, May 4, 1940|
|Nagasaki, May 5, 1940||Independent||Shanghai, May 6, 1940|
|Shanghai, May 7, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, May 9, 1940|
|Hong Kong, May 10, 1940||Independent||Manila, May 11, 1940|
|Manila, May 13, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, May 15, 1940|
|Hong Kong, May 17, 1940||Independent||Shanghai, May 19, 1940|
|Shanghai, May 19, 1940||Independent||Kobe, May 23, 1940|
|Independent||Yokohama, May 23, 1940|
|Kobe, May 23, 1940||Independent|
|Yokohama, May 24, 1940||Independent||Vancouver, Jun 3, 1940|
|Vancouver, Jun 15, 1940||Independent||Yokohama, Jun 26, 1940|
|Yokohama, Jun 27, 1940||Independent||Nagasaki, Jun 28, 1940|
|Nagasaki, Jun 30, 1940||Independent||Shanghai, Jul 2, 1940|
|Shanghai, Jul 2, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, Jul 4, 1940|
|Hong Kong, Jul 5, 1940||Independent||Manila, Jul 7, 1940|
|Manila, Jul 9, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, Jul 11, 1940|
|Hong Kong, Jul 12, 1940||Independent||Shanghai, Jul 14, 1940|
|Shanghai, Jul 15, 1940||Independent||Nagasaki, Jul 16, 1940|
|Nagasaki, Jul 17, 1940||Independent||Yokohama, Jul 18, 1940|
|Yokohama, Jul 20, 1940||Independent||Vancouver, Jul 30, 1940|
|Vancouver, Aug 10, 1940||Independent||Yokohama, Aug 21, 1940|
|Yokohama, Aug 22, 1940||Independent||Shanghai, Aug 26, 1940|
|Shanghai, Aug 27, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, Aug 29, 1940|
|Hong Kong, Aug 30, 1940||Independent||Manila, Sep 1, 1940|
|Manila, Sep 2, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, Sep 4, 1940|
|Hong Kong, Sep 6, 1940||Independent||Shanghai, Sep 8, 1940|
|Shanghai, Sep 9, 1940||Independent||Nagasaki, Sep 10, 1940|
|Nagasaki, Sep 11, 1940||Independent||Yokohama, Sep 13, 1940|
|Yokohama, Sep 14, 1940||Independent||Vancouver, Sep 24, 1940|
|Shanghai, Oct 2, 1940||Independent|
|Vancouver, Oct 5, 1940||Independent||Yokohama, Oct 17, 1940|
|Independent||Kobe, Oct 18, 1940|
|Yokohama, Oct 18, 1940||Independent||Nagasaki, Oct 19, 1940|
|Nagasaki, Oct 20, 1940||Independent||Shanghai, Oct 21, 1940|
|Shanghai, Oct 22, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, Oct 24, 1940|
|Hong Kong, Oct 25, 1940||Independent||Manila, Oct 27, 1940|
|Manila, Oct 28, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, Oct 30, 1940|
|Hong Kong, Nov 1, 1940||Independent||Shanghai, Nov 3, 1940|
|Shanghai, Nov 3, 1940||Independent||Nagasaki, Nov 5, 1940|
|Nagasaki, Nov 6, 1940||Independent||Kobe, Nov 7, 1940|
|Kobe, Nov 7, 1940||Independent||Yokohama, Nov 8, 1940|
|Yokohama, Nov 8, 1940||Independent||Vancouver, Nov 18, 1940|
|Vancouver, Nov 27, 1940||Independent||Yokohama, Dec 9, 1940|
|Shanghai, Dec 14, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, Dec 17, 1940|
|Hong Kong, Dec 17, 1940||Independent||Manila, Dec 19, 1940|
|Manila, Dec 20, 1940||Independent||Hong Kong, Dec 22, 1940|
|Hong Kong, Dec 23, 1940||Independent||Shanghai, Dec 26, 1940|
|Shanghai, Dec 26, 1940||Independent||Nagasaki, Dec 28, 1940|
|Nagasaki, Dec 29, 1940||Independent||Kobe, Dec 30, 1940|
|Kobe, Dec 30, 1940||Independent||Yokohama, Dec 31, 1940|
|Yokohama, Dec 31, 1940||Independent||Vancouver, Jan 11, 1941|
|Vancouver, Feb 13, 1941||Independent||Balboa, Feb 24, 1941|
|Cristobal, Feb 28, 1941||Independent||Kingston, Mar 2, 1941|
|Kingston, Mar 3, 1941||Independent||Bermuda, Mar 7, 1941|
|Bermuda, Mar 7, 1941||Independent||Clyde, Mar 14, 1941|
|Clyde, Mar 23, 1941||Independent||Liverpool, Mar 24, 1941|
|Liverpool, Apr 22, 1941||Independent||Clyde, Apr 23, 1941|
|Clyde, Apr 26, 1941||WS.8A (Clyde - Freetown)||Freetown, May 9, 1941|
|Freetown, May 14, 1941||WS.8A (Clyde - Freetown)||Capetown, May 26, 1941|
|Capetown, Jun 2, 1941||Escorted||Durban, Jun 5, 1941|
|Durban, Jun 9, 1941||Escorted||Suez, Jun 24, 1941|
|Suez, Jun 28, 1941||Independent||Port Sudan, Jun 30, 1941|
|Port Sudan, Jun 30, 1941||Independent||Aden, Jul 3, 1941|
|Aden, Jul 7, 1941||Independent||Durban, Jul 18, 1941|
|Durban, Jul 26, 1941||Independent||Capetown, Jul 29, 1941|
|Capetown, Aug 2, 1941||Independent||Trinidad, Aug 23, 1941|
|Trinidad, Aug 28, 1941||Independent||New York, Sep 4, 1941|
|New York, Sep 12, 1941||Independent||Halifax, Sep 14, 1941|
|Halifax, Sep 16, 1941||HX.150 (Halifax - Liverpool)||Liverpool, Sep 29, 1941|
|Liverpool, Nov 12, 1941||WS.12Z (Clyde - Freetown)||Freetown, Nov 25, 1941|
|Freetown, Nov 28, 1941||WS.12Z (Clyde - Freetown)||Durban, Dec 18, 1941|
|Durban, Dec 24, 1941||WS.12Z (Clyde - Freetown)|
|WS.12ZB (to AT SEA - Bombay)||Bombay, Jan 6, 1942|
|Bombay, Jan 23, 1942||BM.12 (Bombay - Singapore)||Singapore, Feb 4, 1942|
On 23 January 1942, Empress of Asia took on board 2,200 troops at Bombay and sailed for Singapore in convoy BM12; she was destined not to arrive.
In his book Britain's Greatest Defeat - Singapore 1942 - External Ref. #76, Alan Warren says the following:
In the last days of January and the first week of February (1942), with only minor interference from Japanese aviators, the main body of the 18th British Division, the 44th Indian Brigade, 7,000 Indian replacements, the 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion AIF, and 1,900 Australian replacements sailed into Singapore from India and Australia. The convoys passed through the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java accompanied by small escorts. A Japanese submarine lurking on the sea bed of the Sunda Strait had been sunk on 17 January.
The only significant successs scored by Japanese bombers against convoys sailing to and from Singapore was the sinking of the Empress of Asia. On 5 February convoy BM12 was attacked in fine weather as it neared Singapore. In the course of an hour-long attack the Empress of Asia attracted most of the bomber's attention. At least three direct hits were scored amidships, and fires soon spread out of control as the water pipes to the fire hydrants had been damaged. The Empress of Asia was deliberately run aground on a shoal, and smaller ships came alongside to take off the crew and passengers. The Empress of Asia later sank, but the tops of her three funnels remained visible above the water.
Most of those on board were rescued; the main ships involved were H.M.A.S. Bendigo, H.M.A.S. Wollongong, H.M.A.S. Yarra, H.M.S. Danae, and H.M.I.S. Sutlej.
After the sinking, the catering and medical teams from Empress of Asia served in Singapore hospitals. They and many others from the crew (153 crew members overall), were taken prisoner by the Japanese and remained captive until the end of the war in 1945. Many of them were incarcerated in the notorious Changi prison and all were treated abominably. Judging by the dates of death of those who lost their lives, some died whilst in captivity. To add insult to injury, it appears that there was a dispute over whether those taken prisoner were entitled to "War Risk Money" but this was eventually resolved in their favour. (A 'War Risk' bonus was payable to Merchant Seamen who were put at additional risk as a result of the work they were doing during the war).
Bill Taylor was a member of the catering staff aboard Empress of Asia at the time of her sinking. His account of the events leading up to this, and his subsequent experiences in the Singapore Hospital, and as a POW of the Japanese can be found in the Benjidog Recollections website HERE. Included are Bill's views on why the ship was travelling particularly slowly, which he puts down to the behaviour of the stokers and trimmers and the lack of discipline on board. Whether an increased speed would have made any difference to the outcome is a matter of conjecture as, with hindsight, the fall of Singapore was inevitable.
Final Disposal of the Wreck
According to the Clydebuilt Database - External Ref. #72 - the burnt out hulk was taken for scrap some time in the 1950s
Postscript: HMAS Yarra
A memorial service in Newport Victoria on 3 March 2013 commemorating 71 years since HMAS Yarra was lost. The Australian Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator the Hon. David Feeney. The memorial followed an announcement of a Unit Citation for Gallantry for HMAS Yarra, for her actions on 5 February and 4 March 1942.
The Chief of the Australian Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, gave the following address:
On 5 February HMAS Yarra was escorting a convoy about to enter Singapore Harbour when it was attacked by Japanese aircraft and subjected to intensive dive-bombing. One of the convoy ships, the troop transport Empress of Asia, was severely damaged and sinking. Despite the risk from the attacking aircraft and explosions in the doomed troopship, the Commanding Officer, Commander Wilfred Hastings Harrington, took Yarra alongside the Empress of Asia and rescued 1804 men directly from the ship and from lifeboats already in the water.
On 4 March Yarra and her convoy of three merchant vessels were returning to Fremantle when three Japanese heavy cruisers and two destroyers were spotted. Each of these ships was superior to Yarra in strength and speed.
Without concern for their own safety, Yarra’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Robert William Rankin, manoeuvred the ship between the enemy and the convoy, made smoke to screen the convoy and closed to engage.
Yarra was struck by heavy enemy shellfire, badly damaged and set on fire yet continued to engage the enemy. When it was obvious the ship was about to sink, the order to abandon ship was given. Despite this order the last remaining gun crew continued to engage the enemy until silenced by direct fire.
From a ship’s company of 151 men there were only 13 survivors.
Merchant Navy Losses
Information follows about members of the Merchant Navy who served on Empress or Asia that lost their lives. This is based on information held in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database.
|Surname||Forenames||D.O.D.||Rank||Cemetery/Memorial||Grave Ref.||Additional Information|
|Bree||Bernard Medlicott||14/11/1944||Barkeeper||Jakarta War Cemetery||3. C. 16.||Age 54|
|Elworthy||Douglas Richard||10/02/1942||Pantryman||Kranji War Cemetery||35. B. 12.||Age 22. of Canada.|
|Harkins||Patrick Leo||10/02/1942||Second Radio Officer||Tower Hill Memorial||Panel 47.||Age 41. Son of Patrick and Margaretta Harkins, of Belturbet, Co. Cavan, Irish Republic.|
|Marlow||William James||11/08/1944||Waiter||Jakarta War Cemetery||2. A. 12.||Age 46. Son of Samuel and Anne Marlow; Husband of Catherine Marlow, of Liverpool.|
|Roberts||Thomas Henry||25/06/1944||Waiter||Jakarta War Cemetery||2. A. 7.||Age 37. Son of John and Ada Roberts, of Kirkdale, Liverpool.|
|Smallwood||Herbert||29/03/1944||Kitchen Porter||Jakarta War Cemetery||2. A. 9.|
|Towers||James Joseph||13/06/1943||Deck Boy||Kanchanaburi War Cemetery||8. E. 24.||Son of Edward and Elizabeth Towers, of Liverpool.|
Navy and Civilian Losses
Information about non-MN people who lost their lives can be found on the Empress of Asia website - External Ref. #74.
- Unknown provenance
- From the Benjidog Tower Hill Memorial Website - External Ref. #75
- By courtesy of Anne Jones
- By courtesy of the BBC